According to mythology, the Argonauts returning from Colchis to Iolkos ran into a great storm and begged the god Apollo to save them. In response, he diffused light with a bright arrow, and an island appeared in front of them. That is how Anafi got its name: from ανεφάνη (anefani), meaning ‘‘emerged,’’ which is the past tense of the verb αναφαίνω (anafaino) i.e. ‘‘to emerge.’’
The southernmost and remotest island of the Cyclades, Anafi hides a unique charm that will invite you to indulge in its many attractions. It offers several Cycladic features--the bright sun, the wind, the beautiful sandy beaches with crystal clear water, the picturesque white town of Chora, and the wild, arid landscape—as well as several characteristics found only on this distinctive island, such as the impressive monolith of Kalamos, the unique ovens, the ossuaries, the scattered ancient relics, and the delicious local food and sweets. The extensive network of trails on the island combined with its small size make it an ideal place to explore on foot, so hiking is a good way to get acquainted with most of Anafi. You will definitely not regret exploring it.
Below, we present our favorite discoveries from our own investigation of Anafi’s beauties.
1. Chora, Anafi
Located near the island’s port, Agios Nikolaos, Chora (or Hora, or Anafi) is the only settlement on the island. It is a traditional village. In the 15th century, Guglielmo II Crispo built a Venetian castle around the settlement, right up to the hilltop. Today the church of Saint George (Agios Georgios) stands on the site of the castle. The castle was built during the Venetian occupation, which lasted about 300 years (from 1204 to 1522, except for a short Byzantine interval from 1262 to 1307).
Narrow alleys, whitewashed houses, a wonderful view of the Aegean Sea, and a lot of wind are the main features of the settlement today. Chora also houses all the island’s basic services: the offices of the [municipality][TDI:52664], the Citizens’ Service Center (KEP), its schools, the health center, and the police station. During the summer, you can visit several restaurants, bars, cafés, gift shops, and shops featuring traditional products. In Chora you will also find car and motorbike rental agencies, a taxi stand, and a bus to help you get around the island.
Anafi’s coastal path is the best walking route on the island. You will walk along part of it daily on the way to one of the island’s many wonderful southern sandy beaches. It starts 100 meters from the port of Agios Nikolaos and wanders up and down hills, passing more than 13 coves and beaches (with some deviations) before reaching Monastiri Beach after 6.3 kilometers and 2.5 to 3 hours. The path goes by the beaches of Kleisidi, Katsouni, Flamourou, Exo Roukounas, Mikros Roukounas, Megalos Roukounas, Katalimatsa, Agios Ioannis, Megalos Potamos, the beaches between Megalos Potamos and Agioi Anargyroi, and Agioi Anargyroi.
From there, the path ascends for another 700 meters to the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi) (100 meters above sea level).
Although the most famous, most popular long sandy beach on the island is Megalos Roukounas, we consider two others especially noteworthy: Katalimatsa in the south, and Livoskopos in the north. These are probably the most strikingly beautiful beaches on the island.
Katalimatsa also stands out for something else. It was the port of the ancient city that was built in Kastelli. Nestled among the red rocks today, it is a gorgeous sandy beach, but not so easily accessible. The easiest way to reach it is by following the coastal path from Megalos Roukounas. Head to the east end of that beach, and walk up into the ravine that ends there for 400 meters—up to the little church of Saint Irene (Agia Irini). Notice the ancient relics scattered in the area around the church. From the church, walk straight down to the sea. There is no specific path; the ground forms terraces that gradually reach a spot above the beach. From there, a short path leads us to it.
To visit Livoskopos, we take the island’s northern road, which ends northeast of the little church of Saint Irene (Agia Irini), approximately 9.5 kilometers from Chora. From the church of the Virgin Mary Axinon (Panagia ton Axinon) onwards, we will be following a relatively passable dirt road. The church of Saint Irene is located on a small hill with a beautiful view of the endless blue of the Aegean Sea. One hundred meters from the church, we will see a sign for the beach of Livoskopos on our right. We will reach this beautiful sandy beach via a steep 200-meter path carved into the rock. Hidden among steep slopes, this is one of the best beaches on the island, but because it is not so easily accessible, it usually does not attract many people.
