Simply put, Andros is lovely and is easily reached by ferry from Rafina 20 minutes east of the city of Athens. There are regular bus services from the International Airport of Athens to coincide with the ferries. Our ferry only took two hours and left us at the port of Gavrio.
I had previously enjoyed several other Cycladic islands and this is the second largest and closest to the mainland of Greece. The first inhabitants of this island were the Phoenicians who settled in Gavrio, then there were Cretan invaders and then the Romans and of course the Venetians….so it is an island that boasts great history.
Andros has been the home of many famous ship-owner families who have their summer homes on the island. In antiquity, it was named Hydroussa because of its abundant fresh water springs, and was the place where the ancient god Dionysos was worshipped and ‘water was turned into wine’.
Andros is known to have established colonies in Halkidiki in northern Greece at Sani, Acanthus, Stagira and Clay. I visited Halkidiki just a week later and saw where Aristotle was born and grew up at Stagira! In more recent times many islanders went away to sea and there is a fine maritime museum in the capital.
This island is very naturally beautiful, most of which is unexploited, and there are numerous sandy beaches, safe turquoise seas, historical monuments that record the cultural heritage throughout the centuries and a traditional unspoiled architecture. It also embraces a flourishing contemporary art culture and is home to three internationally renowned museums; we visited the Archaeological Museum in the capital.
On arrival, we made our way in a hire car to Batsi which, when I saw again in daylight, I loved. It has a perfect bay and curve of sandy beaches in the town and pleasant architecture with a busy little harbour of fishermen and leisure seekers; the cuisine on offer is good Greek food with fresh fish and lovely vegetable dishes. We dined at the Meltemi on our first night and lived in a self-catering apartment called Nicolas on a mountain side with beautiful views near the town of Korthi.
Hiking is such a big attraction on Andros and these hillside apartments are very convenient for that sport. The trekking and hiking is very well organised with good maps and road signs to help the serious walker with over 18 different routes from which to choose. Andros Routes was formed by a group of volunteers who love the island, its culture, history and beautiful landscape.
Their aim is to develop sustainable tourism on the island by restoring and maintaining the ancient network of paths for hiking. Since 2012 they have restored and signposted over 160 km of paths including the Andros Route, a 100km continuous path across the length of the island.
The island’s capital is Andros Chora and this pleasant town has a huge Venetian architectural influence and is quaint and neat with good shopping but at the one end are the big mansions of the wealthy ship owners of yesteryear.
Swimming, hiking, culture and cuisine are all well catered for on Andros. I particularly enjoyed The Olive Oil Museum in Pitrofos village off the main road to the capital Chora. This museum is well worth a visit to fully understand the vital importance of olive culture through the centuries throughout Greece; the owner Dimitris Chelmis’ parents had lived locally and been forced through circumstances to go and work in Turkey in the 1920’s but had returned; he bought the derelict village mill and restored it to its present interesting state and explains the whole production process and one reflects how hard life was for all these folk.
One evening we had dinner with Katerina a lovely lady who cooks for you in her kitchen and makes unusual special dishes and just talking with her was a real pleasure – her little place is called TouJosef in the same village – Pitrofos.
Unlike some other Cycladic Islands, the great abundance of water through natural springs led to green forested hillsides and valleys and in some places the steep hillside comes down right into the rocky coastline.
There are ancient monasteries, masses of old dovecots, little Greek style chapels, and great archaeology – Zagora, Ipsili, Palaiopoli, The Tower of St Peter, Pano Kastro and the Venetian Castle in Chora (the capital). There’s much to choose from, but if you just want to relax, then there are over 40 beaches and lovely rental villas with their own pools.
For me it was a pleasure early in the morning to sit on my terrace with a cup of tea (I always travel with my own teabags) and watch the sunrise slowly fill the valley beneath me with sunshine, and then the school bell would ring and the chattering of the children would fall silent.
Greek breakfasts are legendary and most good apartments or suites have a wonderful breakfast buffet which sets one up for the day ahead. At lunch to stroll into a taverna and have the owner proudly show me what had been cooked for the day would lead to fine moussaka, or rabbit stew, or lovely vegetables or maybe fresh fish; a special form of omelette is very traditional to Andros.
The various owners and cooks are all so welcoming and friendly. At Batsi my abiding memory is at lunchtime looking out from Lagoudera taverna right on the sea front on the three yachts in line on the blue blue sea, pink bougainvillea flowers and red geraniums in pots, and then some stunning calamari, a beautiful fresh fish and a Greek salad …. a truly happy experience.