Written by Missy Johnston
A less often visited Cycladic Island and the furthest east in the Cycladic chain of Greek Islands, Amorgos Island is most easily visited by private yacht charter. Probably the most iconic and easily identified part of this island is the fantastic Monastery of Chozoviotissa painted white, built into and clinging to the side of a cliff on the other side of the island from the main port. This is what identifies and sets this island apart from the rest of the Cycladic Islands, and lets any visitor know at once on approach by sea cruising towards the island on a charter yacht, that yes, one has reached Amorgos Island.
Inhabited since the Early Cycladic Era, which has been evidenced by archaeological finds on the island, Amorgos has a long cultural history and tradition. This is an island where one steps off the beaten track to visit a Cycladic island by yacht charter that has preserved its traditional feel; where the locals welcome you with a smile on their face and perhaps a shot of the local raki based liquor steeped in aromatic herbs. Once on shore, walk across this island on the many trails and walking paths through a countryside redolent with wild herbs. One trail or another will end up at one of the many beaches around the coastline of this lovely island.
Also once ashore, be sure to visit the Monastery of Chozoviotissa which is not easy to reach and is not open many hours of each day. So plan your visit to this monastery wisely, as once reaching this island, to not visit the monastery when ashore is like being ashore in Athens and not visiting the Acropolis.
The 10th century cliffside monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, dedicated to the Virgin Mary is a spiritual haven and one of the most important ecclesiastic monuments in Greece. Set high up on the steepest rock of Mt. Profitis Elias, 300 meters above the Aegean Sea, the building was said to resemble a “chest of drawers”, according to the French explorer Pitton de Tournefort.
There are two stories for the explanation of the founding of the monastery. One story is that the monastery was founded by the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos in 1088, during the period of Iconoclasm, when the icon of Panayia was sent by a woman from Hozovo from Palestine. This icon miraculously made its way to Amorgos Island. The other story is that the monastery was founded in the 9th century by monks from Palestine and was later renovated by the emperor Alexios I Komnenos.
The monastery has eight floors connected by narrow stone staircases carved into the rock with an interior that is like a labyrinth. Be sure to make it to the top balcony of the monastery for a stunning view. The cells of the monks are also all carved into the rock. Two icons of the Virgin Mary and other religious relics from the period of Alexios Komninos are all housed at the monastery. The ground floor has a worthwhile ecclesiastical museum.
Today, there are 3 people that live within the monastery providing each visitor on arrival with the customary loukoúmi and shot of rakí psiméni (Amorgian raki heated with honey and spices) On cannot visit without men wearing long pants, and women wearing long skirts, and shirts that cover the arms and shoulders. If on arrival one is not wearing these clothes, there are an assortment of these clothes in various conditions that can be donned for the monastery visit. Arrival at the monastery is not for the faint of heart as there is a long steep climb on a stepped walkway, or one car drive in a car, but there are few parking spots. And do check in the village before going to the monastery as opening hours change and the monastery is only open for a few hours each day. The views from the monastery terraces are spectacular and besides seeing the bay below one can also see the islands of Astpálea and Anáfi to the southeast.
After visiting the monastery, walk down to Agia Anna cove in the bay below. This cove is lovely with its small white and blue chapel by the water surrounded by cliffs. The small beach below is excellent for snorkeling through a maze of boulders that have fallen from the cliffs.
For those who can’t make it to Zakynthos Island there is a shipwreck beach on Amorgos too. In fact, Amorgos Island has beautiful beaches with azure waters and caves which are ideal spots for diving.
The main town of Amorgos, the Chora, is, to be safe from pirates, located in the center of the island, is a genuinely Cycladic village and one of Greece’s most striking and picturesque island capitals. It is full of charming alleys, water fountains, traditional Cycladic houses with bougainvillea trees in court yards and many churches. This is a little village full of walking streets, a 13th century castle, and monasteries.
On a Cyclades yacht charter, cruising either from the Cycladic islands to the southeast to visit Amorgos Island, or to cruise from the Dodecanese Islands sailing west, visiting Amorgos Island on a crewed yacht charter is always very special.