Five days, 65 km, one magical Grecian island. I explored Andros Island in the Cyclades archipelago on foot with my friend, Franki Clemens, during an On Foot Holidays walking holiday to rediscover the meaning of slow travel and time.
We’re hiking along an old mule path laid out in stones (kalderimi – the locals call it) that ribbons itself around the edges of Andros Island – from the whitewashed seaside village of Batsi to Chora. We take a water break to survey the Lego-like port of Batsi below. A few yachts gently bob in the turquoise shallows, the houses bask in the sun like the lizards we’ve seen along the way, and the people who were walking along the crescent-shaped beach are now indistinguishable from the golden sand. We can hear the church bells toll, as they wish us well on our Grecian version of the Camino de Santiago. We’re not on a pilgrimage though, this is a five-day walking tribute to nature, an appreciation of a simpler life and a way to reacquaint ourselves with time.
Andros is an island in the Greek Cyclades archipelago, a two-hour ferry from Athens en route to Mykonos and Santorini. While the island’s population doubles during the summer months, most tourists flock to its more famous siblings, leaving Andros to the locals and Greeks, for the most part. Although the 300km2 island is gaining popularity for its well-marked, self-guided walking and hiking routes, which wind through valleys and olive orchards, cross streams, climb up to hilltop monasteries, and pass ruins, museums and front doors.
Once we’ve caught our breath, taken photos, surveyed the map and route instructions, we continue on our way. Every so often a white-and-blue chapel – which has become so synonymous with Greece – and herds of grazing goats come into view between the shrubs. Eventually we lose count of the number of chapels we’ve seen, though we’re told there are around 200 scattered across the island.
Soon the kalderimi joins a tar road through the terraced village of Ano Aprovatou with views of the Aegean Sea. The gardens are an autumnal hue. The roadside restaurants are locked up awaiting summer’s visitors. We pick ripened grapes hanging from a white trellis in front of a cafe. “Hold on a moment,” says a voice in English. We look around to see a man standing on a balcony above street level. We then realise that he uttered the words to his phone. “Where are you gals from?” He’s both surprised and impressed that we’ve made it so far – from South Africa that is, and along this 21km-long hiking route.
He briefly narrates to us his family history, how he made it to America and yet returns to his beloved family home each year. After all this time, he hasn’t forgotten home, the smell of the sea, the sound of the children playing on the beach, the taste Volaki cheese – a culinary trademark of Andros.
Near the top of the hill, just as the kalderimi branches off from the road, a man and two women wave us closer. One of the women breaks off a piece of homemade bread, cuts up a sausage and hands it to us with a toothy smile. The man pours a pale pomegranate-coloured drink into white plastic cups. They raise their eyebrows and look on for a verdict.
I graciously thank them, but kindly gesture all the universal symbols for “no” that I know, then I gesture “eat” by bringing my right hand to my mouth while pretending to chew, and then point to the sausage. They eagerly offer me more. That’s Androsian hospitality for you, though I feel like I’m in the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Toula explains to her mother that her finance, Ian Miller, doesn’t eat meat. They suggest I take a swig of the bootlegged wine for some liquid courage.
That evening over dinner at Tou Josef Restaurant, local guide Ariana Masselou – who compiled the hiking routes for On Foot Holidays and is reacheable at any time during your stay – explains that autumn is the time of the harvest and to slaughter pigs. It symbolises abundance, a time of celebration, feasting and sharing. And pork sausage is a winter staple on this island that continues to practice the pastoral traditions of its forefathers. Life here remains slow, as it should be.
Read about Franki’s experience of our hiking adventure here.
How to hike Andros Island yourself
On Foot Holidays specialise in the art of slow travel for independent travellers. They will help you create a personalised itinerary based on your budget, interests, fitness level and available time. On Foot Holidays will provide you with a Walker’s Pack, which contains a detailed map of the island and day maps, thorough route notes for each hike, two books (one of which is solely about hiking Andros), as well as information of how to get there and around. They partner with trusted local taxi drivers and a local guide, who can meet you along the way on certain days and can join you at dinner to tell you more about the island’s history, culture and way of life.
