Andros is one of the most northern of central Cyclades group of Greek holiday islands and a popular choice for weekending Greeks as it's a short hop from the mainland and on a good ferry route.
The island of Andros has a character all of its own if a little one-dimensional. Variety may not be the island's long suit, but it has plenty of good points.
It has a popular tourist beach resort at Batsi, another less popular at the humdrum capital of Hora and the rest is remote beaches scattered around the coast.
Hora is located on a spectacular finger of rock with the sea lapping the cliffs on either side and the main street dotted with cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries.
Natural springs give rise to lush green valleys nestled between majestic mountain peaks. The best of Andros island's beaches can be spectacular – but they are all relatively remote.
An extensive network of donkey paths crisscrosses the interior, making this an ideal destination for hikers. Although some routes can be choked with scrub and thorns, many are well maintained.
Andros is easy to reach from mainland Greece as ferries leave Rafina every day and Andros is usually their first port of call.
Andros is a long, thin island just off the east coast of mainland Greece. Neatly divided by a mountain ridge, there is the beach resort of Batsi to the west and the capital town of Hora in the east. Other beaches are dotted around this large island, and those that are more than mediocre tend to be remote.
The island's main resort at Batsi is built on two hills overlooking a fine natural harbour with a splendid beach of soft, golden sand.
Shady tamarisks line the road behind with a clutch of hotels and tavernas opposite. Shallow water makes it safe for children, and there is lots of shade at the northern end.
At the southern end, the beach meets the harbour wall and a string of tavernas edge the small square. Yet more tavernas line a balcony above offering splendid views over the bay.
A family resort, Batsi has plenty of shops, bakeries, grocers, banks and a well used outdoor cinema. The only drawback is that Batsi's popularity with weekending Greeks does tend to push up prices.
Hillside alleyways create a maze of steep walks in the pleasant shade where spring water often streams down deep gullies on either side of the path.
Escape from busy weekend crowds is offered on the other side of the bay at the sandy strip of Fanormos, within easy walking distance, or by following tracks over the headland to some secluded coves.
Just south of Batsi, within easy walking distance, is a trio of small beaches at Agia Marina. The nearest is a narrow, nondescript strip of gravel and stone beneath vertical cliffs.
Over the headland, and surrounded by a large hotel complex, is the best of the beaches, a narrow strip of sand and stone with a summer cantina parked beneath the cliff.
Access is down very steep steps from the hotel, and Agia Marina beach barely has room for half a dozen umbrellas so it can get quickly filled in the summer.
The sea is strewn with rock slabs with deep water beyond, so it's not ideal for children. A small stream runs down to the sea at one end.
The furthest beach of the three is a narrow, exposed strip of gravel and stone, with no facilities.
The coast road twists and turns north out of Batsi skirting a couple of small, sandy coves, best visited on foot as there is nowhere to park on the narrow highway.
The attractive cove at Kiprianos is easily spotted because of the small blue and white chapel of Kyprianos which overlooks the tiny inlet of sand and stone.
Close up, the chapel is little more than a cement block, like a garage with a bell tower, but it looks quite pretty sitting on a rock outcrop over the sea draped in lashings of blue and white paint.
There is room here for a few cars to park and it's just a short scramble down the cliff to the small beach of stone and a little sand.
The first decent stretch of sand north of Batsi is at Psili Ammos, or Chrissi Ammos depending on which map is consulted.
A long stretch of pure white sand with a few stones is backed by low dunes that provide shelter from the wind and relief from the noise of the main road nearby.
A ramshackle beach bar puts out loungers in the summer, and the beach gets a seasonal clean-up when duckboards are laid out between the rows of sunbeds.
More facilities are on offer at a couple of roadside tavernas – just a short walk north to the headland where another sandy strip at Kypri is overlooked by a semi-derelict, half-built restaurant complex.
Dunes bank up behind the beach here, and sunbeds are laid out for tourists in the summer months.
North of Kypri is a long stretch of scruffy sand bisected by a small stream. The beach at Agios Petros, chiefly sand with a few stones, is a popular place in the high summer when beach bars open and sunbeds come out.
The road runs close behind, and there is good parking while hotels on the headland offer facilities for eating and drinking.
A road inland leads up the valley to the village of Agios Petros offering exceptional views on the way. A kilometre or so before the village is the ancient tower of Agios Petros.
A small layby on a sharp bend offers some parking ut paths to the tower peter out in the scrub, and the ruin is not easy to reach.
The crumbling 20-metre high tower is thought to date from the 4th century BC and has five floors with a spiral staircase inside. Nearby are the entrances to old copper mining caves.
Agios Petros village has a large fountain but little else to impress. West of the village is the monastery of Sotiros, founded in 1596 by the monk with the impressive name of Maximos Magnentios.
Unfortunately, the soft ground has made the building unsafe. A restoration attempt in the 18th century was abandoned, but work has restarted on the picturesque ruin.
Just south of the main port of Gavrio are a several small bays easily accessible from the main road that runs behind them.
Most are little more than small rocky inlets with a few scruffy patches of gritty sand but they still make attractive spots for those who prefer quiet getaway places.
