Agios Nikólaos - Achla and back

Evaluation: Until recently it was very difficult to find the route from the monastery of Agios Nikólaos to the beach of Achla, as is also made clear in the mails by some hiking friends from France.
At present, the road is very obvious again and also the point of departure at the monastery is well indicated. The descent is really marvellous, but it is advisable to make this hike in autumn (the end of September or the beginning of October) – in that period the heather flowers most beautifully. The beach of Achla is absolutely great – without doubt this is one of the most beautiful beaches of the Cyclades. The only disadvantage is that there is no shade, but in autumn this is not much of a problem. The hike is definitely one of the highlights of Andros and it deserves the maximum evaluation of ****.  
[Update in June 2010
by Jean-Paul Ovigne and Georges Roubaud, and in October 2011 by Pierre Songis.]

Estimated time: The descent takes about 1h20 of actual walking time (AWT) and the return route will cost you only a little longer, about 1h25. The total actual walking time of 2h45 refers to a full hiking day of about 6-7 hours, depending on the time you spend at the beach – we walked from 11am to 6pm. The heather is wonderful in the evening sun!

Route description: [In order to make this hike, it is best to rent a car or a motor cycle and to drive to the monastery of Agios Nikólaos via Apíkia.]

The monastery of Agios Nikólaos - view from the car park.

From the car park you take a concrete staircase to the entrance gate of the monastery; at the first gate you find a notice with the strict dress code (no shorts and for the women no trousers or miniskirts), but past the entrance there is a place where you can get some long wraparound skirts. In fact, the people at the entrance are now much more friendly than they were a few years ago – a man (not a monk) willingly gives some explanation of the church, the ikonóstasi and the history of the monastery. The forecourt, with the plane-tree, four palm trees and a beautiful well is really magnificent.

The entrance of the monastery.

Also the façade of the church, with the alternation of white and coloured marble, is very beautiful. 

    

The church of the monastery of Agios Nikólaos.

The monastery is about 1000 years old and the ikonóstasi would even be 500 years old – the statue of Our Lady (the Panagía Vlachérna) (the 2nd icon from the left) originates from Constantinopel. In earlier days, some 1000 monks lived in this monastery and in the 90 (!) chapels in the surroundings...   

(0h00) Via the concrete staircase you go back to the car park, you go left for a short while, but after 15 metres already you take the path going up on the RIGHT (there is a red dot). 
[This means that you DO NOT have to leave anymore from the far end of the car park, along the wall of the monastery, as used to be the case...] 

You arrive at the foot of the cistern, where the trail continues straight ahead and horizontally – there is a large sign "Achla" and you have a nice view on the entire complex of the monastery. 

The beginning of the path to Achla is now very clear!

Nice view on the complex of the monastery.

The recently cleared path is now fairly flat and rather easy; gradually you walk away from the wall of the monastery and after some 5 minutes you pass above a chapel. You go up for a short while and then you get a beautiful view on the entire valley and on Achla, far away in front of you. You can see the trail continuing in front of you: it runs nicely among the flowering heather (on the 2nd of October 2009), and on your left you can already see your final destination.

Panoramic view on the valley and the bay of Achla.

After a couple of minutes you start to go down – at this point there is a trail coming from the right sharply. You descend now for many minutes, on a pleasant and very obvious trail; you can see it running in front of you all the time, on the gentle slope covered with heather and green bushes.

(0h19) After about 19 minutes you descend steeply into a side valley – over here you can already see how the path goes to the left until it reaches a stable, and how it then continues to the gravel road.
You go down into this valley and then you keep going down, sometimes even steeper, on a trail that is worn away and later on also fairly stony. After another 5 minutes you get to the left of a wall; further on you walk between walls and on the left of a large stable. You take a LEFT and you go down on a narrow trail between frýgana (low bushes); in this way you arrive at a red gravel road.

(0h26) Just opposite you take the reddish path that continues amongst the bushes – there is a little plate with a faded red, triangular sign. Later on, the path draws a beautiful line in the marvellous field of green and purple bushes. You really have to wade through a sea of green and purple: as a result, the path is sometimes very narrow, but later on it becomes broader again and very clear.  

   

The heather leaves sometimes only a narrow line, sometimes the path is broader...

(0h32) After a quick descent you reach a stable. When looking around the corner on the right, this appears to be an old and deserted little house – in the kitchen there is a fireplace and the former occupants have even left behind a rack with some service pieces.

The former occupants left behind some service pieces...

At this point you get to a side-path, with no trail markers at all – there is only a little cairn, indicating the trail you were following a moment ago. You have to go LEFT, again on a nicely overgrown slope. It seems as if you go too much to the left, but after a little over 2 minutes you go sharply to the right. You descend, you take a sharp left again after another 2 minutes and then you take a few shorter curves – on a sometimes deeply worn out trail, which narrowly runs amongst tall, green bushes. The final part consists of a fairly steep and difficult descent, going straight ahead all the time, until you arrive at a curve of the gravel road. Towards the end of this strenuous descent you have to continue on the LEFT of a wall (there is an obvious red dot). Immediately thereafter you take a right and in this way you get to the gravel road – there is another red dot and … a trail marker [6]!

(0h42) The indications are rather unclear at this point, but further down we noticed a man who was beckoning to us that we should go RIGHT, and indeed, there is a red dot further on. After 2 minutes, some 10 metres before a metal gate, your path continues on the left (there is a red triangle, a red dot and also a number [6] a little later on).
The path descends between walls now and later on you have to walk through a wooden gate. Thereafter you go down rapidly, on a nicely shaded and rocky trail. Further on you notice an occupied house, on the right of the wall. The path becomes easier again and it passes another house – there are some recent red dots and again a no.
[6]. After 5 minutes the path becomes nice and broad and it continues between walls.

