Astypalea Island Guide: Exploring the Butterfly of the Aegean

In this destination trip report we will guide you around the best sights and beaches of Astypalea (Astypalaia), the westernmost island of the Dodecanese.

Astypalea

Astypalea, the westernmost island of the Dodecanese archipelago in Greece, is one of the country’s lesser known islands internationally. Although the island is visited by a handful of tourists in the know, by far the great majority of visitors are Greeks from the mainland or other islands.

The island of Astypalea, which is also spelled as Astypalaia (Αστυπάλαια in Greek), is shaped like a butterfly. Due to its shape, Astypalea has earned the nickname “the butterfly of the Aegean”, a quite fitting name if you ask me.

But is the island indeed as beautiful as most butterflies? Let’s find out!

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Astypalea is shaped like a butterfly, with a narrow isthmus connecting the western and eastern half of the island. ©MapHub

Astypalea Town

In the previous chapter of this trip report, I already covered the sights of Astypalea Town. The island capital is one of most stunningly located towns of all of Greece.

From far away you can see the hilltop Kastro (castle) looming over the old town (hora) and the small fishing harbour of Pera Gialos (also called Skala by the locals).

The old town streets are an absolute delight to explore and it takes at least a full day to Astypalea Town justice. If you stay elsewhere on the island, don’t forget to visit both by day and night, as the town has a completely different charm with the castle being gorgeously illuminated.

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Astypalea Town with its windmills and hilltop castle. ©Paliparan
The views from the Kastro are absolutely gorgeous. ©Paliparan
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From all over the old town there are pretty views over the Aegean. ©Paliparan
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A small alley in Astypalea Town. ©Paliparan
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It is just absolutely delightful to explore the winding lanes of Astypalea Town. ©Paliparan
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Astypalaia Town at night. ©Paliparan

Sights of Astypalea

After a fun day in Astypalea Town I was ready to explore the villages and beaches of the island. I had reserved a rental car for two days at Explore Rent a Car Astypalaia – which I can personally recommend.

As communicated before by email, my Fiat Panda was brought in the morning to my Astypalea hotel free of charge (complimentary pick up or drop-off at the port or airport is also possible).

Looking at the map of the island, I thought it was a great idea to use my first day to explore the western half of Astypalea, followed by the eastern half the day after.

Two days were indeed sufficient to explore most of the island (with a third day added for Astypalea Town), although three days in total really is the bare minimum. If I would return, I would probably stay six days, as it would mean you can do everything at a much more leisurely pace.

It would also leave you with enough time to make a boat trip to the nearby uninhabited island of Kounoupoi, which has some great beaches and was highly recommended to me by a Greek friend. Sadly, I did not manage to visit it due to a lack of time.

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A quick inspection of my rental car before I set off to explore the island. ©Paliparan

To the west

My first destination on my island tour of Astypalea was Livadi (also called Livadia at times), a village just a short distance away over the hill to the south-west from Astypalea Town.

Livadi is one of the most fertile places on the otherwise barren island of Astypalea. The town’s whitewashed houses set to the green backdrop of fields and trees surely make for a lovely view when you approach Livadi by road from the island capital.

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Driving down to Livadi. ©Paliparan
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Livadi is located on a gorgeous bay. ©Paliparan

Livadi

Livadi itself is a small, low-key resort town with some small hotels and apartments. If you do not want to stay in Astypalea Town itself, this place would probably be my pick.

There is a small grocery store as well as a couple of inviting cafés and restaurants in town. The sandy beach has plenty of trees for shade and the waters of the bay are delightfully calm as it faces towards the south-east and thus is protected from the strong northerly meltemi winds which are typical for the summer months in Greece.

The town is bisected by a small river creek, which is completely dried up in summer. Thanks to the small river, the lands behind Livadi feel delightfully green and lush, forming a stark contrast to the barren hills of Astypalea.

From the beach, there are also gorgeous views over Astypalea Town in the distance.

As it was early in the morning, I decided to stop for a while in town for my first swim of the day and for a freddo espresso at one of the beachside taverns.

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The main street of Livadi runs parallel to the beach. ©Paliparan
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Bridge over a small riverbed in the middle of town. ©Paliparan
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Livadi beach is sandy, sheltered and has plenty of shade. ©Paliparan
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Livadi. ©Paliparan
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The beach of Livadi. ©Paliparan
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The beach of Livadi. ©Paliparan
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From Livadi, you have a great view back over Astypalea Town. ©Paliparan
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Livadi beach. ©Paliparan
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Livadi. ©Paliparan
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There are plenty of attractive beachside taverns in Livadi. ©Paliparan
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Greek mornings with a freddo espresso at the beach are the best. ©Paliparan

Gravel roads

From Livadi, a narrow road runs further south. After a while, the tarmac gives way to gravel roads – which is common for much of the western part of Astypalea.

