Di Sandra Boustred, Photo courtesy of photojesse on flickr
Like many people visiting an island they have not been to before, I did a little research. I was traveling out of season and intended to island hop as the mood took me, so my plan was to stay in the port on each island in order to move on whenever I wanted to, without worrying about coordinating buses with the ferry.
The port of Andros is Gavrio and one of the websites I had looked at described it thus:
“It has a tourist-less feel to it mainly because there was no reason that any tourist would want to be here. It’s ugly, almost industrial looking.”
The site suggested staying a little down the coast in the village of Batsi, which is a main tourist area.
I arrived on the early morning ferry from Rafina and I’m not sure when the person writing the article I read had last been in Gavrio, but it looked OK to me and certainly not industrial. As I have lived on various Greek islands over a number of years, perhaps I no longer see them through the eyes of a tourist when traveling in October. There were a few fishing boats moored in the harbour and the usual collection of old guys sitting around drinking coffee, but my first impressions of the port were positive.
The only evidence of a hotel was Hotel Galaxy, directly opposite where the ferry docked. I wandered around the block to see if there was the possibility of rent rooms nearby but found nothing, so returned to the Galaxy and after speaking to the proprietor briefly, he took me up to a pleasant enough room with a balcony on the second floor, overlooking the harbour, and a deal was struck. Negotiating my heavy bag up the very steep spiral marble staircase was far more difficult than working out the price!
The short paved harbour front of Gavrio gives way to a small river crossing, where a gently flowing stream runs into the sea. Up until very recently the only way to cross this was evidently to either get your feet wet or jump the short distance across. A rather rustic looking cement footbridge has now been erected and the date 17 – 8 – 11 is rather haphazardly but proudly spelt out in marble chippings along its edge.Beyond the stream there is a dirt and sand path, which is fronted by a couple of houses and a fish taverna facing the sea, with small private pleasure craft moored along the edge of the narrow beach. The main paved harbour front offers several eating options, including fish, traditional Greek cuisine, souvlaki/grill and pizza. Several cafeterias offer snacks, ice cream and freshly made loukoumades (donut balls smothered in honey).
The main town and historical capital of Andros is Chora on the opposite side of the island, and buses depart from the harbour in coordination with the arrival of the morning ferries. Like most Greek islands, Andros is very mountainous and villages either hug the coastline or perch on the sides of the high peaks. The majority of the high slopes are terraced, so there has obviously been cultivation in the past, but these days there is little evidence of it and in the autumn months they are brown and parched from the summer heat. Even olive trees seem to be in short supply in this area of the island.
Heading out from Gavrio we passed by several pretty but deserted beaches, including Batsi, before we took to the mountains. Crystal clear waters lapped the shore, but the beaches and paths were all desolate, with not a soul around and little sign of activity, so I was glad that I had decided to stay in the port.
Weaving our way along tight roads through small villages, we finally arrived in Chora forty-five minutes later. The shops were open and the town was busy. The main shopping street is lined with small shops and cafeterias where, as always, the Greeks sit around watching the world go by. Shops cater to the local day to day requirements but there are also several tourist shops offering souvenirs, post cards and local crafts. Many buildings boast inscriptions dating back to 1869 and beyond and continuing straight on through the main street, the pathway heads through the oldest part of town and downwards towards the rocky seashore. There is a nautical museum perched on the rocks overlooking a small headland, which is reached by a rather treacherous looking arched bridge. A large statue looks out to sea from the museum courtyard and waves off departing sailors. I watched one tourist climb over the rustic arch to explore the other side but most people, including myself, just took photographs.
Back in the square there is a nice taverna serving local fare, with views directly overlooking the small beach alongside the town. Like most outdoor tavernas, it was populated by a menagerie of cats, the majority of which looked well fed and healthy, which cruised from table to table in the hope of any scraps coming their way.
The shops were beginning to close for the afternoon so I headed back to the bus station to return to Gavrio. One thing to take into account when exploring Greek islands outside the main summer holiday period is that on weekdays the 2pm and/or 2:30pm bus can also be the school bus, so expect a crushed and noisy journey – and an angry bus driver!
After the reviews I had read online, Gavrio was a pleasant surprise with its relaxed pace of life and friendly atmosphere. Maybe things are different during peak season, but the click of dice on wood as the old boys played backgammon (tavli in Greek) and the gentle sloshing of waves against the harbour walls was a pleasant beginning to my Cyclades explorations.