From Palermo we flew to Athens and caught a fast cat to Hydra. We loved it so much last year (see earlier post) we had to revisit. It was as beautiful as we remembered it to be. Even the dogs are beautiful.
Then to the Cyclades for a last hit of European summer.
Ok, so if you want to be pedantic, Astypalea is actually the most easterly island in the Dodecanese rather than the most westerly in the Cyclades, but for convenience, we are calling it Cycladean for this post.
Asypalea is a gem. A butterfly shaped lump of rock rising out of a perfect azure sea. It’s location at the far end of either island group means a diabolical ferry schedule with almost all arrivals and departures in the small hours of the morning. This is not an island you stumble upon by accident.
But stand looking up to the ruined fort and the tumble of sugar cube buildings cascading down from it, and you will wonder why the world is not beating a path to this place.
The island has only 1,200 residents and in October, with the summer season winding down, it’s very, very quiet. But the ruined fort, complete with restored church, and the maze of cobbled streets are made for wandering.
You may even see locals getting their groceries the old fashioned way.
It isn’t hard to make friends – just buy chicken.
There are some nice hikes out of town to monasteries tucked in the folds of the hills or to panoramic views over the village and the sea.
There’s a line of old windmills along the ridge at the top of town.
And a gorgeous village, Livadia, on the next beach along.
But best of all, just chill out, swim, then retire to the little ouzeri on the beach. Perfect.
Amorgos is a little bigger than Astypalea but still only 30km long and with a population of just 1,900. The main town, Katapola, is perhaps not as immediately attractive as Astypalea but is a lovely and peaceful harbour town.
It’s the kind of place where you can look one way and see expensive yachts, turn the other way and see a local riding a donkey into town.
This yacht obviously needed a heavy duty guard.
There is lots of good hiking up into the hills which run the length of the island rising to 800 metres above sea level at their highest point. There’s some ancient ruins to explore and little shrines scattered around.
An hour’s walk uphill from Katapola is Chora, a medieval mountain village full of sleepy squares and cobbled streets.
From Chora it’s a hot walk down to the opposite coast where you will find the Hozoviotissa Monastery built into the cliffs. It’s the second oldest monastery in Greece, built in 1017 and renovated in 1088. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, patron of the island, it is 40 metres high, 5 metres wide and 8 stories in total, with a labyrinth of rooms tunnelled back into the cliff side.
We hired a Polaris to reach the more remote parts of the island. It looks like a moon buggy and sounded like a cross between an egg beater and a lawnmower.
The western end of the island is barren hills dropping down to tiny bays, some good for swimming and others too steep to access.
Near the far end of the island is the wreck of the Olympia, which was driven onto the rocks in the bay of Liverio in 1980 while seeking shelter from strong north winds. The wreck became famous when it featured in Luc Besson’s cult free-diving movie Le Grand Bleu.
We also zoomed over the hills to the port of Aegialis and a couple of cutesy villages at the other end of the island. Things were definitely winding down for the end of season.
Back in Katapola it was quiet, but still a bunch of fish tavernas to choose from. Everything you need really.
From Amorgos we caught a ferry to Naxos which we had previously visited in 2016.
Its signature Portara or Great Door, built more than 2,500 years ago comprises four blocks of marble each more than six metres in length and weighing over 20 tonnes.
Naxos is well known and loved by tourists, but it still retains a relaxed, ‘island’ feel, at least at this time of year when some places have already closed for the season and the rest have run out of energy to spruik!
A semi-circle of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops front the pedestrianised waterfront, with cobbled streets sneaking upwards behind.
Twenty minutes uphill on the bus is Chalki, famous for the Valindros Distillery, which produces kitron. Made only on Naxos, kitron is a citron liquor made from the leaves and fruit of the citron tree (similar to a lemon but stronger and slightly different in taste).
The village itself is picturesque and there are many walking trails out over the hills to old churches and other villages.
It was a pleasure to return to beautiful Paros, which we also visited in 2016. More fish, more sunshine, total relaxation.
A short car ferry ride from Paros is tiny Antiparos.
When we visited in 2016 we saw a man beating his octopus.
No such excitement this time. Just a sleepy white harbour front basking in the late summer sun.
Syros is one of the smallest of the Cycladean islands but has the biggest population, as it’s the legal and administrative capital of the archipelago. Even so, it’s not exactly big – just 21,000 people, about half of whom live in the main town, Ermoupoli.
Architecturally, Ermoupoli is quite different to the towns on the other islands. It has a neoclassical harbour with grand buildings from the 19th century when shipbuilding brought considerable wealth to the island.
It’s a pleasant walk up to Ano Syros, built by Catholics who topped the hill with a Cathedral.
Up there it’s more typical Cycladean style, and nice views out across the sea.
In the last few days it started to get windy and a little chilly. The summer really was ending. We farewelled Greece and headed across the Mediterranean to Valencia for the wedding of an old friend, before crossing the Atlantic for something completely different.