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Exclusive Luxury Travel News / Why You Should Consider Visiting The Greek Islands in Winter / By Barry Stone / Travel Exclusive / Sedat Karagoz / Istanbul,New York Travel,Tourism News Office / Janbolat Khanat / Almaty Travel,Tourism News Office

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HERO Panoramic view of Amorgos islandCycladesGreece

Panoramic view of Amorgos island, Cyclades, Greece

You can’t deny the joy of experiencing a sun soaked Greek isle in the middle of summer – as long as you don’t mind sharing it with the crowds. For a more exclusive alternative, consider the Cycladic island of Amorgos in the off season.

In 1965 a spirited young British girl, Carolina Matthews, aided by a modest inheritance, arrived on the Greek Cycladic island of Amorgos at a time when most of the non-Greek world had no idea where or what an ‘Amorgos’ was. She never left and would go on to write several books including The Mad Pomegranate Tree and At the Top of the Muletrack – celebrations of the idyllic life she made for herself on this beguiling island. Carolina died here, in her home village of Lagada, in 2020. I’d have liked to have met her, but recently managed to do the next best thing: I met someone who had.

Irene Giannakopoulos is the owner and CEO of Amorgos’ only five star hotel, the Aegialis Hotel & Spa, the creation of which is a story in itself.  “I was the first person on Amorgos to learn to speak English,” she tells me. “My father Michalis had the first guesthouse on the island in the early 1960s. He took in the island’s first English tourist, a writer, Carolina Matthews. He offered her a room for free if she’d teach his daughters English. I remember when she tried to teach me to say ‘ice-cream’, but I didn’t know what ice-cream was. Amorgos had no electricity, we had no television; so I just couldn’t imagine it.”

In 1985 Michalis began to build the hotel his children have today after buying a mountainside of cultivated fields and terraces overlooking Aegialis harbour. On Amorgos, nothing worthwhile comes without sacrifice. “We spent all our money buying the land,” Irene explains, “getting permits to dig, and securing a loan at 29 per cent interest.”

Materials were brought in on carriages pulled by donkeys along the bay. The beach was the road. For two years it was the biggest project on the island, opening in 1992 with six rooms that were all snapped up by Athenians who came and stayed the whole summer. Now there are 55 rooms and suites, a swimming pool that seems to hang above the bay, and the Lalon Idor Spa. Offering yoga, donkey rides, Greek dancing and cooking classes, the Aegialis Hotel & Spa is the jewel in Amorgos’ hospitality crown.

I didn’t come to Amorgos with any of my usual anxieties about crowds, because this wasn’t summer. Nor was it the shoulder season, or even the low season. I’d come here, deliberately, in February, the lowest seasonal rung of them all: winter. It was perfect.

Winter on Amorgos means you can always get a table at Marouso, a barbeque restaurant in Arkesini that never closes because the family that runs it owns the surrounding farmland. And boy do they know how to cook. The cafe at the base of the 13th Century Venetian castle in the capital Chora, one of the Cyclades most beautiful villages, is open, too, and will give you a key to the castle gate if its closed – which it is because, well, it’s winter. Loudaros Tavern above Aegiali Bay looks closed too, but don’t be fooled; Katina sometimes forgets to turn the light on.

Most restaurants and cafes are closed in February, but you only need one and I always find something, usually unassuming and traditional, owned by families for whom cooking is more than a monetary, seasonal pursuit.

Hozoviotissa to yourself

More than once I am asked, “Why are you here?” To me, the reason is obvious. Would you rather be one of the 2,000 people a day in summer who climb the 300 or so steps up a precipitous cliff above the Aegean to visit the magnificent 11th Century Hozoviotissa Monastery? Or would you rather be the only one?

Inside Hozoviotissa I am welcomed by Stavros, a 30-year-old former architecture student from Athens and the monastery’s only live-in lay person. He brings me a cup of muddy Greek coffee and some cake, and in a small anteroom near to the chapel tells me the story of how he came to be there. We talk about the monastery – and life in general – for nearly an hour.

Good luck doing that in summer. In summer, you’ll be lucky if you’re told to mind your head and not take photos. In winter you might get coffee, cake and a chat. “Can I take a picture?” I ask. “Oh, sure, it’s ok. We only say ‘no photos’ in summer,” Stavros responds.

History and ruins

History is everywhere on Amorgos. Lines of windmills dating to the 5th Century BC can be found on the outskirts of Chora, as well as a tantalisingly exposed line of them along a mountain ridge above Aegiali Bay that are visible from our hotel but, sadly, we don’t get to. The onset of some Cycladic winds make the day of our hike a good day to be indoors, because the wind here can blow the ears off a donkey.

In the south of the island there are the ruins of ancient Minoan cities and a very cool shipwreck right on a beach. Amorgos’ other port, Katapolis, was a pirate stronghold until 1832 when the creation of the Greek state finally brought law and order to the islands.

Just beyond Aeigiali Bay, the island of Nikousia was once a place of exile for Amorgiote lepers.

The island’s mule tracks and monopati (footpaths) connected all the island’s villages for generations until replaced by sealed roads in the 1980s. But they still exist and are aids to some of the finest hiking to be found anywhere in the Aegean. Prior to the 1980s the 20 kilometres from Aegiali to Chora was a 4-5 hour walk. Happily, it still can be.

The longer I stay on Amorgos the more intrigued I become with it all. “There is an energy here,” I recall Irene telling me in a whisper, and it’s true. I can feel it.

Unlike some of the smaller Cycladic islands, you can’t see anywhere near all of it from its highest points. It is elongated, like an old man’s gnarled forefinger, 29 kilometres long and just 2.5 kilometres across at its narrowest.

It is a mountainous place, and driving it you’re always approaching a bend in the road, always wondering what’s around the corner.

Lagada on foot

On my last day I decide to walk around the village of Lagada. I don’t know at the time that it is where Carolina Matthews lived. It is beautiful. There are horses in the fields and a small chapel built into the rock above town. Set in a deeply incised valley it is surrounded by mountains, those unattainable windmills on the ridge a constant tease.

In the ravines and terraced fields around Lagada old paths take me past chapels large and small (Amorgos has more than 360 of them) and through the settlement of Stroumbos with its 12 houses and 13 bread ovens, where my progress is stymied by an ornery donkey amid the ruins of stone houses that are centuries old.

Winter reveals to me why Carolina loved this place. It strips away the clutter, the distractions, the noise and bustle of summer leaving only the gentle ebb and flow of Cycladic life – a deliberate way of life on an island that is still elemental, wild, and free.

A place where you can still start over again.

The writer was a guest of Aegialis Hotel & Spa.

Exclusive Luxury Travel News / Why you should consider visiting the Greek Islands in winter / By Barry Stone / Travel Exclusive / Sedat Karagoz / Istanbul,New York Travel,Tourism News Office / Janbolat Khanat / Almaty Travel,Tourism News Office


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