The Weekly Getaway: northern winds, mountainous life and the eternal blue of Amorgos
Lost amidst the very south of the Cyclades, Amorgos is a beaut albeit rough around the edges with its mountainous terrain and howling winds. A real trek for those looking to only relax during their stay, the island offers a colourful setting in Chora with many other attractions and a few beaches waiting to be explored.
As the ferry approaches the port of Katapola after a long ride, we slowly make our ascend to Chora where most of the island’s action takes place - a small settlement that goes deep despite its small array of commercial establishments left and right, its numerous cafés and tavernas.
Now declared a preserved site, Chora with its handful of almost ruined windmills at the very top hasn’t always been about preservation and aesthetics as one looks around to observe some relatively ugly houses. As you go all the way to the opposite direction towards the big rock that stands proud on one edge of the village, you walk up the stairs to reach the small door of the cliff-hanging church. Once you go in, you climb up a few more stairs to reach the very top and the view is breathtaking. If you happen to stumble upon a locked door, you can walk down the stairs to one of the cafés and ask for one of the few keys that go around.
Tired from the ferry ride and all the exploring, we stop by at the northern square of the village at the newly launched Mayasi café wine bar under the shade of a beautiful tree to enjoy just about the only good coffee available in the island. Their breakfast selection is also quite good with handmade marmalades, country style bread and egg white omelettes with soft cheese. On a different day we also try their cheese selection and their tasty tuna tartare. The music plays low and is a real treat especially when they play film instrumental music in the early morning - goes well with a cup of traditional Greek coffee. The owners also run Apospero restaurant right next door, just about the only upscale establishment, with a distinct focus on seafood - hard to find in Amorgos.
The monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, dating back to the 11th century and clinging off the sharp cliffs of the eastern side of the island, is probably the most visited site with around 1,000 visitors per month during high season. The 300-some steps up the hill is a real trek under the scorching sun, but as we make it to the top and into the monastery were treated with some psimeni raki and water by the priests. Moments down the road, we hit Agia Anna beach for a quick dip in the cold deep blue waters. The site was used for filming Le Grand Bleu back in the 1970s and lately the local community has been resurrecting the trend of diving with its annual free diving competition.
A couple of kilometeres south there is Mourou beach, a narrow double-coved pebbled beach with its gorgeous rocky backdrop. The view from atop is stunning and the beach stays sunny well until 6pm. Round the small coves at the right lie great spots for snorkelling when the sea is calm.
Aegiali, Tholaria and Lagkada
On a different day we head north to Agios Pavlos beach, a small sandy peninsula, from where we take the boat for a 10min ride (runs every hour at the very least) to a neighbouring islet and the beach of Nikouria. The crowd gets filtered out in Agios Pavlos so most likely you’ll be able to find sun beds and an umbrella, unless you’re up for a mini trek and the less organised beach in the neighbouring bay from Nikouria. Sun-drenched, hungry and curious to see more, we head to Aegiali bay and Tholaria, a traditional mountainous settlement known for its hand-painted flooring. While a couple of tavernas are notoriously known, it’s best if you skip lunch there and head for some sweet treats at the neighbouring village of Lagkada, much more beautiful, at Tratarisma during sunset. If you’re not a sweet tooth you can enjoy some drinks or nibbles at Seladi bar at the outskirts of Tholaria.
Alternatively, you can head to Asfontylitis up at the very top of the mountain and halfway between Aegiali and Chora to find To Steki tou Machera, a small taverna running on anything but electricity! Mrs Sofia with her gentle yet outgoing personality will leave you wondering what she’s doing in the middle of nowhere serving a small selection of home-cooked dishes from her wood oven. Just make sure you call in first to check if she’s there cause she only caters for those that give her a heads up. A long-time cook for more than 30 years, she opened this serene spot in 2014 that devoted foodies visit both day and night, when the stars are also out and make a wonderful setting!
Kalotaritissa and Arkesini
Towards the south of the island there is Kalotariotissa beach with a small canteen and a semi-proper beach. We start our tour towards south but make a brief stop at the shipwreck of Olympia (luckily all crew was saved when it crashed in Feb 1980) moments before Kalotaritissa, a scenic and popular spot of the island also for free diving. The boat from Kalotaritissa will take us opposite the bay to Gramvoussa an uninhabited island with a great beach offering both umbrellas as well as ample of free space, including a backdrop of rocks for some shade throughout the day. Just make sure you carry enough supplies as the beach is not catered.
The sun is almost golden around 5pm when we start our way back and stop by at Arkesini village for a brief lunch in Ston Pyrgo. A colorful array of tables are scattered around a house and on the road next to some fields and a well-manned crew operates a traditional taverna with some lovely treats. Classical music is playing in the background and patrons start to flock in around 7pm. Time to get back to base and also make a stop at the small kafeneio (traditional café in Greek) of Makis. Together with his wife Maria they serve Greek coffee and refreshments outside their lovely establishment under a couple of trees - beautiful!
Moni Panagias Hozoviotisas - 11th century monastery hanging off the edge of a cliff. Make sure you check visiting times and be ready for the 300 steps up
Chora - the best part of the island, offering some rough views all around and a unique mountainous vibe
Tholaria - mountainous village best visited during sunset
Lagkada - the mountainous part of Aegiali, featuring small white-washed alleys for some nice late afternoon strolls
Navagio Olympia - shipwreck from 1980 on the way to Kalotaritissa beach
Agia Anna - unique rock formations and crystal clear deep blue waters. Also home to where the film Le Grand Bleu was shot in the 1970s
Mourou - small pebbled beach with fantastic waters and small coves for exploring, especially if you’re into snorkelling
Nikouria and Agios Pavlos - you can drive to the small sandy unorganised beach of Agios Pavlos and then take the boat (every 30 or 60mins) to the two beaches of Nikouria (one organised and one not). Serene and quite far from everything else!
Ston Pyrgo - traditional taverna in Arkesini offering some small fish seafood and meat
Parvas - traditional meze place in Chora
Pizza Petrino - very popular (and at times crowded) pizza and pasta place in Chora for some casual dining
Jazzmin bar - breakfast spot and night spot for some funky tunes; also featuring some live jazz ensembles
Seladi bar - sunset bar right above Aegiali’s bay, also open for breakfast
Tratarisma - dessert place in Lagkada, great for sunset