Route Νο 1: Mesaria-Panachrantou monastery
Duration: about 7 hours
The pathway begins exactly beside the mansion of the historic family Kairis. This family gave the island many governors and also one of the most popular and interesting intellectuals of the modern Greek state, Theofilos Kairis. This mansion, unfortunately abandoned, is a characteristic example of the passing of the fortified architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries into the urban architecture of the 19th century.
So, the path starts here. We cross the perimeter road of Messaria and descend to the valley of the Megalos Potamos (Big River). Be careful here, after the perimeter road, the pathway divides into two branches – we will take the right hand side branch of the path. It is in general good condition and we continue down between farmyards and stables. Sometimes the path is paved and sometimes becomes a dirt path. We quickly arrive at the river and the Haunted Bridge. According to legend, common to many parts of Greece and also the Balkans, a bridge was only considered complete when the main constructor’s wife has been sacrificed – and her ghost would then haunt the bridge. Hence the name. If it is true that the bridge was built during the years that the Monk Samuel (a historic figure who lived on Andros between the years 1819-1822) was living at the Monastery of Panachrantou, then we have a good idea of the age of the bridge.
After this bridge, the pathway winds into a steep slope. A big step section and its continual zig-zag route need careful attention in order to follow our path and not to go astray – if you do, and continue in a straight line, you will reach a dead end. About half way down the route, we come to a crossroads, where a tasteful wooden sign indicates the way to the monastery and the village of Fallika. It’s worth a diversion to Fallika – even if we don’t reach the village we soon meet a beautiful farm, with a farmhouse, it’s private chapel and a dovecote.
We return back to the path and here we need special care and attention as other paths, in better condition as they are still in constant use by farmers, join ours and can easily confuse us. The instruction is easy: if you lift your head, you can see the monastery, get your bearings and keep following the branch of the path that continually rises. At one of the crossroads, on our right, there is a whole middle age settlement of the Fallika region with very interesting architecture – this was abandoned in the 1950’s.
We reach the monastery and the fountain next to the entrance refreshes us. They say the monastery is 1000 years old, but the only hard chronological evidence is engraved on the door lintel of the Byzantine chapel, which states it was built in 1662. The wooden retable is a wonderful example of pos-Byzantine art. An ancient icon of Virgin Mary (“Panagia Panachrantou”), which according to tradition was rendered by St Luke, is kept in the chapel. Today the monastery houses just two monks. Father Evdokimos, who has spent nearly all his life here, and his young assistant. Their life here follows a centuries old rhythm, harmoniously combining inner life with everyday monastery ministration.
Route Νο 2: Batsi-Arni-Vourkoti-Apikia-Hora
Duration: about 10 hours
The route is a long one, but it can be sectioned. At all the villages along the route, you will find, during the summer months only, tavernas, which offer refreshment and somewhere to rest. Also, at the village of Apikia there are rooms and a hotel, which is open all year round. Our route starts at an old stone bridge on the perimeter of Batsi, then crosses the main road and continues along the dry riverbed. We can see two pump houses and 50 meters after the second pump house on the right our pathway begins to ascend the hillside. Following this pathway, we soon join the asphalt road leading to the village of Katakilos, which we follow until we reach a junction. Here we will take the road of the right hand side. We soon see another road on our left, which leads to the village of Kato Katakilos, but we will continue straight on. There are signs that guide us and the route, which takes us past village homes and gardens, is quite lovely. On reaching Ano Katakilos, it’s well worth a stop at Kria Vrissi, on the old pathway and next to an homonymous taverna.
