Fashion designer Marios Schwab’s guide to Astypalaia
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Astypalaia is a beautiful Dodecanese island in the shape of a butterfly. In Ancient Greece, it was regarded as the “bank of the gods” because it produced such beautiful flowers and fruit. It’s special to me because I’ve spent my summer holidays there since I was eight years old - we had a cousin who moved to the island after she visited in the late seventies and fell in love with it.
We would arrive on a boat, and a separate boat had to pick us up because the big boat wouldn’t be able to go into the port area. It felt like a place for people that were searching for adventure, and for this particular remoteness in the Aegean Sea. We would come with our tents – or my dad had a caravan – and go to a tucked away beach. There were family get-togethers and also a traditional folk gathering – the 15 August celebrations for the assumption of the Virgin Mary, a two-day celebration with great music and fantastic food. All the households cook – you eat food that has been cooked overnight in a wood oven. The tradition is maintained to this day.
When I visit now, a typical day has quite a routine. We go down to the kafenio, where you have your coffee. There is a particular one that I go to almost every day called Meltemi café in the Chora. The Chora is always the main town on Greek islands, and its position in Astypalaia is beautiful. It has a castle at the top, which is from the 14th century, and the ruins have a dramatic sort of beauty. From there you have an array of whitewashed houses creating a line towards the Port of Astypalea. At Meltemi, they have traditional small pies filled with local cheese and on top of it, honey, so it’s both savoury and sweet. They make fantastic omelettes, too. After a few hours chatting away over coffee, I go and buy fruits from the neighbouring store and then it’s off to the beach.
As the island has this butterfly shape, you find interesting coves and beaches along the coastline. My favourite beach is Plakes, where the waters are extremely beautiful. It’s very rocky, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it because you can swim from one rock to another. I love Vatses, too. This is a dramatic beach with a bar that plays great music. It’s always good to have some small tapas there accompanied by a fresh beer. I go diving there with my partner, and we find a high place to jump down into the sea.
I’ll stay on the beach until I’m quite hungry and then go to one of my favourite tavernas. From Plakes, I would go down to Maltezana – the second biggest village in Astypalaia – to Almyra Restaurant, which has beautiful starters: they make the best taramasalata accompanied by dakos, a dry-baked bread. They have a particular way of looking at a Greek dish and adding a little twist to it. At Astropelos, which is in Livadi, another village situated underneath the Chora, you can eat excellent seafood – gorgeous dishes like beautifully grilled or raw fish. I love the ceviche made with fagri, or sea bream, the sea urchin salad and sea bass carpaccio. The owner Maria is a fantastic host and they have a great wine list.
There is also a store in the Chora, Deximi Art & Design Gallery, that sells beautiful presents made in Greece; I always like to take some things for my friends back in London or Athens. When I stay in Astypalaia, I normally stay in a friend’s house but if I’m recommending somewhere to visitors I send them to the Kalderimi Traditional Houses, built into the hills just five minutes from the Chora.
In the afternoon, before showers and a nap, we make a stop at the traditional mills café. We’ll drink tsipouro or tsikoudia and have nice little discussions. You see the beautiful light of the sun coming down slowly, because it has a balcony that overlooks the amphitheatre, down the hill of the Chora.
After we’ve had our showers, we’ll go on to one of the restaurants nearby at the castle. I would go to Agoni Grammi, where they make delicious stuffed vine leaves called dolmadakia, or, further up towards the castle, Karai Kafenio, where they serve nice mezze with a beautiful view. After dinner, there’s Archipelago Café & Bar, which is very sophisticated. It is in a beautiful old building, and they have the most delicious sweet things. I normally have the chocolate cake with red peppercorns, or poached pear with yoghurt cream, which is really refreshing.
Then it’s up the hill towards the castle, when we’ll pass by friends’ bars. The places I love the most are Castro Bar, which plays really good music and has a fantastic view, and for dancing, Artemis Bar, which has a very good DJ and makes nice cocktails. If we’re not going to be too adventurous, we’ll go to sleep, but we do tend to stay up quite late on Astypalaia. We will probably end up on a rooftop looking at the sunrise. It has the most incredible colours – it just fills you up with energy. You go back to city life with your batteries charged, dreaming of your next visit.