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Taking My Time On Andros Island

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Andros Island
Andros Island
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Introducing Andros

I have always found there to be something so exciting about boarding an early morning ferry. When it’s bound for an island I have never visited, in the heart of the Aegean Sea, it makes it that extra bit special! Last year I embarked on a Greek Island-hopping adventure and my excitement levels were off the scale! I had been very kindly invited to discover three of the Cyclades Islands, Naxos, Mykonos and my first port of call, Andros.

A little pre-trip homework had told me that Andros was considered to be how Greece used to be. It was authentic and charming with great food, the friendliest of people and naturally beautiful but without the crowds. I could not wait, so for a change, I was super organised and took a flight to Athens and spent the night just a stone’s throw from the Port of Rafina from where I was to pick up the early “red eye” ferry to Andros the following morning.

Rafina Port to Andros Island

Rafina Port is quite a busy little place and one of three main ports in Athens – there is Piraeus, Lavrion and Rafina. The Port of Rafina has plenty of cafes, restaurants and even a little fish market. I made my way to the ticket office from where I was to check in. There are two types of ferries – slow and fast. I was on a slow ferry called…wait for it… “Fast Ferries”.

I hastily lugged my bag across the port and along the iron ramp, before climbing the steep steps and up onto deck to watch as we sailed away. The passengers on board ranged from locals with cats in pet transporters to workers and holidaymakers. I soon found myself talking to a couple of very nice ladies. Sarina and Tracey were part of an 80-strong group tour on an island-hopping tour from Toronto. We shared stories and when passing over my business card, Sarina asked for my autograph …. well, there you go …. it took until the age of 54 and in the middle of the Aegean Sea for that to happen. From small acorns and all that.

Welcome To Andros

After a journey of some 37 nautical miles, taking less than 2 hours, I arrived at the Andros port of Gavrio which receives regular connections from Rafina. There are two other ports on Andros. There is Batsi Port, which welcomes mainly private boats and Chora Port also for private boats and fishing vessels.

I was greeted by Fotis from “Explore Andros” one of my guides for my stay here on Andros. Fotis had worked in Athens for some years, but the pull of his homeland drew him back to Andros where he delights in showcasing this special island to holidaymakers and the occasional British Blogger!

Fotis explained that Andros is the northernmost island of the Cyclades and the second largest after Naxos. The Port of Gavrio is on the west coast of Andros and we would be taking a 45-minute road trip south then cutting across the island to our home for the next few days, Chora, the capital of Andros.

It was at this moment I realised that Chora is not unique. Well, not by name, as it appears that many islands in the Cyclades have a town called Chora. A little confusing but fascinating. Either way, I was looking forward to my visit to this Chora.  

Geography of Andros

As we left the bustling port of Gavrio behind we were soon enjoying the scenery of Andros. With its pristine beaches, charming villages, and rich cultural heritage, at first glance, Andros mesmerizes with its diverse landscape, boasting rugged mountains, and lush valleys, that provide a stunning backdrop to the island’s coastal towns and villages. The scent of citrus groves (their lemons are enormous!), herbs and wildflowers was remarkable and a memory that will linger longer when I think of my time in Andros. Thinking back to my time living on Corsica that island too had its fragrant smell of the maquis. I need to “sniff” these islands out more on my travels.

As Fotis calmly drove us across the island he expertly highlighted some of the key geographical elements associated with the island. Profitis Ilias is the highest peak on Andros and just 997 metres. I later learned that the highest peak on the Island of Naxos is 1003 metres. As you can imagine there is much fun – our island is taller than yours – about the difference of 6 metres. Size matters in the Cyclades!

History of Andros

With a history dating back thousands of years, Andros Island has been shaped by a rich tapestry of civilizations and cultures. From its ancient roots as a centre of Cycladic civilization to its prominence during the Venetian era, Andros has played a significant role in the Aegean region.

Over the centuries, the island has been inhabited by various peoples, including Greeks, Venetians, and Ottomans, each leaving their mark on its landscape and culture.

Today, Andros stands as a testament to its storied past, with archaeological sites, medieval castles, and traditional villages preserving its heritage for future generations to explore.

In modern times Andros became very prosperous and was known as a centre for commercial shipping. The maritime history of the island is strong and can be witnessed in many locations around the island. Over the past couple of decades, the island has started to develop its tourism industry however it is doing so with the utmost care so as not to damage both the appearance and culture of the island.  One such example is that no buildings over a couple of floors are permitted – I liked that as it means no high-rise, mass tourism hotel chains are likely to move in…at least for the foreseeable future.

Chora Town, Andros Island

For those seeking a taste of authentic Greek life, Andros’ charming villages offer a glimpse into traditional island living. None capture your heart quite as much as Chora, the island’s main town.

Its Neoclassical and Cycladic buildings, labyrinthine streets, whitewashed buildings, and bustling squares are where locals gather to enjoy coffee or ouzo. Take a walk through the narrow alleys lined with boutique shops, art galleries, and tavernas serving fresh seafood and traditional Greek cuisine.

On arrival, Fotis and I did just that, we went for a wander, like two old school friends reflecting on life. The route took us through the peninsula on which the town was built. The main street is called Agora, and after passing the occasional Mulberry Tree we finally reached the end of Chora and a large open square known as the Riva. Standing alone in the middle of the square is the monument to “The Unknown Sailor”. This stunning sculpture symbolises the Naval History of Andros and honours all those who lost their lives at sea.

From the square, we took the short sloping path to the Kamara which is an arch bridge that connects the square to one of the most iconic attractions in Chora, the Agios Nikolaos Fortress. If you want to get onto the ruins of the fortress, then you need to scale the arch which is not for the faint-hearted! It is steep and a little scary so be careful. It was at this moment that my guide Fotis uttered the words that were to stay with me throughout my stay on Andros. As I reached for each ledge to pull myself up, he calmly told me to “take your time”. This was to prove a valuable and worthwhile piece of advice that came up again and again. It made me smile and if anyone says that to me now, I think of Andros Island where nothing is too hurried in life – that is good!

Dating back to the Venetian era, the fortress stands as a testament to the island’s strategic importance throughout history and offers panoramic views of the town and the sea beyond. It was built during the 13th century however it was largely destroyed in 1943 during World War II.

Beyond the Fortress is in my opinion the symbol of the island and without doubt the most stunning lighthouse I have ever seen. The Tourlitis Lighthouse was constructed in 1887 and is the only lighthouse in Europe, that is built on a rock, in the sea. Its design and form which to me resembled a corkscrew, are just breathtaking.  

Elsewhere in Chora, visitors will discover a wealth of cultural treasures, including the Archaeological Museum of Andros. Housed in a neoclassical building, the museum showcases items spanning thousands of years, from ancient pottery and sculptures to Byzantine icons and Venetian-era artefacts, providing insight into the island’s rich history and heritage.

For art enthusiasts, the Museum of Contemporary Art offers a modern contrast to Chora’s traditional architecture. Housed in a renovated mansion, the museum features rotating exhibitions of Greek and international contemporary art, showcasing the creativity and innovation of modern artists.

Chora is also home to several impressive churches and chapels, each with its own unique architecture and religious significance. The Panagia Thalassini, or Church of the Virgin Mary of the Sea, is particularly noteworthy for its stunning seaside location and intricate marble carvings.

In addition to its cultural attractions, Chora offers ample opportunities for shopping, dining, and strolls. The town’s bustling main square, Plateia Miaouli, is lined with charming cafes, tavernas, and boutique shops, where visitors can sample local delicacies, sip traditional Greek coffee, and browse for souvenirs.

On our way back from the lighthouse Fotis, who seemed to know everyone on the island, bumped into a delightful lady called Mary. She is a British expat living in Andros and first visited in 1988. Today she is known as the cat lady of Andros. Mary through the goodness of her heart spends time dedicated to looking after about a dozen cats that live in Chora. Thankfully you will find that the locals also like the cats so it’s not as harrowing a task as some kind people take on in other parts of the world. I was to meet up with Mary again later in my stay!