How to get to Andros Island
From Athens, take a local bus (₤6) or taxi (₤35) to Rafina Port, south of the city. There are two to three daily ferries to and from Andros Island. The two-hour ferry trip costs ₤20 and it stops at Andros, Mykonos and Santorini respectively, on the way there and back. Make sure you listen to the announcements and be ready to disembark when the ferry arrives.
What to budget for a walking holiday on Andros Island
Expect to pay ₤580 (roughly R9 850, depending on exchange rate) for five nights (on a bed and breakfast basis), plus four packed lunches, taxi transfers to and from Gavrio Port on Andros. Authorise your credit card for overseas use and exchange euros. Budget for dinner, alcoholic drinks, souvenirs and other small, miscellaneous expenses. You can also create a personalised itinerary by extending your stay for a few days and either doing additional hikes, hiring a car or just relaxing on the island.
Where we stayed on Andros Island
You will be based in the old Venetian capital of Chora in the south eastern part of the island (seen in the photograph below). From the city centre it’s a five-minute walk to the 14th century Venetian castle ruins. Though small, the village has a number of museums, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, souvenir shops, as well as a bus and taxi stop. Depending on your budget, you can choose to stay in a hotel (Hotel Egli) or self-catering apartments (Anemomiloi Apartments). We loved the latter, especially as it looks out over Chora, has a lovely pool and a very welcoming hosts. Anemomiloi Apartments has 13 modern apartments (deluxe and superior) and 4 studios (that can accommodate up to 6 people).
Best time to visit Andros Island
The best time to visit the Greek island of Andros is between April and June and again after the peak summer months in September and October. April and May are best for spring flowers, while October is perfect for the warm seas and autumnal colours. It is very hot in the summer months from early June to late August and also gets quite busy with locals and tourists, though is not as busy as Mykonos and Santorini.
Level of fitness needed to hike Andros Island
The level of fitness required to hike Andros is medium (3/5). Expect to walk between 11-21km (an average of 5 hours) each day with average cumulative uphill stretches of around 500 metres. You can adjust the difficulty, intensity and distance of the walks and hikes depending on your fitness level and in conversation with On Foot Holidays and local guide Ariana – it’s your holiday.
The food on Andros Island
Grecian food on Andros is sublime from vegan pumpkin quiches to hearty salads (the kind we know as Greek, just sans the lettuce and leafy greens), pork stews and famous gyros ‘wraps’. Try fava, a kind of hummus paste made from green peas, topped with sundried tomatoes and olives. Mussels cooked in homemade marinara sauce are also popular. Order a number of dishes for the table and share. Cafes and bakeries sell strong coffee, cakes, cookies and, of course, baklava.
Our favourite restaurant on Andros, was in Chora. It’s a family-run restaurant called Endochora with exceptional cuisine and friendly service.
Visas for Greece
For all Greek visa queries from South Africa, contact The Global Visa Centre World (GVCW) on za-gr.gvcworld.eu or call on +27(0)64-760-4151 between 08:00 to 12:30 and 13:30 to 16:00 for more info. You can apply at a GVCW Greek visa application centre in Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town, with a prior scheduled appointment. Take note that during peak season (ahead of the summer months in the northern hemisphere) the application process takes an average of 15 working days.
You will need:
A completed application form
2 passport photos
A valid passport with two free pages, that is valid for three further months upon return to your country of residence, a photocopy of the passport’s identification page
Flight and accommodation details
An invitation letter with the address and phone number from family member, friend or sponsor (if applicable)
Bank statement of the last 6 months and proof of financial means to sustain your holiday
Your employment contract or a copy of your business license
Medical insurance with coverage of at least €30 000
Travellers to Greece from beyond the European Union require a Greek Schegen visa.
In recent years, I’ve done many hiking holidays and want to do more walking holidays, which ones do you recommend I should do in future? Please tell me in the comments section below.
I was hosted by On Foot Holidays, while I bought my return flights from Johannesburg to London, On Foot Holidays paid for my return flights from London to Athens, transfers and accommodation. I retain full editorial control of all content published on this website, but you already know that! ;)
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