Named as one of the “52 Places to Love in 2021” by the New York Times and recently described as “my favourite place on earth” by Conde Nast’s Global Editor in Chief Melinda Stevens in an interview with Greek Vogue magazine, Andros is getting the world’s attention. So, what’s the fuss all about? As someone who has been visiting the island every summer for several months at a time for 18+ years, I’ve noted key changes that I believe are well worth sharing with you.
Lying on the beach and doing absolutely nothing can be extremely rewarding to post-lockdown, frazzled holiday-makers, but missing out on the increasingly huge variety of well-organized, exploratory things to do equates to getting only a one-dimensional feel of this multi-faceted destination. The focus on boosting adventure tourism is the most apparent development in Andros, which has been on the world map especially since its hiking trails, developed by Andros Routes, were awarded the “Leading Quality Trails-Best of Europe” Quality Certification by the European Rambles Association in 2015 and again in 2018. During my annual visits, I’ve had the chance to explore its many beaches and most charming villages like Menites, Sineti, Batsi and Apikia, and have always discovered new perspectives.
Even if you’re a regular, it’s well worth participating in jaw-droppingly scenic hikes organized chiefly by Andros Routes around the island. On my recent trip my son and I hiked in the village of Livadia, walking with two friendly, highly-informative guides along narrow paths overflowing with greenery. We came across antiquated houses, lush open fields with grazing horses and cows, rivers, mulberry trees we stood under to enjoy a sweetly juicy staining feast, flowers of every shade and aroma. Our experience was deliciously completed at a local residence where we were generously treated to great conversation, coffee, fresh lemonade and endless platters of fluffy cakes, artfully spiced spoon sweets and chewy almond biscuits.
Explore Andros is another reliable go-to organization for action-lovers, which over the last two years has significantly upped its game when it comes to experiential activities. The tour we took was sadly ruined by the typically unpredictable and unforgiving winds, as it involved hopping onto a traditional caique fishing boat. The original plan was to head to Achla beach, well known for its expansive sand and pebble beach, a river and turquoise waters, and then stop to fish on the way back. However, the 5 Beaufort winds meant we only got as far as Gyalia beach, where we and another guest dove into the waters for a refreshing swim. The captain made sure that despite our plans being dampened by sweltering waves we could still had a great time, so he offered us ouzo, feta and tomato chunks and an entertaining dance along to very loud and spirited traditional songs.
Explore Andros was created by Christos Balogiannis, who has also established the island’s first and only nutritional snacks shop, serving fresh juice and healthy salads in Chora. He has also built several elegant accommodations and keeps passionately planning for how to make Andros as attractive as possible to tourists. Their tours include hiking visits to natural landscapes and cultural sites, cooking and eating experiences, horseback riding, rock climbing and scuba diving.
Usually staying by the beach of Niborio with the sound of the waves lulling me to sleep every night, this year I stayed in the pretty village of Apikia, a 15-minute drive away. So instead, I went to bed smelling wafts of jasmine, roses and gardenia that grew in abundance around the house and woke up to the sound of the cockerel and goat bells. I got a true feeling of Andros’ hospitality at Eirini Isari’s House With the Lemon Trees where I was hosted, which is also for rent on Airbnb. The traditional abode overlooks a dreamy view of the sea and, almost daily, Eirini and her husband brought us organic gifts from their ‘baxe’ gardens, such as courgettes and courgette flowers, potatoes, vlyta greens, fresh eggs, basil, mint, plums and lemons.
While in the village I religiously walked up the marble steps leading to the island’s renown Sariza Springs to fill up water bottles with natural spring water that is meant to be especially good for healing kidney stones and drew crowds of tourists to the village in the 1930s. I also discovered the Life Andros Park Project, an EU-backed initiative in the village where Andros’ rich botanical varieties are showcased and preserved.
The Andros Yacht Club, true to the island’s strong nautical tradition organizes an exciting the Andros International Yacht Race every August and also offers sailing lessons to children aged nine and above. The view of tiny white sailboats zooming across the waters and swiveling to miss families of swans is one of the prettiest and most characteristic scenes in Niborio beach. The long coastline is lined by a wooden boardwalk and as of two years ago also has access from the road into the sea for wheelchair-bound individuals.
A Call to Foodies
Unlike neighbouring Tinos and not-far-off Mykonos, Andros hasn’t yet developed a reputation for its local cuisine or notable gastronomic exploits. However, over the last few years the dining scene has evolved, with a few food stores and restaurants significantly raising the island’s culinary profile. In the main port of Gavrio, the classic Greek Taverna Karavostasi now serves a menu of gourmet-style specials that include mouth-watering ‘Calamari Carbonara’, (made by slicing the calamari into linguini-shaped strips), shrimp ceviche and moreish marinated seabass.
In Chora, visit the recently re-opened taverna Agroktima for classic, unpretentious and flavorsome Greek fare like lamb chops, salads made with organic garden vegetables, locally farmed meat and fat-preserved Andriot sausage that stars in the island’s favorite dish, the Fourtalia omelette.
