Fashion designer Marios Schwab’s guide to Astypalaia

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Astypalaia is a beautiful butterfly-shaped island in the Dodecanese. In ancient Greece, it was considered the “bank of the gods” because it produced such beautiful flowers and fruits. It’s special to me because I’ve been spending my summer holidays here since I was eight – we had a cousin who moved to the island after he visited in the late 70s and fell in love with it .

Fashion designer Marios Schwab © Andres Rodriguez

We were arriving on a boat and a separate boat had to pick us up as the big boat could not enter the port area. It felt like a place for people looking for adventure and for that particular remoteness from the Aegean. We would come with our tents – or my dad had a trailer – and go to a hidden beach. There were family gatherings and also a traditional folk gathering – the 15th August celebrations for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a two day celebration with great music and fantastic food. All households cook – you eat food cooked overnight in a wood-fired oven. The tradition is maintained to the present day.

When I visit now, a typical day has quite a routine. We go down to the coffee, where you get your coffee. There’s one in particular that I go to almost every day called Cafe Meltem in the Chora. The Chora is still the main city of the Greek islands and its position in Astypalaia is magnificent. It has a castle at the top, which dates from the 14th century, and the ruins have a dramatic beauty. From here you have an array of whitewashed houses creating a line towards the port of Astypalea. At Meltemi, they have traditional little pies filled with local cheese and on top of that, honey, so it’s both salty and sweet. They also make fantastic omelettes. After a few hours of chatting over coffee, I go buy some fruit at the nearby store and then off to the beach.

Cuves beach
Vatses beach © Ioannis Mantas/Alamy
The view from the traditional houses of Kalderimi

The view from the traditional houses of Kalderimi

As the island has this butterfly shape, you will find interesting coves and beaches along the coastline. My favorite beach is Plakes, where the waters are extremely beautiful. It’s very rocky, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it because you can swim from rock to rock. I also like Vatses. It’s a spectacular beach with a bar that plays great music. It is always good to enjoy a few small tapas accompanied by a cold beer. I go diving there with my partner, and we find a place in height to dive into the sea.

Restaurant Almyra in the village of Maltezana
Restaurant Almyra in the village of Maltezana
Seafood in Almyra

Seafood in Almyra

I’ll stay on the beach until I’m hungry enough, then I’ll go to one of my favorite taverns. From Plakes I would descend to Maltezana – the second largest village in Astypalaia – to Restaurant Almira, which has great starters: they make the best taramasalata accompanied by dakos, a dry-baked bread. They have a special way of looking at a Greek dish and adding a little twist to it. In Astropelos, which is in Livadi, another village below the Chora, you can eat excellent seafood – magnificent dishes like beautifully grilled or raw fish. I love the ceviche de fagri, or sea bream, the sea urchin salad and the sea bass carpaccio. The owner Maria is a fantastic host and they have an excellent wine list.

Deximi Art and Design Gallery

Deximi Art and Design Gallery

Objects made in Greece for sale at Deximi

Objects made in Greece for sale at Deximi

There is also a store in the Chora, Deximi Art & Design Gallery, which sells beautiful gifts made in Greece; I always like to bring things to my friends in London or Athens. When I stay in Astypalaia I normally stay with a friend, but if I recommend a place to visitors I send them to Traditional Kalderimi housesbuilt in the hills just five minutes from the Chora.

In the afternoon, before the showers and siesta, we stop at the traditional coffee mills. We will drink tsipouro or tsikoudia and we will have nice little discussions. You see the beautiful sunlight slowly descending, as it has a balcony that overlooks the amphitheater, down the hill from the Chora.

Castro Bar near Chora Castle

Castro Bar near Chora Castle

After taking our showers, we will go to one of the restaurants near the castle. I would like to go to Agoni Grammiwhere they make delicious stuffed vine leaves called dolmadakia, or, higher up towards the castle, Karai Kafenio, where they serve good mezze with a nice view. After dinner there is Archipelago Cafe & Bar, which is very sophisticated. It’s in a beautiful old building, and they have the most delicious sweets. I normally have the chocolate cake with red peppercorns, or the poached pear with yoghurt cream, which is really refreshing.

Then it’s up the hill towards the castle, when we pass some friends bars. The places I love the most are Castro Barwhich plays great music and has a fantastic view, and for dancing, Bar of Artemis, which has a very good DJ and makes great cocktails. If we don’t want to be too adventurous, we’ll go to sleep, but we tend to stay up quite late on Astypalaia. We’ll probably end up on a rooftop watching the sunrise. It has the most incredible colors – it simply fills you with energy. You return to city life with your batteries charged, dreaming of your next visit.

Return flights to Athens with British Airways from £98, connecting flights to Astypalaia from £168 with Sky Express

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