Amorgos in springtime fulfilled my dreams of a Greek island, the weather gentle, seas sparkling (though cool), scenery superb, wildflowers abundant and locals exhibiting their picture-postcard blue and white villages mainly to themselves as there were few tourists. I felt like I was living in a Greek-island movie, interesting because one of the island's claims to fame is that it was the source of inspiration for filmmaker, Luc Besson's movie The Big Blue, the film's opening scenes shot there. In fact, Luc grew up in the Greek islands, where he was a scuba diving instructor as were his parents. He loved Amorgos, the wildest of the Cyclades, home to an ancient monastery that, early in his film career, he vowed to include in one of his movies. This island may also stir memories in those of you old enough to remember The Guns of Navarone.
Amorgos is as one imagines an unspoiled Greek island should be. The population of 2,000 (and declining as many of its young people leave for brighter lights) grows olives for oil, grapes for wine and almonds. There is a renewed interest in traditional herbal remedies from the island's fragrant sage, lemon verbena, rosemary and other herbs. In fact, the island is named after the flax plant 'amorgos,' used in ancient times to provide the purple dye for the clothes of emperors.
Stone walls divide the fields; donkeys are used for transportation and load-carrying while sheep, goats and cows are kept for farmers' self-sustenance and to supply the charming small tourism properties and the local tavernas.
Spring is prime time to visit the island, hillsides and gardens ablaze with colour, the finest season for enjoying the many hiking trails. The paucity of trees results in sunny trails (too hot in summer) with glorious views in all directions.
A charming, fully-illustrated guidebook, Amorgos: History and Sightseeing is available on the island while A Travelogue of Amorgos is a detailed guide to all the walking and hiking trails that are of historical and cultural interest.
Although the island lacks great ruins, it maintains an interesting history and archaeological work persists with fascinating discoveries and the unearthing of typical artifacts, some of which can be seen in the island's Archaeological Museum in the village of Chora, while many have found their way to major museums in Athens and elsewhere in the world. In fact, early signs of organized life on the island date from the end of the 4th millennium B.C., the end of the Neolithic age, and important excavations can be observed during a hike in the hills above the bay of Katapola.
For most visitors, the historical highlight of Amorgos is the incredibly photogenic Byzantine Monastery of Virgin Mary Chozoviotissa, dated 1088 and spectacularly built into the cliff 300 metres above the ocean. Only the façade of this structure is man-made. The rest of the building utilizes the steep cliff (www.amorgos.ws/chozoviotissa.html)
Visitors are welcome inside (women must have their arms covered, but robes are offered to those inappropriately attired) where the monks will offer sweet wine and honeyed candies. There are many other monasteries, churches and chapels on the island which the locals will delight in showing you.
And there are many other highlights. The villages are charming, comprised of whitewashed houses with blue trim, cobbled streets and village squares, intriguing alleyways and flights of steps and tiny stores. Tavernas offer local wines, luscious salads, Greek specialties from farm and ocean, fine coffee and honey-dripping desserts. Add a vine-covered patio, perhaps a glorious view, maybe a beautiful shy child watching you and you will think you are in heaven!
Festivals play an important part of life for Amorgos, whether the celebration of Easter or merely moving a small icon in a musical procession from one church to another. Villages celebrate the making of certain delicacies to eat and there's the wine harvest in the fall.
While Amorgos is a quiet, laid-back destination, visitors will find accommodation options, but don't expect high-rise hotels or sprawling resorts. In the Aegiali region, I discovered three different properties. I stayed in the delightful Aegialis Hotel, located in a stunning hillside location overlooking the harbour, the ocean, the beach, the little village, the distant hills and its own large swimming pool. All rooms have patios and splendid views, rooms arranged over a series of multi-level terraces, all traditional blue and white, bedecked with flowers. It's a family-run property and very relaxed, with its game-filled lounge and lovely patio where you are welcome to enjoy your drinks and meals.
At beach level, the Lakki Village Studios and Apartments may fit the bill, a relaxed complex beside the sandy, broken-shell beach facing the sunset beneath the Aegialis Hotel, a good choice for those with children. The property's taverna is open all day and guests spread out under the trees over the wide patio.
If village life is your liking, you'll enjoy the Pagali Agritourist Hotel in the quaint village of Langada with its fabulous views of Aegiali Bay from its vine-covered taverna terrace. Enjoy lunch here during your island explorations. The cuisine with local fish, village goat meat and cheeses, oil from olives grown in the surrounding fields and local wines, is delicious. Although you will welcome the peace, be prepared for the arrival of some local musicians and dancers!
There are several exhilarating hikes from this village into the surrounding hills, or visitors can walk about two kilometres through olive groves to the beach. Amorgos' important geographical position in the Aegean and its fine harbours resulted in a long history involving wars, battles, sea raids, rivalries, and pirates, gangs of brigands, enslavement, disputes, disruptions and foreign domination.
Today, it's hard to believe, the island appearing as though nothing could disturb its quietude and calm, except, perhaps, for a little fiddle playing, dancing local children or when a feast of Dionysus rolls around! Today's island inhabitants are shy but charming and welcoming.
Greece has a highly-developed tourism infrastructure. One of your first impressions of Athens is that it is full of travel agencies and tour operators (especially around Syntagma Square in the centre of the city). You will be beguiled and overwhelmed by the choices: day trips in and around Athens, overnight or longer trips to a variety of other destinations, including the islands, together with passages on high-speed catamarans or liner-like ferries or even cruises on relatively small yachts. In fact,
Greek ferry details would fill a book. There are over 2,000 islands and dozens of shipping companies.
I am confident that as long as you are travelling out of high season and do not wish to transport a vehicle, getting a ferry passage to Amorgos once you are in Greece will not present any problems.
I travelled on the modern Blue Star Ferries, choosing to sail overnight on my journey out and during the day on the return trip, when I enjoyed the scenery as the ferry stopped at a variety of other islands. Passage takes about 8 hours and the fares are reasonably inexpensive: I paid 22 (approx. C$34) one way for the day-time trip, less for the overnight passage, though a variety of cabins are available on the latter for a surcharge.
The ferry, Dhmitroula, was large and modern with a restaurant, cafeteria, bar and shops. Announcements were made in Greek and English. There are two stops on Amorgos: Katapola and Aegiali. Inter-island boats connect Amorgos to the rest of the Cyclades There is no airport on Amorgos, but there are daily ferries to Naxos and seasonal connections to Myconos, both of which have airports.
Amorgos is 33 km. in length and never more than 6 km. wide. A fine and generally deserted road covers the island. There's a car rental agency, Aegialis Rent-a-Car, Aegiali, Amorgos, steps from the ferry dock in Aegiali, offering compact cars and scooters and I recommend you have wheels for at least a few days while you explore the island. However, there is a bus service between the villages and also a few taxis for those who do not wish to drive.
I flew overnight from Toronto to Heathrow and made an efficient connection on to Athens early in the morning, both flights with British Airways, who offer several flights a day to Athens. If you are travelling light, the ferry port of Piraeus can easily be reached by a half-hour subway ride from Athens. There will be stairs to negotiate in the city, but the train becomes a surface one and Piraeus station is adjacent to the harbour with no stairs. Or you can take a taxi.
Ann Wallace is editor of The Travel Society Magazine
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/