These roads are easily traversable with a normal car, there is absolutely no need to shell out for a four-wheel drive vehicle.

My Fiat Panda did the job extremely well and it’s a surprisingly fun car to drive. In my opinion it’s miles better than the Fiat 500 which was in the same price category, also because of the Panda’s higher ground clearance.

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Driving south from Livadi. ©Paliparan
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After a while, the tarmac roads give way to gravel roads. ©Paliparan
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Lovely view from the road. ©Paliparan
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A gravel road on Astypalea. ©Paliparan

Agios Konstantinos

A few miles south of Livadi is the beach of Agios Konstantinos, which is named after the small church of the same name standing on a bluff right above the beach.

The views from the beach over the deep blue Aegean Sea and Astypalea Town in the background are fantastic.

Unfortunately, the beach isn’t the most suitable for swimming in summer. Facing north, it is fully exposed to the meltemi winds, which means that the waves can be a bit rough.

That said, to me it is a must-visit place on the island not only because of its picturesque location, but also because of the excellent beachside café called Al Mare Beach Bar.

It has a lovely wooden bar and some excellent seating corners underneath the trees. I can highly recommend the place, whether you just come for a coffee or for one of the tasty cocktails.

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Driving down towards Agios Konstantinos Beach.. ©Paliparan
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Paralia Agios Konstantinos (Agios Konstantinos Beach). ©Paliparan
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The beach is named after the small church of Agios Konstantinos. ©Paliparan
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View from the church over the beach. ©Paliparan
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View from the church over the small bay. ©Paliparan
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From the Church of Agios Konstantinos you can also see Astypalea Town in the far distance. ©Paliparan
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View from the church towards Astypalea Town. ©Paliparan
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Al Mare Beach Bar. ©Paliparan
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Al Mare Beach Bar has a wonderful location underneath the trees of Agios Konstantinos beach ©Paliparan
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Al Mare Beach Bar. ©Paliparan
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The cute wooden beach bar. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying a second morning coffee at the beach bar. ©Paliparan

Towards the far south

From Agios Konstantinos I drove back up the road to the crossroads, which is overlooked by the small Agios Ioannis church.

At the intersection, one road leads south towards Paralia Vatses (Vatses Beach), while another road goes first around a mountain to the north-west, only to loop back south towards Paralia Kaminakia (Kaminakia Beach).

Both beaches are definitely worth a visit. I decided to head first to Vatses and to leave Kaminakia for lunchtime, given that the latter has a taverna while Vatses only has a beach bar.

The road to Vatses Beach is absolutely gorgeous – especially the last bits where you pass through a sort of canyon as you descend towards the beach.

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My Fiat Panda with Agios Ioannis Church being visible in the far distance. ©Paliparan
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Agios Ioannis Church. ©Paliparan
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Agios Ioannis Church. ©Paliparan
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The wonderful road from Agios Ioannis Church towards Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan
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It’s a gravel road all the way down to Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan
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The canyon coming in sight. ©Paliparan
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Driving through the canyon towards Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan
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The gorgeous road towards Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan
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Approaching Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan

Vatses Beach

When you approach Vatses, it might initially not appear like one of Greece’s best stretches of beach. The beach – a mix of sand and pebbles – looks a bit barren, with just five or seven trees standing at its edge.

However, once you reach the shore you can see instantly why Vatses is actually a delightful little beach. The calm waters of this sheltered bay look highly appealing for a swim and there is a nice little beach bar with lovely views from its wooden deck.

As there are some large slippery stones in the water, it can be a bit tricky to get into the sea for a swim. There are however some special mats placed on the seafloor (in front of the beach bar) where you can walk more easily into the waters up to a level from where you can swim.

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When you approach Vatses Beach it might not yet appear as one of Greece’s finest beaches. ©Paliparan
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However, when you actually approach the shoreline you will see that Vatses is actually a highly appealing beach. ©Paliparan
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Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan
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There are sunbeds which you can rent for the day at Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan
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Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan
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As Vatses Beach is facing to the south, the waters in the bay are calm and protected from the northerly Meltemi winds. ©Paliparan
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Vatses Beach has an appealing beach bar for drinks and small snacks. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying a Greek craft beer at Vatses Beach. ©Paliparan

The road back

Although Vatses Beach is just a short distance away from Kaminakia Beach as the crow flies, there is a mountain in between – which means you have to take quite a detour to get there.

