Amorgos beauty all but untouched
Ormos Eghialis, on the north coast of Amorgos island.

The old Greek islands, the way we imagine them, are still there. The harbour with small timber fishing boats and olive-complexioned men repairing their nets in the morning sun.

Small coves where you can find a piece of the Aegean Sea to yourself.

Related: GUIDE TO ISLAND HOPPING IN GREECE

Roads where there is little traffic and you may have to slow to pass an old woman side-saddle on a donkey. Where you buy a map, but there is really only one road, from top to toe of an island, with another coming sideways off its waistband into its biggest town.

A village set in a bay where there is an ouzeria with just a few painted chairs, and you can dine on tzatziki, in which the yoghurt is local and fresh and the garlic comes in crunchy pea-sized pieces, and the tomatoes and cucumber in the Greek salad burst with flavour.

The mountains themselves are covered with horizontal terraces, built by hand, rock by rock over hundreds of years for intimate agriculture. The high crests topped with a line of windmills that once had canvas sails.

And, either tucked into valleys or the backyards of houses, or even higher on the mountain tops, domed Greek Orthodox churches with chunky crosses on top. The doleful ringing of a bell carries and mingles with that of the goats.

This is Amorgos island, a pretty, interesting, quiet island in the Cyclades. It is still largely off the tourist trail, though the Luc Besson film The Big Blue was filmed here and has drawn attention to it.

Even in landing at Katapola, in the south-west, I know I am somewhere special. Authentic. The quayside is quiet and I stop to chat with a young man who has a couple of loosely restored BMW motorcycles. He is preparing his waterside cafe for the day. "I'll be back for lunch," I say. "If you want," he says, and smiles.

In the chock-full hardware store there are goat and donkey bells on heavy leather collars,

Opposite is Xilokeratidhi, the northern end of Katapola Bay, which has more restaurants overlooking the clear Aegean water, and through which shoals of fish as long and wide as my forearm cruise.

What surprises me is that there are so many car hire firms. Motorbikes and Greek islands go together like ouzo and water, and there are quad bikes too, but there is also a choice of car hires, and I pick the nearest and ask for a car for the day.

Readers who follow these pages might remember my scepticism over continually, annually buying an International Driving Permit - no one ever seems to want it. To prove me wrong, when I offer it to the man behind the counter, he smiles. "IDP. The best."

The car is 25 euro ($33.70) he says. And in doing so, he is clearly asking to be paid up-front, so I hand him the cash, but he doesn't ask for a credit card imprint. I just sign his form and he hands me the keys to a small Hyundai. "Back by 9pm, please."

When we go to the car, I point out a dent in the front wing (I have good reason to be nervous about car hirers). "You know about this," I ask. "Yes," he says, laying a palm flat upon his chest and bowing slightly. "It is all mine."

And that is it. I buy one of the brilliant "hikers" maps for 6 euro that I have found on just about all the islands I have visited. This small island of 121sqkm is covered in walking paths and its main 15 trails are popular with walkers.

The only main bitumen road - that one from top to toe - on the island was only built in 1955. And I am off on it, ostensibly heading towards the seven-storey monastery of Panagia of Hozoviotissa, founded in 1088 and which "hangs" from a cliff face overlooking the Aegean Sea on the east coast of Amorgos, near Chora, and where a few monks still live.

But first there is the zigzag road up, giving a spectacular view of Katapola and the bay, and the terraces all around. Chora is an interesting high town of white buildings and a nearby string of windmills.

After the monastery and swim, the route is north to Agios Pavlos, with its offshore island and the quiet town of Ormos Eghialis, on the north-west coast.

Here and there are signs for "studio rooms" and pensions, and there is a bigger hotel at Ormos Eghialis.

It is easy to sit and watch the men repairing their nets. To see a slower life going on. Just to be footloose and fancy free, off the tourist trail, in the old Greece I had hoped to find.


FACT FILE

• Not many cruise ships visit Amorgos but the sailing cruiser Star Clipper includes it on its seven-night Northern Cyclades itinerary. The ship takes a maximum of 170 guests. This cruise leaves from and returns to Athens and also includes Mykonos, Patmos, and the ancient antiquities of Ephesus on the Turkish coast. The ship is very comfortable, the food good - and being under sail in the Greek islands on a beautiful ship is about as romantic as you can get. Phone 1300 362 599, visit www.starclippers.com, email starclippers@creativecruising.com.au or see travel agents.

• Those wanting to stay on the island are best using internet searches. Not all ferry companies go there.

&bbull; Fly to Athens with Emirates - Athens is a four-hour flight from Dubai. See www.emirates.com/au and travel agents.

Stephen Scourfield travelled courtesy of Emirates and Star Clippers.

The West Australian

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