As evening falls, Chora comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene, with bars and tavernas offering live music, traditional dance performances, and festive gatherings late into the night. If you are looking for a great start to the day head to the Lithi Bar which serves up a mouthwatering breakfast called Shakshuka which is comprised of Tomato, Toast, Eggs, peppers and Chilli. In the evening, the Neo Bar which has been built within an old slaughterhouse, may not at first appeal but when you go it’s very cool and full of character. The cocktails are superb, locals friendly and they even serve up tasty pizzas!

Whether exploring its historic landmarks, admiring its architectural beauty, or simply soaking in the atmosphere of its lively streets, Chora invites visitors to experience the timeless allure of Andros Island.

Pythara Waterfall

Back in the car, it was time for Fotis to introduce me to some of the local attractions away from Chora. We were off on another walk – nothing too strenuous mind as after all I had just been mountaineering up a steep-sided stone arch. We were to take our time!

Just 15 minutes from Chora and tucked away amidst lush greenery and rugged terrain, we embarked on a scenic but moderately challenging hike through verdant forests, following winding trails that lead to the cascading waters of Pythara.

As the waterfall comes into view, its graceful descent into a crystalline pool below captivates the senses. All around there was wildlife from insects to butterflies and frogs to birds. It was a wonderful introduction to the nature of Andros.

Apoikia Village

From Pythara we visited the little village of Apoikia. This sleepy little retreat features traditional architecture, winding stone-paved streets, narrow alleys, adorned with blooming bougainvillaea and stunning vistas of scenic countryside and rolling hills.

One of the village’s highlights is the Tower of Apoikia, a well-preserved medieval tower. Locals come to Apoikia as it is the source of the mineral water “Sariza”, which is famous for its healing properties. Fotis advised it was taken by those who suffer from kidney stones. I took a few slurps for good measure, and we were once again on our way!

Hiking Trails

It was here in Apoikia that I first noticed the numbered routes that are prevalent throughout the island. Andros is a hiker’s dream and it’s worth getting a map from the local tourist office in Chora which details each in order of length, time, and difficulty.  

Throughout my stay, I bumped into many hikers all of whom were waxing lyrical about the simplicity of a hiking holiday in Andros not to mention the breathtaking beauty.

Saint Marina Monastery, Apoikia

Perched atop a verdant hillside overlooking the azure Aegean Sea, the Saint Marina Monastery stands as a beacon of spiritual serenity on Andros Island. Dating back centuries, this sacred site is dedicated to Saint Marina, a revered figure in Orthodox Christianity.

Visitors can explore the monastery’s ancient stone walls, Byzantine frescoes, and ornate iconography, immersing themselves in the timeless beauty and tranquillity of this sacred space. With its breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and its profound sense of peace, the Saint Marina Monastery offers a glimpse into the rich religious heritage of Andros, making it a must-visit destination for spiritual seekers and history enthusiasts alike.

Dinner at Endochora Restaurant

In the evening I was hosted by Christos the owner of Explore Andros at the Endochora Restaurant which is located in the heart of the main street of Agora in Chora.

This typical Andros restaurant was perfect with a wide choice of seafood dishes including Sea Bass, Octopus, and Calamari plus various other Meat, pasta and salad options. The main courses started from 11.50 euros for a Risotto. The range of desserts was equally impressive including Soumada, an almond-flavoured panna cotta and a chocolate and olive oil fondant. Beers started at 3 euros and a bottle of wine was from 10 euros.  

After my first day on Andros Island, I felt strangely at home. I was relaxed, had met lovely people, tasted great food and was excited for the adventures ahead.

Achla River Walk

My second day in Andros was to involve another hike, this time along the Achla River, but this time a little harder but with the same goal, to enjoy the magnificent nature that the island has to offer.

Fotis took a day out from scaring me and so today I was guided by Argie. Now Argie is the type of guy that if you were lost in the Amazon, you would want him by your side. He was as fit as a butcher’s dog and as strong as an ox. He was also a previous contestant in the Camel Trophy which, if you are of a certain age you may remember, was an extreme event back in the 80s and 90s for 4X4 vehicles across all corners of the globe. I liked Argie – he was a real man’s man.

We met at the delightful Fresco Juice & Salad Bar on the main street in Chora along with a couple of Belgium ladies, Greta, and Ellen, who were on holiday and seeking adventure. Argie gave us some instructions about our walk which was to take us along the banks of the river to the mystical Gerolimni pool where during the peak season people congregate to swim, relax, and enjoy nature. As an avid wildlife lover, I was keen to know what animals we might meet on route and was promptly told to look for Golden Eagles, Hawks, Frogs, Butterflies, Dragonflies and Snakes. The latter got our attention, but Argie confidently stated that there was just a 1% chance of seeing a snake.

With mosquito spray slapped all over, we headed out into the bush. After just five minutes one of our Belgium ladies stopped in her tracks. Sure enough that 1% chance came in as there before us was “Sid” the 5-foot-long Caspian Whipsnake sunbathing across a footbridge. Our man Argie stepped in and slowly caressed him out of the way with a stick so that we could continue our hike. It was all such fun. Honestly, I loved it!

As the morning ensued Argie expertly showcased much of the island’s nature from herbs and wildlife to the trees and rock formations that had been carved through centuries of water flowing from up high in the Andros mountains.

The Gerolimni Pool was indeed magical. As we sat on enormous stone slabs, listened to the roar of the waterfall, staring into crystal clear water, we shared stories of adventures from yesteryear. It was a very special morning and one where I fell in love with Andros…. This is indeed the real Greece and long may it stay that way!

Our journey back involved another sizable snake – son of Sid I reckon…. now did Argie say 1%? I repeat…it was such a great morning! 

We dropped the Belgium ladies back in town and Argie and headed for lunch in the gorgeous Gialia Seafood Restaurant in Stenies. As chance would have it, we bumped into another Belgium couple who were on the island due to their love of hiking. Argie had taken them out the previous day, so we enjoyed a lovely lunch together.

Neiborio & Paraporti Beaches

After lunch, I asked Argie to drop me on the outskirts of Chora so that I could walk along the main Neiborio Beach which is to the west of the Chora peninsula.

It takes about 15 minutes to walk the length of this sandy attractive beach which is backed by a road and a line of shady trees under which numerous cafes and restaurants reside. With the words of my guide Fotis ringing in my ears, I decided to “Take My Time” and duly purchased a cool drink and watched life go by. This beach is perfect for families of all ages and the beach has areas with loungers and showers. The Andros Nautical Club is also based here.

On the east side of the peninsula is Paraporti Beach. This beach is beautiful but it is exposed to the northern winds which make for strong undercurrents. It is for strong swimmers and perhaps not so recommended for families as Neimporio.

Zairis Patisserie, Messaria

My final full day was back with Fotis who collected me from my hotel for another day of adventure. The good news was that it was to start in a patisserie and end in a vineyard – now that’s my kind of day trip! I would certainly be taking my time!

The Zairis Patisserie is located on the outskirts of Chora in Messaria. This culinary gem is known for its delectable pastries and warm hospitality. Established decades ago, by Adamantios Zairis, this charming patisserie has been delighting locals and visitors alike with its exquisite selection of traditional Greek desserts, ice creams and baked goods.

Stepping into Zairis Patisserie is like entering a sweet haven filled with the irresistible aroma of freshly baked treats. From flaky baklava and creamy galaktoboureko to decadent chocolate cakes and delicate pastries filled with seasonal fruits, every creation is a work of art.

But perhaps the most delightful aspect of Zairis Patisserie is the warm hospitality extended by its friendly staff, who welcome guests with genuine smiles and personalized service. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a regular patron, you’ll be treated like family from the moment you walk through the door.

I was invited into the kitchen where I met the kind and welcoming owner and baker extraordinaire, Leonidas Zairis along with some young apprentices learning the craft! Leonidas was a lovely man who took over the business from his father in 1995. He was deeply passionate not only about the family business but also about passing on his knowledge and skills to the would-be bakers of the future. It was truly inspiring to witness that first-hand.