It basically meant driving back to the crossroads near Agios Ioannis Church, from where I had to take the roundabout route around the mountain to reach Kaminakia.

On Astypalea’s roads this is however not a crime as I absolutely loved the views across the island’s barren interior.

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Driving back from Vatses Beach into the canyon. ©Paliparan
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The roads on the island of Astypalea might look rough, but are really easy to drive with a normal 2WD car. ©Paliparan
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The interior of Astypalea has some sort of wild, barren beauty to it. ©Paliparan
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The road to Kaminakia Beach is another beautiful stretch to drive. ©Paliparan
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The island interior of Astypalea. ©Paliparan
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After a while, the road descends down to Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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A church along the road to Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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Approaching Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan

Kaminakia Beach

Just like Vatses, the charms of Kaminakia Beach only become clear once you have actually parked your car and walked onto the pebbles.

Although I think Vatses is a better spot to swim as the beach is less pebbly and has more shade, Kaminakia is a prettier bay. The different shades of blue of the sea just looked absolutely stunning when contrasted against the barren rocks.

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Gorgeous Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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The crystal clear waters of Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan

Lunchtime

At Kaminakia, there is a small taverna a few feet away from the beach. From the covered terrace, there are some lovely views over the tavern’s small garden and the bay.

Called Linta, the restaurant does typical Greek tavern food ‘grandmother style’. There were no menus available as the old lady running the tavern just came to the table to explain what the available dishes were that day.

Don’t expect the widest variety of food, but prices are cheap, service is friendly and the food tasted good. It was just too bad that the goat I ordered was probably the skinniest animal on the island when it was still alive judging by the small amounts of meat on the bones.

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Linta is a small tavern at Kaminakia Beach. ©Paliparan
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Grilled goat and a beer for lunch. ©Paliparan

Back to Astypalea Town

After the late lunch it was time to slowly head back to Astypalea Town having basically visited the main sights and beaches of the western half of the island.

There are a couple of more beaches and sheltered bays of interest (for example Panormos) but the roads leading there are very rough and such places are better visited by boat.

The views from the road were again gorgeous – especially the panorama over Astypalea Town as you approach the island capital from the south-west.

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Driving back to Astypalea Town through the wild island interior. ©Paliparan
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The road back to Astypalea Town. ©Paliparan
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After all the dirt roads, it’s nice to again hit some decent tarmac. ©Paliparan
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Approaching Astypalea Town. ©Paliparan
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View over Hora and the hilltop Kastro from the southern access road. ©Paliparan

Second day

On day two, I planned to explore the eastern part of the island of Astypalea. From Astypalea Town, you first need to drive across the isthmus to reach the eastern landmass of the butterfly-shaped island.

The isthmus is at parts so narrow that you have some good vistas on both sides of the road. There are some especially beautiful viewpoints on the wild northern side on your left as you drive from Astypalea towards the east.

Although there are some small beaches at this side of the island, they aren’t the best for swimming due to the strong waves and winds.

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Views over the wild northern coast of Astypalea. ©Paliparan
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The wild northern coast of Astypalea. ©Paliparan
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The northern coast of Astypalea is prone to the Meltemi winds in summer and therefore not the best place to look for a nice beach to swim. ©Paliparan
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A small beach on the northern coast of Astypalea. ©Paliparan

Steno Beach

The first good beach you will hit when you drive from Astypalea Town to the east is Steno Beach, which is located on your right hand side immediately after you pass by the small red-roof Agios Mamas Church on the same side of the road.

First you will come across Paralia Mikro Steno (Small Steno Beach), which is divided by a rock from the main section of Steno Beach. Both stretches of beach face the sea on the sheltered southern side of the island, making it a calm place for a swim.

Steno Beach has a small beachside tavern where you can get a drink or a full meal.

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Agios Mamas Church is located on the narrowest part of the isthmus. ©Paliparan
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Mikro Steno Beach. ©Paliparan
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A panorama view over Steno Beach. ©Paliparan

Analipsi

After the turn-off to the Astypalea’s small airport you will descend down towards Analipsi, the main settlement on the eastern landmass of Astypalea.

Just like the town of Livadi on the western half of the island, Analipsi has several small hotels and apartments, making it another alternative to Astypalea Town to stay. Compared to compact Livadi, Analipsi is however more stretched out along the coast and is noticeably larger.

There are several appealing cafés, taverns, shops and a small supermarket in town.

Analipsi is also home to the archaeological site of of the Tallaras Baths. These Roman-era baths are well-known for their ancient floor mosaics. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the corona pandemic when I visited.

