ANDROS, Greece - This summer, I was very fortunate to spend a month in Greece with my children. We explored the mainland, island hopped, and spent a very hot stretch in Athens. Upon our return, everyone wants to know my favorite part of the trip. To be honest, every place we visited was unique and interesting in its own way – that’s how I always plan our travels – but the spot that resonated with me the most, and the location where we spent the longest stretch of time, was the island of Andros.
When we arrived on Andros, standing on the stern of the ferry waiting to disembark, I knew there was something different about this island. Everyone around us was speaking Greek, many passengers waived to friends and family waiting on shore, and very few of them looked foreign. To me, this seemed like a sign that I had finally found a truly Greek island, and not one overrun by foreigners where restaurant menus are translated to three different languages and tourists outnumber locals. Had I hit the Greek Islands jackpot?
Lay of the Land
A quick two-hour ferry ride from Rafina, Athens’ smaller port, Andros is the closest of the Cyclades to the capitol of Greece, and also the largest in the island chain. At 25 miles long and ten miles wide, Andros is a mountainous island with an abundance of natural resources, mainly fresh water. A largely agricultural community, Andros also has a very lengthy and prosperous shipping history, which has brought generational wealth to the island and allowed its population the luxury of sustaining itself without the burden of relying on foreign tourism. As a result, there are no large hotels, and the typical traveler to Andros comes from Athens for the weekend or has a second home on the island. I have visited a number of Greek islands over the years, and Andros is the first that feels 100 percent authentically Greek.
The west side of the island, where the ports of Gavrio and Batsi are located, is dry and arid, with sand beaches and Cycladic architecture. The east side of the island, where neoclassical Chora (the original capital of the island) is located, is fertile and green, with massive forests of pine and cypress and fresh water springs that flow down the hills to pebbled beaches and azure water.
To say that Andros is a study in contrasts is an understatement, which is why we chose to split our time between properties on both sides of the island.
Where to Stay
An hour by car from the port of Gavrio, Ktima Lemonies (“Lemon Estate”) is on the east side Andros, just five minutes from Chora. The property is an accumulation of agricultural parcels that Nelly Grypari and her husband Michaelis purchased 20-odd years ago and have turned into an exquisite estate. The short walk from the car park up to the house (Ktima Lemonies is not ADA friendly, sorry) winds past a yoga pavilion, through vegetable gardens, along a small vineyard, and through an orchard bearing every fruit imaginable (lemon, orange, kumquat, pomegranate, apricot, to name a few). The sweet scent that fills the air here is fragrant with jasmine, citrus, and rosemary — like walking into a French parfumerie. The estate, built on the slope of a valley in a forest of eucalyptus, cypress, and olive trees, is oriented to take in the view of Chora and the sea from terrace of the main house. With just four rooms, the intimate property was thoughtfully designed with family and friends in mind by Michaelis, an architect from Athens. The rooms are in outbuildings of the original farm that have been rebuilt from locally sourced stone. The rooms are perfect in every way, with cold brick floors, comfortable beds, air-conditioning, plenty of hot water, and warm, simple decor. With years of maturity, a walk through the gardens not only reveals trees heavy with fruit, but also fertile vegetable beds exploding with eggplants, squash, and tomatoes.
The swimming pool, located below the main house, is shaded by olive trees and surrounded by blooming perennials. A dip in the pool at the end of the day — a must — is the perfect place to relax with a glass of wine, rinse the sea salt from the skin, and listen to the overture from the Mediterranean orchestra of cicadas and bees (Andros is known for its honey). Better entertainment than any podcast.
I have visited a number of Greek islands over the years, and Andros is the first that feels 100 percent authentically Greek.
