Astypalea: “Love it, Just the Way it Is”

Fine art photographer and longtime visitor to Astypalea Francois L'Hotel explains why the island's simplicity made him fall in love with it.

From Francois L’ Hotel*, edited by Olga Charami

This account is part of a series of insider takes on the islands of the Dodecanese. For more on these islands, click here.

I am French, I was born in Paris and one day fell in love with a beautiful Greek “princess”, Julia. She introduced me to her island, Astypalaia.

What I remember from my first time on the island about 15 years ago was the scent when the door of the airplane opened. It was a wild, and at the same time sweet scent that I will never forget. The arid landscape stretched as far as the eye could see.

When I ask my 9-year-old daughter what she loves most about Astypalea, she answers without a second thought: playing and swimming with my friends all day and at night eating with my parents at the taverna. I think there is no better answer. 

For me Astypalea is the beautiful landscape, devoid of large buildings, the secluded barren expanses, the incredible sea and the beaches which are small and few in number for the size of the island, but at the same time enough even for those who seek solitude.

We live in Chora, right beneath the castle. We bought the house in the 1980s, like many visitors from abroad who fell in love with the island. People from France, Germany and Scandinavia have restored many buildings, staying faithful to the old, traditional architecture. A fair number live there all year round and we all know each other, like an extended family. 

As everything is white, the light becomes even more intense and the colorful sheets or towels hanging out to dry on balconies resemble Japanese prints. From our small rooftop we have the good fortune to be able to watch the sunset every evening. Everything turns orange before night falls.

On the rest of the island I love Vatses for the landscape, for the beach bar that Christos and Sotiris have made, and for the incredible stretch of sand. Kaminakia is likewise a very attractive beach and indeed has trees which offer valuable shade to the early-birds who manage to secure a spot under them. The beach of Steno is ideal for children as it has shallow waters, a sandy seabed and a canteen.

A perfect day on Astypalea, for me, begins with breakfast in the Chora, at Meltemi or Karai with its amazing views. That is followed by a day-long excursion to the small islands opposite the castle – Koutsomiti and Kounoupa, where we are taken by a little boat from Pera Gialo.

The day ends with dinner and the restaurant Akti, with its enchanting view of the castle, or at Karlos, the undisputed king of katsikaki kokkinisto – goat in tomato sauce. 

Overall the food on the island is very good. At Livadi I like Astropelos run by Maria and Michalis, and Krokodeilos which has tables right on the sand. Almyra in Maltezana, Barbarossa in Chora, and Galini in Vathy all have their own unique charm.

The bars are few, but all of them are special. A standout is Kastro, located beneath the castle walls and Artemis with its view of the old harbour. And the new Thea is also great, with a view of the castle and the sea, perfect for nights with a full moon when you can watch it rise magically over the castle.

Astypalea is one of the most unadulterated parts of Greece, a land that is so authentic and simple that it is absolutely necessary that it remain so. To not be destroyed by tourism like other islands. And in reality I don’t like what I am doing right now – promoting the island, that is – but I am doing it for the locals.

I implore you to respect it and to love it just the way it is. Just as we do.

*Francois L’Hotel is a fine art photographer and runs a studio-gallery in Votanikos in Athens.

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