Hiking in Greece can be an absolutely memorable experience. This is mainly because the Greek countryside is breathtakingly beautiful and diverse. From lonely mountain tops and deep gorges to endless plains and welcoming beaches, a hike in Greece comes with an impressive amount of stunning viewpoints. Local hiking clubs and groups across the country plan hiking trips and walks along picturesque routes and trails as well as trekking events in an effort to bring more people closer to nature. Andros Routes, the team of volunteers who promote hiking activities in Andros, decided to take this initiative further by organising a walking festival on the beautiful Greek island. The 1st Andros On Foot Festival was an incredible feast celebrating the joy of hiking. We were there and we had a fantastic time.
Our experience at the 1st Andros On Foot hiking festival
Organising a hiking event that lasts for 23 days and features different hiking trips and activities for each day is not an easy task. Yet the Andros Routes team nailed it. From the early stages of registration to the festival to the actual attendance of the various events, people involved in this brilliant effort made sure that all participants had a wonderful and flawless experience.
The 1st On Foot walking festival in Andros took place from 06 to 28 October 2018. Sadly though, we were not able to spend more than a long weekend on our beloved island at that time of year. Yet it was enough for us to relax, come in touch with nature and recharge our batteries.
We arrived in Chora, the utterly beautiful capital of Andros Island, on Friday evening. Just in time for the screening of Little England (Mikra Anglia), a superb period film set in Andros at the beginning of the 20th century. After a quick dinner we had a good night’s sleep as the following day would be a super full one.
The festival programme for October 13, 2018 started with a guided tour of the island’s Archaelogical Museum. The museum houses some unique pieces found on Andros Island and dating back to various historic periods.
After our visit to the Archaelogical Museum, there was plenty of time to explore Chora, the island’s largest town and one of the most enchanting settlements in the Cyclades complex. Dotted with gorgeous neoclassical mansions and windswept all year long, Chora is a sight for sore eyes.
The hike: A nature walk to remember
However, we were on a hiking festival so we couldn’t wait for the hike itself which was scheduled for later that afternoon. We had hiked on Andros Island before. Yet we were always alone. This time we joined many other walking enthusiasts and it was a unique experience. It took us about 2 hours to walk route 8 from Nimporio beach at Chora to the picturesque village of Apikia.
During the hike, we walked alongside riverbeds and streams in the midst of lush greenery along the Gialia River valley. Above the valley and near Chora we admired Stenies, one of the island’s most quaint villages. Andros has a long maritime tradition. Stenies is regarded as the village of the most wealthy and powerful shipowners, hence its impressive mansions and non-existent tourist infrastructure.
Near Stenies, we stopped to marvel at Fabrica and listen to Olga from Andros Routes narrate its amazing story. Most Greek Islands are dry and suffer from lack of water. Andros is the exact opposite. There are 10 rivers with continuous flow all year round. That’s why the island is home to 240 watermills. Fabrica, which means factory in Greek, is one of them. The largest and most impressive one. It was in fact a small industry as it was used as a grain and pasta factory in the past.
Another characteristic of the Gialia River valley is the large amount of tower houses that are scattered in the surrounding hills. These are tall residences with defensive elements inhabited by rich lords in the 17th and 18th centuries. During our walk, we came across the oldest of all, the 3-storeyed Bisti Tower. Sadly, although the tower must have seen glorious days, it now screams neglect.
Our hike ended at Apikia, a village famous for its fresh water springs. But, once there, we couldn’t resist visiting the nearby Pithara waterfall, so we went on to walk along tiny route 2a. Then we headed back to Apikia where a coach was waiting to take us to Agia Irini Monastery, the next stop on our itinerary.
A visit to Agia Irini Monastery
The team of Andros Routes had arranged a guided tour of Agia Irini Monastery for us. Apart from the beautiful church, the Monastery is also home to a set of small museums. The latter exhibit unique items from private collections. We visited a Traditional Musical Instruments Exhibition as well as a Writing Items Exhibition.
By far our favourite exhibition room though, was the one dedicated to Elli Stamatiadou, a botanical collector born in the village of Apikia. We had never heard of Elli before but she certainly was what we now call a female leader. Throughout her career, Elli discovered 25 new plant species and her work gained international recognition. We were thrilled to look at photos from her travels at the exhibition.
