Father Evdokimos is hunched over, deep in thought. His wispy white beard glows within the shadowy antechamber. At first, I think about he’s praying. “I’m making aprons from scraps of cloth,” the abbot explains, with out wanting up from the classic Singer. It’s a becoming pastime for the nonagenarian monk, a eager chef who has printed his personal cookbook. Round him, carved crucifixes and Orthodox icons grasp above cupboards overflowing with vibrant fabric. “I don’t like sitting round, I prefer to be helpful,” father Evdokimos smiles, unruly eyebrows dancing above rimless glasses. He wears his age, cassock, and venerable standing frivolously.
To show his level, the abbot bustles us out of the room and into the kitchen of Panagia Panachrantou, a Byzantine monastery wedged right into a mountain ridge on the Greek island of Andros. With its thick stone partitions and battlements, the monastery seems extra like a fortress. The world is named Katafigio (refuge) as a result of it was a strategic hide-out in the course of the Greek Revolution towards Ottoman rule. A pair of silver-plated pistols on the kitchen wall attest to the bravery of the a number of hundred monks who as soon as resided right here. Now there are solely 4.
Father Evdokimos was assigned the duty of cooking for them on the day he arrived in 1958. Right this moment, he has made aubergine pilaf and fasolakia, inexperienced beans stewed with tomatoes. In a nook of the tiny pantry, he lights a fireplace utilizing outdated, sepia-tinted newspapers and fries fats chips over the flames. “We’re fasting right this moment, no meat,” he says. The black cat hopefully rubbing the abbot’s ankles meows in protest.
The kitchen is a comfortable litter of terracotta pots, hanging baskets, and an unlikely abundance of alarm clocks. Little has modified because the not-so-distant days when there was no street or electrical energy up right here — other than the beep-beep of a movement sensor, clocking the guests who’ve come to admire the church, with its intricately carved iconostasis inlaid with Iznik tiles. It’s half previous eleven, however the monks have been up lengthy earlier than daybreak for morning prayers. “Cease crossing your self! You’ve accomplished it seven instances!” one monk teases one other as we take our locations on the wood desk.
Though all guests to the monastery are warmly welcomed, not all of them are invited for lunch. For that, you want an Andros insider. Somebody like Allegra Pomilio, a 29-year-old photographer, graphic designer, meals stylist and author from Pescara in Italy, who has turned her household’s summer time home on Andros into one of many island’s most lovely locations to remain. Though she modestly describes Mélisses as a mattress and breakfast, it’s greater than that.
The thought started in 2018 as a sequence of culinary and inventive retreats, hosted by Allegra and a roster of cooks, photographers, florists, and craftspeople (together with Emiko Davies, Letitia Clark, and Nicole Franzen). Pictures of romantic desk settings, superbly plated feasts, and ravishing backdrops of rocks and sea, goats and sunsets, sparked an explosion of curiosity — not simply on Instagram, however in actual life. With restricted locations obtainable on the retreats, individuals stored asking Allegra whether or not they might keep on the home (which sleeps 12) as paying company. “Ultimately I believed: Why not? I might try this,” Allegra laughs.
After I arrive at Mélisses, simply exterior the village of Batsi on the island’s western coast, she insists on carrying my bag down the lavender-scented hillside to the Pink Mullet suite, a blue-and-white sanctuary with an vintage wardrobe, gray stone flooring, and an outside kitchen overlooking the blue horizon. Steps carved into the rocky shoreline lead previous a kitchen backyard, a pen stuffed with goats, geese, and chickens, and all the way down to a secret swimming spot, with a handful of deckchairs shaded by bamboo pergolas.
A dip within the sea is the right prelude to an aperitivo by the saltwater infinity pool — a cucumber, lime and gin concoction garnished with bee pollen, served with scorching tomato and courgette fritters dunked in yoghurt swirled with basil oil. Typically everybody gathers round a communal desk for dinner, however for tonight’s feast — tortelli full of herby, lemony anthotiro (a form of Greek ricotta), complete croaker fish wrapped in fig leaves, and rosemary gelato — tables draped in lace are scattered across the backyard. Allegra and a trio of sleek younger ladies glide about, topping up glasses and lighting candles because the lilac twilight turns into a cover of stars. You might simply drift off the radar right here and overlook about the remainder of the island and the remainder of the world.
However that might imply lacking out on among the most unspoilt seashores, lovely villages, and surprising surroundings within the Cyclades. Divided by three towering mountain ranges, Andros was often called Hydrousa in antiquity for its profusion of artesian wells, freshwater springs, wetlands, and waterfalls. Virtually half the island is a protected nature reserve, the place the one traces of man’s presence are the gray furrows of drystone terraces. One minute you’re navigating a cliff-edge, deliriously excessive above a glittering expanse of sea. The subsequent you’re deep in a valley of citrus orchards and century-old manor homes, the place the island’s landed gentry spend their summers. You would possibly spherical a bend and discover the panorama has turned to cloud, spectral goats rising from the fog.
“It’s like three completely different islands, every with their very own panorama and character,” says Petros Antoniades, co-owner of Livada, an natural farm within the village of Mesaria that gives Mélisses with all kinds of scrumptious, seasonal greens. Allegra has tracked down lots of the greatest sustainable producers on the island, from the Tridima brothers, who make their very own cured meats from free-ranging livestock; to the beekeeping father-and-daughter at 3Melisses, whose natural heather honey tastes like toffee. (The virtually an identical identify is a coincidence; “mélisses” means “bees”). In an outdated olive press hidden within the sparsely inhabited north of the island, they welcome us with honey-drenched loukoumades (feather-light fried balls of dough) and pictures of raki, the native grappa.