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The town of Analipsi as seen from a distance. ©Paliparan
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Analipsi is a stretched out town skirting the waterfront. ©Paliparan
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A rickety jetty in Analipsi. ©Paliparan
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Analipsi. ©Paliparan
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I stopped for a coffee at a tavern called Almyra, which in the morning was full of locals doing the exact same. In the afternoon Almyra is a popular and great quality lunch spot as I would find out later! ©Paliparan
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Fishing nets in front of the tavern. ©Paliparan
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Walking along the main street of Analipsi. ©Paliparan
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The local church of Analipsi. ©Paliparan

Analipsi beaches

Analipsi has two beaches. The long but narrow stretch of sand in the town centre is called Maltezana Beach, which ends at Analipsi’s small fishing harbour.

If you walk or drive a few hundred metres more along the main road over a small hill towards the north-east, you will arrive at Schoinontas, which is Analipsi’s second beach. The waters at both beaches are shallow, making it a perfect place for families with young children.

Personally, I thought Schoinontas was the most attractive beach of the two for a swim. Do climb up to the church just above the road at Schoinontas Beach as there are some lovely views from there over the sea.

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Maltezana Beach. ©Paliparan
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Maltezana Beach is long but narrow. ©Paliparan
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The sea was amazingly calm this day. ©Paliparan
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At one side of Maltezana Beach you will find Analipsi’s small fishing port. ©Paliparan
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Some boats in the harbour of Analipsi. ©Paliparan
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At the end of the harbour, you will find a small church. ©Paliparan
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Of Analipsi’s two beaches, I thought that Schoinontas Beach was the most appealing for a swim. ©Paliparan
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Schoinontas Beach. ©Paliparan
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The small church overlooking Schoinontas Beach and the sea. ©Paliparan

Mountain road

If you venture east of Analipsi you will notice that the lands almost instantly get more wild and mountainous. Compared to the western half of the island, the main road here is of good quality as it’s basically a sealed road almost all the way to Vathi.

There are some great views over the coastline from this mountainous road, making it a fun drive.

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The main road on the eastern half of Astypalea is a good quality tarmac road. ©Paliparan
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View from the mountainous Analipsi – Vathi road. ©Paliparan
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A bay on the wild northern coast of Astypalea somewhere east of Analipsi. ©Paliparan

Agrilidi

There aren’t many points of interest east of Analipsi – and even fewer which can be easily reached by road without requiring a hike or risking the state of your car on one of the rough side roads.

Most rental car companies will not even allow you to use the side roads on this part of the island in the first place – something which also counts for the very rough stretch of road beyond Vathi.

One of the points which I do think is worthwhile to stop is Agrilidi. You are best off parking your car along the main road and walk the short distance (approximately 10 to 15 minutes on a gravel path) to Agrilidi.

Agrilidi basically is a beautiful sheltered bay from where you have some scenic views over the blue-and-green coloured waters. It’s worth it to hike all the way to the small Agios Nikolaos Church, from where the vistas are the best.

Although the sea did look appealing here, I could not find a good spot for a swim as the coastline is very rocky and the few beaches I encountered were not the most appealing.

At Agrilidi, you can also see an abandoned factory and some submerged docks. Seemingly, this was once an important local mining or manufacturing point which has since been left to the elements.

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Agrilidi Bay as seen from the main road. ©Paliparan
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The gravel path to Agrilidi is very rough and uneven at times, so it’s best not to drive! Just park your car on the main road and walk. ©Paliparan
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Walking along the bay at Agrilidi. ©Paliparan
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The Church of Agios Nikolaos coming into sight in the distance. ©Paliparan
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What I liked most about Agrilidi was how green it looked compared to the rest of the island. ©Paliparan
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Agios Nikolaos Church. ©Paliparan
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Abandoned factory at Agrilidi. ©Paliparan
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Some kind of submerged dock at Agrilidi. ©Paliparan

Vathi

As you follow the mountainous road on the eastern half of Astypalea, you will eventually reach the small village of Vathi. Right at the entrance gate to this village the tarmac ends, giving way to a very rough stretch of gravel road.

Most rental car companies won’t allow you to drive past Vathi, so if you want to reach the settlement of Exo Vathi a bit further down the road along the bay, you will most likely have to walk.

Vathi has a real Wild West (or Wild East, in this case!) feel to it. Many of the stone houses in the village are abandoned or crumbling, and the few houses which seemed to be inhabited seemed to belong to local fishermen or shepherds, making Vathi about as far away from any tourist infrastructure as you can possible get on the island of Astypalea.

Although there is nothing to see here as such, I liked driving out here just to absorb the views.

