The Siren Of The Islands
We, like so many, are helplessly and hopelessly in love with Amorgos, the most easterly of the Cycladic Islands, so this is going to be a highly-biased description. Lorelei lives and sings and combs her hair from this mystical rock in the middle of the Aegean…
Remote, magical, imbued with an innate dignity, quality and authenticity, and blessed with the most heartbreakingly beautiful seascapes in Greece, no wonder that the film “Le Grand Bleu” was shot here. No wonder that in spite of the distance and lack of modern infrastructure, aficionados of the real Greece make their pilgrimage here. The island is a long, narrow, mountainous mass, splintered with ravines, and ramparted with steep, dramatic cliffs on the eastern side plunging down into the blue below, and the azure horizon melting away in the distance. The west coast offers two lovely harbours – Katapola in the south, and Egialis in the north. The haunting island of Nikouria used to be a leper colony in the 18th and 19th centuries, but is now a deserted beautiful presence floating off the coast of Amorgos.
The southern mountains and coast are pastoral and gentler, with sheltered sandy beaches and rural villages. The north is wild and stony, criss-crossed with fabulous walking paths and hikes, studded with ridiculously picturesque white-washed villages, complete with donkeys, domed churches and crooked lanes.
Chora, the hilltop capital can absorb visitors for days with its sugar-cube architecture, windmills and little tavernas.
Amorgos offers plenty to historians as well – connected to Minoan Crete, some of the most important finds of the 3rd millennium BC were found here, notably the stone figurines now displayed in the Athens Museum of Cycladic Art.
In its later history, Amorgos passed from Byzantine to Frankish to Venetian to Turkish hands, becoming an important pirate stronghold under Barbarossa.
Adversity and a harsh landscape have formed the Amorgian character – honour, dignity, hospitality, respect for tradition and integrity, ever rarer to find, are still the norm here.
The spectacular Monastery of the Hozoviotissa and the magnificent bay of Aghia Anna. Wonderful whitewashed Chora, the village clustered under the monastery, with its cobbled lanes, beautiful architecture and windmills to explore. The lovely mountain villages of Tholaria and Langada, the fjord of Kato Kampos and the beaches of the south.
Getting there, the seven-hour ferry stops off at many Cycladic islands in a leisurely way - although some see this as a cruise. Poor telecommunications. Strong winds and a limited number of sheltered beaches. No smart shops, restaurants, hotels or clubs.
Noble souls looking for beauty, purity and Old Greece. Those wanting to find thriving island traditions, those thirsty for a beautiful escape, foodies - there is some orgasmically good seafood cooked by old ladies in black headscarves and served by their daughters in the tavernas. Also hikers - the paths around Mount Krokellos in the north, traversing the island to the East coast and the bay of Aghia Anna and the Monastery of the Hozoviotissa are stunning.
Those with vertigo, those not wanting to drive anywhere - the various villages beaches and sights are a fair distance apart - those wanting organized water sports, boat hire, jet-skis, sophisticated nightlife and shopping. If you need to be able to get to Athens quickly, Amorgos is also not the right island for you.
The evening light on a terrace in Chora. The Hozoviotissa at dusk (or early morning for photography), lunch after a day on the beach at the taverna at Aghios Pavlos - lobster macaroni and sea-urchin salad produced a “When Harry Met Sally” moment when we were there, from an Athens lady at the table across from us. And yes, we actually did ask for "what she's having!" An evening at Panorama taverna in Tholaria - the only place on the island with no panorama at all - but when the spirit takes him the owner and a couple of musician friends perform Amorgian songs with lute, mandolin, hand clapping and lots of Ouzo. Psimeni raki is the local drink, you can ask for this in any of the cafeterias and the tavernas of the island and enjoy a shot of it late at night while live music plays and holiday makers dance in the road.
Driving in heartstoppingly gorgeous landscapes, walking, scuba diving and snorkelling in the bay of le Grand Bleu. (PADI dive shop in Aigialis at www.amorgos-diving.com).
Yoga, acupuncture, meditation and agro tourism can be found in Langada.
From Kalotaritissa, a boat sails to Gramvusa, a small rocky island with a beautiful beach and the cleanest blue waters in the Cyclades. The beach is deserted so take your suntan lotion, an umbrella and bottles of water and be ready to enjoy the magic of the Aegean. From Katapola, set sail to Maltesi, a beautiful small beach with deckchairs and a picturesque bar that serves frappe and juices.
Even Amorgos gets touristy in August, but the locals keep their cool and the tourists tend to be rather nice French and Italians who appreciate the finer things that Amorgos offers. The Meltemi blows strongly and keeps temperatures down.
Rural life continues even when the tourist shops close down, and the Amorgians lead a genuine life outside of the summer frenzy. Glassy calm waters can show another side to Amorgos that the summer visitors usually miss.