Europe / 10 October 2018, 11:40am / Staff Reporter
Giorgos Stenos is a spectacularly fine figure of a man. He has gleaming golden skin, a lustrous silver moustache, a dangerous glint in his eye and long, surprisingly muscular legs.
‘I was high-jump champion at school and my legs are still very, very strong,’ he says, looking at me sternly. ‘I am full of fire.’
He certainly is. He works ten-hour days running his beekeeping business, with 60 hives and three allotments to tend, walks miles over vertiginous terrain and has a spring in his step like that of a mountain goat.
On top of all that, his sight and hearing are perfect (‘I can hear a flea when it’s singing’) and his weight is the same as when he was 18.
Also, he dances like an angel — twisting, tangoing and stamping through the cobbled streets of Raches, a village on Greek island Ikaria. ‘I like to dance with women who are much, much younger than me. Maybe in their 20s or 30s,’ he tells me. ‘Beautiful women are like bouquets on a table — without them we cannot survive!’
Giorgio is 88 with four children, two grandchildren and is expecting a great grand-daughter. But on this island (population 10,000) he’s considered a young buck.
Because people here live longer. On average — and proven by countless scientific studies that have seen the island included in the World’s five ‘Blue Zones’ of longevity — a good ten years longer than the rest of us. And not just longer, but better.
Instead of winding down in their 70s, they remain fiercely independent into their 80s, 90s and often 100s. On and on they go, tending their gardens, their goats and their crops, eating home-made wild greens and cheese pies, dancing, drinking sweet, strong wine, smoking more than seems sensible, staying up late, sleeping like tops, getting up when they feel like it, and embracing life with vim and vigour.
If that wasn’t enough to make others move here, it now transpires that the lucky old Ikarians are also busy having sex — often, successfully and happily — far longer than the rest of us.
More than 80 per cent of Ikarian men aged 65 to 100 are sexually active - apparently all thanks to their healthy Mediterranean diet and, in particular, the amount of oil olive they consume.
Between 190 litres and 300 litres a head a year! (Scientists claim that as well as encouraging better and deeper sleep, the beneficial effects on the heart results in very low levels of erectile dysfunction.)
It only takes a day or two on this idyllic island to notice the men do have a certain gleam, a bounce. They almost all look younger than they are. Octogenarians look closer to 60. Many 90-somethings don’t need a stick to walk.
In the mornings, they beetle into town to drink strong coffee and play backgammon.
Later, after a late lunch — liberally doused in olive oil, of course — and a long siesta, they gently sip wine through their moustaches.
The women are just as perky. Maria Sardis, 86, lives in the village of Nas with Iakovos, her husband of 62 years, in a whitewashed house festooned with flowers and gourds, and welcomes visitors to drink coffee, wine and chat, day and night.
She runs three apartments, grows all the vegetables she needs, makes her own olive oil and with her chestnut bob, slim ankles and shiny hairgrip looks positively girlish.
Their unofficial motto is: ‘Neighbour first, God second, don’t fight, find inner peace and don’t stress.’ This is a world where no one bothers with seat-belts, cares much for phones or looks at the clock.
There are countless stories of how Ikarians who moved away and became ill, returned to the island to die among their beloved olive groves, only to find their cancer mysteriously disappear. Dementia is pretty much unheard of, with virtually no cases of Alzheimer’s, heart disease is rare and the island’s only care home has recently been closed down through lack of customers.