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Looking out over Vathi from the main road. ©Paliparan
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A gate marks the entrance to the village of Vathi. ©Paliparan
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A small church in Vathi. ©Paliparan
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With its many abandoned and crumbling buildings and barren landscape, the town of Vathi had a real Wild West feel to it. ©Paliparan
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Driving down towards the bay. ©Paliparan
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The sea at Vathi was certainly not the most appealing. The beach is rocky and the waters even seemed to be muddy and dirty. ©Paliparan

Lunch

As it was getting already a bit late in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten yet, I decided to drive back to Analipsi for lunch.

I returned again to Almyra where I had stopped earlier in the morning for a coffee. This time around, the restaurant was full with locals and tourists alike for lunch.

Almyra is a bit more than your traditional Greek tavern as besides some traditional classics it also features some inventive dishes on the menu such as a “mojito pork belly”.

The restaurant also has fish freshly caught the same morning from the sea. You can just walk inside the kitchen with the waiter to see what kind of fish they have on offer that day.

I went for a massive, ugly looking fish from the grill (no idea how it’s called – I’m quite bad when it comes to recognising fish species!) – which was absolutely delicious. It was served with some kind of orange sauce, which indeed paired excellent with the fish.

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Arriving back at Almyra in Analipsi for lunch. ©Paliparan
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I can personally recommend Almyra – friendly service, great location, great food! ©Paliparan
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My massive fish for lunch. Absolutely tasty! ©Paliparan

Driving back

Having done enough exploring on Astypalea, it was now time to relax a bit more. After the great lunch in Analipsi, I therefore decided to drive back to the western half of the island to Al Mare Beach Bar on Agios Konstantinos Beach, which kind of became my favourite spot on the island.

There really was no better way to while away the late afternoon hours than by drinking a caipirinha or two in the shade while reading a book – and with a lovely backdrop of the Aegean Sea and Astypalea Town that is!

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Driving back from Analipsi in the direction of Astypalea Town. ©Paliparan
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I just loved Al Mare Beach Bar and its great cocktails and views over the sea and Astypalea Town in the far distance. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

I absolutely loved my stay on Astypalea island. The highlight is arguably Astypalea Town itself, as there aren’t many towns in Greece with such an awe-inspiring, unique location. It’s an absolute delight to explore the winding lanes of the town, stopping regularly to admire the views or to eat and drink at one of the town’s fine taverns.

However, also on the rest of the island there is a lot to see, and you are well advised to get a rental car for at least a day or two. The western part of the island has the best beaches, with Vatses and Kaminakia both being worthwhile destinations with clear blue waters.

The small town of Livadia is also a delight to stop as it has a nice beach and plenty of taverns with great views over the sea and Astypalea Town. A bit further away, Agios Konstantinos Beach might not be the best place for a swim, but with Al Mare Beach Bar it has one of the best places on the island for a drink or two.

Schoinontas and Steno are two of the best beaches on the eastern half of the island, although personally I’d prefer Vatses and Kaminakia. The town of Analipsi is however a low-key, worthwhile place to linger around for a while and you can find some great restaurants here such as Almyra.

Both in the west and in the east you will likely be awed by the beauty of the wild, barren interior of the island. Perhaps that is where the real charms of the island lies. Astypalea feels like such an unexplored, unknown gem.

Even for many Greeks Astypalea is quite off the beaten path, and most foreign tourists will likely have never heard of the place before. Around 90 percent of all tourists arriving on the island are Greek – which means that Astypalea has still retained its traditional charms unlike some other Greek islands overrun by tourists in summer.

Astypalea is a great destination and I really cannot recommend it enough!

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘A Dodecanese Dream: Summer Island Hopping in Greece‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Back in the Skies – My First International Flight in the Age of Corona
2. Review: Kimon Hotel, Athens, Greece
3. Exploring Plaka: Through the Winding Streets of the Old Town of Athens
4. Climbing up the Acropolis: Visiting Athens’ Most Famous Sight
5. Review: Skyserv Melina Merkouri Lounge Athens Airport
6. Review: Sky Express Athens to Naxos (ATR 42)
7. Review: Studios Zafiri, Naxos Town, Greece
8. Naxos Town: The Gorgeous Historic Heart of the Cyclades
9. Review: Blue Star Ferries Naxos to Astypalaia
10. Review: Belvedere Studios, Astypalaia Town, Greece
11. Astypalea Town: The Unknown Crown Jewel of the Aegean Sea
12. Astypalea Island Guide: Exploring the Butterfly of the Aegean (current chapter)
13. On a Night Boat in Greece – Astypalea to Kastellorizo With Blue Star Ferries

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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