4. A Visit to the Ancient City in Kastelli
The ancient city in Kastelli shows signs of habitation by the first Dorian settlers of the island, which date back to the 8th century BC. From then until the destruction of the island by the famous pirate Barbarossa in 1537 AD, the area around the ancient city seems to have been inhabited continuously (Athenian League, Hellenistic times, Roman era, Venetian rule and Byzantine era). Around the top of Kastelli there was an extensive castle fortification, scattered ruins of which we will encounter today. A bit below Kastelli and to the west, we will find burial buildings dating back to Roman times.
There are two ways to reach the ancient city. The approach from the south starts north of Katalimatsa, at the point on the road from Chora to the monastery that is 200 meters from the intersection for the church of Saint John (Agios Ioannis) and Katalimatsa. The path ascends to the west; after 400 meters, it passes the church of the Virgin Mary at Dokari (Panagia sto Dokari), with its marble Roman sarcophagus. From the small church, an arduous 600-meter ascent to the north takes us to the ancient city in Kastelli (with approximately 130 meters’ altitude difference to the ancient city and 170 to the top in Kastelli).
The second route, coming from the north, starts a few meters from the church of Saint (Agios) Mamas, northeast of the ancient city, on Path Two (2), which follows the ancient Sacred Way that connected the city of Kastelli with the temple of Apollo (on the site of the current monastery of the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi)). A few meters west of the church of Saint Mamas, the 800-meter ascent to Kastelli begins. From this point, the access is easiest (with the smallest altitude difference). Total distance to the ruins of the ancient city: 800 meters.
The ascent to the top of Kalamos, the distinct monolith of Anafi (the second highest in the Mediterranean, after Gibraltar) is a unique experience. The total distance is 2.5 kilometers, with the altitude difference from the beginning at the monastery of the Life-Giving Spring (Zoodochos Pigi) to the top and the monastery of Kalamiotissa approximately 370 meters. Climbing time: 60-75 minutes. The view from the top of the rock (460 meters altitude) is amazing. Many visitors go at night to wait for the impressive sunrise. There used to be a medieval castle on the monolith; the monastery was built from its ruins in the early 1600s or 1715. According to a local tradition, the monastery of the Virgin Mary Kalamiotissa got its name because an icon of the Virgin Mary was found hanging from a reed (‘‘kalami,’’ in Greek) on a rock. Some women of the island still have this name today. The church celebrates the birthday of the Virgin Mary with a festival every September 8. Inside the church, there is an 18th-century carved wooden icon screen.
6. The Ascent of Vigla, the highest peak of Anafi.
The highest peak on Anafi is Vigla (581 meters altitude), which is located in the northern part of the island. We can reach it in two ways. One is from the little church of the Cross (Stavrou), via a path that branches off to the northeast toward Vigla (distance about 1 kilometer; approximately 25-30 minutes for the ascent). The other route starts from a point 300 meters southwest of the church of the Virgin Mary of the Mountains (Panagia ton Vounon). From this point the ascent is steeper, but the altitude difference is smaller (180 meters). The total distance of the ascent is 800 meters; we can divide it into two main sections. The first and longest is the steepest and most tiring. As soon as we finish it, we reach a plateau. Then we can start to enjoy the beautiful view as we prepare to take the last steps to reach the top of Vigla (total climbing time 25-35 minutes). In the end, our effort will be rewarded with a wonderful unobstructed panoramic view of the entire island. Remember to be careful during the descent; the last part is quite steep.
The monastery of the Life-Giving Spring was built on the site of the ancient temple of Apollo Aigletis.
