This Mesmerizing Greek Island Is A Little-Known Paradise With Secluded Beaches

A vacation in Greece sounds like pure bliss, doesn't it? Incredible food like souvlaki and baklava with some dolmades on the side, warm and sunny beaches, and incredible history all around you. If you visit one of the more popular and overcrowded Greek islands like Santorini or Mykonos, however, you'll have to add crowds to the list of your experiences. If you have some time and you're willing to take a ferry ride, you could experience some of the wonders of this incredible country without constantly bumping into people the way you might in Athens. Located 147 nautical miles from that famous city is the island of Astypalaia (sometimes written Astypalea). Set in the Dodecanese part of Greece, Astypalaia looks like two islands attached by a land bridge that is under 330 feet wide. The east side is Exo Nisi, the west side is Mesa Nisi, and it is all astonishingly beautiful. 

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This is a quiet island as the ferry takes around nine hours from Athens' Piraeus port, but it's worth it. You can easily rent a car (note that many have a manual transmission) at the main port on Astypalaia or use the public bus system to tour the villages of the island and its pristine beaches. It's the perfect trip all year, with highs in the low 60s in the winter and the low 80s in the summer. Here's what you need to know about the island, what to see and do, and most importantly, the beaches.

The beaches of Astypalaia

There are 13 gorgeous beaches on Astypalaia, each looking like a postcard, with shockingly clear turquoise water. Some beaches tend to have nude bathers, while a few require a little work to get to, like Kaminakia, a pretty pebble beach just under five miles from Chora that has you driving down a dirt road that curves. If you'd like something closer to the capital, you can take a short walk to Pera Gialos beach, which was once the island's main port. This is a great spot to try out your snorkeling skills. Like many beaches on Astypalaia, there are cafes and tavernas there for seafood, drinks, and other snacks. Just be careful to double-check pricing when eating at popular beaches anywhere in Greece.

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Another great option is Agios Konstantinos, which is less than 4.5 miles from Chora in a cove surrounded by mountains with chairs and umbrellas for rent. You can do some great walks here, but if you happen to stroll past the village of the same name, you may find nude bathers on Tzanaki Beach. People also love to visit is Livadi, which is a mere 1.25 miles from Chora and not only has chairs and umbrellas, but there is a spot to rent equipment for water sports. Make sure to bring your reef-safe sunscreen, especially if you plan to snorkel. If you have kids with you, visit Steno Beach which is all sand and has fairly shallow water to splash in. 

Sightseeing on Astypalaia

Legend has it Astypalaia was named for a favorite nymph that the ocean god Poseidon was in love with, and there is a spectacular landmark in the form of a dark stone castle high on a hill in Chora. As you can see in the first picture, there is the dome of a church visible from inside the grounds. There are actually two in there, but the one you're seeing is the Portaitissa Orthodox Church from the 18th century. The other is Panagia Evangelistria from 1853 with lovely icons inside and an ecclesiastical museum right next door. You may hear it called Chora Castle or Astypalaia Castle, but also the Venetian or Querini Castle. Built by Venetian John Querini, who ran the island in the 13th century, it was supposed to keep pirates and other invaders away. Wander the grounds to see Querini memorial plaques in the walls and stay late for a picture-perfect view of the sunset. 

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While you enjoy the tavernas of Chora (and some evening dancing at Kouros Bar), don't forget to visit the eight lovely white windmills on the way into the city. Another unique experience is a walk to Drakos Cave or Cave of the Dragon, which is full of colorful stalactites and stalagmites. It was once said that pirates may have hidden treasure here. If history is your thing, stop by the Talara Baths, built between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE with their beautiful tile mosaics.

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