One of the more interesting is at Liopesi which is blessed with a distinctive and much-photographed rock formation.
There are nearby coves to explore and the picturesque setting features heavily in many of the island's tourist brochures.
The main island port of Gavrio is a scruffy, ramshackle sort of place that holds little of interest other than its beautiful position.
Swathes of concrete cover the dock and a large cement car park with bus and coach terminal do nothing to improve the scene.
A dozen or so utilitarian cafes and tavernas line the road behind the quay, serving as waiting rooms for ferry passengers.
There is little in the way of charm except for a town centre dovecote converted into a tourist centre.
Rooms for rent signs abound and it's a useful if dull, place to stay, from the tourist honeypot of Batsi. The surrounding hills are gorgeous and sound walking trails can be found in the area.
Beaches lie both north and south but visitors will need transport, although there is a regular bus service from Gavrio heading south to Batsi and Hora.
Beyond Gavrio, and across the bay to the north, are a clutch of decent beaches that are well worth a visit, especially for visitors with their own transport and a decent enough map.
The road leads around the bay to the small, but pleasant, beach at Charakas. Alternatively, the trail over the headland ends at the splendid beach at Felos where tamarisks back onto a beautiful arc of golden sand.
The map marks a beach taverna here, but it is based a good two kilometres back from the beach and down a long and unsignposted dirt track.
More beach coves await the adventurous to the south at Kourtali and Selki, but they are small and lack any facilities. Even more remote are the north-west coast beaches at Pisolomiona, Limanaki, Kaminaki and Vlichada but they are poorly signposted, down narrow dirt tracks and without any facilities.
There are several remote beaches to the east of Gavrio but access can be difficult on the long and winding mountain roads.
A turn inland from the road north out of Gavrio leads up into the mountains through the villages of Pano Felos and Frouesi before petering out into a rough track that drops gently to the coast along a river valley full of ancient Andros waterwheels.
At the end of the track lies the splendid white stone beach of Zorkos set inside a small horseshoe bay, quite exposed and with shade provided only by cliffs on either side.
Other small beaches coves thread this part of the coast but they are mostly bare and rocky and swept by the prevailing northern winds. Some are accessible only by boat.
The mountain road out of Gavrio passes through Agios Petros and the village of Vitali, strung out along the side of a deep valley.
The road then drops to Vitali Bay and an impressive beach with stony white sand surrounded by rock cliffs. A couple of freshwater lagoons lie at the back of the beach where a cantina opens in high summer.
A tiny white chapel is set on the headland above the beach with a similar bay on the other side at now accessible from Vitali along a rough hillside track.
Further south still is the small white sand bay of Ateni but it is difficult to reach from here. Visitors are advised to set out from Batsi through the hillside village of Remata and follow the long and sometimes tortuous rough track.
A tiny white chapel is perkily perched above two sandy beaches at Ateni. The smaller beach is the shallower and better for swimming. A cantina opens here in the summer.
Inland from Batsi is the monastery of Zoodoochos Pigi, a gaunt, geometric edifice that somehow fails to echo its beautiful setting.
Once the most important monastery on Andros, no-one is exactly sure when it was first built but 1325 is the generally agreed date. Inside are good wall paintings from the 14th and 16th centuries but visitors without an appointment may be turned away.
Also inland from Batsi and on either side of a long ravine are the villages of Katakilos and Pano Katakilos. The area has several springs which give rise to plenty of pretty waterfalls, especially at Remata village which is buried in lush greenery along a steep valley. Remata is best approached from Hora where a well-maintained road snakes up over the mountains before dropping into the lush green valley.
The road from Stavopedra to Hora pretty well splits Andros island in two. The main centre of interest is Hora which perches on a long and dramatic promontory. Apart from a few scrappy beaches infrequently dotted around the coast, there is not much of interest here. The southerly town of Ormos Korthi is a dullish backwater, although there are good walks to be had.
The island capital of Andros Town, known locally as Hora, is like a white blanket thrown over a long, narrow 400-metre long peninsula that ends at a small rocky islet.
On the islet are the ruins of a Venetian fortress connected to Hora by a picturesque, if precipitous, stone arch that was rebuilt in 1956 after the original was destroyed in a storm. Further out to sea is the Tourlitis lighthouse, impressive on its large rock.
Hora is bisected by the long traffic-free street of Georgiou Empirikou, dotted with shops and cafes and small artists' studios. Three-quarters of the way along sits the main square where cafe tables are set out around a fountain beneath the dappled shade of a huge plane tree.
Hora boasts several large neoclassical buildings, evidence of the wealth of former citizens. The Archaeological Museum was founded in 1981 and includes a statue of Hermes of Andros – a first-century copy of the original discovered on the coast at Paleopoli.
Most unusual is the Gouldandris family's Museum of Modern Art with works by Greek artists as well as eminent modern masters such as Picasso, Braque and Matisse. Nearby is the much-photographed chapel of Agia Thakassini built on an offshore rock.
A Maritime Museum has opening hours that seem to suit everyone but visitors while a large slabbed square is dominated by a bronze statue to the Unknown Sailor, donated by Russia. Wealthy donors also fund the Kairoa Library which has some 3,000 rare titles.
