The raw and breathtaking beauty of Amorgos

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Tour leader and bellydancer Eva Cass rehearses at Aegialia Hotel & Spa with the port of Aegiali in the background. Picture: Anita McInnes

WE were meant to take a small ferry to Amorgos for the last week of our holiday but this part of our itinerary started to unravel soon after we arrived on Naxos.

I heard two different stories.

One was the ferry company had run out of money and the other was the ferry was needed to take people to polling booths as they were required to vote where they were registered whereas in Australia there is absenteeism voting and postal voting.

Being unable to get the ferry to Amorgos was potentially a huge blow to our holiday but eventually it was decided we would go by charter boat.

Of course this meant we had to put in some more money but we all really wanted to get to Amorgos.

On the day we left Naxos a bus from Chora took us inland before we headed towards the coast.

It felt like we were going in a circle and I kept expecting to see the town of Chora in front of us but after what seemed like ages we arrived at a small bay where we due to meet the charter boat.

Imagine our surprise when our group of 13 and all our luggage were expected to fit onto a small pleasure boat.

Luckily one of our group had the expertise to make an informed decision about the issue and a new plan was sought.

The boat owners decided to send a bigger charter boat.

It was agreed that some of our group would go on the small boat over to an island where they could get some refreshments while four of us stayed with the luggage.

When I first saw a fishing boat wallowing towards us some time later my relief at avoiding going on the small boat was short lived.

The skipper was the only person on the fishing boat so we had to help secure the boat and then help load all the luggage – this was no easy task when you consider the facilities in the bay basically consisted of some uneven rock and bare earth.

Dixie, Alanah, Vivienne and me heaved the suitcases onto the side of the boat for the skipper to store on the boat and then scrambled onboard ourselves.

I have been out on small boats and fishing boats off the Western Australian coast and even been out on a prawn boat trawling off the coast of Exmouth but this Greek fishing boat and the swell that was already evident put the heebie jeebies into me.

The small boat, which was meant to take our tour group from Naxos to Amorgos. Picture: Anita McInnes
The small boat, which was meant to take our tour group from Naxos to Amorgos. Picture: Anita McInnes

Well just a little bit as I was still determined to get to Amorgos.

The others never said anything even if they were a little bit scared as the fishing boat started rocking and rolling out towards the small island where we were to catch up with the rest of our group.

It was mesmerising in a weird way to watch the power of the Aegean Sea and how the boat would roll and just when I would start thinking it might roll over it would roll back the other way.

Perhaps the others were a bit nervous too because about half way through the crossing someone rolled their pants up above their knees and started dancing and singing sailing songs.

The rest of us joined in and we spent the rest of the journey as though we were taking part in a musical about sailors and laughing our heads off.

Soon after arriving on the small island where the others were we had to scurry back onto a bigger charter boat which then headed for Amorgos.

The most experienced boatie in our group acted as a de facto second-in-command for the trip, which was about 35 nautical miles from Naxos.

Although the waves and swell were soon both bigger than the earlier trip the bigger charter boat sat better in the water.

I spent the much of the journey letting the wind blow on my face and watching the powerful swell until I started to worry that the salty wind would give me windburn.

On our arrival in Katapola we were met by the bus driver from Aegialia Hotel & Spa.

The driver was soon dubbed Ayrton Senna by Alanah for his fast driving especially into the many tight blind corners on this hilly and steep island.

Sometimes when we rounded a corner he has to stop pretty quickly for a herd of goats standing in the roadway or a car whose driver has stopped for some unknown reason.

But when the driver held our hand as he helped us down from the bus when we alighted at the hotel in Aegiali I found it quite charming.

After this on each bus trip I would hang back so I would be the last person off the bus (but alas it did not mean he held my hand any longer).

The hotel and spa has spectacular views and it was incredible to go out on our balcony and look across to the island of Nikouria, which used to be the site of a mint and at one stage a leper colony.

While the food was not as good as the breakfasts at Nissaki Beach Hotel on Naxos the service was fantastic especially from Arta the head waitress.

On the whole holiday she was the only hospitality or airline person to remember I was gluten intolerant and who always let me know what food choices on the menu were suitable for me.

On our first full day on Amorgos we visited Anna Bay where the movie Big Blue was filmed and climbed up to the Byzantine Monastery of Khozoviotissas.

The monastery, which was built or renovated in 1088 AD according to an Amorgos travel guide (with a foreword by Antonis Vekris), is a white structure built into the side of a mountain.

“It has been built in the hollow of a vertical rock, at the precipice of Mount Prophetis Elias, at a height of 300m from the sea and the same distance from the clearing of the rock above,’’ the travel guide said.

“The entire vast edifice consists of a single wall of the south side with a length of 40m and the eastern wall has a width of only 5m so it is called ‘the monastery of a single wall’.”

What a climb it was but so worth it – we were allowed to go inside the monastery (to certain areas including the chapel where a guide gave a talk).

Next we went to Hora the capital of Amorgos, which has beautiful old windmills.

According to the travel guide the town was built on the southeastern side of Mount Profitis Elias so the village was unable to be seen from the sea giving the residents a chance to hide when pirates visited the island.

From our hotel we could watch boats enter the port of Aegiali and some nights we walked over to eat in some of the restaurants in Ormos – at the Limani restaurant near the waterfront we sampled the best stuffed vine leaves I have ever eaten.

The travel guide said Ormos is the newest village in Aegiali as in the olden days the villages were not built beside the sea due to the risk of pirates.

“It wasn’t until 1830, when the last pirates were expelled by the Greek state that fishermen, captains and merchants moved down from the other villages, that Ormos was created,’’ the travel guide said.

One afternoon I walked half way to the port to Ormos beach just so I could say I’d been for a dip in the sea.

There was a heated pool at the spa, which I had done laps in some days and a swimming pool at the hotel but dunking my head in the Aegean Sea was now crossed off my bucket list.

At home I rarely go swimming (even before our recent spate of fatal shark attacks) even on the hottest days because the water is too cold.

Out of all the beaches we had seen this one appealed to me and not just because of its crystal clear waters.

I felt a real sense of peace and inners strength when I ventured out far enough to then just glide beneath the salty water.

I had also wanted to visit Levrosos beach using the path down from the road leading to our hotel but one of our group said he saw a snake on the path the day he visited and that put me off.

The locals later said there were no snakes in the area.

At the spa I treated myself to a fantastic massage – afterwards the staff presented you with a pot of herbal tea, which was delicious.

I also bought a jasmine scented body scrub to bring home.

One evening we went by bus to the village of Tholaria for dinner – we saw many cats and some were very quick to grab any food we offered them.

In this way Amorgos was an amazing contrast with Athens – on Amorgos there were cats everywhere and just a few dogs whereas in Athens there were dogs in big numbers including many “street dogs”.

Most of  our group took part in a cooking class run by Aegialis Hotel & Spa manager Irene Giannakopoulou and the hotel’s chef in the establishment‘s Ambrosia Gallery Restaurant, which overlooks the bay of Aegiali.

The dishes they made and then sampled included traditional Amorgian recipes including fava (yellow split peas), vegetable croquettes and methismena amorgiana dessert.

Hellas Travel owner and the Greek Gourmet Theofilos Vafidis and his crew were there filming that day and then we saw them again at a herb garden and distillery where I bought a bottle of rose and citrus oil, which always makes me a little nostalgic for Amorgos.

The beauty of the island can be best described as a combination of wild and breathtaking.

On our final night in Aegiali Vafidis and his crew also filmed a bellydance performance performed by most of our group for which there had been daily rehearsals since arriving on the island.