Just two breezy hours by ferry boat from Athens’ Rafina port, Andros, the “island of the sea captains” is the greenest and northernmost of the Cycladic group and has only recently begun to gain recognition from the wider world. Vogue nominated it as one of the three “under-the-radar Greek islands” (the other two were Syros and Tinos) in 2016 and The Guardian published a feature singing the island’s praises as one of Greece’s best walking destinations. They were both definitely onto something, as this non-touristic island, once known as Ydroussa for its rich water sources, has much to offer that few know about – and I’m not just talking only about beaches.
The lush and varied landscape – flower-strewn valleys, impressive waterfalls such as those at Pithara, quaint old stone bridges at Aladinou and Stichiomeni, rugged mountains, an abundance of gushing fresh water springs to stop and sip from and crystalline streams – make for a perfect backdrop for mountain biking, yoga and nature walks too. If you are a water baby at heart, you can rent a boat and discover the island’s pristine beaches, or just sail into the sunset.
Walk on the wild side
Two local hiking organisations have put Andros on the world map – Andros Routes and Trekking Andros, the latter also organising a host of other activities besides trekking, such as yoga, Tai Chi, Brazilian dance and even food-themed movie events. There are a choice of 15 newly signposted trails to hike along the kalderimia, old tracks that connected the villages before concrete roads were laid out, flanked by dry stone walls. Over 150km of pathways have been made accessible to trekkers and the choices are gratifyingly broad – from short, easy walks ideal for children or the elderly such as one from Chora to Apikia (where the Sariza springs & water factory are located) to much more demanding hikes into the mountains, such as one from Arni to that of Vourkoti.
Apart from exploring vibrant nature and other features, from verdant valleys to parched hills and spanning sea views in between, the hikes are also an ideal way to discover the island’s history and culture, as you traipse through villages such as medieval Sineti or Aidonia that are perched onto rugged slopes, or Chora with its elegant neoclassical homes belonging to wealthy shipowners are stacked up overlooking the Tourlitis lighthouse.
Chora is a great stop for a cosmopolitan evening in the main Iroon square where the island’s chi chi crowd gathers in high season. Visit the current exhibition presenting the works of Greek painter and poet Nikos Engonopoulos at the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art before dining at Endochora restaurant in the main agora strip and sipping a cocktail at Neo, a former slaughterhouse turned trendy bar. The clothes shopping here is luxurious and gratifying too, especially at Waikiki boutique while melt-in-your-mouth amygdalota almond sweets can be found at Galanos or Lygizos.
Andros is known for its hefty meltemi winds, which make it an ideal destination for sailing and surfing (indeed, Olympic champions Nikos Kaklamanis and Giorgos Fragos are locals). In the southeast, seaside Korthi (where the windsurfing World Championships took place in 2007), draws windsurfers from around the world. Kypri beach, where you can also learn to scuba dive at an accredited school, is also popular for those who are still learning to surf as the winds there are less overwhelming. You can also rent a boat and head to the north side of the island, where you’ll find pristine beaches to enjoy alone, while also doing some bird watching.
Although challenging and only suitable for fit bikers, Andros’ hilly and mountainous landscape can be very rewarding to explore by bike, especially if you combine your off-road escapades with a refreshing dip in the sea or a stop for some coffee and glyko koutaliou (spoon sweet) in one of the villages. You can choose from a variety of routes of varying levels of difficulty – one hour routes (such as from Chora, through Messaria and then to Menites) or more challenging rides such as the three hour cycle from Chora to Stavropeda and then Batsi. Whatever you do, make sure you are heading out very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Andros By Bike: androsbybike.gr/Kalos_erthate.html
Life’s a Beach
Unless you are visiting on August 15th, where anywhere in Greece is packed – Andros’ beaches are lapped by clear, cool, reviving waters. Achla beach, considered the fairest of them all, was unreachable by car until less than a decade ago and thus formerly a hangout for the yachtilicious crowd only. It still has an enchanted air because of a) it’s rugged natural gorgeousness and b) the popular Onar Hotel (where various holistic workshops run) along the river behind it. On the western side, Chryssi Ammos and Aghios Petros close to Batsi are also great for kids, as is Niborio in Chora, where you can swim with the swans, and there are places to eat and drink near each of these. Chalkolimionas and Apothikes in Stavropeda is great for very windy days as it’s sheltered. On the eastern side Sineti and Tis Grias To Pidima (famous for its rock stack emerging from the sea) are both beautiful, especially off season when you can have practically them to yourself. Korthi is great for kids as there is a shaded bay with shallow waters and there are plenty of fish restaurants to enjoy lunch at. Pebbly Gialia, near Chora, is family-friendly because it has a wetland connected it where kids love to spot dragonflies, frogs, ducks and some days swans and there is a bridge that offers the perfect shade, while over it is a taverna serving great food. Piso Gialia just a little further on can be accessed by a 15 minute, uphill trek along stairs and has a beach bar with an all-day power-beat.