The right place to stay with the right people can make all the difference in your travel experience.
One of the most rewarding parts of backpacking is no doubt the people you meet who make your stay unique. While I've had many incredible experiences with hostels, my time at the Lemon Tree in Andros, Greece, was one of the most memorable thanks to our host Miltos.
We arrived on the island of Andros tired from a wine-fueled ferry ride and short bus to another part of the island. I peered out the window in awe as I got my first glimpse of white-washed buildings woven into cliffs and obscenely blue water below - the quintessential postcard shot of the Greek isles I'd been dreaming of since the planning phases of the trip. The bus came to a sudden halt in the quaint village of Batsi, tucked between the sprawling hills and sea. After being led up a fairy-like path accompanied by the sound of a natural spring trickling down from the mountains, we arrived at our new haven for the next few days: The Lemon Tree.
I was immediately struck by the quirky art hanging from the trees above, which happened to be...you guessed it, lemon trees! The aroma of fresh fruit and fresh air was instantly comforting, signaling the beginning of a sure-to-be rejuvenating island holiday.
We ascended up the gorgeous natural stone steps to be greeted by a jovial man with a shock of grey-black hair and a massive, contagious smile. Enter Miltos: world-traveller, wise-advisor, caretaker, Andros-native, and hostel owner. As we came to discover later, Miltos had inherited the property from family members and decided to open the hostel years earlier. Funny enough, the Lemon Tree happens to be the only hostel on the island!
Miltos urged us to drop our bags and take a seat on the peaceful veranda. Peering overhead, I noticed a canopy of fruit trees, giving the illusion of being in a tree house. Before we could say anything, Miltos was busy passing out fresh lemon juice he'd whipped up minutes before. I felt a tug at my arm and noticed him tying a woven friendship-style bracelet around my wrist. Miltos explained that the bracelet would be a sign of the Lemon Tree family, that we now had a place here and would be able to recognize one another. This was only the beginning of a tranquil and magical retreat on the island.
Miltos eargerly ushered us around his incredbile property. Up a spiral staircase to yet another level of magic tree house-worthy property, we found ourselves on the roof with a stunning view past vine leaves out to the ocean and the town below. The sun had begun to set just over the sea, basking the terrace in a warm glow. Miltos proudly pointed out his garden below and showed us to our practical room, complete with towels and bedding (a definite plus at a hostel).
I haven't even mentioned the hostel-VIP, as if this place weren't homey enough, nestled under the stairs: 9-month-old puppy Arsenoi. The sweetheart would spend the next few days following us up to the rooftop and making herself comfortable on our laps. Arsenoi had bonded so much with fellow hostel guest, Ben, that Miltos allowed him to take the pup for a morning walk on the beach.
The remainder of our stay in Andros was marked by the kind of hospitality you only feel from family. We'd wake up every morning to fresh lemon juice, local bread and marmalade, and fresh coffee and tea. Miltos consistently offered the best restaurants and off the beaten track places to go on the island. He has the mentality of a traveler as well, and has the best sense of what will be interesting for his guests. Miltos even took one or our group members on the back of his scooter to see the island and point out the best places to stop later that day.
One night, we opted to stay in and watch the sunset from the roof terrace. We bought wine, fresh fruit, olives, tzatziki, hummus, and, of course, all the feta! As I was preparing the watermelon, I offered some to Miltos, as he was also preparing food in the kitchen. I returned from the terrace just minutes later to see he had taken the time to carve shapes in the fruit and embellish his artwork with his own honeydew he'd cut up earlier. He sent me back upstairs to share his creation with group. After boiling some rice, Miltos looked at the pot dissatisfied. He grabbed a few sauces from his own fridge and I watched curiously as he mixed, shaped, and layered another colorful creation.
We chatted casually as he offered insights into the different islands - hinting that I should stay in Andros longer so I could join in on a brilliant hike down the mountains the next day. While I trusted his advice wholeheartedly, I laughed brushing the idea aside; at just the beginning of my trip I wasn't entertaining the idea of unnecessary ferry change fees and hostel cancellations on the next island.
Well, as I've learned in the past but always seem to forget, travel mishaps often happen for a reason. I woke the next morning relaxed, expecting a leisurely breakfast before a late bus to the port. I'd planned to split from my friends at this point for some solo travel and watched a bit enviously as they got ready for this apparently amazing hike. I checked my ferry ticket just then and noticed I'd got it all wrong - what I'd though was my departure time was actually my arrival time, I'd completely missed the ferry.
What happened next is not surprising in the least. Miltos to the rescue. He sent me off five minutes later on the hike, promising to sort things out with the ferry company and drive me to the port later that evening. Off we all went on the hike, which was by the way AMAZING. Dropped in the mountains, we hiked three hours down to the main town. Picked fresh blackberries and lemons, cooled off in the natural spring water, found the best gyros I've ever had, dipped our feet in the sea, and explored a quiet little white-washed village.
At the end of the day, I had Miltos to thank for everything he'd done to make our time in Andros completely unique. We arrived on the island looking for a vacation but left with new valuable experience and human connections.
Note: The Lemon Tree Hostel is truly a special place. Its rustic, no doubt, but sure to be a welcoming environment and a calm experience. Feel free to contact me here with any questions and look for The Lemon Tree on hostelworld.com
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