An ancient name for the island was Ichtynoessa or 'fishy island' and the fishing continues to be good, perhaps due to the many coves and small bays. The island is rocky and austere, with dazzling white houses spilling down the hillside from the citadel on the top.
Inland it is more verdant. Homer called Astypalea's fertile Livadia Valley the Table of the Gods because of its rich soil and fertility. There are citrus groves and corn fields in the valley. It has a shingle beach popular with locals in the summer. Windmills overlook the valley from the west while towards the foothills small paths lead to the tree shrouded artificial lake where ducks float in the afternoon sun.
Astypalea Town, the capital, consists of two parts. There is Skala (or Pera Gialos), the old town which curls down toward the beach, and Chora, the upper town.
This the is the hub of the island and all paths lead from it including the Skala or stairs to the harbor below. The harbor below is called Pera Yalos ('further sand') and where ferry passengers disembark. Here the islands' pelican mascots receive morning fish handouts from local fishermen. Pera Yalos offers most basic amenities including an ATM, cafes, international newspapers, and public facilities.
It also possesses the new Archeology Museum (Mon-Fri, 8-2:30, Sat 10-2:30) with finds from around the island; classical burial steles, 6th Century Byzantine artifacts, the Quirini coat of arms and, the finds of four Mycenaean tholi or round burial chambers.
The Chora is dominated by its Castle of St. John. Upon ascending to the outskirts of town are eight windmills along the ridge. There are many appealing lanes where you can see Turkish style houses with their painted poundia or wooden balconies. The bones of Hora's oldest families are buried in nine small barrel-vaulted chapels you will pass on the way. Many cubistic Cycladic stone and white washed houses are also to be seen.