Everything we have dreamed about during the winter can be found here, on Astypalea: ouzo with our feet in the sand, dancing until the early morning in the narrow streets of Hora, diving into the blue and emerald waters from boats, sandy beaches with shade under the tamarisk trees.
The island – with architectural characteristics typical of both the Dodecanese and the Cyclades, reflecting its geographical location – offers the additional option of easy access by plane, with everything that brings during the high season in August: bookings necessary at restaurants, “pricey” services, crowded bars, and parking difficulties – much like most islands. Yet the island’s cosmopolitan aura and beauty makes everyone fall in love with it.
The most popular beaches due to easy access are Livadi and Analipsi (Maltezana), where you will find great seafood restaurants (“Astropelos”, Tel. (+30) 22430.614.73, and “Almyra”, Tel. (+30) 22430.614.51, respectively). Psili Ammos is also popular, though it should be best avoided during the meltemi winds in August.
Aghios Konstantinos is great, with a lovely beach bar and views of Hora, as well as Tzanaki, a nudist beach. The dirt roads do not discourage people from heading to Vatses and Kaminakia, two of the island’s most special beaches. At the most narrow point of the island you will find Steno, with its shallow waters, tamarisk trees and lovely canteen-taverna on the sand, ideal for children.
The locals will share the secrets of the island with you – Ble Limanaki and Plakes – though these are also rather packed in August. The real secrets are the Aghioi Ioannides: Agios Ioannis Makris and Aghios Ioannis Rihtis, accessible via footpaths for genuinely isolated moments. Should you need assistance, get in touch with the hiking group “Pardalo Katsiki” (Tel. (+30) 6981.200.312).
La dolce vita and history
Dreamy afternoon walks through the narrow streets, flanked by Cycladic residences and mansions in the Dodecanese architectural style. This unique blend makes the Hora of Astypalea one of the most beautiful in the Aegean; it is also rather quiet since there are few stores and most houses have been bought by foreigners. The hustle and bustle can be found further down, around the characteristic windmills and the square.
Your walk inevitably leads to the Querini castle, dating from the 13th century, built on the ruins of old houses and the temples of Aghios Georgios and Panagia. On your way down, take a seat for meze at “Apanemia” (Tel. (+30) 22430.621.90), a great spot in the narrow streets, or have a drink at “Kastro” bar (Tel. (+30) 6946.7612.30).
Makarounes with cheese
There is fish, seafood, and local baby goat, but the dreamiest dish is… pasta with cheese! The handmade makarounes and tarachtes pasta are cooked with fresh local cheese and saffron, which also grows on various areas of the island. The best can be tasted at “Agoni Grammi” (Tel. (+30) 22430.621.02). Using the same ingredients but with the addition of honey we have “pougkia” (pasties), found in several cafes.
Overall, the cheeses produced on the island are particularly special and can be sourced from the dairy “Kostadios” (Tel. (+30) 6982.7106.98), while Astylpalea is also the headquarters of “Iliana”, the company that makes the famed Astypalean rusks with oregano, thyme, greenery or saffron.
Scenes from the past
Heading to Mesa Nisi is an interesting experience, away from the crowds, to arrid landscapes with dry walls, chapels and goats, and wild beaches that are accessible via hiking trails. This is where Vathi is located: the old settlement with an enormous bay that looks like a lagoon, ideal for mooring boats and for swimming.
There are pens with animals, a few houses, the remnants of old chimneys and sites of archaeological interest; yet those who come all the way here mostly come for the self-service taverna “Galini” (Tel. (+30) 22430-61201). With Kyria Maria in the kitchen frying fresh fish and calling you to the window to pick them up when they are ready, you will feel as if you were staying at your summer house.
Pirates for a day
In the small ports of Maltezana or Pera Gialos you will find fishing boats and tourist vessels ready for the ultimate summer experience. Take a private or group tour and enjoy diving into the waters at Kokkinos Gremos with its caves, on deserted beaches and on the islets Koutsomitis and Kounoupes. The latter is more famous, and rightly so, for its golden sandy beach – when it is not crowded, it feels like paradise. In fact, a canteen with drinks and some dishes also operates there.
Vatses also has a lovely canteen-beach bar. Keep in mind that there is no cell phone reception here.
Come to Kaminakia beach in the afternoon, after everyone else leaves, and take a seat at “Linda” for a bite to eat (Tel. (+30) 6932.610.050). Dishes are prepared using her own ingredients and produce: meats, cheeses, wine, vegetables. There won’t be many daily specials left, but you will enjoy the silence.
If you stay up late, wait for the sunrise in Hora, which is painted pink, as you hear the otherworldly cawing of crows in the absolute silence. If you come across a full moon, take a seat at “Sti Thea” bar (Tel. (+30) 6931.144.806) to see the moon rising above the Castle.
The owners of the historic bar, “Artemis”, do not tolerate hefty crowds. In order to guarantee entry, be sure to come here before midnight (doors open at 22:00).
Be “green”: there are charging stations for electric vehicles scattered across the island, and they are also available for rental (from 50 euros a day in early July, plus 20 euros per category later on). You can rent electric bicycles from “Astypalea bicycle rental” (30 euros/day, Tel. (+30) 22430.619.35).