I often spend days researching one of the best locations to eat and drink earlier than a visit. This time, I’ve come armed with Allegra’s cheat sheet of her favorite eating places, seashores, retailers, and (she is Italian, in any case) aperitivo spots on the island. After a gradual breakfast of grape focaccia, yoghurt with home-made granola, figs and honey, and eggs fried with sage, I do know I’m in secure fingers. It could be a problem to hit all of the highlights on her five-page record in as many days, however I’m decided to attempt.
Not like neighbouring Tinos, which has established itself as a cult favorite amongst Greek gourmands, or Mykonos, the place you’re extra prone to discover Kobe beef gyros on the menu than a Greek salad, Andros just isn’t notably well-known for its meals. The island is healthier often called the birthplace of a lot of Greece’s highly effective however insular delivery dynasties, whose wealth and patronage provided skilled alternatives exterior tourism and a wealth of social and cultural establishments unimaginable on different Cycladic islands. Latterly, Andros has additionally established itself as a vacation spot for ramblers, because of the decided efforts of Andros Routes, a gaggle of volunteers who’ve waymarked round 150 kilometres of the island’s footpaths, with extra trails cleared yearly. (In the event you actually need to go off-road, ask Argyris Visvardis, a fantastically energetic information with Discover Andros, to take you to the Gerolimni waterfalls, the place you’ll be able to swing from a rope into luminous rock swimming pools.)
Near Mélisses, a straightforward round climbing path results in Paleopolis, the place you’ll be able to snorkel over the sunken ruins of the island’s historic capital. On the best way again, I cease at To Periptero, a glorified shack, to make a dent in Margarita Vlastari’s monumental fourtalia, the native potato and sausage omelette that’s typically studded with no matter occurs to be in season. On the aptly named Balcony of the Aegean, a family-run farm-to-table taverna a mile or so to the north, the homeowners make all their very own cheeses. I pattern tender goat’s cheese and peppery kopanisti with gently yielding gigantes, Greece’s scrumptious tackle baked beans, and rooster in tomato sauce.
Tucked away on the finish of a tapering street, Agia Marina is a sheltered sliver of sand the place locals go for recent fish, stuffed tomatoes, and epic sunsets. The seaside taverna right here has been in enterprise since 1960, a retro postcard of blue plastic chairs, driftwood sculptures, and paper tablecloths. A trio of cats sit on the ocean wall, watching youngsters splash within the fading gentle, and a pair of curious sheep wander previous.
The scene at Tou Zozef, a kafenio within the hamlet of Pitrofos, is equally laid-back: Katerina Remoundou has hung her laundry out to dry between the brightly painted tables within the courtyard. Regulars come for Katerina’s uncommon signature dishes, comparable to koskoséla (fried eggs and tomatoes), however she insists I attempt her day by day specials: rooster roast with vine leaves and purple peppers, ladenia, a Cycladic-style pizza with caramelised onions and tomatoes, and lyraki, buttery Andriot squash. “Katerina is the oracle of Andros,” Allegra tells me. Positive sufficient, after lunch Katerina pulls up a chair and provides me a rambling and riveting historical past lesson. There are tales of celebrated patissiers, Venetian watchtowers, political exiles, migrating birds, and benevolent shipowners. “Andros is a self-sufficient island with a robust sense of group,” says Katerina. “Agricultural life goes on, however each household nonetheless has no less than one member working at sea. The ocean pays our payments.”
This legacy is writ massive within the villages clustered round Chora, the elegant capital that juts into the ocean just like the prow of a ship. In Stenies — jokingly often called the Beverly Hills of Andros, due to the extravagant mansions constructed by native delivery titans — virtually each avenue, fountain and church carries a marble plaque engraved with the names of the benefactors who paid for them. The identical names seem time and again: Goulandris, Embiricos, Polemis.
For my final lunch on Andros, I go to one other monastery, Agia Irini. Deserted for years, the monastery was restored by the late Lefteris Polemis, who joined the service provider navy as a young person and doggedly labored his means as much as captain. In a slim refectory with image home windows framing Chora, a protracted desk is laden with roast goat, spaghetti bolognese, Greek salad, lyraki and fourtalia. “The whole lot besides the spaghetti comes from our backyard and farm,” Lefteris’ raven-haired daughter, Aliki, tells me proudly. Even the nice seafaring households have deep roots within the land on this wealthy and bountiful island.
Rachel Howard was a visitor of Mélisses (melissesandros.com), the place suites sleeping two value from €260 per evening. Allegra Pomilio additionally hosts occasional culinary retreats on Andros in spring and autumn.
If Mélisses is totally booked, attempt Ktima Lemonies (ktimalemonies.gr; doubles from €130), a farm and guesthouse tucked away within the lush valley beneath Lamyra. Androsbnb (androsbnb.gr) additionally has a choice of residences and villas for lease. Discover Andros (exploreandros.gr) presents guided river trekking, rock-climbing, and different outside pursuits (from €50 per individual). For extra on visiting the island see andros.gr
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