If you’re interested in learning how to make Fourtalia yourself or just want to eat it freshly made by a local cook worth her salt, visit Despina Karystinou at her house in Katakalei mountain (Tel. (+30) 6973.479.284), a truly authentic experience.
Another refreshing dinner experience in Chora is NeoBar, the island’s trendiest spot, which serves well-mixed cocktails and Italian-style pizzas to a live DJ soundtrack, and with a mesmerizing view (especially during sunset) over Paraporti beach.
The production of traditional and locally grown foods has notably increased over the last two years. Although the island’s agriculture has been declining the last few decades, there are some noteworthy efforts to revive it. Three traditional cheese factories (two in Korthi, one in Aprovatou and a home workshop in Messaria have been created and more local sweets and a plethora of other local products are available.
In Gavrio it’s well worth visiting the Afoi Tridima butcher shop where two young brothers recreate recipes of old taught to them by their grandfather. Apart from high quality cuts of meat they sell (now to Athens and Thessaloniki as well as Andros) the Andriot sausage, Louza smoked ham, sausages made with wild local herbs and other deli products without a hint of preservatives. They also sell brands of locally made organic honey (one of the island’s best products, especially the heather or riki honey), propolis and royal jelly, a good selection of the above-mentioned cheeses, locally produced wines, and Andros tsipouro and ouzo.
Although not new, Andriakon bio shop in Gavrio sells a grand variety of both imported food products and homemade goodies from around Andros – from jams and bread to cheeses, honey and soaps, and you’ll always find something highly authentic and new.
When it comes to homemade food products don’t overlook a visit to Fouskothalassies store in Batsi, a dinky store with shelves-full of gem-coloured jars and bottles in every shape and size, packed with foods and drinks made at home by owner Maria. From wild artichokes, bold blends of aromatic herbs, honey, olive oil, and fruit liqueurs to juicy capers and every variety of jams, preserves and cookies, all made with local ingredients, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The love can be seen in every single item, hand-decorated by Maria with glitter and seashell designs.
In Chora too, you’ll find a rich and constantly altering variety of local herbs, spices, preserves, pickles, wines, honey, rusks, cheeses and more at the Paradosiako Pandopoleio store along the main shopping street.
Another noteworthy initiative in the food and agricultural sector is Livada Farm, where ecologist farmer/holistic therapist Alexandros Kostis cultivates a broad array of organic, pesticide-free fruits, herbs and vegetables. Visitors can see the farm on an arranged tour or simply order a basket of fresh, seasonal, 100% naturally grown fruit, herbs and veggies, delivered weekly to their accommodation.
A Service-Centred Culture
One of the most marked changes I was impressed by this summer was the general rise in service standards. From the polite and professional staff at the brand new Votsalo Seaside café and villas at Gialia beach, where one can economically rent a straw umbrella and sun lounger and order well-made snacks and drinks, to the sunny and helpful service of shop owners, waiters and travel guides.
This refreshing demeanour comes across in the slight but noticeable rise of cultural happenings too. Apart from the island’s archaeological and folk museums, and the popular Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art, this year hosting an exhibition by prolific Greek painter Giorgos Rorris, the charming new Adamantia Art Space has sprung up in Chora. When I visited I got to enjoy an exhibition by artist/writer Amalia Melis presenting her sculptural art and lightbox photos by Sophia Spanoudaki, although there are new exhibitions every few weeks.
If you’re visiting during August, check out the programme for the Andros International Festival, which takes place in an open-air amphitheatre in Chora and presents music, theatre and dance performances.
The holistically-minded too can find high quality services too, such as yoga classes by Caroline Cunliffe that take place in Gyalia, Korthi and Menites and massage therapies by Dimitris and Dora, who also run a lovely store in Gavrio selling handmade soaps, medicinal lotions, shower gels and more made with natural, hand-picked ingredients. Therapy-lovers can also be pampered at the Micra Anglia Spa in Chora.
Despite the global pandemic as the cherry on top of a 10-year financial crisis, Andros seems to be coming out on top in terms of presenting an overly positive, outgoing and hospitable attitude and looking towards a brighter future. Supermarkets are now stocked with everything you’d find in a big city, as are large pharmacies such as the one in Chora, and visitors can find personal services that include expert drivers to take you on land adventures and skippers for aquatic day-tours.
Although some locals commented to me that they worry the island is losing its authentic feel and becoming more like the Athenian Riviera, while others emphatically noted that more serious issues like proper recycling and fire prevention tactics are being overlooked because all the focus is on having a shiny exterior. Either way, throughout the island there are noteworthy efforts to both preserve and honor tradition and welcome in the new. As with all travel experiences, travelers need to explore what calls to them and create the memories that are most meaningful to them, and there are plenty of ways of doing that on this island.
Many thanks for the help with this article to Diana Farr Louis, Amalia Melis, Olga Karagianni.