Autumn brings a shifting palate of light: silver and grays to Andros Island, the northern most of the Cyclades Archipelago, different from the bright hues of summer sun, but for me no less beautiful.
A view like Batsi always makes the life of a travel writer extra special. A sweeping panorama of everyone’s fantasy of a Cyclades Island is reality from the extensive terrace of my suite at the Mare Vista Hotel.
On Andros Island it’s easy to be distracted by vistas at every turn. With my first glimpse of the glittering harbor of Batsi it was obvious I’d enjoy four days exploring the island’s coastline and dramatic interior, thanks to Fast Ferries, Colours Rent a Car, Mare Vista Epaminondas Hotel & the MTCGroup.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful afternoon than lunch at Taverna Lagoudera on Batsi harbor. When you can still taste the natural saltiness of the Aegean Sea on the sea bream you know you’re in heaven (aka Greece). Fava bean spread was creamy with a drizzle of Greek olive oil. The tiny yellow bean native to the Cyclades Islands has a subtle earthy yet sweet aroma. The creamy filling for orange pie was the best I’ve tasted throughout Greece. It had an intense orange flavor and garnished with a curl of orange rind spoon sweet – a Greek culinary icon.
The Mare Vista Epaminondas Hotel provides hill top panoramas of the surrounding harbor and mountains. With a village-like layout, the suites provide a spacious terrace balcony, comfortable modern sitting and separate bedroom plus a well-stocked, up-to-date kitchen. Breakfast is an extensive buffet from omelets to traditional Greek pastries. A pool and an outdoor sitting deck sandwich the bar.
The concierge level front desk staff were always available providing valuable directions. Despite a short but steep staircase up the hill on the return walk, the cafe center of Batsi is a comfortable 15 to 20 minute walk from the Mare Vista. Free garage parking is available for all guests.
A car is always the most thorough method to travel within the islands. Despite narrow roads in centuries old towns, cars, or scooters, are usually small and exceptionally maneuverable on what were once donkey cart width streets. Colours Rent a Car provided the perfect transportation that took me through high mountain passes, millennium old villages, the oldest monastery in Greece, dramatic beaches and the pastel colored Chora.
Andros, and its sister island Tinos (the subject of my March Hellenic News article) are affluent escapes with more villas than hotel rooms. Within easy access of Athens through the port of Rafina, the comfortable car-ferries of the Fast Ferry group run year round.
Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops thrive on this island:
Stamatis Taverna has been popular in Batsi with both locals and tourists since 1965. It’s menu ranges from classic Greek such as grilled skewered lamb to imaginative salads of greens smothered in shavings of artisan made Andros Volaki, a cow’s milk cheese. It is cone shaped with a rich buttery flavor and a texture similar to mozzarella. The salad was dressed with reduced balsamic adding a tangy sweetness.
Why in Greece do you arrive at the taverna after 9:00 pm & linger well after midnight – it’s about food, friends and music. It’s about living. At Taverna Karavostasi in Gavriou a short 15 minute drive from Batsi, the raki, a clean distillation made from grape must, is strong and soothing. A selection of meze included tomatoes with fresh herbs and a savory eggplant casserole. Staff brought to the table platters of assorted glistening freshly caught fish for diners to choose and discuss preparation – Gavriou is the center for the island’s fishing fleet. A chowder of fresh fish and vegetables was warming on a breezy Autumn evening. Many nights feature live traditional Greek music, and any Greek taverna becomes a party of singing and dancing.
In the historic Choro, the core of what is also known as Andros Town – capital of Andros Island – Ta Binelikia Resturant, has a cozy old space nicely renovated and an outdoor dining area directly on the harbor. Owner and chef, Fotini Michali grew up in the business. Their grandparents started nearby Nona’s, a Chora institution, and Fotini learned from the source.
Fotini and her sister still operate Nona’s and opened Ta Binelikia three years ago. The presentation and freshness of a grilled vegetable tower of sweet peppers, zucchini, tomato, green onions and eggplant dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette was nearly a meal in itself. A perfect slightly charred octopus created a classic healthy Greek lunch.
