GREECE OFF THE BEATEN PATH: ASTYPALEA

Every time I thought of Greece, the Greek islands always came into my mind. I knew that not all islands are the same, but I always pictured them with whitewashed houses and colorful windows, tavernas by the clear waters of the Mediterranean serving delicious and fresh fried calamari, the traditional windmills, Vespas and the locals speaking English with their sweet accent.
My first and recent trip to Greece took me to a butterfly shaped island in the middle of the Aegean Sea that was everything I pictured the islands to be, and more. Astypalea is not well known among the tourists - yet - what makes it even more special. When talking to Greeks from other islands and Athens, their first comment was how traditional and authentic it is; very true.
If you are looking for that traditional and authentic Greek island, away from the tourist crowds, to indulge yourself into the local culture and experience Greece off the beaten path, then Astypalea is where you need to go. I'm not sure it can get any more authentic than this.

In Astypalea you find narrow streets of whitewashed buildings where you most probably will be exploring alone. No crowds, perfect for pictures. No noise, apart from the cats playing with each other and the occasional Vespa passing by. No tourist traps, or people begging you to enter their store or restaurant.
The local mouth watering food, the kindness and smile of the locals, the traditions, the clear water of the sea, the sunrise, the traditional windmills, and the history of Astypalea will conquer your heart from the start. Being on this island made me feel part of a movie, celebrating the Greek Orthodox Easter with the Astypaleans made me feel honored instead of an intruder for not being of the same religion.

Astypalea smells of herbs and sea. I got to smell oregano and sage and pick almonds from the trees, tried homemade marmalades, experienced the most stunning sunrise so far, drove near cliffs to contemplate the views over the island from above, got invited by a local to try the lamb he was cooking, watched the Greek Orthodox Easter traditional fireworks over the city at night, had breakfast with a privileged view, and made local friends who I would love to see once again.

WHERE IN THE WORLD
The butterfly island is located between Santorini, Amorgos and Kos. Despite its colors being very similar to the Cyclades islands (white and blue), Astypalea is part of the Dodecanese group of islands, located in the southeast of the Aegean Sea.

HOW TO GET THERE
Getting to Astypalea won’t be the easiest trip in your life, but it certainly will be worth all the hassle. As the island is literally off the beaten path, only one airline and ferry company can take you there:
Ferry: Blue Star Ferries can take you to Astypalea every day leaving from Pireaus Port. On the way you will stop in other islands, including Paros, and the journey will last between 9 to 10 hours. It is a long way, so make sure you get a good place on the ferry to get some rest. I suggest the ‘Air seats’, business class or a cabin with a bed and private bathroom, they are all worth their prices. The economy class won’t make your trip easier though.

Plane: Olympic Air flies daily from Athens to Astypalea, however seats are very limited, so I advise you to make your reservation at least 2 months in advance.
Suggestion: if you are visiting Paros, the ferry journey from there to Astypalea takes around 4 hours, totally manageable. Therefore, combining both islands is a great idea.
Tip: even though Astypalea is near Santorini, the connection between the two islands isn’t easy. It is necessary to go to Paros and change ferries to get from one to the other.

WHERE TO STAY
Don’t expect to stay in luxury hotels and resorts. Another special detail about Astypalea is that all accommodation options are family owned hotels and apartments. We stayed at Kallichoron Art Boutique Hotel and if we ever go back, it’s where we will stay again. Apart from the perfect location, they have an award winning breakfast and a super friendly staff.

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