If Michaelis is the brains behind the design of of Ktima Lemonies, Nelly is without question the heart of the property. Having retired from a career in the Greek foreign ministry, Nelly is well traveled, speaks many languages, and is the consummate hostess. While the pair may operate Ktima Lemonies as a bed and breakfast, it is also their home, a place where they welcome guests for a drink on their terrace – most likely pouring their own moscato alongside olives from their trees. As your hosts, the Gryparis are happy to make restaurant reservations, give directions to their favorite swimming spots, and genuinely enjoy hearing about their guests’ daily adventures.
Wonderful hospitality aside, the ultimate reason to stay at Ktima Lemonies is the breakfast! Every morning, Nelly and her team of two roll out an unbelievable spread of bread, cake, cheese, fruit, and eggs – you name it. Where possible, all the ingredients come from the property or are locally sourced on Andros (with the exception of my favorite round sesame breadsticks, which Nelly brings in from Athens, because she finds them superior, and she’s right). The daily fruit selection is whatever is in season at the moment, and all jams and spreads are made each year from the farm’s harvest. Breakfast on the shaded terrace at Ktima Lemonies is one of the best meals on the island and one of the prettiest places to enjoy your morning coffee.
Ktima Lemonies is only open from May thru October.
On the west side of the island, perched on the side of a very steep slope is Mèlisses (“bees”) an exquisite property with four beautifully appointed rooms, two pools, access to the sea, and a small organic garden and farm. Mèlisses is owned and operated by Allegra Pomilio, a rising star in the world of curated retreats focused around food, photography, and everything that the slow life embodies. The property has been in Allegra’s family for awhile, but she only recently transformed it into as a bed and breakfast. Originally from Italy and not even 30 years old, Allegra has already put Mèlisses firmly on the map as one of the top places to stay on the island. With an keen eye for design, Allegra has curated every space with vintage pieces she has collected along the way, sourced on Andros, or brought over from Italy. The simple design of the rooms directs the eye to the outdoors, where the landscape of native plants, stone, and water fluidly come together and give way to a stunning view of the sea below.
Perhaps it is the uninterrupted view of the sea that is the draw to Mèlisses. Or maybe it’s the serene and relaxed ambiance that accompany the delicious breakfast each morning. Whatever the case, when guests arrive at Mèlisses, they are immediately overcome by natural beauty, design, and hospitality. But back to that breakfast. Every morning, Allegra and her guest chef (coincidentally also named Allegra), rise early and prepare a beautiful spread of cakes, crepes, granola, and eggs. Accompanying every breakfast is an array of sweet spoons – delicate jams that are a signature of Andros. There is nothing better than waking each morning to a strong cup of coffee and dish of Greek yogurt topped with a spoonful of sweet, tangy, citrus jam and local honey. In the evenings, the Allegras offer cooking classes, where they impart their kitchen wisdom while preparing local recipes using ingredients and techniques native to Greek and Italian cooking. If you’re lucky, you will get to sample something made by Anna, a local caretaker on the property who speaks no English and is an excellent cook. I’m still dreaming about her moussaka.
In terms of location, Mèlisses is well situated about 20 minutes south of the port of Gavrio, close to many good restaurants and beaches. Don’t feel pressure to venture out: Mèlisses also happens to be a perfect place to just BE for the day. Completely exposed and surrounded by barren, dry landscape, basking in the sun at Mèlisses is a great alternative to a day at the beach. Lounge on the day beds. Take a dip in the pool. Hike the short distance down the path to swim in the sea. Feed breakfast scraps to the three little goats. Indulge in a glass of wine and crisp cool watermelon. Repeat.
Where to Eat
If you need a break from taverna food, this is the place to eat. Endochora is a lovely little Greek bistro right on the main pedestrian street in Chora. Each dish represents an inventive take on traditional recipes using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss stuffed squash blossoms and sardines with dolmas. Endochora also has the best French fries on the island.
NeoBar Cocktails &Pizza
This new little spot on a corner on the edge of Chora has possibly one of the best views of any restaurant in town. The food is simple: The only thing on the menu is pizza. No salads, no bread, just Neapolitan pizza and cocktails. So good.
