The Indolence of Astypalaia

Despite the fact that Astypalaia can no longer be considered a well-kept secret, it is by no means a fresh entry into the big sack of spoiled paradises. A couple of luxury design hotels might have opened up, but this is where worrying news sum up. Thankfully, the most part of the road network remains a harsh dirt road, taverns still serve fish that their nets caught early in the morning side-ordered by tomatoes that grow in their back yard and prices have remained in Ice Age despite the global warming. For anyone who lives in Athens, a dinner of two consisting of fresh fish at €30 or a water bottle of 1.5 liters at €0.5 is a good reason to call the archaeological squad for further investigation on lost prices of earlier civilizations. As always, visiting in July helped a lot towards more personal service, significantly lower cheques and less annoying crowds.

The island
With a body in the Dodecanese and a heart in Cyclades, the island is combining the aristocratic scent of the former and the unsurpassed architecture of the latter. The boat from Athens needs approximately 10 hours to reach the port, still you can shrink the journey time to just 45 minutes if you are quick enough to reserve a seat on the 35-seated “mosquito” of Olympic (Aegean nowadays) that does the itinerary. In the map, the island looks like a butterfly, the right “wing” of which is mainly unexploited. Most action takes place on the left wing and around the narrow/center part.
Bringing a car along isn’t the wisest choice here, except if you can clearly read “Discovery”, “Defender” or “Land Cruiser” on its hood. Should you plan to disobey this rule, make at least sure that the car mechanic won’t be on vacations by the time you return home. The best option is an enduro/dirt bike (if you are confident riding one) or a 4x4 that can take the beating. It was literally a triumph of Japanese engineering that our rented Suzuki Ignis returned to the rental office in one solid piece.

The people
Authenticity and originality is what every nomad digs for, in ages where locals at tourist destinations usually look you in the eye and dollars roll on their pupils. With the sole exception of a sour-faced lady at a souvlaki store who had a vocabulary that was lacking “thank you”, there were more than a dozen people that opened up their hearts and allowed us to leave the island with a piece of them as a souvenir. Mr Ilias with his overseas trips to Alaska on the ship that he was working in during his youth˙ Mrs Dionysia with their grandparents who were forced to abandon Smyrni in 1922 and found refuge in Astypalaia˙ and Maria, who took the decision with her husband to leave Athens, renovate their old family house and raise their family on the island. The question to all remained common: “And what about winter? What is it like?”. To our surprise, the answer was steadily “fantastic”, but for different reasons. Some had to introduce their babies to the world and that was more than enough to fill their universe. Some played music together in order to break the silence of long winter nights, or accomplish a goal of reading 150 books. A teenager gathered his friends (those that didn’t leave in September for studies) and went for fishing trips together, stayed on caves and roasted fish on deserted beaches. Not one of them seemed to regret their choice.

The beaches
"Kaminákia" stole our hearts right away (the poster frame was shot there). A major reason for that were the saltwater trees in the back that offered a shade so thick that you miraculously felt chilly the same exact moment that Labradors were sprinting to the water to relieve their burning feet. If you additionally needed something to lie on, a small number of sunbeds were available for €2 per day.
"Vátses" weren't as impressive beach-wise, but featured Chris’ beach hut that made all the difference and lured us back to it. This should serve as an excellent example on how to interfere with a beautiful location without destroying the damn place. Natural aesthetics, cool music, low volume (a few meters away you couldn’t hear a thing), no signal from ANY mobile carrier and frozen lemonades, beers, cocktails and heartly-sized greek salads. From the rest, "Plákes" seemed to be a favorite among many visitors but not our cup of tea, "Tzanákia" was the word for those who prefer no beachwear to interfere between their skin and sea water or sun rays. "Ble Limanáki" served as a shelter from winds but you have to come early as the space is quite limited. "Agios Ioannis" is a secluded, vibrant-blue watered beach that can only be accessed by an hourly trek on a trail that features a small waterfall, or by boat. The boat also takes visitors to the nearby islets “Kounoupa”, “Tigani” and “Koutsomytis”, which are responsible for most of the turquoise images above. The water clarity was definitely something to remember, as opposed to a crappy umbrella that we had and fell apart with a wind gust of 0.5 Beaufort. The cost of the trip was €15, which is pretty fair for a six hour round trip.

The insider tips
Our tavern medals easily go to “Australia” in the old port, “Ilias-Eirini” in Maltezana and “Astropelos” in Livadi. They all come equipped with the uber-service of calling them early in the morning, asking what type of fish they -or other fishermen- have caught, letting them know of your choice and intended time of arrival and have everything prepared for you the moment you sit on the table! “Linda” in Kaminakia is an excellent tavern as well, but we weren’t lucky to eat fish from their nets on the period that we visited. Everything they serve is their own though, from goats to cheese to tomatoes to bread. The last time I can recall tomatoes smelling so strong was back when I was running around my grandmother’s garden in the garden of the village up in the mountains.
For those weak moments that your stomach urges for something greasy, the best souvlaki on the island is served in the old port from a small window that you climb up to. The potatoes inside it are home made. Epic. And the lady who prepares them is very cute and friendly (contrary to the one mentioned earlier).
For night owls, “Kastro” bar serves cocktails that make the walk up to it a fair deal and “Archipelago” has something like twenty different types of homemade sweets prepared each day, plus a killer balcony pointed directly to the night-lit town castle in order to enjoy your aperitif.

Instead of an epilogue
Besides the lovely scenery that constantly itched the finger to release the shutter of the camera, there was an inner desire to keep this place and time intact. It was exactly what we would wish it to be. We don’t know how fast the infection of “evolution” can spread (history has proven it can be pretty damn fast on beautiful places), so let’s try and have as many sips of its unpretentious charm before cafes with LCD screens start multiplying...-
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