Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Greece: Anafi, an ebony sculpture in the Aegean Sea

Like a shining white balcony suspended above the sea, you will be dazzled by its Chora (main settlement), and its calm, exotic beaches

(updated with links!)

by Kon Hans

St. Nikolaos beach

Anafi island is a small ebony sculpture embraced by the Aegean Sea, where a gorgeous, white small town (the Chora) bursts out from its dark, volcanic bowels, gazing at her great sister Santorini and the vastness of the blue horizon. The beauty of Anafi, the austere beauty of black and blue, is the one that testifies to the serene power of mother earth, a power which endows this special island with a unique and wild character..

View from above, the Chora
Away from the spotlight, unlike the neighboring and famous Santorini, Anafi is a small surprise: a genuine, volcanic black jewel that is waiting for you to discover. As soon as the ship is moored in the tiny harbor, you will be impressed by the wild beauty of this place as your gaze climbs up the black rock to meet the magical Chora on its top. Like a white balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea, the Chora of Anafi is built amphitheatrically, with a particular and serene architecture, that may bring to your memory some other familiar alleys, under the shadow of Acropolis! Don't get surprised though with this déjà vu, as the explanation is simple: a small-scale  copy of the Chora of Anafi is located in Plaka, exactly below the Parthenon, known as Anafiotika. Built from 1847 to 1863 by builders from Anafi who came to Athens to construct the palaces of King Otto, Anafiotika's traditional cluster brought the Cycladic sea breath in the centre of Athens.

View from above, the harbor
Here you can find, relatively easy, nice, traditional rooms to let in reasonable prices although Anafi has recently been turning into a sought out destination. The Chora is, however, a small treasure trove of images and surprises that await you in every corner of this blinding white labyrinth. Therefore, it is strongly advisable to explore every inch of it: from the small upper square with its panoramic views, and all the way up the alleys leading to the ruins of the Venetian castle, full of purple flowers and lazy cats lying down on the warm grey stones. In the central promenade you can find beautiful small taverns and cafés for a tasty breakfast, some good coffee or Cycladic tapas and ouzo, all of them blessed with a unique view to the infinite sea and protected from the fierce August winds.  Some of these are, the "Armenaki", a tavern with nice folklore music ensembles, "Alexandra", overlooking the traffic on the main road of the island or the "Astrakhan" with the best views of the island and the "Liotrivi" with its old oil press; while savoring the local delicacies, you should try the excellent honey and Anafi's famed cheese and sausages. Here, you will enjoy the peace and tranquility you seek, all the more so as the use of cars and motorcycles is banned inside the Chora, being a protected traditional settlement.

In the Chora, the alleys
Starting right beside the small harbor, you will find the first large beach in Kleisidi, while a number of beautiful sandy beaches, large and small, stretch all across the southern part of the island. In general, the beaches are quite good, not so organized, except Kleisidi, but all with crystal clear waters and golden sand; their charm lies precisely in their isolation and the serenity it offers. The most notable are Katsouni, Flamourou and the famous Roukounas, the big and the small, the big being really enormous, as it is the largest sandy beach of the island – and perhaps of the whole Aegean Sea – and has a remarkable restaurant, "Roukouna", serving a delicious roasted local wild goat that will melt in your mouth.  If you go further east, you'll find more beautiful, deserted beaches, mainly with pebbles, like the "Megas Potamos" beach or "Prasies". On the other hand, If you decide to explore the mainland, you should definitely visit the ancient Acropolis in "Kastelli", with its ancient walls tinted in fiery red from the sunlight and the shadows of its past glory stretching out in the lonely sunset.

Small chappel 
However, the most important sight of the island has not been created by the hands of humans, but by the majestic forces of nature. A giant monolithic rock known as "Kalamos", 460 m. high, only second to the  Gibraltar rock, is towering above the sea in all its eerie magnificence. The path leading to the top of the rock is a haunting and unforgettable experience and perhaps one of the most impressive routes an island has to offer; just head to the Monastery of "Zoodochos Pigi" (or "Panagia  Kalamiotissa"), preferably early in the morning, and follow the somewhat unclear indications and your instinct!  The route is relatively demanding and requires some strenuous climbing at moments, but it is astonishing, with an unnatural feeling that you walk substantially upon an enormous rock, a colossal stone tower with sudden alternations that offer you a unique view not only to its imposing volume but also to the sea beyond; a monument to the grandeur of nature and a remarkable experience for a lifetime.  Upon reaching the top, and entering the precinct of the "Old Monastery of Kalamiotissa", a stunning picture will leave you wordless and astounded, as the infinite blue horizon will embrace you and fill your soul with the precious poem of the immense sea, a poem dedicated to you.

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on September 9, 2013 (transl. & edited from greek, original here )

The Chora on the hill

Traditional Greek breakfast!