For traditional Greek taverna food, this family-run spot spills down a set of stairs onto the main street in Chora. Order the special. It’s always fresh and made by mama in the kitchen.
We loved this taverna so much we ate here twice. Across the street from the water with an uninterrupted view of the sea, Vintsi is a family-owned taverna with an excellent menu. One brother runs the front of the house, the other brother is the chef, and the dad oversees the brothers. Everything we ate here was absolutely exceptional. Pastitsio (Greek lasagna) was the best we had in Greece, made with braised beef instead of traditional ragu. A ribeye steak seared on the grill to a perfect medium rare was absolute perfection. Other things to consider are house-made meatballs and pork schnitzel. I could sit here everyday for lunch. Bravo.
Branda is new to Batsi, serving contemporary, Mediterranean dishes with Greek influence. Definitely a place to carve out an evening if you like trendy, sophisticated food. Plus, it has a lovely view of Batsi’s harbor.
Also right on the harbor in Batsi, Mastello is a quintessential Greek taverna specializing in seafood and classic Greek dishes.
Taverna Agia Marina
This old-school, family-owned taverna on the sea is the perfect place to end the day. Situated on a quiet cove outside Batsi, this is the type of place that never changes and has been serving the same family recipes forever. Let’s hope it stays this way forever.
The Aegean Balcony
We didn’t actually make it to the Aegean Balcony for a meal, but my friends at Mèlisses rave that it has the best views of any restaurant on the island. High above Mèlisses, The Aegean Balcony has 180-degree views of the west side of Andros, which, if you time it right, makes it an amazing place to take in the sunset. I’m told the food at The Aegean Balcony is hand-made with great care and intention using locally sourced ingredients and recipes.
What to Do
For discerning shoppers, this is the place to go for beautiful summer dresses. Owner Kiki has her own line that she designs and has made in Athens. Kiki also stocks other wonderful brands like Zeus and Dion, Le Sirenuse, and more.
The gift shop in the heart of Chora carries beautiful ceramics, baskets, and other gifts — all made in Greece. They don’t carry any of the touristy stuff found in most shops.
There is no such thing as a bad beach on Andros. However, depending on the force and orientation of the wind, a perfect beach day can easily be ruined by high seas and strong gusts. Be sure to ask a local or your host for the daily wind forecast and guidance on a good beach for the day. Residents of Andros grow up reading the wind, so you can trust them. Our favorite beaches were Apothikes, Zorkos, Vitali, Kipri, Paralia Piso Gialia, and the cove at Agia Marina. Most of the larger beaches have snack bars with umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent.
Chora is home to two lovely museums.
Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation’s Museum of Contemporary Art is located in the main square and houses the modern art collection of Basil Goulandris, a descendant of one of Andros’ most prominent shipping families, and his wife Elise. Also worth of visit is Andros Maritime Museum at the end of Chora (closest to the sea) for historical pieces and information from Andros’ maritime history.
If I Had One More Day
I would spend a little more time with my breakfast and spend the day paddle boarding at Golden Sands Beach between Gavrio and Batsi. I would have an aperitif and watch the sunset from The Aegean Balcony, followed by a long, multi course dinner. This is Greece after all, so I leave you with a gentle reminder to slow down and relax – don’t plan every moment and leave some part of the day to chance.
Wish I Had Known on the First Day
When navigating around Andros, don’t always trust Google Maps. While usually reliable, Google on Andros has the tendency to send drivers down very precarious dirt roads. Word to the wise: Before heading out for the day, be sure to take a look at the route before starting the car.
Plan Your Trip
How to Get There
During high season (May-September), Fast Ferries and Golden State Ferries offer several sailings each day between Athens Port of Rafina and Andros. The crossing takes approximately 2 hours and costs about 30 euros.
Rent a Car
Since Andros is a large island, it is impossible to explore and experience it without a rental car (4x4 preferred). We had a great experience renting a car from Anna Vrettou – Rent A Car, which is conveniently located right across from the ferry dock.