I left with perhaps the tastiest sweet treat I have enjoyed in many years. I love almonds, so the handmade Amigdalota which are egg-shaped, covered in fine icing sugar and filled with a soft almond filling were just heaven! The Kalsounia is another similar treat. If you are planning to take something home from Andros then a box of either of these is a must!

For a taste of authentic Greek pastry-making tradition and a truly memorable culinary experience, be sure to visit Zairis Patisserie in Messaria during your stay on the captivating island of Andros.

Menites Village

With a belly full of Amigdalota we hit the road. Along the way, we stopped by the picturesque village of Menites.  Set amongst lush greenery this hidden gem is known for its traditional Cycladic architecture, whitewashed houses, colourful flowers, narrow cobblestone streets, and charming squares shaded by ancient trees.

One of the village’s highlights is its natural springs, which have been a vital water source for centuries and are said to possess healing properties. Visitors can relax by the springs, enjoying the serene ambience and refreshing coolness of the crystal-clear waters.

Menites is also renowned for its traditional tavernas, where visitors can savour authentic Greek cuisine made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. For those interested in history and culture, Menites boasts several notable landmarks, including the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, a beautiful Orthodox church dating back to the 19th century. Its stunning architecture and intricate frescoes make it a must-visit for history enthusiasts and architecture buffs alike.

Like most of Andros, this area is popular for hiking and exploring. Lush forests, winding trails, and breathtaking viewpoints await those who venture into the countryside surrounding Menites.

Agia Irini Monastery

The Monastery of Agia Irini in Andros was built in 1780 in Apikia, by two brother monks however in 1833 the monastery was dissolved. over the next 100 years the monastery fell into disrepair until in 2006, Captain Eleftherios Polemis bought the land that included the monastery.

Over the next 10 years, Polemis and his family restored and recreated the buildings of the monastery. They have even added a small room that showcases a collection of traditional musical instruments.

On arrival, we were greeted by a lady along with a rather handsome hound dog. This lady used to work for Polemis and since his passing a few years ago she maintains the monastery for visitors as well as groups that flock to the Agia Irini Monastery to seek solace, reflect on faith, and marvel at its timeless beauty.

Panachrantou Monastery

On the island of Andros, you can visit several monasteries dating from the Byzantine period to the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Some, like Agia Irini, have been recently renovated. All of them are of exceptional interest, as they preserve important relics.

I also visited the Panachrantou Monastery and got to view not only the ancient and deeply religious site but also enjoy a coffee and some Turkish delight in the kitchen with some monks. One caught my eye. A gentleman well into his 90s was orchestrating the other monks while feverishly making dinner of flavoured rice stuffed into Zucchini flowers. This was a humbling moment and one I will remember for a long time.

The island is rich in religious history, featuring some excellent hagiographers (a writer of the lives of saints), whose works have been preserved and now decorate various churches on the island. Besides the monasteries, one can also visit old Byzantine churches, such as Taxiarches in Messaria, Melida, Ypsilou, Kimisis Theotokou in Mesathouri and Agios Nikolaos in Korthi.

Korthi Bay

Korthi Bay, nestled on the southeastern coast of Andros Island in Greece, is a picturesque coastal village renowned for its tranquil atmosphere, stunning natural scenery, and traditional charm. Surrounded by verdant hillsides and overlooking the azure waters of the Aegean Sea, Korthi Bay offers visitors a serene retreat away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

The bay boasts a beautiful sandy beach lined with tamarisk trees, providing ample opportunities for sunbathing, swimming, and strolls along the shoreline. With its crystal-clear waters and gentle waves, Korthi Beach is an ideal spot for families, couples, and solo travellers alike to relax and unwind.

For those seeking adventure, Korthi Bay offers a variety of water sports and outdoor activities, including snorkelling, diving, windsurfing, and paddleboarding. The calm waters and favourable wind conditions make it a popular destination for enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Beyond its natural beauty, Korthi Bay is also home to charming tavernas, cafes, and restaurants serving delicious Greek cuisine and freshly caught seafood. Despite some inclement weather, I enjoyed a superb lunch on the covered outside terrace at “Sea Satin Nino” which serves a fine selection of fresh salads, pasta, seafood and local dishes.

Pidima Beach

Fotis asked me if I wanted to visit the beach – hell yes – I loved Andros and only wanted to see more of this fabulous Greek island!  

Just around the corner from Korthi Bay is the little Pidima Beach. It’s a little bit of a treacherous walk to get down to it but they say all the best places are difficult to reach.

This peaceful secluded beach is small and known for its dramatic rock formations and pristine waters. It stands out from other beaches due to the “Old Lady” stone pillar-like structure that comes straight out of the sea before you.

There are various stories and myths about this rock but whichever one you believe, it revolves around an old lady climbing the rock and taking her own life. Not the most uplifting of tales but the view of the rock from the beach kind of makes up for the sad story!

Kourtesis Wine Estate

We left Korthi Bay for our final stop of the day and one I had very much been looking forward to! The Kourtesis Wine Estate in Andros. This is a delightful haven for wine enthusiasts and those seeking a taste of authentic Greek viticulture.

This family-owned winery boasts a rich tradition of winemaking that spans generations. Visitors to the estate are treated to guided tours of the vineyards, where they can stroll through rows of meticulously tended vines and learn about the unique flavours that impart character to the wines.

Wine tastings offer the chance to savour a selection of handcrafted wines, from crisp whites to robust reds, each reflecting the essence of Andros’s fertile soil and Mediterranean climate. With its charming rustic charm and commitment to quality, the Kourtesis Wine Estate offers a truly immersive experience in the art of winemaking on Andros Island.

I would very much recommend a visit. The views are accompanied by superb wines, and a tasty charcuterie board, with bread, tomatoes and oils – my idea of heaven!

Micra Anglia 5* Hotel & Restaurant

That evening Fotis and I went for dinner to reflect on my trip and to chat about life, the universe and anything else that came our way.

We were hosted at the delightful 5* Micra Anglia Boutique Hotel and Restaurant which is local just behind the Agora in Chora. It’s a lovely location from which to enjoy Chora and comes with a small outside pool, beautifully appointed rooms and the most sensational restaurant serving delicious local dishes accompanied by some of the finest wines of the island including those from the Kourtesis Estate.

Whilst I was staying in a lovely typical family-style hotel, this hotel gives visitors, ideally couples or honeymooners, the option for more of a luxury stay. I thought it was good to see this alternative and very much enjoyed both dinner and the hotel.

Animal Magic

It was sadly my final morning on Andros however it was not the end of my excitement! I was meeting with two ladies from the UK who have made their homes on Andros. The time I spent with them in a place called Magic Mountain, was very special, as I learned about the considerable love and dedication they give to looking after some poor and needy animals on Andros.

This last morning was so inspirational that I have written another blog. It would not be doing it justice to include a couple of paragraphs here! Please take a moment to read about my morning meeting with Mary who in her spare time cares for a dozen or so cats in Chora, and Sandy who in 2007 started the Andros Animal Shelter rescuing, caring and rehoming dogs and other animals.

Batsi Town

It was time to leave Andros but en route to Gavrio Port, we took time to pop into Batsi. This popular summer beach haunt is perhaps the busiest on the island in peak season with visitors coming from afar to enjoy sun-soaked days on the very nice beach.

As the sun sets over the Aegean Sea, Batsi comes alive with the sounds of music and laughter. The island’s vibrant nightlife scene offers something for everyone, from cosy seaside tavernas serving local wine and meze to lively beach bars and clubs where revellers dance until the early hours of the morning.

I would love to come back and experience Batsi during the peak season for another taste of Andros.

Where To Stay on Andros Island

During my 4 nights in Andros, I stayed at the charming Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel in Chora, Andros.

Please take a moment to check out my review of the hotel which highlights why, in my opinion, it is a great choice when staying in Chora and for exploring the island.

