Discover the utterly captivating island of Andros, an untouched gem in the Aegean Sea that you'll never want to leave
Imagine a place where mornings are spent sipping iced coffee on breezy balconies overlooking endorphin-boosting turquoise ocean vistas. Days are spent exploring ageless mountain paths leading to hidden waterfalls, ancient monuments and secluded beaches.
And nights are spent gorging on tzatziki, calamari, Greek salad and kleftiko at charming waterfront tavernas where retsina, ice-cold beer and Ouzo flow freely. My visit to the Greek Cycladic island of Andros in the final week of September 2020 feels like going back in time to a world that isn’t broken. While the appropriate health protocols are in place, the warm climate and open-plan architecture make for a relaxing atmosphere that allows me to live in the moment and forget about the chaotic Covid situation at home.
"Imagine a place where mornings are spent sipping iced coffee on breezy balconies overlooking endorphin-boosting turquoise ocean vistas"
Sitting at Barbarola, a cliffside taverna with gorgeous panoramic views of the sun setting over the Aegean, Olga Karayiannis, who runs Andros Routes, tells me all about the grassroots hiking network she has helped to build. With over 180km of signposted trails, taking in everything from vertiginous mountain passes to lush vegetation, natural springs and prehistoric caves, the paths offer countless hours of exploration and delight.
“It’s a lot of work. My team of 30 volunteers – the ‘route angels’ – clear each path around four times per year. We do it to preserve the rural landscape and to encourage people to discover all that Andros has to offer.” It appears that the route angels’ hard work is paying off. Andros Routes was recently certified by the European Ramblers Association as one of the continent’s best hiking networks and Olga tells me that individuals and groups are flocking to the island to enjoy the paths.
“Spring and autumn are the best times to visit the island,” she says. “You get lots of sunshine, you can enjoy the beaches without the crowds and you can explore the island’s trails without worrying about heat stroke!”
"Spring and autumn are the best times to visit the island"
The Mills Route
One of the most popular hiking trails is Route 14: The Frousei Watermills. It’s a real celebration of Andros’ diverse flora and fauna.
Unlike most Cycladic islands, where the land is generally barren and scorched, Andros is blessed with lots of natural springs, which fill the landscape with vegetation and colour. My journey begins high up in the interior mountainous region of the island, at a small chapel with impressive views over green olive groves rolling towards the pure blue of the ocean.
I follow the red Andros Routes waymarkers through a labyrinth of oversized grey pebbles and pungent bristles of thyme, rosemary and oregano. After passing a herd of inquisitive wild goats and a patchwork of colourful beehives, I reach the calming flow of a river shaded by verdant green leaves and pink flowers.
Along the route I pass numerous stone watermill buildings, overgrown with moss and decaying as if part of the natural landscape. And to top things off, I even spot a couple of small turtles milling about in the bubbles beneath the surface of the water.
Ancient settlements and hidden paradise
Perched high on the cliffs, overlooking the glorious Aegean, the ancient village of Paleopolis is the start and end point of the circular Route 9a.
This walk starts with a moderate climb down steps on one side of the valley. I pass small plots of agricultural land and the remains of a settlement from the 6th century BC en-route to the beach at the bottom. I decide to take a dip in the sparkling water before attempting the ascent back up the stairs on the other side of the cliff.
I later discover that the large slabs of marble on the shore form part of the archaeological ruins of an ancient port, a submerged relic from the days when Paleopolis was the capital of Andros. Another popular hike is Route 6, which leads from the mountain village of Vourkoti to the secluded paradise of Achla beach and its freshwater lagoon.
It’s a hugely rewarding trail, involving an increasingly rich range of lush vegetation as I inch ever closer to the bottom of the valley, where fertile wetland provides a habitat for freshwater crabs, waterfowl, rare migratory birds, dragonflies and colourful butterflies.
Bathing on virgin white sand, the beach almost entirely to myself, I feel drawn to the crystal-clear aquamarine water. The gentle murmurs of the tide wash all stress from my mind as I gaze out to sea and then back inland to the blissful emerald lagoon.
Downtime and dining
In between these enchanting hikes, I spend my downtime at the stylish Hotel Perrakis, an elegant accommodation option with comfortable rooms, addictive ocean views and a brilliant location beside Kypri Beach. Each morning, I revel in waking up and taking the stairs down to the beach for an invigorating swim.
