Andros is a Greek island that blossoms in winter, spring and autumn. In winter it’s green, in spring it’s smothered in wildflowers. In summer it tends to get bashed about a bit by the fickle Meltemi winds sweeping the Cyclades. When there’s no wind, it’s damn hot. Another sweltering rock in the Aegean.
By summer’s end most tourists have disappeared and so has the Meltemi. What you have left is warmth, calm and bliss.
“From September 1 the water sparkles,” says Andros resident Diana Farr Louis. Formerly of Long Island NY, Diana has lived in Greece for many years and on Andros for a great deal of those. She’s the author of Prospero’s Kitchen, a literary cookbook which has recently been reprinted. She also writes for the Huff Post.
Although we have mutual friends in Greece, and we’re Facebook friends, we have no recollection of having met face-to-face. One morning on Andros we do. Quite by chance. Diana is swimming at Fellos Bay (pictured below), close to the port of Gavrion, when I arrive with my friend Sandra. Diana invites her over to pick olives. She has more than she needs and says it’s a shame to let them shrivel on the trees.
The underwater shot shows how mesmerisingly clear the water is at Fellos Bay. It cops the summer Meltemi, so autumn is the best time of year to swim here. The water temp must be 24 deg C right now. The beach has no facilities to speak of, and only one taverna 200m back from the coastline, which is closed during the week in autumn and may or may not be open on weekends.
Andros is a two-hour ferry ride from Rafina on the east coast of Attica. You can get a bus to Rafina from downtown Athens (take it!) which is cheap, or you can drive. I won’t bore you with another Greek driving horror story. Well, maybe briefly. It’s my blog and I can indulge.
The ferry was to leave at 7.50am. I started driving from the coastal suburbs at 6.30am which I thought was plenty of time to get there on the road to the international airport. It was pitch dark, I couldn’t see signs. I went the wrong way, I backtracked and asked directions several times. I dodged stray dogs, taxis, used guesswork and prayers as navigation and finally screeched into the ferry car park with five minutes to spare.
By the time I’d got my car park ticket, grabbed my bags and run to the ferry I was last onboard. Less than a minute later the ferry shuddered out to sea.
Ferry ticket cost: 17 euros for an adult.
Car parking: 9 euros a day.
Cost to sanity: Priceless.
The ferry trip is uneventful until….
…that awkward moment when
you realise your Zara handbag
matches the Greek ferry furniture
Stylistically challenged, I disembark at the port of Gavrion, and ease myself into Andros pace by doing coffee.
This is Greece. It’s almost always coffee. For a start.
She drives over the hill from Gavrion to Batsi where her friend Judy makes an excellent freddo cappuccino at Deep Blue Cafe opposite the beach. Batsi is so close to Gavrion you could walk there in 45 minutes or less.
Deep Blue Cafe #winning
Sandra has lived on Andros for about three decades. Like many residents, she commutes between her home in Athens and the island. She knows everyone there is to know, from farmers to expats to the handyman you need to repave your stone floor, to the veterinarian. Sandra has devoted more energy to charity – stray dogs and cats, maltreated donkeys, helping poverty-stricken folk – than anyone I know in Greece.
When she bought the island house (it’s several centuries old) goats had been in residence for quite a while. They’d eaten some of the walls away, which were made of rough bricks of mud and straw. The exterior is stone slate.
Renovating wasn’t for the faint hearted. But Sandra has never been short of courage.
Making the building habitable, and then getting a reliable water supply and power to the property, became a lengthy and complicated project. Greece might be the Land of the Gods but it’s also the land of antiquated, insanely inept, corrupt bureaucracy.
It might be an enviable island lifestyle in some respects, but it has a price.
Harsh, stony hillside terrain provided its own challenges. Sandra sold her fur coat to build a driveway down from the severely potholed road above.
The house has an imposing interior arch – one of the reasons Sandra wanted to buy the place. Original wooden beams on the ceilings are gnarled tree trunks and limbs. Walls are whitewashed. A fireplace provides heating in the winter. The walls are so thick the house retains the heat well. The bathroom’s stylish stone floor has recently been repaved and Sandra will use the leftover cement to tackle leaks in the roof before the winter rains start.
The sweeping vista from Sandra’s house towards the island of Evia is breathtaking at any time of day. A mulberry tree in her rambling garden provides welcome shade from the sun, but otherwise the view is unobstructed except for a wide spread of geraniums which she’s promised to cut back in winter. One of my daughters has memories of running riot in this garden.
The view at sunset is exceptional. The horizon is stained pink and bleeding a soft, misty purple into the Aegean. Sandra has a lot of visitors to her Greek island home. There’s always somebody eager to come and stay to take in that million-euro view. Amazing.
CHECK LIST FOR ANDROS
- Two hours by ferry from Rafina, and the first stop on the route to Mykonos
- Several ferries a day, morning and afternoon
- Bus from Athens could take one hour, or two, depending on the traffic
- The capital, Andros Town, is about an hour’s drive from the port of Gavrion
- The town is historic, picturesque and highly recommended for a visit
- Andros is the northern most Cycladic island and is 374 sq km. It’s very mountainous
- Most accommodation with easy beach access is on the western side of the island
- Andros has oak trees, vineyards, olive and lemon groves, and walnut trees
- While the island looks typically bleached and barren in summer, it has rivers and springs which quickly breathe life and greenery back into the island after the heat has faded
- The Vasilis and Eliza Goulandris Foundation (wealthy ship-owning family) organises annual exhibitions of international artists at the Museum of Modern Art, in Andros Town, attracting thousands of visitors in summer. I’ve been there. Totally worth the trip
- Shopping is good in autumn – many tourist store owners want to close up, so they drop their prices. Bargains aplenty
- Food is not so memorable, for me anyway. I like a version of yemista (stuffed peppers and tomatoes) using allspice, currants and pine nuts. Fresh fish is usually a good bet. They do good makeronatha (pasta) in Andros Town with a liberal sprinkling of salty, pungent, parmesan-style kefalotyri
- The ubiquitous Greek horiatiki salata may be topped with the delicious, local tasty creamy cheese called doppio
- Please feed the stray animals your taverna leftovers. They’ll always be appreciated.