Final Thoughts on Andros Island

When I first heard about Andros – I was “sold” it by a charismatic, larger-than-life tourism official. He claimed it was an island that delivers authenticity, a friendly welcome, fresh food and incredible nature. One day I will meet him again and thank him, as that is exactly what I got and I loved every moment of my stay!

As Fotis so often told me, I “took my time” to savour this special island, where every corner reveals a new facet of Greek culture, history, and natural beauty. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or cultural immersion, in Andros you will experience the essence of the Cyclades Islands and an island that you will return to again and again.

Thank You

My thanks to Visit Greece, and their tourism consulting partners for this invitation. Thanks to Christos, Fotis and Argie from Explore Andros for their professional service and the faultless itinerary they put together, not to mention their friendship.

Finally to Mary the Cat Lady and Sandy from the Andros Animal Shelter – as an animal lover I am in awe of their efforts to look after our four-legged friends.

Contact Information

For more information on visiting Andros Island in the Cyclades, Greece contact your local travel agent or specialist tour operator.

For local specialist expertise then please contact the amazing people at Explore Andros.

Till next time…

The Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel, Greece

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Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel
Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel
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Introduction

When looking for a small family-run hotel that is ideally located and offers a traditional authentic vibe, then you can do no wrong in choosing the little Anemomiloi Boutique Hotel in the town of Chora, on Andros Island in Greece.

I recently spent four nights at the hotel and what captivated me most during my stay was its simplicity and warm hospitality, offering a perfect base for exploration. Alongside its convenient location, the hotel boasts a range of amenities ensuring your comfort and relaxation.

Whether you’re enjoying a delicious breakfast, lounging by the pool, hiking the many trails on Andros, or exploring the enchanting streets of Chora, a stay at this boutique hotel promises an unforgettable experience.

Let me introduce you to the Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel in Chora, Andros.

Getting There

For most guests getting to Andros involves a ferry from the Port of Rafina in Athens which arrives at Gavrio Port on the West coast of Andros. From there you will need to take the road across the island to the capital of Chora on the East coast of Andros.

You can hire a car or as I did, utilise the excellent services of “Explore Andros” who provide transfers to the hotel. From Gavrio Port to Chora it is about 25 kilometres and takes approximately 45 minutes.

At First Glance

The hotel is in what appears at first sight to be located on a quiet residential street on the outskirts of Chora. It was just a 5/10-minute walk into the centre of town and just 10 minutes to one of the two local beaches – Neiborio & Paraporti.

As my transfer pulled up alongside the steep driveway the whitewashed wall of the hotel blends traditional Cycladic architecture with modern sophistication. I took the little staircase up to the terrace where you have all the facilities in one area – the swimming pool, restaurant, terrace, reception, and bar. I was greeted by a charming lady and her gorgeous super friendly, labrador who has seen many a tourist come and go.  

Reception

The reception room is petite but provides maps and local tourist information plus a couple of chairs where you can sit and make plans for the coming days. The polite staff are on hand to assist with information on hiking routes, local excursions and sightseeing tours including boat trips, or simply any information that you may need. They are also on hand if you decide to hire a car or arrange a transfer. There is also free private parking available on-site.

After some of the usual check-in administration, I was escorted to my room. i was excited to be staying at the Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel.

Rooms & Views

The 22 bright airy rooms are either set overlooking the swimming pool or on the outside of the building looking out to the mountains or sea in the distance.

My room had a lovely ground floor outside terrace with comfy loungers on artificial grass as well as a couple of chairs and a little table. I loved relaxing here and getting my thoughts together while the local cockerel and a couple of donkeys from across the valley showed off their vocal skills.

Stepping inside my comfortable room there was air conditioning, a king-size bed, a desk and chair, a wardrobe, a small kitchenette with cooking rings, a sink and a refrigerator. The kitchen was equipped with a kettle, cooking pans, cutlery, plates, and all the amenities that you would need to rustle up a light meal.

Every room is equipped with a private bathroom fitted with a bath or shower as well as towels, beach towels, bathrobes, and free toiletries.

There was also a flat-screen TV, and the Wi-Fi was excellent throughout the hotel.

The furnishings were of good quality and the pastel décor with a nod to the island’s maritime past was stylish, as was the simple art adorning the walls. I felt very much at home in my room which was cleaned every day.  

Bar & Restaurant

To be fair I did not spend any time in the bar, as Andros is such an incredible island you just want to get out and explore. I spent my days discovering Andros and my evenings enjoying the atmosphere of Chora. However, what I would say is the bar is small but adequate. The staff will serve you a cool refreshing drink that you can enjoy either on the outside terrace areas, around the pool or inside the little restaurant.

The restaurant perfectly represents the hotel. Simple, great quality and delivered by attentive staff. Every morning, I took a seat on the pretty outside terrace. Initially, there was an order for tea or coffee and then I was presented with a basket of bread along with a tray of various dishes including pastries, fruit, jams, yoghurt, and local honey plus freshly squeezed orange juice. Each day I asked for eggs, and these were cooked to perfection.

All in all, I enjoyed the breakfast and the general ambience. Fellow travellers staying at the Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel shared stories of their time in Andros, and all expressed how much they loved this little hotel.

Swimming Pool

The swimming pool is ideal for an afternoon relaxing in the sun. There are some comfy loungers, tables and chairs and with the bar and restaurant just a few steps away, you do not need to venture far if you just want a lazy day at the hotel.

In The Vicinity

Chora, the capital of Andros is just a 5-minute walk from the hotel and the two main beaches a little further just 10 minutes from the hotel.

The Port of Gavrio on the west coast is about 45 minutes by car while the popular resort of Batsi is about 35 minutes.

Hiking, rock climbing, sailing and visits to some of the island’s natural and historical wonders are all within an hour’s drive. Excursions and sightseeing trips can be arranged in reception.

Final Thoughts

The award-winning Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel is the perfect base from which to either enjoy the capital Chora or go out for days exploring the wonderful island of Andros.

I liked the laid-back authentic vibe of this small boutique hotel where staff genuinely look to assist but are not overly intrusive. They have the balance just right and I was very grateful and lucky to have stayed at this delightful hotel.

Contact

To book, visit the Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel, Andros, Greece or contact your local travel agent or specialist tour operator. 

Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel
Address: Anemomiloi, Andros 845 00, Greece
Phone: +30 2282 029067
E-Mail: info@anemomiloi.gr

To read all about Andros please head over to my blog “Taking My Time On Andros Island“.

Cats, Dogs and Magic in Andros

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Andros Animal Shelter Sandy Piglet and Rupert
Andros Animal Shelter Sandy Piglet and Rupert
Home » Travel Blog

A Chance Meeting In Chora

I had only just stepped foot onto the island of Andros, the second largest among the Cyclades Islands in Greece, but in no time I found myself strolling through its charming capital, Chora. Accompanied by my knowledgeable guide, Fotis from “Explore Andros” we met Mary. I instantly knew there was something about Mary that I liked.

As we walked amongst the pretty pastel-coloured residential houses at the far end of Chora Old Town, I noticed a few cats hanging around the top and bottom of some steps. I quizzed Fotis and he said that this was the home of an English lady living in Andros. She cares, feeds, vaccinates and has coordinated the sterilisation of about a dozen cats that live around the Church of St George in Chora – her name was Mary – the cat’s names I did not ask 😉  

The Fixer

I warm instantly to people who love animals. To me, it says a lot about a person. I asked Fotis, who knew her well, to find out if she was at home. Mary who first visited Andros in 1988, used to teach Fotis English and I might add, she did a fine job! As luck would have it Mary was in. From our brief discussions, talking about all things life in Andros, cats and animal welfare, Mary told me something that excited me beyond words.

There was another lady, Sandy, whom she knew, up high in the Andros hills in a place called “Magic Mountain”, where she runs the Andros Animal Shelter looking after mainly dogs, and some donkeys, mules and cats. Mary went on to say that Sandy featured on a UK TV show in 2022 with Ben Fogle called “New Lives in the Wild”. Now I don’t watch much TV, but I love this series…. It’s been on my record settings for as many years as I can remember. Each week it follows brave souls who have given up their daily lives and moved away to follow their dreams, often living off grid or somewhere inhospitable or miles from home. I guess the adventurer in me, and with my love of nature, has always wanted to do this – it might just happen one day.

