Small islands like Astypalaia, Greece fly under the radar, often overshadowed by Greek island hotspots like Mykonos and Santorini. Embrace the quiet beaches, charming seaside villages and traditional tavernas of this Dodecanese gem.
According to legend, Astypalaia is named after a beautiful nymph that Poseidon fell in love with. As soon as you see the idyllic beaches and white-washed fishing villages, you will, too. Just hop aboard the ferry at Piraeus and disappear off to your own Greek paradise. Still not convinced? Here’s why you should add Astypalaia to your travel bucket list.
You’ll be able to spot it from miles away: the Castle of Astypalaia sits atop the largest hill in Chora. Its rocky outer walls stand out against the white houses all around it. First constructed in the early 1200s by a Venetian family, the Castle of Astypalaea has seen power struggles between Byzantine and Turk rulers as well. Look closely at the walls to find stone memorial tablets throughout. Then, head to the churches at its base — one is Portaitissa Orthodox Church, built in the 18th century by a Greek monk. To this day, it remains the most important Orthodox pilgrimage site of the island.
You’ve heard of Greek mainstays like Santorini and Mykonos, but Astypalaia is a lot more secluded – it’s over an hour’s sail away from the nearest islands. As a result, it’s much less touristy than its neighbours. Embrace the quieter beaches: it’s not hard to find a spot to yourself, away from any other soul.
Perhaps the most well-known archaeological site is in the area of Maltezana: the Tarara Baths. This ancient bathing area dates back to the Hellenistic era and is covered with beautiful mosaics, representing the signs of the zodiac and passing seasons. For a more sombre activity, stop by the infant cemetery — perhaps the only one in this area of the world — which scientists discovered in 1996.
Rather unexpectedly, this relatively quiet island has a lively nightlife scene, mainly centred around Chora. Start your night with a glass of wine – or two – overlooking the water at Archipelagos Cafe, then move on to Mylos Bar with its infamous cocktails. Finish the night dancing to Euro-pop at Kouros Bar. Make sure you take a siesta after a morning at the beach to rest up before the wild evening ahead.
Step back in time whilst visiting Astypalaia’s quaint fishing villages. On the northeast side of the island, the smallest village – named Vathi – is utterly serene. Check out the harbour, where boats dock when the wind is not suitable in the main port: the Cave of the Dragon, which is decorated with fantastical stalactites and stalagmites and Ms Stavroula’s traditional tavern. Then head to Maltezana, where a French Admiral set his ship on fire in 1827 to make sure it wouldn’t be captured by approaching pirates.
From savoury to sweet options, you won’t run out of delicious local delights to try on Astypalaia. Favourites include labriano, melt-off-the-bone lamb stuffed with offal and rice and labropites, a cheese and saffron pie, served warm. Of course, you can’t miss the fresh seafood dishes. Finish off your meal with rakomelo, a mixed drink with cinnamon and honey, drunk warm in the winter and chilled in the summer.
Astypalaia has an authentic feel – typically unmarred by big crowds – but visitors still flock to the traditional festivals. Most take place during the summer, including the feast days of Agios Panteleimonas and Panagia Portaitissa, which takes place on 15 August every year. Watch traditional dancing inside the walls of the main castle – followed by plenty of music, feasting and drinking.
To explore more of Greece, check out the best hotels in Astypalea and the best hotels in Paxos – bookable on Culture Trip. During your stay, explore the best things to do in Oia and relax on the 9 best beaches near Athens. Make sure you also have a drink at one of the best bars in Corfu.
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