Rest and Relaxation off the Well-Beaten PathJuly 3-7
As nice as Santorini was, it was also full of people. Part of our plans for visiting the Greek Isles was certainly to see some of the more common places, but we also wanted to get off the beaten path, away from the tourist strip malls and the package tour groups. We found paradise on two less-touristed islands: Amorgos and Koufonisia.
Amorgos is a geographically large island, but with a small population (1630 people on the entire island). It was a quick, but hot and bumpy, ride by high-speed hydrofoil from Santorini to the port town of Katapola on Amorgos. While the island sees a few tourists, it is a far cry from busy Santorini. The town of Katapola consists of one long waterfront street and a few quiet backstreets; it was just what the doctor ordered after smoggy Athens and too-busy Santorini! With its brightly-colored buildings and giant boughs of Bouganvillea spilling out into the streets, it was somewhat reminiscent of our favorite town in Morocco, Essouaira.
A colorful backstreet in Katapola
We stayed at a small place in downtown Katapola. Interestingly enough, our room sat right on top of (literally) some ancient Minoan ruins. The owner stumbled upon them when he was having the foundation for the hotel poured. At least 3000 years old (!), the site is part of the old Minoan road down to the water front. Finding such things is a common occurrence on Greece, where ancient Minoan, Mycenaean, and Greek ruins lie literally everywhere on the islands and on the mainland.
Girl in the streets of Hora
High above Katapola, in the middle of the island, lies the capital town of Hora. A perfectly-preserved example of an old Cycladean town, its whitewashed buildings are in pristine shape. We wandered around town for a couple of hours during the mid-day siesta, when all the locals were retired to their homes for rest. We literally had the streets to ourselves! We also took a walk to the hilltop above Hora, looking down to the sea on both sides. The island, like all of the Cyclades, is very dry. Stone walls and rocks cover most of the island. It's beautiful in a strange, stark way.
At the top of Amorgos, above Hora
It's worth mentioning at this point that it was HOT, VERY HOT during our four night stay on Amorgos. The mercury soared up near 40C (100F) on one day -- hot even by Mediterranean summer standards. We learned the hard way that it's worth asking for a ceiling fan when you check in to a room on the islands in the summertime (we didn't have one, and boy do we regret it)!
The cliffside monastery
On one of these smoking-hot afternoons, we decided to take a bus to the famous cliffside monastery on the opposite side of the island. The amazing place is built flat up against a steep cliff, with the sea at least 200 meters below. We don't know how the architects managed to erect such a structure in such a precarious position, but somehow they did it. Supposedly, the monks that live in the monastery will let you in and show you around, but a busload of visitors got off at the stop with us, so we figured we'd give the monks a break and stay away. Instead, we took the steep roadway down to the swimming area of Aggia Anna, below the monastery. On this side of the island, the water is a remarkably clear aquamarine color. There are rocky alcoves where you can swim everywhere.
The beautiful sea below the monastery
After a very relaxing four nights on Amorgos, we were off to island #3 on our itinerary: tiny Koufonisia.
Way, way off the beaten path...July 7-9
If Amorgos is off the beaten tourist path, then little Koufonisia is virtually on no path at all. Imagine a tiny island with a population of only 238, so small that you could walk its entire circumference in about 1.5 hours. Add to that remarkable blue waters (as clear and as blue as the Caribbean!) and uncrowded, sandy beaches. Remove almost all signs of tourism. Then you would have Koufonisia. One of the Little Cyclades, a group of small, rarely-visited islands in between Amorgos and Naxos, Koufonisia is a hidden gem.
There is very little to do here other than relax and hang out on the excellent beaches, which is exactly what we did. We wished we had more than two nights here, but we waited too long to book our reservations, and all we could get was two nights. The island is so small and there is such little lodging that you really need to book far in advance to get a room for any extended period of time. Still, two days was just fine with us. We stayed at the comfortable and nicely-located Hotel Ostria on a hill above the island's only town, Hora.
Table for two by the boatside, anyone?
After Koufonisia, we were about to be shocked back into reality by the tourist crowds and population centers of Naxos and Mykonos islands...
Back to Greece pg 2 On to Greece pg 4!
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