At the southeastern edge of the Aegean, in the Dodecanese island chain (not the Cyclades as some may think), there is an island rich in imagery and emotions. Astypalea is dubbed ‘The Butterfly of the Aegean’ – partly because of its distinctive shape and partly because of the beauty of the landscape.
For those willing to travel off the beaten track, Astypalea is love at first sight. Many stay forever devoted to this island of white light, with its crystal-clear water, sun-drenched beaches, long heritage and hospitable residents.
Astypalea’s main town (Hora) looks like a traditional Cycladic town, even though the island is part of the Dodecanese. Its famous castle, majestic views of the Aegean Sea, windmills and whitewashed homes make up a wonderfully traditional settlement. Hora (or Astropalia as the locals call it) is the island’s largest town, offering a variety of choices for food and fun.
At the top of the hill, the famous stone castle of Astypalea, which towers over Hora, is a special attraction. Erected by the Quirini family in the 13th century, it was a typical fortified settlement, built for protection from pirates. But as the island’s population grew, their homes overflowed beyond the castle and onto the slope and today reach as far as the foot of the hill and the port of Pera Gialos.
Astypalea’s beaches may not have a cosmopolitan vibe, but they offer something else: translucent water, relaxation and tranquility… the perfect ingredients for relaxing swims in the Aegean Sea. The most beautiful beach on the island is Kaminakia, but Vatses, Livadi, Steno and Psili Ammos are also lovely.
Founded in 1762 by Saint Anthimos, Panagia Portaitissa (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) is one of the most beautiful churches in the Aegean. Whitewashed, with an impressive bell tower and silver dome, it is located right below Astypalea’s castle, in Rodia, a poetic place whose name is derived from the pomegranate tree (rodia) that once grew nearby.
Livadi is a valley filled with citrus groves and vineyards. The homes are awash with flowers and are spread along the length of a stream that ends in one of the most beautiful and populated beaches on Astypalea, filled with coffee shops and restaurants.
In Maltezana (Ascension), you’ll find the famous Baths of Talara, with their trademark blue tiles and mosaics from the Hellenistic period. Experts have singled them out for their unique composition, which depicts the seasons and the symbols of the zodiac.
The Cave of Negrou at Vatses has impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations that are interwoven with myths about pirates and the treasures they buried there. From the beach, you can hike (45mins) to the cave, or you can also reach it by boat.
There’s a climbing site at Ftera, just 20 minutes outside Hora, where the relief of the limestone rocks has created two climbing sites, offering some 20 routes of varying difficulty. Are you up for it?