The path to Achla, after some 50 walking minutes.

(0h49) You curve to the right, you pass on the right of a chapel and you go down for quite a while, between walls and gradually – sometimes steeply – descending. After 7 minutes the monopáti is somewhat overgrown – you can already see nice little fields in the large valley on your left-hand side.

You approach the bottom of the broad valley...

The trail continues easily between walls again and after about 6 minutes you get to a wall with some metal wattle on top of it. You go up on the right - the path on the left runs to a dead end. Be careful, because there are no trail markers over here. There are a few rocky steps and also a black water pipe.
You walk between beautiful walls; and at the end you find 4 big, red dots. You continue straight on and up, on a grassy track, which you follow more or less to the right (notice the red triangle).

(1h04) After a short while you can choose how to continue: you either stay on the grassy track and in this way you will walk in the valley on some easy trails and among trees; or you either take a right, you go up through a breach in the wall, until you arrive at the path between walls – this is the actual trail: a few years ago, it was strongly overgrown here and there, but Pierre Songis noticed in October 2011 that the trail was completely cleared.
We thus opted for this route, because, at the end, it offers you a magnificent view on the beach and the river, the Varídi. You continue between walls for some 16 minutes and then the path reaches the chapel of Agios Nikólaos – over here you find a remarkable and new plate, indicating "Vourkotí". 
If this surprises you, remember that hike no. 6 actually starts in Voúrkotí and that it passes the monastery of Agios Nikólaos, in order to arrive at the beach of Achla – see the hike Vourkotí - Agios Nikólaos.

The path is overgrown by frýgana, while running to the beach of Achla.

The chapel of Agios Nikólaos, above the beach of Achla.

The beach of Achla with the river and its abundant water.

(1h20) The beach of Achla is one of the most beautiful beaches of the Cycladic isles: it consists of very small pebbles and sand – although there is no shade, the perfect arch of the waterside and the green-blue colour of the water, turn this spot into an amazing place.
There is no housing at all – but fairly far away, going inland, there is a domain with 8 houses – the website of Onar (meaning "dream") presents this as if it were a dream location. Indeed, this can be a dream location, but then only for people who enjoy living in the middle of nowhere...see
http://www.onar-andros.gr 

In summer, there is the boat the Rania that connects Chóra and the beach of Achla a few times a day- in the summer of 2009 the final return from Achla was at 6pm – for reservations and information you can call 697/65 50 224.  

    

     

The perfect beauty of Achla.

(1h20) For the first part of the return route you can leave from the chapel and follow the strongly overgrown path between walls for about 13-14 minutes. We decided, however, to return by following the valley. You start the return walk on the left bank (to the right of the river). You then have to go through a broad gate and you take a clear path going inland – on the slope on your left-hand side you can clearly see the trail you followed on the way down.
A couple of minutes later you end up between a number of wonderful plane-trees; you cross the rocky bed of the river and you continue meandering on the other side.

The beautiful colours in the valley of Achla.

You walk through a green wooden gate and then you get to the bed of the river for a short while. But close to the bungalows of the Onar-domain, you leave the bed to the left, following a grassy track.
The gravel road goes up, rising above the valley, and after 12 minutes you pass the breach in the wall, where you walked to the path higher up just now. A little further (red dots), and some 10 metres before a house, you have to go up on the LEFT. Behind a wooden gate you will then find a beautiful trail between walls – there are some 4-5 big red dots.

(1h33) You first have to descend slightly, but then you get to a shaded and sometimes very stony stretch; sometimes, the path becomes very narrow amongst the bushes. For a little while you climb steeply, but the following part is flat again, close to a few houses.

We climb out of the valley of Achla.

(1h48) Watch out now: at a junction you have to take a RIGHT (a little further you find a big red dot). Shortly thereafter you curve to the left, on a broad path between walls, going towards a house (red dot). At the house you go up on the left, guided by many red dots. You then have to climb up on rocky steps, walking under tall bushes. You go through the wooden gate and in this way you arrive at the little gravel road that runs to a dead end at a gate, a little further to the left ([6], red triangle and cairn).

(1h55) You take a right, of course, but past the curve you have to watch out: the trail marker [6] and a red dot point to the path going up on the left. The first part is difficult, because the bushes are tall and because the path is very narrow and worn out. You then get to a number of short, successive curves – left, right, left and right -, this is followed by a straight stretch with at the end a sharp turn to the right. Finally, there is a sharp turn to the left and a straight stretch, ending at the little house/stable. In the meanwhile you can admire the panoramic view on the colourful slope and on the far-away bay. On the opposite slope you notice a beautiful, large taffoni.

The colours of the bay turn golden in the evening sun.

Looking out over the valley...

(2h15) The path curves towards the stable and for a short while you walk between two beautiful walls – you then follow the left-hand wall for a little while. The trail becomes easy and it climbs up gradually, still midst a lot of green and heather.
Some 12 minutes later you reach the little side-valley again, you curve to the right and then to the left again.

(2h27) You keep going up gradually, still walking on the colourful slope.

The heather is very colourful.

(2h34) You keep to the right at a junction (small cairn) and you now walk more or less horizontally. Another 5 minutes later you walk above the chapel and then the grey monastery appears in front of you. You pass above the monastery, you walk underneath the cistern and you then find the stony path going down, bringing you back to the car park. (2h45)

 

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