Agistri Island is one of fourteen islands situated in the Argo-Saronic gulf, South West of Athens. It is very easy to reach in just 55 minutes on the Flying Dolphin which makes a short stop at Aegina on the way.
Agistri, or fish hook island as it is also known (due to there being a plentiful supply of fish), is a beautiful pine-clad island with a myriad of beautiful blue and green colours framing everywhere you look. There are wonderful smells emanating from the arid Mediterranean earth; aphrodisiacal scents: mimosa, jasmine, oregano and basil waft on the gentle sea breeze.
Agistri is also renowned for its abundance of fig trees. In summertime the local people dry them off on their roof tops to preserve them for winter when there aren’t many to harvest. Wines and liquors can also be made from them.
Less well-known and less visited that some of the other islands, though hugely popular with salaried Athenians, Agistri has a small population of only 1250 inhabitants. There are few cars on the road which makes it ideal for cycling. It’s not possible to go directly to some of the other islands that make up the Argo-Saronic, such as Spetses, Poros or Hydra as once had been the option. That said, it is possible to reach Epidauros in the Peloponnese from the port of Skala.
Sandwiched behind Aegina and Salamina with Metopi in the distance (also a part of Agistri, though uninhabitable) it’s a fabulous place to get away from it all.
For a small island there are a wealth of different types of beaches. http://www.agistrigreece.com/portfolio-type/agistri_beaches/
Down in the south west of the island there is lake Limenaria, next to which is a tiny island, Aponisos which you can reach by walking across a small bridge. It’s a private island and closes at 8pm each evening. To go on to Aponisos for a refreshing swim in the cool, crystal-clear water, you have to pay a small charge of 5 Euros, but it does include a free drink, sun lounger and parasol.
A word of warning – do not try to cycle there from Megalochori in the heat of the mid day July or August sun. It is further than it seems, ( 7 miles) due to the relatively high land which rises to 275 metres.
If, however, you woke up early before sun rise, or rode there after 6pm, it is indeed a joyous cycle as the smell of the pine trees is simply luxurious. You’d also be able to take a swim before the island closes, though the tavern across on the mainland is open much later. With only a small number of inhabitants living on the island and relatively little tourist activity, there won’t be very many cars passing you by either.
Before leaving Athens we were told by our friends to make sure we had a dish of katsoules for them as that particular fish is quite a delicacy being native to the Argo Saronic gulf. I had assured our friends that of course we would most definitely eat a plate of katsoules for them since they couldn’t come with us. And that would be such an easy thing to do. Or so I thought.
I didn’t forget my promise when we set off to have dinner each night. But after three nights and some searching, we found octopus, squids, mullet, prawns, anchovies and others – but no katsoules. But I don’t give up easily, and before I knew it, my get-away-from-it-all vacation turned into a quest to find katsoules.
Visiting a few taverns on Agistri, I ask before I sit down whether they have these delicacies. Each time I inquire, my request is met with a smile. I begin to wonder whether there is something fishy about these katsoules?
When I ask a restaurant owner why they are laughing she tells me she thinks it’s quite strange for someone outside of the islands to ask for them as not very many people know of them.
“So you don’t have any?” I ask at the third tavern in Milos.
“Oxi. No. No katsoules.”
Fortunately, as I am walking down Megalochori, I see a fisherman sitting on the wall with a bucket by his feet. I approach him – he surely will have some fish in that bucket and maybe a katsoula too!
“Yeia sas,” I say. “Hello.”
“Good evening,” he replies.
I look in the bucket and see fish swimming around. Silver and red ones. “What do you have here?” I ask curiously.
He pokes his finger in, swirls the water, looks thoughtful and tells me it’s mullet, red snapper and that he will eat them with his cat that night. His sharp, green eyes shine brightly in his lean, brown face, his glistening white hair framing his face.
“And do you often find Katsoules?”
He smiles, then raises his nose in the air indicating a firm no.
This time I ask why not. “I heard that this is the place for Katsoules, only here around Agistri.”
“Yes,” he says. “Usually around here.”
“And why is that, why only here?” I ask .
The fisherman makes a snakelike motion with his arm.
“Sea snakes?” I guess.
“No, not sea snakes” he laughs. Little scholikes. They like to eat the scolikes we have here.”
“Scholikes?” I repeat, non the wiser.
He nods, “I don’t know in English,” he confesses.
I discover later that these katsoules are fussy-eaters, apparently only having an appetite for a specific type of worm found at the bottom of the sea bed in the shores around Agistri.I have yet to discover why there aren’t any this year, though I am assured by a fellow traveller-chef that the neighbouring island most definitely had some earlier in June.
Later that evening, a thought occurred whilst I munched my way through a delicious plate of fried prawn, why do the katsoules only eat those particular scolikes?
If you know, please do let me know!
JulieADexter, August, 2016
My scrumptious dinner of fried prawns with lemon.
If you want to look out for a katsoula or two, this is what they look like.