After our visit to Agia Irini Monastery, the coach was waiting to take us back to Apikia village. Local associations and businesses had prepared a feast for us there with local delicacies and traditional dance. Our super full day couldn’t have ended in a better way.
Attending the 2nd Panhellenic Trails Meeting
During our long weekend on Andros Island we had the pleasure to attend the 2nd Panhellenic Trails Meeting as well. This is an annual event held on a different location in Greece each year. The purpose of this meeting is to bring together all parties involved in growing and promoting hiking in Greece.
Attending this meeting was an eye-opener for us. We met people from all over the country who are passionate about hiking. They are doing their best to clear and signpost existing paths. Then they link those to new trails in an effort to create hiking routes accessible to everyone.
There were also people from other countries who represented their walking associations and shared their hiking experience with the audience. We found out that in countries such as the UK, hiking is combined with other activities or local experiences. Ultimately, the goal is to offer travellers a complete proposal for alternative tourism. It goes without saying that after attending said sessions, we added a couple of new destinations to our bucket list like the Mullerthal Trail in Luxembourg.
Last but not least, there were people from the Greek Government present at the meeting. They explained how Greek laws and legislation work with regard to hiking in Greece. All in all, the meeting set the foundations for a fruitful discussion between state officials and associations in view of promoting hiking as a sustainable form of tourism in Greece. Our country is a very popular tourist destination for the obvious reasons: ancient ruins and dreamy beaches. However, it would be wonderful if, alongside those, Greece became famous for promoting sustainable tourism as well.
Leading Quality Trails re-certification for the 100 km Andros Route
Andros Island has a wide network of hiking trails for everyone. From absolute beginners, like us, to advanced hikers. Among those, Andros boasts the spectacular Andros Route. A continuous 100 km long path that runs the entire length of the island from North to South. The Andros Route can be completed in 10 days. During this time, hikers can spend each night at a different traditional village, tasting handmade delicacies and immersing themselves into the local community.
Only the best walking routes in Europe are certified as Leading Quality Trails. The 100 km Andros Route is one of them and we were happy to attend the emotional ceremony during which the Andros Routes team received the Leading Quality Trails certification for the second consecutive year as an acknowledgement for their amazing work.
Our final thoughts about the Andros On Foot walking festival 2018
Why we loved this hiking event
We are delighted to have attended the 1st Andros on Foot hiking festival for so many reasons. First of all, we had the pleasure to participate in a very well-organised hiking event, during which we got the chance to meet people from all over Greece as well as Europe. All those people share more or less the same passion: to drive more people towards nature and responsible tourism.
Secondly, we got to enjoy autumn walking on a beautiful Greek island outside high season. We watched in awe as the grey hues of autumn rendered the island scenery even more stunning. Furthermore, less crowds mean more chances to mingle with the locals and live an authentic and thrilling experience.
Last but not least, we must say that we enjoyed our hiking experience immensely. This is why we feel it’s our duty to encourage everyone to try similar activities that are so beneficial for both body and mind. We can’t even begin to tell you how this weekend away cleared our heads and filled us with joy. So, if there are places to hike that you know of, just go there and start walking. We can assure you that you’ll love the feeling of fullfilment you’ll get.
At this point we would like to thank Olga Karayiannis from the bottom of our hearts for her incredible hospitality. She went out of her way to make sure we made the most of our presence at this walking festival. Olga is the soul and driving force of Andros Routes. Without her tireless efforts all those ancient pathways on the island would still remain buried under tons of dirt and oblivion. We are very happy to call Olga a friend we’ll always look forward to meeting every time we’re on Andros Island.
Come join us at the Andros On Foot hiking festival!
We are pretty sure that the festival’s huge success will repeat itself in the years to come. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to plan a trip to Andros during this hiking event. Fast Ferries, the shipping company we always choose for our frequent trips to Andros, usually offers discounts in autumn and off-season prices at Andros hotels are extremely affordable. So, check out the festival’s official website for more information and see you there!
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Disclosure: Fast Ferries kindly offered us tickets to and from Andros for our recent trip free of charge. However, as always, we express nothing but our very own and honest opinion about the experience we had.