Fotis and I had a schedule to follow so needed to be on our way. I suggested that Mary should be our “fixer” and she should try to arrange a meeting with Sandy later in the week!

Magic Mountain

Fast forward four days and we met Mary in a coffee shop in central Chora and together we drove deep and high up into the beautiful Andros countryside to Magic Mountain. As if we were on a secret mission, we were told to bring a stash…… of carrots for the donkeys. On arrival, a couple of donkeys and a pack of about 20 dogs of all shapes and sizes greeted us at the gate. Then there was Sandy. We took a seat on her terrace, and she made us all a coffee. I was so excited and engrossed in talking to her that I was oblivious to one of her mischievous pooches marking his territory on my rucksack. The culprit, not the rucksack, is pictured further down!

Sandy’s story, very briefly, is that in 1979 she came to central Greece. In 1986 she moved to Andros and opened a tourist office in the town of Batsi. After a downturn in tourism to the island due to a lack of flights, she then opened an art shop. In 2007 she inherited some money and bought the 9,000 square metre house and land that is now the Andros Animal Shelter on Magic Mountain where she has dedicated her life to rescuing the dogs and animals of Andros.

Funding The Andros Animal Shelter

To say her job is hard is an understatement for someone, who, like us all, is advancing in years. Over time she has funded the rescue, care, protection and rehoming of hundreds of dogs, and on the day that I visited, there were 30 dogs and 9 donkeys under her watch! She also gets help from volunteers including remarkably, as I found out last week, the daughter of one of my travel agent Facebook friends (John Marchant and Maisie Amber Marchant) who only last year stayed on site.

Brexit has caused Sandy many issues with more red tape surrounding adoption and of course, there is the money, with it costing her circa 3,000 euros a month to run the shelter. The TV show helped her in that regard, and hopefully, Ben Fogle will return one day soon and give the coffers a boost with a follow-up show. Meanwhile, she relies on the goodwill of donations via the Andros Animal Shelter website as well as kind souls organising events to keep the cash flowing in.

The Stars of The Show

I met many of Sandy’s dogs and a couple of her donkeys and mules during my visit. There was the wonderful Bonzo – a big loveable cuddly dog with a deep voice who was quite intimidating at first however, he soon came around with some attention.

I was particularly drawn to a mum and her three puppies. One of the puppies, despite being full of energy, very sadly had a swollen head. Sandy told me this was a condition called hydrocephalus, a form of water on the brain, and sadly at this stage, there was nothing that could be done for him except give him love and kindness. That is never in short supply here at the Andros Animal Shelter.

Sadly a few weeks after my return, I learned that the little fella had passed away.

Mum and Pups
Mum and Pups

Little Piglet

After an hour chatting it was time to get on my way, but not before I asked after one of the stars of that TV show – Piglet! Now some of you may remember that Piglet was a little dog who had a walking problem. Her brain did not fully engage with her legs, so at times, she kind of dragged her hind legs around behind her.

I was expecting Sandy to tell me she had also passed away but no, Piglet was in her room snoozing. To my delight, Sandy brought her out and Piglet excitedly rushed over to me, well as much as Piglet can rush, to see who had woken her up for a cuddle and a photo of course! It made my day and privately made me a little emotional, but I won’t tell if you don’t!

Just Magic

As we drove to Gavrio Port, via the seaside resort of Batsi, I reflected on my day and the wonderful people I had shared it with. Such kind people have all been drawn back to Andros for various reasons. Mary to live and care for the cats, Sandy, to set up the Andros Animal Shelter and in the case of Fotis my guide, who previously worked in the busy capital of Athens, to share with tourists the island that he loves.

My day in Magic Mountain and my entire stay in Andros was just that – Magic!

Contact

The Andros Aminal Shelter looks after these rescued animals and brings happiness back into their lives. Some are up for adoption so if you are thinking of taking on a dog, then why not contact Sandy and give one of these Andros dogs a forever home – I would love Bonzo but my lifestyle would not be fair on him as I am away so much!

Maybe you would like to volunteer and help at the shelter. There is so much work to do daily so any help is welcome. You just need to get in touch with Sandy.

For donations, volunteering, adoption and more information please visit the Andros Animal Shelter website. If you can’t help, then by sharing these posts on social media, maybe one of your friends would like to help. It only takes one person to make a difference.

Check out my Facebook and Instagram accounts or click on the social buttons below to share this story.

You may also like to leave a comment below. It would mean a lot so thank you.

To read all about Andros please head over to my blog “Taking My Time On Andros Island“.

Till next time

Hotel De Silhouette, Biarritz, France

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Hotel de Silhouette, Biarritz
Hotel de Silhouette, Biarritz
Home » Travel Blog

When seeking the ideal hotel for a short break or holiday, certain components must align perfectly to earn my highest seal of approval. During a recent three-night stay in Biarritz, I discovered what I believe to be the epitome of a luxury boutique city hotel. Allow me to introduce you to the 4-star Hotel De Silhouette in Biarritz, France.

This haven of understated luxury, tradition, and tranquillity offers modern comforts seamlessly blended with historic charm, and complemented by a central location and an impeccable first-class service.

Let’s discover more about the charm of this hidden treasure nestled in the picturesque corner of South West Basque France;

Getting There

Direct flights from the UK to Aeroport Biarritz Pays Basque are few and far between so as alternatives, there are flights to Bordeaux, Bilbao or even San Sebastian. Any of those destinations would make for a lovely multi-centre holiday with Biarritz. Hiring a car is simple from the airport and the Hotel de Silhouette has a car park so it’s all pretty straightforward.

If you don’t fancy a self-drive then the local bus services are frequent and cost-effective. I travelled to Biarritz by bus from Bilbao (2 hours) via San Sebastian and was dropped off at Biarritz Airport. From there I took a short 20-minute taxi transfer costing 20 euros to the hotel.

Biarritz also boasts a well-connected railway station, making it convenient for European train adventurers to visit.

History of the Hotel De Silhouette

The origins of Hotel de Silhouette trace back to around 1600, making it one of Biarritz’s oldest establishments. Legend has it that in the mid-18th century, French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette introduced unpopular taxes targeting the wealthy, and from that day forward he was not the most popular of characters – with a name like Silhouette, some may even say he was a little shady!

The hotel, formerly Silhouette’s residence in Biarritz, still proudly displays his Coat of Arms engraved on the main entrance, embodying a piece of a rather intriguing and mysterious history.

At First Glance

As the taxi slowed on the approach to the hotel we passed patisseries, art studios, brasseries, cafes, and fashion stores. This is the trendy Quartier Des Halles and is a great place to be based – although maybe not for my waistline! We drove through the imposing iron gates and onto the cobblestone drive of the Hotel de Silhouette and immediately a gentleman emerged from the glass doors to assist with my luggage.

I felt at home as soon as I stepped inside the softly lit, modern, chic reception which was beautifully and elegantly decorated in tobacco browns, and burnt reds. A well-used hotel comments book had seen many a glowing recommendation, while incense sticks smouldered, and easy-listening music added to a feeling of calm and tranquillity.

With some brief administration formalities complete, I was soon in the lift to the first of just two floors, where I was to excitedly walk to the end of the corridor past stylish artworks and paintings. I felt at home!

Rooms & Views

The hotel has just 21 rooms in total. There are seven standard rooms overlooking the city, and there are five deluxe rooms with views of the garden and ocean beyond. Seven rooms are superior while two junior suites cater for larger groups or families. The hotel is also able to cater for those with any special mobility needs.

I was delighted to be staying in a Superior room during my stay. This spacious corner room overlooked the garden area and had a little balcony with seating and another French balcony. Facilities included a very comfortable bed, a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning, coffee machine, kettle, telephone, safe and minibar. A rather cool stylish radio, which I know tends to be a little old-fashioned these days, added a little, how do I put it, “je ne sais quoi”, well I am in France after all! The bathroom was superb with twin basins, a shower, a bath, his and hers robes and toiletries from Ortigia, Sicily. There was a separate toilet.

