“Have you visited the Greek islands before?” asks Dino, owner of Iro Suites in Chora, as he drives us to the ferry port at Gavrio.
“Andros is our eighth,” I reply, showing we're no Greek island newbies.
Dino nods slowly as I reel off the other seven before flooring me with “so Andros is your first non-tourist Greek island.”
A week previously I might have defensively muttered something about how we always go off the tourist trail. But after walking across this Cyclades island just two hours by ferry from Athens I knew exactly what he meant.
Andros was different from any other Greek island we had visited. Every day had thrown up diverse scenery and intriguing glimpses into the island's past.
1. Discovering dovecotes
On a route which involved passing honey farms, herb-munching goats, a lookout tower from the third century BC, and stepping over a tortoise, it might seem odd to single out a place where doves hang out. The dovecotes on Andros are no ordinary dovecotes. For a start, they are beautifully constructed – white rectangular towers whose upper tiers are decorated with upside down V symbols. Owning an elaborately decorated dovecote was a status symbol for wealthy landowners who allowed peasant farmers to use the pigeon droppings which accumulated in their interiors as manure.
2. Merchants' motorway
We've walked many merchants' paths, none as easy on the feet and eyes as those on Andros. The first time we noticed how uniquely beautiful they were was walking the wide steni (a path lined by dry-stone walls) between the abandoned former capital of Paleopoli and the coastal town of Batsi. They were a joy to walk. Often on these old merchant trails I wonder how people managed to transport goods on such uneven surfaces. Not so on Andros where it was easy to imagine carts laden with produce trundling smoothly along between hillside hamlets.
3. It's oh so quiet
By day three, crossing from the north west of the island to the east, we still hadn't passed another walker. Many Inntravel routes are on paths less travelled anyway, but Andros felt like undiscovered country. At one point we stood transfixed for who knows how long, simply absorbing the scenery along the west coast. Out to sea, the hazy peak of the island of Yaros acted as a sobering reminder that there can be darkness behind the beauty. Not so long ago Yaros was a penal colony for political dissidents. Even now the island and waters surrounding it remain out of bounds.
4. Sparkling springs
Andros is water rich; underground springs keeping the land perky and green. Whilst streams and springs are common companions on some routes, one stands out: the Sariza spring in the mountain village of Apoikia. Given its water is believed to have curative properties, and that it fills many of the bottles in supermarkets on the island and beyond, the fountain is understated; a lone lion's head spouting precious liquid. It's said people queue to fill containers from the spring; we only had to wait for one local man to top up his bottle before we replenished ours. It's the first time I've refilled a bottle bought in a supermarket with water from the same source.
5. A sweet priest
Dino from Iro Suites had regaled us with tales about the generosity of the old priest at Panachradou. So we were disappointed to learn he was away on one of his wanders when we followed the pilgrims' trail across a Venetian bridge and beyond an abandoned settlement to end at the monastery high above the Mesa Choria valley. His younger fellow priest, however, proved no less hospitable. On seeing us enjoying the views from the terrace beside Panachradou, he invited us into the monastery for coffee and loukoumi; a floury sweet which is like the Greek version of Turkish delight, but don't use that comparison to the old priest (sage advice from Dino).
6. Ending on a high
There were so many highpoints on our final day, literally and figuratively, it proved a chin-tugging task to decide which was fairest of them all. Ridge-top views and verdant valleys jostled each other to try to claim top spot. The remains of water mills beside a stream created an enchanting scene; Sineti nestled into the side of a valley was a charming Greek village; and the formidable rock fortress of Kastro Faneromeni nobly marked the start of the descent to the crescent bay at Ormos Korthiou.
Favourite was standing amid a profusion of wild flowers, my eyes following the line of Chora's houses running along a ridge to where they meet the sea at a precarious humped bridge. On the opposite side lay the ruins of a Venetian castle; once Chora's proud protector.
It's not what I'd expect a typical Greek coastal town to look like. But then Andros isn't a typical Greek island.