An Animal Lovers Paradise Awaits in the Heart of Greece’s Andros Island

An Animal Lovers Paradise Awaits in the Heart of Greece’s Andros Island

WF Magic Mountain Gate

Posted March 13, 2024

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“Please stop driving across Europe. And I did. That was the only thing my father really asked of me. My parents were always supportive,” Sandy told me as we watered the garden, standing under the warm spring sun shining over us on the island of Andros, Greece.

It was my last day as a volunteer at Andros Animal Shelter, a place that Sandy started over ten years ago. Her two-story home on a hill usually houses about two dozen dogs and a small group of cats — not to mention all the rogue travelers who pass through the gates of the shelter.

In the backyard, you’ll find a handful of horses, ponies, and even a mule or two. All need feeding, medical care, and lots of love (don’t we all, really?). Aside from the help of volunteers throughout the year, Sandy basically takes care of it all.

Originally from England, Sandy has spent most of her adult life in Greece. She started by working in the tourism sector for years. Then she opened an art shop in the village of Batsi along Andros’ west coast. Almost everyone on the island knows Sandy. With the shelter only manifesting during her retirement years, Sandy still works harder than the volunteers – many of whom are decades her junior. She’s also practically fluent in Greek.

WF Greece Dogs
Welcoming Residents at Magic Mountain

Getting Under the Radar (And Closer to Myself) in Greece

It took me almost four decades to get myself to Greece. A place that’s so notorious for being anything and everything a traveler is looking for (beaches, food, culture, history, under-the-radar islands, party islands), Greece always seems like a good idea for the wandering soul. Just get yourself to that little piece of paradise and you’re winning at life.

I finally landed at Athens International Airport in April of last year (via Taiwan, but the story of that trip is for another time). After a few days exploring some of the ancient ruins in the capital and then hopping on a ferry to the lesser-known island of Andros, I realized that my trip to Greece was worth the wait, and not in the way I expected.

Daily Life on Magic Mountain

Andros Animal Shelter enjoys an appropriate nickname — Magic Mountain. Just walk along that winding road in the village of Arni and you’ll eventually spot the entrance of the shelter and the front gate labeled “Magic Mountain.” Located smack dab in the middle of the island, Sandy’s hillside property occupies a perfect spot for panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, you can see the Aegean Sea. The coast sits about two hours away on foot, and being there feels years away from the busyness of Athens. Volunteers at the shelter work from 9-5 day with an afternoon break. But the daily routine feels nothing like your typical 9-5 job.

Start your day at the shelter by feeding the dogs in the house before moving on to the cats and horses. Work up your energy for breakfast by cleaning the floors and the dog beds. Some of my favorite parts of these mornings was taking in the mountain views while cleaning the top balcony and living room (aka the ‘upstairs dogs’ quarters), all while getting in lots of dog cuddles in between.

Finding Like Minded Friends on Magic Mountain

I was one of four volunteers during my two weeks at Magic Mountain, which I was told was just about the perfect number to balance out the tasks and create a good workflow. I shared a room with a young German woman, Hannah, who was on her gap year and ended up spending four months at the shelter.

About 7-8 of the dogs lived in the downstairs quarters with us and slept cozily in their dog beds just outside our door. Lulu, one of the anxious and energetic downstairs dogs would sometimes sneak into our room in the middle of the night for some more cuddles. My heart for my time there was Suki, a tiny dog that gave birth to three puppies on my second last day at the shelter. So self-confident but also so affectionate, Suki wouldn’t hesitate to sit on your lap whenever it was free as if telling you that she needed your support. It takes a village, you know.

Once the animals finished their last feeding of the day and the sun was beginning to set, we’d start making our own dinner. Sitting around the little dining table at the end of the day, we’d unwind and swap stories while sharing homemade (and well-earned) vegan curry and warm Greek mountain tea. One of the best things about volunteering is that you’ll meet people of different ages, countries, and stories, but all at a similar place in life. We’re all just taking a break while getting back to it all at the same time.

Discover an Animal Paradise
Hugo Enjoying a Walk

Sunny Breaks, Long Walks, and Mountain Tea

Our afternoon break usually coincided with the peak sun time. This gave me the excuse to lounge on the deck and sunbathe with the dogs. While we lounged, Sandy would usually be tending to the garden or working on marketing, never really taking a break. Some days I’d take a walk, often with Hugo, a hound dog known as the wallflower of the group. Together we’d explore the dirt roads around the shelter, sometimes walking longer to a peak where you could see the coast along the horizon.

Life on the island includes early rises and early-to-beds. There are even days we felt too physically tired (in the best ways) and also too filled up with love to scroll through social media to put yourself to bed at the end of the day. After a few days of this organic routine, I wondered why it was so hard to just fall asleep naturally when back on land.

So yes, magic it is.

Exploring More of Andros Island

A top hiking destination in Europe (yet widely unknown), Andros boasts peaks and valleys around just about every corner of the island. But apart from breathtaking hikes, you’ll also find little beach towns along the coast that are so calm and serene that they seem to be made just for you.

On one of my days off, I wandered down to Batsi, the closest beach town to the shelter. A fishing village along the west coast of the island, Batsi has a couple of peaceful pebble beaches, small cafes, and family-run restaurants with seaside patios featuring 2-1 Aperol Spritz specials. I wandered into a shop with locally grown teas and homemade jams, some of which I bought to bring back home for souvenirs. I stopped for a Greek salad and phyllo for lunch, washing it down with a glass of rose wine sweetened with Greek honey.

I’d found the Greece of my travel dreams, at a destination that you wouldn’t typically find on the first page of a search engine if you’re looking up “best places in Greece.” At the end of the day, I opted for a taxi ride back to the shelter, and all I needed to say was “Sti Arni, sti Sandy,” and the driver knew to take me to Magic Mountain.

Discover an Animal Lovers Paradise near Batsi
Seaside Village of Batsi

Winding Down My Time at Andros Animal Shelter

When my two weeks in paradise were coming to an end, I didn’t skimp on getting lots of sun and working up a sweat on that last day of work. So when Sandy asked me to help her with some gardening, I agreed and worked through my break time. All afternoon whenever I looked up past Magic Mountain, I could see the shores of the Aegean Sea lurking in the distance, and I felt so grateful to have found paradise. An hour into our work and chat, we started discussing the topic of reincarnation. “Do you believe in past lives?” I asked as I watered the flowers. “No,” she quickly replied. “I quite like this one. And I have quite a lot left I want to do in this one, too.”

How to Stay as a Guest at Magic Mountain

If you want to experience the beauty of Andros but can’t commit to being a volunteer, Sandy happily hosts guests year-round at Magic Mountain. On her property there’s a separate space called the Stone House. This former grape press area has been converted to a cozy room for two, complete with an adjacent kitchen and bathroom. Funds received from guests directly support the shelter. There are a lot of mouths to feed, after all. And don’t worry, guests at the Airbnb are welcome for dog cuddles.

Read more about Sandy and Andros Animal Shelter for more information on volunteering and making a donation to the shelter.

Find and Book Discount Hotel Rooms on Andros Island, Greece

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  • Jennifer Richardson's made a life for herself on the road. She spent years teaching English in countries like China, South Korea, and Thailand, in between her solo backpacking trips. Originally from Montreal, Canada, she is currently living her dream of traveling while she works as a freelance writer and editor. Her first book, Arrival Stories: Tales of Finding New Direction in Strange Places, is a collection of personal essays documenting almost ten years of travel. It's available for purchase on Amazon. You can find her in coffee shops around the world, working on her latest travel piece.