According to myth, the Argonauts were saved from a storm when Anafi appeared in a bright light after they begged Apollo for help. After they landed on the island, the Argonauts built a temple in honor of Apollo Aigletis (that is, the one who shines, from the word Aigli), and later Apollo of Anafi. The temple honoring the god was erected in ancient times where the monastery now stands. Today we can see pieces of the temple scattered around outside and inside the monastery. Even today, construction works done in and around the monastery use ancient materials such as columns and altars. The walls of the monastery were built in the courtyard of the ancient temple.
The sacred cobbled street that started at the ancient city, in Kastelli, passed the site of the present church of Saint (Agios) Mamas and ended at the temple of Apollo, where the monastery is now. The current path that connects the monastery with the ancient city follows the route of the sacred road. The monastery is believed to have been founded in 1571. It became a Patriarchal Stavropegian monastery, that is, one belonging directly to a Patriarchate and not the local Diocese. It has a one-room domed church with a newer multi-arched bell tower on the western façade. Inside the church, there is a carved and painted wooden icon screen from the 19th century. Most of the icons are the work of Nikolaos Karavias.
8. A visit to the litte Byzantine church of Saint Anthony (Agios Antonios).
One of the loveliest hiking trails in Anafi, with one of the best destinations, is the path to the church of Saint Anthony. 1.7 kilometers east of the church of the Virgin Mary Axinon (Panagia ton Axinon), we will see a wooden sign pointing the way toward the church of Saint Anthony (1 hour) and the church of Saint (Agios) Dimitrios (10 minutes). The first 500 meters is a passable dirt road, and we can leave our vehicle at the end of the road, where we will see a farmhouse. To the right of the farmhouse, there is another small sign or arrow pointing toward the church of Saint Anthony. This is the beginning of the 1.8 kilometer path that will lead us to this 13th-century Byzantine church, where some important frescoes survive to this day (such as Ypapantis and the Nativity). Above the church and across from it, the reddish rock called Katraki rises in impressive formations. On the very scenic route, we will pass an old farmhouse and a lush ravine with a spring. The view is impressive almost all the way.
The coastal path ends at the little church of the Saints Anargyroi, 700 meters from Megalos Potamos (also called Megas Potamos) and 6.3 kilometers from the beginning of the path. The area with the church and the beach below it is very scenic. The beach is a lovely sandy beach surrounded by cliffs that make it difficult to reach. The easiest way is from the church, heading downhill as on a slide, with great care!
The 500 to 600 meters of coastline between the beaches of Megalos Potamos and Agioi Anargyroi hides some lovely narrow strips of sand that are ideal for seclusion. Following the coastal path that passes Megalos Potamos and heads to Agioi Anargyroi, we will find the tiny beaches if we take the paths that branch off from the main trail and head toward the sea. The largest of these little beaches is located next to the eastern end of the beach of Megalos Potamos, the smallest 250 meters from Agioi Anargyroi.
10. A visit to the old church of Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos) in eastern Anafi.
For a beautiful experience in Anafi, visit the old twin churches of Saint Nicholas on the eastern side of the island. Following the northern route to the church of the Virgin Mary Axinon (Panagia ton Axinon), 1.7 kilometers east of the church of the Virgin and 1.1 kilometers before the church of Saint (Agios) Mamas, we will see a wooden sign showing the way to the church of Saint Anthony (Agios Antonios) (1 hour) and the church of Saint (Agios) Dimitrios (10 minutes). We do not take this route (straight), but instead turn right onto the next dirt road. After about 400 meters, we will find the little church of Saint Constantine (Agios Konstantinos) on the left side of the road. We continue for another 800 meters as the road narrows. Here we need to pay attention, because the path starts on our left after 800 meters, but the road is grassy, and the churches are not visible from above. We descend a grassy dirt road for 200 meters, and then we will see the two little churches below us. Another two hundred meters, and we arrive! There is a wonderful view of the Aegean Sea here.