CULTURE

Cycladic island is a haven for hikers

Visitors to Greece’s islands who usually stray no further than the beaches, waterfront cafes and bars are always surprised by the variety of landscapes and sights revealed by taking a walk in the hills and villages above the coastlines. Waterfalls and cool glades are not usually associated with the Cyclades, but the old stone-flagged paths connecting villages on the island of Andros, the northernmost and one of the largest of the Cycladic group, are at this time of year still alive with rustling leaves, birdsong and watercourses rushing with ice-cold streams, perfect for a weekend of hiking combined with swimming. Initial impressions of Andros are of clean, well-cared-for villages with houses in the traditional architectural style, abundant flowers in pots and wildflowers growing along the dry-stone walls that shelter old paths paved in the local stone. Many of these have been restored with funds from the European Union’s Leader program, which has funded the restoration of a number of networks of paths throughout Greece, at least those that have not disappeared under asphalt. On Andros, the old routes have mostly escaped the bulldozers. Sights and trails From the main port of Gavrion, roads fan out to villages that have largely preserved their original character but are by no means museum pieces. With a population of about 8,700, there is still a feeling of community on the island. Even in Hora, the capital, manor houses built by the shipowners that once made the island famous as one of the new Greek State’s major ports, have been beautifully preserved or restored, although their owners are largely absent. Sights in Hora include the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art (preparing for a Braque exhibition), the Nautical Museum with its collection of model ships, and the Archaeological Museum, where exhibits include the Hermes of Andros. From the village of Menites on the eastern side of the island, it takes about two-and-a-half hours to walk a pleasant marked path that winds down through almost continuously inhabited areas, including the villages of Lamira and Mesathouri, to Hora, passing several springs. A short drive from Hora is the village of Apikia, where the Sariza mineral spring is located. A path down to the beach at Gialia crosses a river that flows past the village of Stenies, near the ruins of a huge water mill (the wheel, about 5 meters in diameter, is still in place) and takes about an hour and a half. A much longer walk, through the drier part of the island toward the south, is from Hora to Korthi, involving a long slog up to the watershed through the village of Sineti and the Dipotamata Gorge alongside a torrent and ruined watermills to Kochilou (where the cafe serves a welcome, locally produced lemon or orange soft drink). One can cut the distance and the effort by getting a taxi up to one of these villages and then doing the rest of the trip, mostly downhill, on foot. The views along the coastline are spectacular, particularly from the top of the hill above Korthi. And these are just a few of the many hiking routes on the island. Nature and culture On Andros, the paths are not difficult for the independent traveler to find and excellent maps have been published by Anavasi (available at their Athens store at 6-10 Harilaou Trikoupi) and Road Publications. For those who prefer more guidance, two local residents organize hikes for visitors. Mina Kokkoti and Cosmas Hadzigrigoriou, who completed a European Union-funded seminar on hiking tourism, are a mine of information on the island. Kokkoti has produced a CD-ROM on Andros with details of its culture and history as well as a detailed map of its trails and road, monasteries, beaches and other sights – but no advertisements. For details contact Kokkoti at 22820.23.777 or 6936.898278 or Hadzigrigoriou at 22820.22.140 or 697.707.3088. Terra Cognita discovered the trails and sights of Andros with Atrapos, an alternative tourism agency (www.atrapos.com / tel 210.671. 8559), that was founded by Christos Falieros in 1997 with the aim of helping people discover the natural beauties of Greece’s countryside and islands, but with time to see other sights as well, or simply to relax. «I wanted to help popularize the idea of hiking holidays where people could also learn more about the region they are visiting,» Falieros explained. Atrapos (the name is the ancient Greek word for «path») has scheduled hiking tours of other islands in the coming months, with the exception of August. Getting to Andros: Regular passenger-car ferries leave from Rafina, about an hour north of Athens, and take approximately two hours to reach Gavrion, the island’s port on its west coast. There are also ferry connections on to other islands in the Cyclades. Rafina harbor master tel 22940.28.888, 22940.22.300.