Whitewashed Astypalea

Part of the dazzling Dodecanese in the southeast Aegean Sea in close proximity to the famous Cyclades, Astypalea is a welcoming island full of natural beauty, rich history, and local tradition. Known as the Butterfly of the Aegean for its shape, Astypalea is naturally separated into two sections called Mesa Nisi and Exo Nisi, connected by a thin (about 100-meter) strip of land known as Steno.

Like many Greek sea gems, the island has seen a series of conquerors in the past, including the Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans. Indeed, Astipalea fell to Ottoman rule in 1522 until 1912, and then to modern Italian rule until WWII, eventually officially joining Greece along with the rest of the Dodecanese in 1947 under the Treaty of Paris.

A truly picturesque sight, charming white houses harmoniously surround the elevated  Venetian castle in the Chora area of Astypalea, built on a plateau overlooking the sea. With walls still standing today, the castle houses the churches of 19th century Panagia of Kastro, and light blue-domed 18th century Agios Georgios. Once the residence of the Venetian noble Quirini family, the castle ruins today serve as the island’s trademark monument, attracting visitors to the top of the hill for one remarkable view of the Aegean.

Around the castle, cobblestone paths, traditional Cycladic-style deep blue-colored house doors and shutters, and classic Greek flowers characterize the neighborhood cluster of Chora. Known for woodwork and craftsmanship, the interesting collection of architecture and design that make up the homes of Astypalea feature wooden loft beds, ladders, trunks, ceilings, and shelves.

Around Chora, you will find among other structures, a series of eight red-tipped windmills, the Ecclesiastical Museum of Astypalea. When visiting the island, you may also come across the Panagia Portaitissa monastery in Livadi. Built in 1771, Panagia Portaitissa annually hosts a music filled celebration of the Virgin Mary during “dekapentaugousto” on August 15.

Local cuisine here includes the delectable goat stew, and a variety of fresh seafood options that can be found at a number of waterside taverns.

Other island attractions include the temples of Megali Panagia, the Archeological Museum, and harbor in Pera Gialos, the mosaic-filled Roman baths in Talara Maltezana, the waterfall and monastery of Agios Giannis, and the infant cemetery in Chora. The village of Livadi boasts a mixture of flora including tangerine trees, orchards, vineyards, and Greek flowers.

For those yearning to take a dip in crystal clear Greek waters, there are plenty of sand and pebble filled choices including a selection of hidden coves. On the island’s eastern section you’ll find Vathi, Vai, Psili Ammos, Mikro Steno, Blue Limanaki, Plakes, and Vrisi, while the western side features the beaches of Vatses where you’ll find a stalactite and stalagmite filled cave, Agios Konstantinos, Mamounia, Marmari, Pahia Ammos, Panormos, and Tzanakis, a nudist beach.

While some of these beaches are accessible by land, you can reach others only by sea. And if you have not sailed in with a boat, don’t despair! The island offers rentals to ensure you can explore and enjoy some of these more exclusive beaches and tiny islands surrounding Astipalea with include Kounoupi, Hondronisi, Koutsomuti, Pontikoussa, Katergaris, and the Agios Kyriakakis islands.

Astipalea has its own airport with connecting flights from Athens in the Maltezana area. Nearby islands include Santorini, Naxos, Amorgos, and the Koufonisia of the Cyclades to the west, Kos and Kalymnos of the Dodecanese to the east.