It’s is a great base to explore the island from, just five-minute’s drive from the port town of Gavrio and ten minutes from the buzzing harbour hotspot of Batsi. My adventures each day on this beautiful island are enhanced by outings for mouth-watering food in enchanting settings. Here are my recommendations:
My personal highlight is Karavostasi in Gavrio, an atmospheric taverna with hanging vines where everybody seems to know each other and the art of traditional Greek cuisine has been perfected. I feast on memorable dishes such as juicy Greek salad, supercharged tzatziki, grilled prawns, crispy calamari, and gooey fried cheese balls. Barkaroustos’ meal of the day (think lamb pasticcio or aubergine imam bayildi) offers great value for money at lunchtime beside the port.
Giannoulis Taverna is a lovely beachside restaurant, perfect for padding off the sand for a relaxing evening of beer, cards and Greek classics, such as fava bean puree, horiatiki salad and succulent grilled catch of the day.
Coffee To Go is your one-stop shop for breakfast and lunch treats. Traditional tiropita cheese pies are perfect picnic accompaniments, whether you want to spend the day reading on the beach or exploring the island’s sequestered hiking trails.
Batsi is the tourist hotspot of the island, and as such it has a wide range of cafés, bars and restaurants. Asterix Café is great for a fresh breakfast platter, while G Corner is a lovely little bakery for coffee and snacks.Cavo Meze, a charming bistro with tables beside the harbour, serves delightful small plates such as mussels in tomato, chili and ouzo, creamy pork and oregano, moreish fried anchovies and sharp local goat cheese with fruit marmalade.
At the opposite end of the beach, take in views of the ocean from Cavo Doro’s tree-filled courtyard. The hospitable, chatty owner will ply you with local wine and abundant seafood platters to your heart’s content. Stamatis Taverna enjoys a lively ambiance, serving delicious local spiced sausage with crispy chips, unctuous aubergine dip, fried feta in filo drizzled with honey and succulent local goat kleftiko on tables sprawling from an intimate backstreet to a patio with harbour views.
A little further afield, lies Chora, the capital of Andros. Halfway down the main throughfare, you’ll find Endochora, a stylish, modern bistro serving delightful dishes, such as black squid ink taramasalata, crunchy courgette fritters, delicate seared tuna fillet and satisfying herbed chicken breast.
An undiscovered island
Most of the activity in Chora takes place on a craggy headland, which is home to the nautical museum, the Unknown Sailor statue (which mourns the fact that Andros lost 70% of its men during WWII) and a cluster of neoclassical mansions owned by the island’s wealthy shipbuilding clans.
It is this rich shipping heritage, along with enough farmland to produce its own meat, fruit, vegetables and olive oil, that allowed Andros to maintain its relaxed atmosphere and local charm while other Greek islands were forced to embrace mass tourism to keep their economies going.
“British people love that Andros isn’t saturated with tourists,” says Nikos Moustakas, Deputy Mayor of Tourism. “‘Andros is our little secret,’ they say.”
“Each year they visit, but they never bring anyone new with them. They want to enjoy the island to themselves!”
I can understand the sentiment, but with over 100 miles of largely untouched coastline encompassing over 70 beautiful beaches, there’s plenty of room for those who wish to experience Andros for the first time.
Caves, waterfalls, castles
In an attempt to see as much of this diverse island as possible during my short time here, I take a day tour with VLM Travel. My knowledgeable guide, Savvas Vlamis, introduces me to a plethora of amazing attractions, all of which also feature along the various Andros Routes trails. Concealed at the end of a thin path fringed with white jasmine flowers, the Pythara waterfalls are a hidden oasis, a fitting setting for fairy-tale stories of water nymphs.
Faros Cave is a five-million-year-old subterranean land of fantasies. Tours of the grotto are brought to life by the cavern’s imaginative guardians, who point out impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations imitating everything from volcanoes, birds, dragons and forests to mushrooms and pizza ovens.
"The fresh food, prepared and served with love, has warmed my soul"
Other highlights of the tour include: the remains of the 13th century Venetian Castle of Faneromeni, which affords magnificent views to the eastern Aegean; Korthi Bay, a laidback seaside village with deliciously clear water; the Monastery of Aghia Eirini, which hosts passionate daily tours of its many on-site exhibitions; and the recently-opened Agadaki Estate Botanical Garden, a living encyclopaedia of the island’s native flowers, herbs and citrus trees.
As I get ready to board the ferry from Gavrio, I reflect on my time in Andros. The enchanting mountain and coastal landscapes have cleared my mind. The exhilarating hikes and refreshing swims have stimulated my body. And the fresh food, prepared and served with love, has warmed my soul.
In short, I don’t want to leave.
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