Self taught chef and owner Elena of Lithodomitel Restaurant, located in the charming village of Ormos Korthiou, has a philosophy, in Greek, the word “amateur” means “a lover of the art.” If Elena considers herself an amateur, I think she has succeeded in her art. Lithodomitel Restaurant’s quality turns lunch into at least a three-hour experience.
Starting with an organic white wine from Limnos Island that was 100% Muscat de Alexandra grape the dry notes of summer grassy fields, green grapes, white currents with a very slight tar finish was complex and satisfying.
Then the first of four courses arrived. I had just visited Asoutis Niko Company, an award-winning boutique cheese making facility using only cows milk from Andros farms. Lithodomitel Restaurant served one of their creamy semi-soft cheeses baked in buttery layers of phyllo dough brushed with a glaze of reduced melon. The slightly salty cheese counterbalanced the rich dough and fruit glaze. It could easily be a dessert and paired well with the Muscat.
Second course was a plate of steamed radiki greens – formerly wild but now cultivated – tossed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, green onions and dill. Its sweet/tart astringency went well along with course three of classic Greek fried vegetable balls – vegetable mixtures dipped in batter and deep fried. Chickpeas were left rough chopped adding a toothy texture. Rough chopped tomatoes mixed with herbs, spices and onion was a taste explosion in the mouth. Zucchini balls were feather light and had a creamy mixed vegetable paste spread on slices before battering. The vegetable paste added a tasty layer of flavor.
The fourth course was a surprise, Classic French Coq au Vin except local roasters instead of hens are used in Lithodomitel Restaurant’s recipe. The richer, leaner meat of the rooster gave this dish a sense of eating game – rabbit, grouse, etc. A touch of cinnamon was added to the slow cooked process involving white wine, tomatoes, onions and herbs. The cinnamon accentuated the sense of dining on Autumn game on a Greek Cyclades Island.
Open year round, Lithodomitel Restaurant has a well deserved loyal following. After lunch I was invited over to the next table for wine after striking up a conversation. Making new friends within Greece with visitors and expats from four different countries is an essential part of the charm of Andros.
Meltemi on Betsi’s waterfront served some of the finest mussels this chef culinary travel writer has eaten. There were three varieties that were large and plump – white, red and a reddish brown. They were steamed in a sauce of lemon, onion and dill.
One article can not be a guide for an island as rich in food, culture and natural beauty as Andros. Additional articles will appear shortly on my web site, Travel with Pen and Palate. Such beauties as Zorkos Beach in autumn when a north wind blows the usually calm Aegean sea on the north eastern coast of Andros Island can become wild with a different beauty.
Chora, the ancient capital of Andros island is unique among Cyclades Island towns in that it has many houses painted in pastel colors rather than the customary white w/blue shutters. The Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art is a gem.
Tourlitis Lighthouse, an icon of Andros Island was built on a pinnacle of rock at the harbor of Choro. The original 1887 lighthouse was destroyed in World War ll, but the current fully automated replica was built in the 1990s by a local philanthropist. Its staircase is carved into the rock.
The historic Zoodochos Pigi Monastery is considered the oldest in Greece – 830 AD – now a convent with only two nuns to maintain this historic building in great need of restoration. But the sisters could not have been more gracious allowing me to take photos of their ancient and sacred icons, relics and frescoes.
And of course more on the food of Andros and the exciting cheese craftsmanship being accomplished by the young couple of Asoutis Niko Company. All will be the subject of articles in the near future.
Yet it’s the comment by Elena of Lithodomitel Restaurant, “In Greek, the word “amateur” means “a lover of the art” that resonates. In this definition, Andros Island and all Greece excel in amateurs all striving for perfection.
When you go: The port of Rafina is conveniently close to both downtown Athens (24 miles) and Eleftherios Venizelos Athens International Airport (10 miles). There are both direct bus service from the airport and taxi charges even from downtown are quite affordable.
Disclosure: The author was a guest of the hotel and restaurants mentioned in this article through the cooperation of the tourism department of the Andros Municipal Council. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.