Anafi Island, one of the over 200 Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea is a diamond in the rough, ready to be explored. It’s open to all visitors and tourists, but those who would truly enjoy this island are tourists that are interested in exploring. An unworldly landscape that appeals to the senses of the explorer of the past…by boat or on foot. The island has an area of 38.4 square kilometers, and just over 32 kilometers of coastline. Mount Viglas stands at 579 meters–the island’s highest peak.
Arrival at Ai Nikolas Anafi
By boat, visitors arrive at the port of Ai Nikolas, not far from the capital–Chora, with its view of the Cretan Sea. Similar to other Cyclades Islands, with Santorini Island being its closest neighbor, Anafi is distinct with its own unique style. From Chora, visitors can begin their experience of the island’s secret landscapes and countryside. One of the first excursions is the beautiful Kleisidi beach. From there, explorers can enjoy other beaches, like Mikros Roukounas and Megalos Roukounas, Katsouni, Megas Potamos, and more exotic waters.
Visitors who enjoy ruins can make their way to Kastelli which boasts some ruins of a city of ancient times. Places of worship that deserve a visit include the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi, which translates as a Life-giving Well.
The town of Chora is densely populated with under 300 inhabitants. What makes Chora different from the other Cycladic islands is the home designs, with many arched single-room dwellings. The medieval town boasts narrow cobble stone roads, and sits 260 meters above the port, and is built in an amphitheater-style manner. Following the cobble stone roads will lead tourists to the fortress known as the Venetian Kastro. Many churches are scattered throughout Chora, some from Byzantine times. Chora is a traditional settlement, and as such, prohibits vehicles, but accommodations do exist in the form of rooms to let.
The ruins from the Roman period, as well as the city walls, can be seen here. It’s believed that the Anafian city-state was established around the 8th century BC by the Dorians.
The Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi
Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi
The Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi, that has functioned as a pilgramage since Ottoman rule, is built above the ancient temple of Apollo Aeglitis. Preserved walls of the temple and enclosure are in plain sight, and have been incorporated into the Monastery. It’s located passed a narrow isthmus that separates the main island from the peninsula known as Kalamos. Each September 7th and 8th mark the Anafian’s most important religious celebration, making it an exceptional time to visit. The feast of Panagia Kalamiotissa is planned well in advance to ensure all is prepared on time for the celebration. Everyone is invited to the feast, which also brings many pilgrams from Santorini. Modern-day festivities are different from those long ago, thanks to the asphalt road that leads to the Monastery. In the past, pilgrims stayed the night at the monastery but now return home after the service.
Though difficult to access, Kalamos is a site not to be missed. It’s a natural and unique monument that can only be reached by land. A monolithic rock that was the refuge from the many island invaders from Medieval times. Enjoy the rare species of flora and impressive features when visiting Kalamos. Visitors will also experience the Kalamiotissa Monastery on its highest peak, which boasts a dome temple and designed with impressive architectural features, which is well worth a visit.
Anafi’s countryside boasts clusters of katikies or farmhouses, where agriculture and livestock continue to flourish on the island, but are typically found close to gorges and valleys. Tourists can see fig, olives and prickly pear trees, vineyards in the countryside, as well as beekeeping. The katikies are the farmhouses that were virtually permanent residences of the Anafi farmers. Today, most are uninhabited, although some farmers do still use them. Many are declared protected buildings, consisting of a variety of structures including the dwelling, the baking room, the threshing floor, the barn, and the outdoor pen.
As it is throughout Greece, both the islands and the mainland, Anafi is no different with its numerous churches and chapels. Each one is different in its own way, and is worth stopping by to observe, especially the 15th century chapel of Stavros, situated at the foot of Vigla.
The Footpaths of Anafi
Visitors of Anafi Island take pleasure in exploring the countryside through the network of footpaths which stem about 18 kilometers, covering a good part of the island. The footpaths will lead tourists to special historical and cultural areas, as well as environmental interests. One begins just outside Chora and leads to the Monastery–the end of the route. Mostly, this path is parallel to the coast, and provide access to the popular island beaches. Some areas of the footpath have been paved, providing for an easier hike, although there are interrupted areas, as by the main road, for example. From start to end, the duration of the hike is approximately 2.5 hours.
Another footpath of particular interest is that which begins on the main road of Chora-Monastery leading to Kastelli. A sign posted will direct visitors accordingly. Travelers of this route will come across the chapel of Agios Mamas, where they can see ancient tombs, followed by Iera Odos–the ancient path that leads to the temple of Apollo. Onwards is Mount Chalepas that provides a breathtaking view of the sea on either side of the footpath as the isthmus is approached and lead to the Monastery. This footpath from start to end is about 1.5 hours.
A third footpath begins at Agios Mamas, heading northwest and ending at Agios Dimitrios where tourists will come across several traditional homes. This footpath provides a view to the open sea and heads downhill to where visitors will encounter several homes and ancient ruins. Further along, hikers will encounter Agios Antonios, a church housing 14th century Byzantine frescoes. If interested in visiting the actual church, the custodian must be notified in advance to allow entry. From start to end, the duration of the route is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
A fourth footpath begins at the Monastery and leads to Kalamos where the old Kalamiotissa Monastery is located. This is a more challenging footpath that is often uphill and steep, and has some dangerous areas, although there are railings to help along the way. Also, hikers should be aware of the strong winds along this path. That said, it’s a footpath not to be missed, as it is rich in scenery and beautiful views. Keep in mind that a visit to the Panagia church will require advance notification. From start to end, the duration of this footpath is about 1.5 hours.
The fifth and final footpath begins at Chora and ends in Lakkous. Heading north to the center of the island, hikers will enjoy a well-preserved footpath to the chapel of Stavros. From there, for a half kilometer, the route leads to Rachidi. Numerous farmhouses will dot the landscape. Vigla mountain will be passed on the west until the footpath leads downhill to Lakkous. The duration of this route is approximately 1.5 hours.
It’s believed that the great eruption of Santorini’s volcano created a huge tsunami that covered virtually the entire island of Anafi. As such, volcanic pumice was deposited on the island and is still visible in various areas, like Vouni, Pyrgi, and more. Pumice layers are visible on the road to Agios Mamas, as high as 280 meters!