These days another test of a hotel is the WI-FI and the Hotel De Silhouette passed with flying colours, as throughout there is a strong signal ideal for hooking up your phone or for business.

Bar & Restaurant

The Grand Salon or restaurant and adjoining bar are very special. Beautifully appointed throughout, the walls are decorated in that same burnt orange and tobacco brown colour scheme, while art adorns the walls from a range of local contemporary artists. As someone who has been in the travel industry for more years than I care to mention the travel theme was particularly welcome.

I was up early every day keen to head out into the city. Breakfast is served from 7:30 am and is in tune with the rest of the hotel. The restaurant provides a calm space with background music and attentive but not overpowering staff who are on hand to serve coffee and teas leaving you to choose from a lovely buffet selection of fresh bread, pastries, jams, cereals, yoghurts, fruits and juices.

Lunch is served every day while in the summer months of July and August, you can enjoy Jazz in the garden while enjoying fresh seasonal regional produce on the sunlit terrace. Dishes include salads and steak and you can even pre-order seafood from Les Halles de Biarritz, the fabulous covered market across the road from the hotel.

The hotel bar is a show-stopper. Pull up a comfortable bar stool and study the excellent wine list, as well as a selection of cocktails, beers and spirits. Having studied the list, you can savour your drink in the most stylish and cool hotel bars.

Hotel De Silhouette Gardens

I visited out of season so I needed a little imagination to visualise those Summer nights relaxing with a cocktail whilst listening to a spot of Jazz.

The main terrace is the heartbeat of the garden however there is plenty of seating dotted around should you like to be alone with your thoughts while relaxing under an ancient tree.

Meetings & Events

The Hotel has a 55m² meeting room that is ideal for gatherings of up to 50 people. The room comes with state-of-the-art technology in terms of the sound system, a video projector, Bluetooth connection, and Wi-Fi plus staff are on hand to supply refreshments and snacks as and when required.

This would be a great little hotel for a small conference given its service, comfort and location right in the heart of the city, not to mention just a short flight from the UK.

Boutique

There is no boutique as such, but there is a small display cabinet in reception where you can purchase a few gifts from your stay such as branded bags, perfumes, key fobs, towels, and scents.

I took a shine for the unusual but very clever coffee mugs that sit within a cork base. There will be no more coffee marks on my table as I decided to purchase a couple of them for my morning brew, where I can dream of being on that terrace with my face in the morning sun.

Sport & Activities

While there is no swimming pool this is a hotel that frankly does not need one! Just 300 metres away and a 5-minute walk are the legendary beaches of the Côte de Basque and La Grande Plage where you can swim, surf, and sunbathe to your heart’s content!

Also down on the beaches, the hotel can direct you to a range of activities including yoga, surfing lessons, sailing and diving.

If you are a golfer then one of the top courses in France is located up near the lighthouse (Le Phare de Biarritz) at the northern end of the city. The Golf De Biarritz Le Phare is a prestigious and challenging course, with adult prices starting from 78 euros for 18 holes.

The French also love their tennis and there are public courts available plus if you are a spectator then the city is home to the Biarritz Tennis Club which hosts professional tennis competitions.

Cyclists can discover the Basque coast by e-bike and again the hotel can advise the best rental companies in the vicinity.

Another popular sport in this part of France is Rugby with the local side Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque, a professional side in the top division of French Rugby.

In The Vicinity

I have written a separate blog about Biarritz featuring some of the top attractions and things to do in the city plus highlighted some of the villages, towns, and cities in both the French and Spanish Basque Country.

Perhaps the most popular cities within two hours are Bordeaux, San Sebastian and Bilbao while closer to home are some delightful French towns or villages including Guéthary, Ainhoa, Espelette, Saint Jean Pied de Port and Bayonne.

Whatever your plans rest assured the elegant Hotel de Silhouette is ideally positioned to discover every corner of the town and with a car you are in a great location to explore!

Final Thoughts – Hotel de Silhouette

My stay in Biarritz exceeded all expectations. The three nights at the charming Hotel De Silhouette were the epitome of perfection, from its understated elegance to impeccable service, delightful restaurant, cosy rooms, enchanting gardens, and ideal location.

Choosing the Hotel de Silhouette in Biarritz guarantees satisfaction—it exudes class effortlessly, thus mirroring the city’s sophisticated charm.

I have stayed in many hotels all over the world – the little Hotel De Silhouette delivered exactly what I would look for in a city break or holiday hotel, nothing but good memories!

Contact Information

To book visit the Hotel De Silhouette website or contact your local travel agent or specialist tour operator. For further information you can also contact the Office de Tourisme de Biarritz.

Hotel De Silhouette
30, rue Gambetta 64200
Biarritz
FRANCE

Telephone (+33) 05 59 24 93 82

E-Mail reservations@hotelsilhouette.com

Biarritz – Timeless Elegance Meets Laid-Back Cool

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Biarritz City Centre At Night
Biarritz City Centre At Night
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With a local population of approximately 33,000, the French city of Biarritz combines a refreshing blend of opulence, chic allure, and easy-going charm. Renowned as a luxury seaside resort, this French gem boasts some of the best beaches in Europe which attract surf enthusiasts and sun-seekers alike.

With its classy boutiques, art studios, and vibrant cafes, Biarritz also provides a sophisticated shopping and culinary experience, while the city’s history unfolds through landmarks like the Phare de Biarritz and Sainte-Eugénie Church.

I recently visited Biarritz and whether I was strolling the seaside promenades, or uncovering the history, it was soon clear that this captivating city offers a wonderful mix of timeless elegance and laid-back cool that is ideal for a short break or a holiday.

When To Visit?

The best time to visit Biarritz is between May and October. Temperatures are generally quite mild and ideal for those looking to explore the region or simply relax on the many beaches along this gorgeous stretch of the French Basque Coast.

How To Get To Biarritz

The city is often overlooked by British guests due mainly to the lack of direct flights to the small but perfectly located Aeroport Biarritz Pays Basque, which is just a short 20-minute transfer and just 5 km to the city centre by taxi. Bordeaux, Bilbao and San Sebastian, all about 1-2 hours away, have airports but again limited flights from the UK.

There is however great news for those of you living in Guernsey as Aurigny Airlines are operating a one-off flight on the 28 September 2024 directly from Guernsey to Biarritz. They also feature a flight to Bilbao from Guernsey on the 12th of October 2024.

Hiring a car is simple from the airport or town. If you don’t fancy a self-drive then the local bus services are frequent and cost-effective. I travelled to Biarritz by bus from Bilbao (2 hours) via San Sebastian and was dropped off at Biarritz Airport. From there I took a short 20-minute taxi transfer costing 20 euros to the hotel.

There is also the rather amusing on-the-eye electric bus service called Txik Txak, which links the city centre of Biarritz and Bayonne directly in less than 30 minutes.

Biarritz also boasts a well-connected railway station, making it convenient for European train adventurers to visit.

Where To Stay in Biarritz?

I stayed at the beautiful 4-star Hotel de Silhouette. Built around 1600, the building is one of the oldest in Biarritz. Located opposite the Halles de Biarritz market, this charming boutique hotel is ideally positioned to explore all corners of the city. The hotel has just 21 exquisitely furnished rooms, a gorgeous bar, a restaurant, pretty gardens, and delightful staff on hand to assist with every request.

Getting Around In Biarritz

Exploring Biarritz on foot is both easy and enjoyable with the city following the contours of the coast. For sites, a little further away a very easy and cost-effective option is to use the local bus service which can whisk you from one end of the city to the other in just a few minutes.

Cycling is also popular with the rental of traditional bikes and also e-bikes readily available.

La Grande Plage

La Grande Plage is the main beach in the heart of Biarritz. Located between the Hôtel du Palais and Casino Barrière, this enormous beach offers more than just sun and sand. Take time to explore the beachfront promenade where locals proudly walk their pampered pooches, savour the fresh seafood at oceanfront eateries, or take a coffee as I did at the bustling Dodin Biarritz on the seafront.

