The Golden Path
Greece may not be the first destination that springs to mind when picturing a walking vacation. But on a low-season tour of Andros, in the Cyclades, Rebecca Rose finds that hiking the island's historic trails—now newly passable—is an ideal way to enjoy ba
MY POCKETS WERE BULGING with walnuts, wild pistachios and mulberries, and I’d been gorging on figs and blackberries. Yet I couldn’t resist picking a couple of low-hanging pomegranates, so ripe they had split, oozing translucent, rubyred juice and glistening seeds. My husband, Nicolas, and I were on the final day of a hiking tour of the Greek island of Andros, and were going to need sustenance for the afternoon ahead. It was 2 p.m. when we began winding our way down from Vourkoti, a mountain village wrapped in vaporous cloud, via a stone path. As we finished the pomegranates, we could just make out our destination, Achla—a slice of cobalt sea twinkling away on the horizon. We would need to be at the coast in or around six if we wanted an evening dip before dark.
It was late September, and the days were getting shorter. The light was softer than in the summer months, when temperatures on Andros regularly reach the high thirties and only the truly deranged would set off on a 10-kilometer hike. Greece is predominantly thought of as a summer destination, but it is wonderful in the shoulder seasons: spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom, and autumn, when, as we discovered, the sea is at its warmest and the visitors have dwindled.
Andros, the northernmost of the Cyclades, is acquiring a reputation as a walker’s paradise, luring a crowd that is attracted by the quiet of spring and fall and eager to explore the island’s extravagantly beautiful interior and many secluded coves. This is largely thanks to Andros Routes, a new grassroots initiative to clear the island’s network of kalderimi, or ancient pathways, and signpost them clearly in Greek and English so that even the least experienced hikers can navigate their way without the use of a map.
When Nicolas and I learned that Andros also has a handful of quietly luxurious places to stay—several of which happen to be at the start or end of daylong walks—an off-season walking trip began to seem eminently doable. So, as the chill of autumn set in at home in London, we packed our brand-new walking shoes and set off.
On the two-hour, early morning ferry ride to Andros from Athens’s Rafina port, we read up on the island’s history. Andros is where much of Greece’s shipping industry began; from the mid-18th until the mid-20th century, it was the country’s second-biggest port. The island’s large, fragrant lemons were its first export (to this day, lemon groves and citrus farms still dot the landscape). Over the centuries Andros became an affluent base for shipbuilders, captains, engineers and crew, and many of their descendants still own second homes on the island.
In the decades following World War II, Andros’s population plummeted from 45,000 to 9,000 as many Andriots headed to the mainland to look for work. While that number swells in the summer with day-trippers and Athenians retreating to their country houses, tourism has never really dominated, despite the island’s incredible beaches and lush interior. Andros couldn’t be less like its glitzy neighbor, Mykonos—and is all the more appealing for it. We spent our first two nights at Ktima Lemonies, a boutique bed-and-breakfast nestled in the hillside just outside Chora, the main town. Access to the hotel is via a long, fragrant pathway lined with heaving citrus and fig trees, past a small vineyard (which, we later learned, produces an amazing 800 bottles of dry Muscat per year) and an enviably large, overflowing kitchen garden. We were staying in a pigpen that had been converted into a snug little suite next to a swimming pool framed by olive trees. The place is owned by Nelly Grypari, a warm, sophisticated Athenian who first came to Andros when her architect husband began designing vacation homes on the island. She employs local gardeners year-round who tend to her crops and produce the incredible array of jams we sampled the next morning. These, along with fresh pomegranate and melon, >>
Check in to the new Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit, a 273-key hotel that will celebrate its opening in January 2019. With a direct link to the Nana BTS Skytrain, guests of Bangkok's new Hyatt easily transition from the frenetic capital to an urban oasis. The sleek exterior was designed by the award-winning Bangkokbased firm OBA and boasts extensive outdoor spaces. The three dining venues include two all-day eateries: The Market Café, designed in the spirit of a local market, and The Lobby Lounge, with live music at night. Up top: Spectrum Lounge and Bar, an event venue by day that's a tapas spot in the evening, with a rooftop bar. The new property also boasts over 1,300 square meters of function space.
Get the blood flowing with a traditional Muay Thai session at YOKKAO, where living legends Saenchai and Singdam Kiatmoo9 often train, before heading back to Hyatt Regency to cool off in the expansive outdoor pool. Sauna and shower, then explore Baan Kamthieng House, a preserved Lanna-style teak house that was brought from northern Thailand more than 50 years ago. The museum now stands in stark contrast to the modern buildings surrounding it. Stop by H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's Phufah Shop for a one-of-akind souvenir made by rural craftsmen.
EAT + DRINK
Most know Nana for the nightlife, but its roots are as a multicultural marketplace. Some of the world's best, most diverse street food is in the blocks around Hyatt Regency Bangkok, with Little Korea, Little Arabia and Little India all here. Start with the international buffet at Hyatt Regency's Market Café. Lunch in the food court at Terminal 21, a “lifestyle mall” with more than 600 boutiques. Try a curry at Punjab Grill, widely considered the best Indian in town, and wash it down with a cocktail at Havana Social, a hip bar offering a glimpse into old Cuba. Still thirsty? Head to Hyatt Regency's rooftop bar for a tipple and tunes, while taking in the light show that is one of Southeast Asia's most electric cityscapes.
house-made cakes and breads, and creamy Greek yogurt, made up one of the most delightful hotel breakfasts we had ever eaten.
It was lucky we had lined our stomachs, as Olga Karayiannis, the passionate, knowledgeable islander behind Andros Routes, had an ambitious day of walking planned. As we set off in the golden sunshine along a cypress-lined cobblestoned path worthy of a Renaissance painting, Karayiannis, a bronzed Athenian with graying hair and intense brown eyes, explained how the project had come about.
A regular visitor to Andros since the early 1990s, Karayiannis moved there permanently in 2004 and started to explore the stone pathways near her house. Each time she went a little farther and discovered extraordinary things—waterfalls, crumbling tower houses, water mills—hidden in the island’s interior. The routes were often obstructed by fallen trees, and their signposts were derelict or uprooted. Realizing the potential of the ancient pathways, Karayiannis approached the local authorities to get funding to restore them. She was not always met with enthusiasm: “‘Why would you want to take a path, when there is a road?’ they asked me.” Since gathering a team of volunteers, Karayiannis has managed to clear and restore 160 kilometers of the island’s kalderimi, about 100 of which have been endorsed by the European Rambling Association. “It’s a huge project and one that needs constant maintenance,” she said, opening up a gate into a lemon farm she wanted to show us, “but it is worth all the effort. It preserves a beautiful landscape and an ancient culture, and makes it valuable for the community.” We stopped at a rusted water mill once used to grind wheat—one of the biggest mills in the Mediterranean, we learned. The factory building next to it is a skeleton now, but it used to be a prolific producer of spaghetti. As we set off again, Karayiannis explained that no one knows quite how old the pathways are. There has been human presence on Andros since the Neolithic period; the earliest paths probably date from at least A.D. 1200, when they were used to connect two castles by mule. Built by hand with slabs of local stone, now polished by the elements and centuries of footfalls, some >>
In autumn, visitors to Achla Beach, on Andros, will often find they have it to themselves.
At KtimaLemonies, a boutique B&B on Andros, much of the produce served at the breakfast buffet is grown on the property.
Hiking paths signposted by Andros Routes, a nonprofit aimed at promoting walking tours of the island.