As we continue, we pass a remarkable village church with its built-in old-Christian marble, and we reach the cemetery. Here we come to a crossroads and we take the extreme left road and soon we will be walking along the old pathway, which, via a wooded slope, bring us to the village of Arni. This village was the island’s capital during the Ottoman rule. The position of the old center of the village, called Politei, during the height of this rule, can be seen on the slopes, as you enter the village on the right hand side. This was abandoned during the 19th century due to a landslide. We walk up the village road and soon reach a chapel of the Prophet Ilias. The pathway begins from here and continues to the village of Vourkoti. We are at a height of 700 meters and mist is very common, especially in the spring and the autumn. The pathway is not very well maintained and if you experience difficulties, the asphalt road, which leads to Vourkoti, is close by on the left.
Either way, in approximately 45 minutes, we will reach Vourkoti. A mountain village, nowadays inhabited only by a few elderly villagers, it was once the olive oil producing area of the island. The entrance to the village is just above the taverna, which is on the road. We descend the first steps and follow the left path. We cross through the village and straight away climb the slope on our right hand side up to the road. We turn left and walk for about 200 meters and join a dirt track on the right, which we follow for 200 meters. On our left hand side, with a little searching, we will find the path, which from this point onwards is signposted with the number 2.
We begin our ascent and the landscape becomes quite wild. On reaching the highest point, we can see Katakalei, Apikia and Hora. We descend to Katakalei, a small and beautiful hamlet. The pathway brings us to the village parking area and continues straight ahead, though the start of it, is rather indistinct.
Soon, the decline becomes sharper and fine stone steps take us through a wooded slope to the chapel the Zoodochos Pigi (Life-giving Spring), which is literally built over the spring, and we meet up with a dirt track. We follow this track to its end and are faced with two doors. The pathway continues behind the door on the right hand side and at first is quite rough, due to the overgrown state of vegetation. The pathway soon clears, the steps are again revealed and soon take us to the village of Apikia. Here, at the center of the village, is the well-known spring, Sariza, and further on (there are signposts for guidance) can be found the beautiful area of Pithara with its waterfall, small streams and pools.
Our pathway, though, crosses the village, continues down to the ravine, passes over a stone bridge and then continues up a wooded hillside. It soon broadens enough that in one part it can be used by cars, but it still retains its wonderful stonewall on the left side. From here there is a beautiful view of Apikia.
We meet a dirt track, which leads to the Monastery of Agia Marina – we will cross this track and start our descent. For some distance, the pathway has been washed away, but it slowly re-emerges impressively (it reaches 3 meters in width) and continues down into Hora, which is directly ahead of us.
Route Νο 3: Hora-Syneti-Kochylou-Korthi
Duration: about 7 hours
This pathway was the only route which connected Hora with Korthi until 1950, and the locals called it the “stone stairway”, because the largest section consists of old stone steps. It begins exactly at the end of Hora’s Paraporti Beach, the lovely stone steps rising up the hillside until reaching the asphalt road. We cross this road and continue downwards until we meet a small stream, which ends at the small and picturesque Lidi beach. We will continue upwards leaving Hora behind us and meet the road again just before the village of Syneti. Following the road, which leads into the village, for about 500 meters we re-discover the pathway on our right hand side. We continue on the pathway and we cross through the village.
We again meet up with the road and will follow it for approximately 800 meters. On our left, we will find a dirt track – to the right of it and parallel with it is our well-maintained and comfortable pathway. Continuing down towards the gorge of Dipotamata we soon reach the first of the watermills, next to a stone bridge. We are now in the center of the gorge, which begins at the village of Mesa Vouni and ends at the bay of Syneti. For its length of 5 kilometers, there are 37 watermills to be found, which until the post-war years were used by the villagers. Our path takes us over the stone bridge and begins to ascend the hillside of Kochylou. For the first 500 meters, on the right of the pathway, small branches of the path allow us to visit some of these mills. The rest of them are almost inapproachable as the path, which connects to the ravine, is closed.
We climb the steps and reach the cement road of Kochylou village. 200 meters on our left, the steps begin their ascent to “Pano Kastro”, the ruins of the second largest castle built on the island during the Venetian rule in the Aegean. If your feet can manage the extra effort, climb up to the Pano Kastro and enjoy the wonderful view of the Aegean; otherwise continue into the village of Kochylou. Here, our pathway joins a cement road, which we follow to its end, to the old village school.