To the south-west is the pretty village of Menites and its marble fountains with lion head spouts while at Apoika, to the north-west, is the Sariza spring where mineral water is bottled and exported throughout Greece. At nearby Stenies, popular with wealthy Greeks, is an attractive beach called Gialia, backed by eucalyptus trees and a good fish taverna.
The road south out of Hora eventually leads to Ormos Korthi but first passes the beautiful beach of Sineti with sharp white sand edging a small and attractive bay.
This is the start of a waymarked nature trail that leads down the long narrow valley of Dipotamata and takes in 22 of the island's famous watermills. Most are ruined heaps of rubble but the path leads over stone bridges and through some delightful scenery
Limestone outcrops above the village of Kochlou are topped by the ruins of Faneromeni Castle. A dirt track points out of the village up to the former fortress, now little more than a heap of stones. Many structures that were once underground are now visible after the roofs have collapsed.
Along the valley, trails are many beautiful houses, several dovecotes, a pretty church and some spectacular views. The road winds down to Kocklou, one of the prettiest villages on Andros.
On the opposite side of the valley is a road leading to the village of Mesa Vouni and a track to the monastery at Panachrantou. The road snakes down through the mountain villages of Lardia and Piskopio before reaching the bay at Ormos Korthi.
The village of Ormos Korthi, or simply Ormos, is the main town in southern Andros and it lies along the edge of a wide bay with splendid hills rising all around.
The road follows the curve of the bay and a paved esplanade is edged with a concrete seawall where a line of rocks has been dumped in the sea to act as a breakwater.
Ormos has a rather dull and lifeless air. A few desultory cafes and tavernas help relieve a monotonous row of rundown roadside houses that have seen better days.
At the far end of the esplanade a succession of concrete wharfs providing shelter for boats.
Ormos has a good folk museum which holds exhibitions in the summer as well as staging performances of traditional music and dancing.
Just north of Ormos Korthi are a trio of small beaches. Signs in Ormos point to the best at Grias Pidima, but the route through the back streets of Ormos is tortuous.
A road runs along a river bed before turning into a narrow dirt track that hugs a vertiginous cliff, a test of driving and nerve. The first beach is Milos, a favourite of windsurfers, then Vidsi which has a small, nondescript shingle beach.
Finally comes Grias Pidima, or Old Lady's Leap, where a singular stone column stands tall in the sea. Legend has it that a pregnant woman was persuaded by besieging Turks to open the gates to Faneromi Castle.
Amid the slaughter that followed the guilt-stricken woman threw herself from the cliff and the pillar of stone is the result.
It is indeed an impressive feature on a most remarkable beach of shingle and sand, although the climb down is exceptionally steep.
Another beach at Bouro is no more than a thin strip of unattractive shingle and over the headland, another stony strip at Melissa is accessible only by boat.
The main road south of Ormos Korthi meanders through several villages along a wide, green and picturesque valley where the well-heeled set up home when Ormos was a thriving commercial port serving ships heading for Istanbul and Smyrna.
There are many elegant houses to admire as well as many dovecotes and chapels. The village of Aidonia has a beautiful fountain with a vaulted roof and some flamboyant marble decoration.
At Moskionas there is a delightful church and at Agia Triada a complex of ancient stone houses, built in the traditional island style, but which appear to be abandoned.
The road rises into the hills at Apatia where small villages like Megalo Chorio, Morakes and Tzeo offer some pretty scenery. This is one of the best places to view the terraced fields that ripple down hillsides almost everywhere in Andros.
Along the valley floor are some abandoned windmills and above Tzeo is one of the best examples of a dovecote on the island.
The more adventurous can take the path that leads down the valley to join a dirt track below Agia Marina and back to Ormos Korthi.
The south-west coast of Andros has little of interest for the visitor. Stavopedra is an ugly crossroads in the middle of nowhere notable only for a large amount of rubbish that collects there.
Here the road forks, with Hora to the east, Korthi to the south and a small road leading down to the sea and the isolated and bare beach of stone and pebble at Chalkolimniona.
There is a significant ancient site at Zagora, the main settlement on Andros between 900 and 700 BC. The village was built on a naturally fortified promontory, overlooking the sea, and was excavated in the 1960s and 1970s. The sea views alone make it worth the visit.
Models of the site and various artefacts are on display at t the e museum in Hora entry to the actual site is forbidden.
An archaeological site nearby at Ipsilli appears to be permanently fenced off with warnings against trespass. There are beaches here too at Prasini Ammos and Koutsi but they are only accessible by boat or a steep scramble through the wild undergrowth.
Nearer Batsi is the beautiful village of Paleopoli or Paleopolis, built on a steep hill and with vegetation so lush it's hard to make out the houses. As the name implies, Paleopoli was a major settlement in ancient times and the remains of the former town can be glimpsed beneath the sea.
Many artefacts unearthed at Paleopoli are displayed in the museum at Hora but a small archaeological museum in the village opens on Wednesdays only. Steps lead down from the main road to the long exposed Paleopoli beach but beware – they number 1,039.