[BACK TO ATHENS]
[BACK TO SANTORINI]
90 MINUTES IN NAXOS
After an incredible breakfast with a view to match, we bid Santorini farewell to catch the ferry to Amorgos. We pre-booked first-class tickets on the Sea Jet. When you get to the port you’ll need to check in at the Sea Jet desk and use your online reservation to get the actual tickets for your journey.
First-class costs a bit more but gives you a seat on the air-conditioned upper deck and larger more comfortable seats. The cabin was nearly empty, so we could easily stretch out and enjoy the ride. The ferry makes a few stops along the way and at Naxos we excitedly took the option of disembarking for about 90 minutes. Bonus island adventure!
Greeted by Portara, Apollos Arch, built about 552BC, heading into town from the port is obvious. The town is more than worth exploring even for a brief time. Grab a cold beer, get your game plan on, and wander into the winding labyrinth of pedestrian only streets that lead up to the castle. The small museum was closed when we were there, but the catholic church, which is what we really wanted to see, was open.
The church, built in 1210AD, has a unique double icon. Engaging a random man in the church in a conversation, he offered up the story of the icon and asked, “Would you like to see it?” Of course! The large icon located behind the altar is painted on both sides and rotated only once a year. Approaching the alter, the man turned the painting of St. John to reveal a full-length portrait of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, reportedly one of the only total body portraits of Mary anywhere.
We were speechless and grateful, having seen something most people visiting the island never see. Satisfied with our serendipitous encounter and not wanting to literally miss the boat we wound our way back down the hill toward the water.
[HOT TIP: If you have time stop at Octopus, a locally owned t-shirt shop, for cute, quality t’s with a surf vibe.]
5 NIGHTS IN AMORGOS
And now, drum roll please, Amorgos. Population 1800 people, 25,000 goats. In case you are wondering, electricity is a recent addition to the island, about 30 years now. Not long before that there were no phones on the island either. You had to visit the phone center to place a call. Windmills are still used to process grain on the island. And if you’re expecting a baby, even now, you head to Athens to wait out the last two months of your pregnancy to give birth in a hospital on the mainland. This island is a small wonder.
We arrived at the adorable tiny port town of Katapola. Time to again sit back and admire the view, this time from the bus that picked us up and transported us to our hotel, the Aegialis Hotel and Spa, where we would spend the next six days on a yoga retreat with 20 some other ladies. Suffice to say the hotel is fabulous, perched on a hill overlooking Aegiali Beach, with a saltwater pool, ultra-friendly staff and fantastic food. Here’s a rundown of some of the things we did on Amorgos.
Aegiali Beach – What a pleasure to collect sea glass strolling along the shoreline. Swimming in the water provides refreshing relief from the sun. One morning we rented stand-up paddle boards from the dive shop for €10/hour or €30/day. Best to call ahead to reserve a time.
Lakki Village Restaurant, Aegiali Beach – Our large group arranged for a family-style lunch here. The food, hospitality and service were terrific. We enjoyed exploring the town, walking on the beach and swimming in the sea afterwards.
Panorama Restaurant, Village of Tholaria – Further up the hill from the hotel is this charming little village where we dined one night. The sunset view was stunning, and this little family taverna was the cherry on top.
Island Tour – The Aegialis arranged for a day long island tour for our group. First stop was in the Chora, which means ‘country’ in Greek but refers to the town center. Every island has one and they are all called Chora! This is a nice place to walk around, shop and eat or drink. By now you may be wondering why there are so many little churches all over the Greek islands. There are 370 on Amorgos alone. Some time ago the government said that if you had a church on your property you wouldn’t have to pay taxes. There you go. I’d build one too.
Hozoviotissa Monastery – Built in 1017 into the cliffside, the home of three monks now, is a very impressive and sacred site, well worth the trip and the climb. Wear sturdy non-slip footwear; the stones are so smooth in some places that I slipped several times. The view from the top is pretty and well-known for the movie The Big Blue filmed here. Amazingly there are eight floors inside. In typical Greek fashion, the monks served us drinks once inside and were happy to show off their famous icon (no photos are allowed). You can purchase small souvenirs, but learning the story and meeting the monks seems gift enough.
Agios Georgos Valsamitis – Certainly the highlight of our island tour was having lunch with Sister Irene, resident of the monastery. It was incredible. She is a wise woman with a heart for hospitality. The church is beautiful and you can learn its history and the story of the water oracle. But the real story is that of Sister Irene.
Sister Irene came to live full-time at the monastery seven years ago, but she first visited the island 30 years prior. Her first memories were of the way the island smelled. Amorgos is known for cultivating hundreds of varieties of medical herbs, flowers and fruits. The air is filled with these fragrances and they made a strong impression on the young Irene. At the monastery she’s done loads of work to revitalize the place including planting over 250 aromatics.
She studied painting and now paints icons and writes books to support the monastery, where she lives alone. She never knows, however, who might stop in for a respite since the monastery welcomes any woman who wishes to live there. The only requirement for them to stay is that they agree to pray. All other volunteer work is optional, but of course, many participate in daily upkeep and the ministry of hospitality.
Sister said she has plenty of time alone especially in the winter, when it’s quite cold, as you may not expect. “When I am in the chapel alone talking to God about all the hurting people in the world, many times my tears run,” she said noticing that tears were welling up in our own eyes just listening to her. She’s just that kind of soul who touches your heart so deeply.
She continued, “We live in the most advanced time in history. But when I think of all the terror in the world…I mean, if I can take a life, if I can kill someone, then what does all the technology do for me? I believe women especially are so powerful and effective in the world because whenever they love something they put their whole self into it. They give everything. Yet we need balance. You have to take care of the inside to go outside.” Amen.
[LAST STOP | MYKONOS]