Behind the school, we take the right-hand pathway and follow it in a straight route as it crosses through the village. After 10 minutes walking we will re-discover the stone steps, which will lead us to Ormos (Korthi) in approximately half an hour.
Route Νο 4: Aprovatou-Pitrofos-Strapouries
Duration: about 7 hours
A very old path, which connects the port of Gavrio with Hora and was in constant use until the beginning of the post-war years. The section between Gavrio and the village Batsi is completely destroyed by the road, which has been constructed exactly above it. From Batsi, we can reach Aprovatou following the path, which begins, on the right side of “Piso Vrissi” (Back Spring) of Batsi and continue sometimes using the sections of the path, which have been preserved, and sometimes using the local roads. The general line of the route is easy and takes about one and a half hours.
The section we describe here is the best-maintained, as large parts are still used by livestock farmers of the area. The route starts from the locality of Drassa at Ano Aprovatou, which affords a wonderful view of the west coast. In the beginning it is a narrow dirt path, which quickly widens and separates, and the old original paved footpath is revealed. Soon, we see a fountain and the next fountain will be found at the village of Pitrofos.
The path becomes an upward slope and here the north with is unhindered. This area is very harsh with only a few plants, as their survival is so difficult. Soon we find the first steps, which will take us even higher. From here, on the right, there is a lovely view of the acropolis of Andros’ ancient town, which flourished from the archaic times until the first Byzantine years and the valley of Paleoplis, also discernible, on the right hand side of Paleopolis beach, is the ruin of the half-submerged harbor of the ancient town. On reaching “Mavri Gourna”, there is an abundance of water cascading down from the mount of Petalon, which supplies, a little further below, the cataracts and also the rear part of the Paleopolis valley. Continuing on an upward path we reach the highest point of the route and this area is wild and arid. There is a profusion of wild oregano here – good opportunity to gather some.
Continuing downwards, the path becomes a dirt road, thanks to the mobile telephone companies who have positioned their antennas here. In front of us is a chapel of the Prophet Ilias, and a crossroads. Directly ahead of us the dirt road leads to the hamlet of Melida and continues to Stavropeda on the main Gavrio – Hora road. A good place for those who are tried to abandon the route! We, however, will turn left at the crossroads and after about 50 meters will find again, on the right hand side, the path which is in quite good condition, broad and paved. It will lead us to the village of Pitrofos. On entering the village, we are greeted by two fountains, in close proximity to each other. Very welcoming.
We join the main village road. Exactly on the corner is found the Olive Museum, an old olive press that has recently been renovated and shows the traditional way of processing this valuable fruit. We follow the road on our left for a while. The path continues beside another fountain and a network of wonderful old houses.
We leave the village, at first on a dirt track and then the path, which is solid, broad and comfortable. We meet a stream and a small spring, beside an abandoned farm. A surprising conception of stone wall construction which marks level surfaces for farming while at the same time creating spaces for cane behives, unfortunately no longer in place, a small stone “sofa” for the farmer to rest and a small stone cupboard for the storing of tools. All very beautiful, tasteful – and sadly very abandoned. As we continue, leaving behind the old farm and our nostalgia, the path continues to be wide and comfortable until the first houses of Strapouries. Shortly, we meet the main road which was built over, and of course ruined, the path. The road to the right leads to Menites, and to the left to Hora and Apikia.
As we’ve arrived here, it’s worth a quick walk to Strapouries. We cross the road, turn slightly left and on the right side we meet a village road which descends, soon reaching a small square with a church and a little further down the impressive house of “the American”, which was built by an Andros captain in the 1920’s. From here on, asking the residents to avoid confusion, we can, in a couple of hours, using the maze of village paths, reach Hora, via the villages of Lamira and Ipsilou.