Surfing is popular here, although I understand the better surfing beach is its neighbour, the Plage de la Cote des Basques. I will let the surfing fraternity argue that one out!

From thalassotherapy spas to family-friendly play areas, La Grande Plage is a vibrant blend of relaxation and seaside excitement.

The Plage Miramar is next to La Grande Plage, however, the currents here can at times be quite strong and so surfing is not permitted.

La Plage de La Côte des Basques

La Plage de la Côte des Basques in Biarritz is a legendary surfers’ haven, renowned for its powerful waves and vibrant surfing culture. This beautiful sandy beach, framed by dramatic cliffs, is not just a paradise for wave-riders, but also a picturesque retreat for beachgoers looking to unwind.

With its stunning natural beauty and iconic status in the surfing world, La Plage de la Côte des Basques captures the essence of Biarritz’s coastal charm.

Alongside La Plage de la Côte des Basques is the Plage Marbella, a wild beach, also popular among surfers and bodyboarders.

La Plage du Port Vieux

In between the two main beaches of La Grande Plage and La Plage de la Côte des Basques and nestled between rocky cliffs, La Plage du Port Vieux is a charming little cove offering a more secluded and intimate atmosphere.

Its golden sands and clear waters are perfect for swimming or simply relaxing on the shore, surrounded by stunning coastal scenery. I loved the little covered arcade with cute shops and cool artwork adorning the wooden shutters.

La Plage de la Milady

As always, I like to get some local recommendations and I was told that many locals favour the Plage de la Milady. I jumped on the local bus which takes just 10 minutes from the centre of Biarritz to the bus stop across the road from the beach.

Nestled between rocky cliffs, this sandy beach offers a more peaceful experience compared to the bustling centre. There is the lovely restaurant Milady Beach which is popular for cocktails at sunset and dinner overlooking the ocean.

Villa Belza

Built in the late 1880s, Villa Belza is a historic and iconic mansion. Known for its distinctive architectural style, it features a blend of Gothic and Moorish influences, creating a unique and visually striking appearance.

Originally built as a private residence, the villa has witnessed the transformation of Biarritz from a small fishing village to a fashionable seaside resort. Over the years, it has become a symbol of the city’s rich history and while not typically open to the public, it can be admired from the sea or as I did whilst walking along the coastal paths.

Aquarium Biarritz

I am not normally someone who enjoys Aquariums as I am a firm believer that animals should live wild and free in their natural environment. That said the Aquarium Biarritz or Le Musee de la Mer, is one of the most talked about visitor attractions so it would be remiss of me to ignore it.  

Located on the iconic Rocher de la Vierge, the Aquarium was created in 1935, and today showcases diverse sea life from the Bay of Biscay. As you would expect there is everything from colourful fish to hammerhead sharks and sea turtles to sea lions, along with educational exhibits and engaging displays.

The cost to enter is 16.50 euros for an adult and 12 euros for a child. To my delight, I learned that a percentage of the entrance fee goes into supporting an area out of site to the public which looks after seals and turtles that are rescued and need specialist care.

La Rocher de la Vierge

One of the most famous attractions in Biarritz is the Rocher de la Vierge, meaning “Rock of the Virgin.  Historically used as a lookout point for whale watching, the Virgin Mary statue was placed on top in 1865 after whalers were guided back to shore during a fierce storm. Then, at the instruction of Napoleon III, the rock was joined with the mainland by a wooden footbridge and later replaced with a metal one.

After you cross the metal bridge, you can look back and admire the views of the La Grande Plage, La Plage de la Côte des Basques and the Villa Belza.

Sainte-Eugénie Church of Biarritz

In the heart of the city, the Sainte-Eugénie Church of Biarritz sits on the hill above the port overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Constructed in the mid-19th century, the church is dedicated to Saint Eugenia, a Christian martyr. Known for its neo-Gothic architectural style, the church is characterized by pointed arches, ornate stained-glass windows, and a slim bell tower.

The Eglise Alexandre Newsky is located on the north side of the city. This Russian Orthodox Church was constructed in 1890 in the Neo-Byzantine style for the Russian community that frequently visited.

Port des Pêcheurs

From Sainte-Eugénie Church, there is a little path that will take you down to the Port des Pêcheurs below.

Arriving in the port you will find several well-used fishing vessels, some gorgeous fisherman’s cottages known locally as “Crampottes” and a choice of restaurants serving up fresh fish and seafood.

This is a great place to visit early morning when the boats are unloading their haul or when the restaurants are open at lunch or dinner and serving the catch of the day!

Casino Barrière Biarritz

As with Aquariums, Casinos have never been my thing, but again for those interested the art deco Casino Barrière Biarritz which was built in 1929 by the architect Alfred Laulhé is one of the symbols of the city!

I dropped by to look around but was restricted to the reception area. It seemed the receptionist sensed I wasn’t a regular gambler!

Musée Historique de Biarritz

This former 19th-century Anglican Church was transformed into the Musée Historique de Biarritz dedicated to the city’s history and culture by volunteers in 1980. Entrance costs just 6 euros, allowing you to delve into the narrative of how this small fishing village evolved into a favourite retreat for European aristocracy.

I found particular interest in the 20th-century history, detailing Biarritz’s golden era between 1919 and 1930, the economic downturn, and the impact of World War II. The 1950s marked a resurgence in tourism, shifting from aristocracy to mass tourism, eventually establishing Biarritz as the European capital for surfing!

Other museums worth visiting in Biarritz include the L’Atelier du Chocolat Museum and the Asiatica Oriental Art Museum.

Phare de Biarritz

Perched atop the cliffs and at the northern end of Biarritz, the Phare de Biarritz stands as a historic beacon overlooking the Bay of Biscay. This iconic working lighthouse was constructed in 1834 and entices visitors who can climb the 248 steps to the top for spectacular views.

There are plenty of seating areas around the lighthouse. There is also the propeller of a ship that was lost off the coast, an ancient sundial and gardens full of craggy Tamarisk trees that are common throughout the city.

Halles de Biarritz

Located in the Quartier des Halles, the Halles de Biarritz is a covered food market hall that first opened in 1885. With my lovely hotel just opposite, I was up early one morning to enjoy the many incredible stalls selling meat, fish, pastries, cheese, flowers, coffee and more. Upon chatting to one of the many jovial stall holders, I was told that the almonds grown locally are the best in the world – quite a claim and to be fair they were delicious!

This lovely market is highly recommended and is open every day from 7:30 am to 2:00 pm with additional evening hours during July and August.

Hotel Du Palais

The Hotel du Palais stands as one of Biarritz’s iconic landmarks. In 1854, Empress Eugenie de Montijo commissioned her husband, Napoleon III, to construct the magnificent Villa Eugenie. Over the next 170 years, despite a fire in 1903, the property welcomed high society from across the globe and entertained names such as Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, and Barbara Streisand.

Today the Hotel is part of the Hyatt Hotels chain and welcomes not only affluent guests but visitors to drop in for a drink at the intimate Napoleon III Bar. Here you can marvel at the incredible chandelier and take a drink where Frank Sinatra once held court with friends.

I popped by for a visit one evening and enjoyed the experience – there is no advanced reservation required although if there is a major event taking place you may be turned away at the gate.

Shopping in Biarritz

One of the greatest pleasures of any stay in Biarritz is the shopping. There is the French department store Galeries Lafayette as well as familiar brands such as Max Mara, Quicksilver, and Hermes.

You’ll find plenty of cool independent shops in Biarritz, offering everything from surf gear to designer jewellery. There are also several antique shops to explore. I was drawn to the art studios and shops showcasing paintings or poster prints inspired by local artists from the vibrant tourism era of the 50s and 60s.

Coffee & Sweet Treats

Finding a delicious Patisserie or Café is not a problem in Biarritz as many will tempt you with decorative windows showcasing their cakes and pastries.

