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Just two hours from the port of Rafina, northeast of Athens, Andros is the greenest of the Cyclades islands as well as the second-largest after Naxos. And it’s full of surprises.
Where else could you find Venetian castles and untouched beaches, rushing rivers and abandoned watermills, a world-class modern art museum and the grand mansions of local ship-owners, as well as well-marked hiking trails and dramatic precipices?
For all its wealth, Andros is laid-back and discreet, shy of tourism, unlike any other in the Cyclades. It awaits discovery by the discerning traveller.
Andriots are above all seafarers, captains, ship-owners and sailors. The main town, Hora, is full of stately homes and neoclassical buildings they erected with their earnings a century or more ago. The broad main street exudes prosperity in its marble pavements, open squares, large churches and carved marble fountain. But don’t expect glitz. Instead, the modest shops of Andros’ main town sell traditional foods, clothes and sweets.
The central square is the heart of Hora, flanked by the Archaeological Museum and buzzing cafes, with two long beaches (Paraportiani and Nimborio) spread out below. If you walk on into the oldest part of town, you’ll come to a square at the end of the promontory, occupied by a single monument to the Unknown Sailor. You could almost be standing on the prow of a liner.
Hosting an exciting new exhibition each summer, the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art is reason alone to visit Andros. Past treasures have included works by Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Chagall, Rodin, Miro, Kandinsky and many more.
Of all the villages in the lush hills near Hora, Stenies may be the loveliest. Camouflaged by tall trees, its grand mansions may be the highlight for sightseers, but you can also explore a 17th-century tower, an old stone bridge and a picturesque old factory with a huge waterwheel. Devote a few hours of your holiday on Andros to take in these splendid sights.
The beaches of Andros are little-known wonders. Some on the north are accessible only by dirt road or boat, such as Ahla, Zorkos, Ateni, Vitali, Grias and Pidima. Or if you prefer, Old Lady’s Leap with its remarkable stone pillar jutting out of the sea. Those to the south, like Agios Petros, Batsi, Chryssi Ammos, Fellos and Halkolimionas, are much easier on the tyres. Many remain just as nature intended, so bring your own umbrella and refreshments. Others have beach bars or tavernas and all mod cons.
East of Hora, Korthi could belong to another island. Wind-battered at the end of an open bay, this is a place for hikers and adventurers. From here, you can climb to the ruins of a Venetian castle and from there walk down the Dipotamata Gorge where watermills once ground Andros’ wheat. Or you could make the circuit of the pretty villages in the hills of Andros. Not afraid of dodgy roads? Drive right to the end of the island where a narrow strait separates Andros from Tinos, visiting one or more of the venerable monasteries along the way.
Faneromeni Castle, or Upper Castle, stands in contrast to the even more ruined fortress at the tip of Hora. Prepare to be amazed by the view of the Aegean.
The Tourlitis Lighthouse, off the coast of Hora, is the only one in the Cyclades built on a rock in the middle of the sea.
Lamyra, Menites, Strapouries, Apikia, Vourkoti, Aladino, Messaria, Palaiopoli, Batsi, Gavrio… Strange names when you first come across them, but they’ll become familiar once you start exploring this large and varied island.
A network of well-marked hiking paths covers Andros. Get yourself a map and follow the arrows that will guide your journey, always with the big blue in the background.
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