Excerpt from balcanicaucaso.org
Astypalea is the butterfly-shaped island of the Aegean that has emerged from its cocoon. Remote and poorly connected with the Greek mainland, it used to be considered a ‘hidden paradise’, known only to a few. This changed in 2020, when the Greek government made a groundbreaking agreement with the Volkswagen Group to establish on the island a state-of-the-art mobility system, unique in the whole Mediterranean region. The ambitious endeavour, supported by the EMOBICITY (Interreg Europe) project of the European Union, aimed to transform Astypalea into ‘a model island for climate-neutral mobility’. Three years later, the transformation of the ‘Aegean butterfly’ is impressive. So is its international fame, that has skyrocketed thanks to the publicity given to the destination’s innovative, green character.
“Astypalea was the last stop of a long, exhausting boat trip. We arrived at dawn. When the boat dropped anchor at the harbor, the ‘Limenas’ as the locals say, the first thing I saw was a huge, dark rock jutting into the sky. I stood there in awe for a few seconds. What was this strange land that I had found myself on? It was only when I raised my head and saw the Castle, majestic but somehow welcoming, that I felt some comfort in the thought this might actually be a beautiful place in daylight.”
Nefeli Asimakopoulou arrived in Astypalea for the first time in 2004, the summer that she turned 18. Unlike many young locals who would leave the island to study and work in big cities, with no intention of ever coming back, Nefeli, back then a fresh geology student, got her first job in a place that she knew nothing about. It was through family acquaintances that she had heard that veteran singer Popi Asteriadi, iconic symbol of the Greek New Wave, was looking for a babysitter to look after her granddaughter, also called Nefeli, during the summer months. The opportunity was too exciting to miss.