I was recommended the Patisserie Miremont, one of the oldest and most popular patisseries in the city. I loved the history of this café as it was once visited by Queen Victoria no less. With ocean views, stylish décor from yesteryear and the smooth sounds of the 1920s, it was a great place to immerse yourself in the Biarritz vibe before heading off to explore more of the city.

Another lovely coffee shop with a trendy, younger atmosphere and great brownies is the Milwaukee Cafe.

For those of you like me, who have a love of Chocolate, check out Puyodebat with its shop and salon where you can have a coffee to accompany the incredible creations from the resident chocolatier.

Restaurants

Another highlight of a trip to Biarritz, and France for that matter, is the cuisine.

With Biarritz so close to the Spanish border and being on the French Basque Coast, you’ll find a thriving tapas scene with restaurants serving fabulous Pintxos and Bocadillos.

For more traditional French fayre I chose the typically French brasserie and bistro, Café Du Commerce which offers a wide choice of seasonal dishes as well as Tapas, Charcuterie, and delicious fresh Salads. The prices were reasonable with main courses starting from 14 euros.

Other suggestions include:

Le Moulin d’Alotz – Discover creative cuisine in the idyllic setting of a 17th-century mill. Fabrice Idiart offers a sublime blend of traditional and plant-based cuisine.

Chistera & Coquillages – A Basque brasserie par excellence which is both authentic and friendly.

Ostalamer – Chiringuito 7 – Have a drink on the ocean-view rooftop at Chiringuito 7, then head down to the Ostalamer restaurant to sample the finest marine cuisine. Enjoy a DJ set in the late evening light as you head back up to the terrace

Bars & Nightlife

Biarritz has a vibrant and varied nightlife scene. Many of the most popular bars are near La Grande Plage or around the streets of Port Vieux including Le Bar Jean, La Tireuse and Biarritz Smugglers.

Epic – This is the most coveted rooftop bar in the area, and is located on the Plage de Côte des Basques.

Those looking for more of a lively pub then head to the Newquay Bar with its range of ales and beers. On Thursdays, they host an open mic night which draws in talented and some not so talented, musicians from across the city.

For those looking to dance the night away then the Duplex Nightclub and the Playboy Club are both located in the centre of Biarritz, and just a few minutes from La Grande Plage and the Casino.

In the Vicinity

Biarritz is in the French Basque country, but that does not mean you cannot nip over the border into Spanish Basque country and I would very much recommend it! Bilbao and its famous Guggenheim Museum are just two hours away by road while the gastronomic town of San Sebastian is one hour – you can almost smell the Pintxos from Biarritz!

The French city of Bordeaux is famed for its wine growing, however, the city is also a delight with attractions such as the Place de la Bourse Square and the Cathédrale St-André, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Bayonne is also not far with its 13th-century Gothic Cathédrale Ste-Marie. The traditional old town of St Jean Pied de Port is worth a visit for its medieval cobbled streets and beautiful Pont Romain bridge.

On top of these recommendations, this is Southwest France and there are countless little villages, beautiful countryside and delightful watering holes and restaurants to enjoy.

For lovers of golf, there is the Golf de Biarritz on the edge of the city near the Phare de Biarritz Lighthouse. Rated as one of the best golf courses in Europe it provides both a challenge and stunning views of the region.

Final Thoughts

Despite my visit being out of season I enjoyed my stay in Biarritz. The city effortlessly blends surf vibes with elegant charm, offering a unique holiday experience. I could only imagine surfing the waves on pristine beaches; however, I was able to explore this wonderful city and get under the skin of what is a beautiful and timeless resort.

Contact Information

For more information visit the Tourism de Biarritz website or contact your local travel agent or specialist tour operator.

Exploring Holguin & Guardalavaca, Cuba

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Guardalavaca Landscape
Guardalavaca Landscape
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Nestled in the eastern part of Cuba, away from the main tourist hubs of Havana and Varadero, lies Holguín. The city is known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and untouched natural beauty. From historical landmarks to pristine beaches, Holguin offers visitors a diverse range of experiences, making it an ideal destination for those seeking an authentic Cuban adventure.

Not far from Holguín is Guardalavaca, a tropical paradise renowned for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and laid-back atmosphere. This coastal gem has become a sought-after destination for travellers seeking complete relaxation.

I was fortunate enough to spend a day and night in Holguin and Guardalavaca. This is what i discovered:

Historical Heritage

Holguín boasts a wealth of historical sites that weave a captivating tapestry of the city’s past.

The Plaza de la Marqueta, the city’s main square, stands as a testament to colonial architecture, with its charming layout surrounded by well-preserved buildings.

The San Isidoro Cathedral, dating back to the 18th century, adds to the city’s architectural allure.

Loma de La Cruz

For panoramic views of the city, day or night, and a touch of local folklore, the Hill of the Cross (Loma de la Cruz) is a must-visit. A climb to the summit reveals a large cross overlooking Holguín, offering breathtaking vistas of the surrounding landscapes.

Legend has it that the cross was erected to protect the city from natural disasters, making this site not only a scenic viewpoint but also a place of cultural significance.

At the top is a restaurant and a place to get refreshments while looking out across the city skyline!

Pinares de Mayarí and El Salto Waterfall

Holguín is surrounded by natural wonders so ideal for those looking to go hiking and exploring. In Pinares de Mayarí, there are hiking and birdwatching options while the Turquino National Park is home to El Salto del Guayabo, Cuba’s tallest waterfall.

Carnivals & Festivals

To get a true understanding of the atmosphere and culture of Holguin why not plan your visit during one of the traditional carnivals or festivals? August is a great time to catch one with several exciting parades, traditional music, and energetic dance performances on the streets as part of Holguín’s Annual Carnival.

Guardalavaca

The coastal town of Guardalavaca is about an hour’s drive from Holguín. Guardalavaca boasts some of the most breathtaking beaches in Cuba, with powdery white sands and turquoise waters. It is also a popular choice for sunbathing, water sports, and strolls along the shoreline.

Two of the best-known beaches in the vicinity, are Playa Esmeralda and Pesquero where you can relax in the sun or enjoy the crystal clear waters. For water sports there are catamaran rides, kayaking, boat trips and so much more, Guardalavaca provides a variety of water activities for adventure seekers

The vibrant marine life around Guardalavaca attracts diving and snorkeling enthusiasts while the Bahía de Naranjo Nature Park is a protected area near Guardalavaca and home to diverse flora and fauna. It offers opportunities for hiking, bird watching, and simply for those looking to enjoy the natural surroundings.

Experience the warmth of Cuban hospitality by engaging with the local community in Guardalavaca. Explore nearby villages, savor traditional cuisine, and immerse yourself in the authentic Cuban way of life. For ancient history head to the nearby Chorro de Maita Museum or to get a greater understanding of the sea life there is the Cayo Naranjo Aquarium.

Banes – The Birthplace of Bacardi

For a taste of culture, visit Banes, a town close to Holguín. Emilio Bacardí, the man behind the well-known Bacardi rum, was born in Banes. To learn more take a visit to the Museo Bacardí which provides information on the history of the Bacardi family as well as the technique of producing rum. The technique for drinking rum is down to you!

Where To Stay Near Holguin

I was fortunate enough to spend one night at the Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel in Guardalavaca. This 5-star hotel offers great service and is in an enviable location on the beach. For families and sports enthusiasts it is a great choice.

Another option to consider for the future could be the Gran Muthu Ensenada again close to Holguin or how about heading to the Cayo Islands of Cuba and a stay at the Gran Muthu Rainbow Hotel.

Final Thoughts on Holguin

Holguín is a popular hidden gem in Cuba. From its historical sites, immaculate beaches at Guardalavaca, and cultural events – the city has much to offer those looking for a genuine and authentic experience.

I particularly enjoyed Guardalavaca with its glorious beach and high-quality hotel. I would recommend a stop here on any tour of Cuba!

With Thanks

My Thanks to MGM Muthu Hotels, Gaviota Tours and the Ministry of Tourism for Cuba (MINTUR) for sponsoring my trip to Cuba which included this trip to Holguin and Guardalavaca.