Known as the “Torremolinos of Greece,” the small (16 sq m) northern Sporades island of Skiathos is a magnet for British and European tourists looking for a place to roast and revel. The island’s many sandy and pebbly beaches are famous for their beauty and pristine waters, but they are also lined with hotels, caravans, umbrellas, water-ski and wind-surf stations, not to speak of canteens and pubs pumping out beer and pop music.
Skiathos rocks at night as well, with most of the action centered in Skiathos Town, home to scores of fast-food joints, tavernas, bars and discos. Not everything is on the tacky side, though–there are a few elegant restaurants and boutiques, even a restored fortress where chamber music is (sometimes) played under the stars.
One must go inland to find the alternative side to Skiathos’ commercialized tourism. Here the terrain is green and hilly, dotted with red-tiled villages and well-marked hiking trails leading to historic monasteries, castles and churches. Skiathos can also boast of the Papadiamantis Museum (devoted to a native son who was one of Greece’s best writers), plus a riding center and diving school.
The main town, with the same name as the island situated on the southeast coast, is a hive of activity during the summer season. With its red roofed, white painted house and narrow lanes where you can wander and relax from the night’s hustle and bustle. The island has many several bays and inlets, where it is possible to find one to your choosing. The one good road in the island runs both north towards the airport, and south to Koukounaries. Other smaller none asphalted roads criss-cross the island. There is a wide choice of tavernas and cafes in the town.
The island’s Feast Day is celebrated with gusto on July 26
Culinary specialty of the island is Hortopita Rollo (spinach, leek and fennel pie).
Telephone Area Code: 24270
Area Post Code: 370 02
How To Get There
- Olympic Airways, daily flights from Athens International Airport. Call 80111/44444 or visit www.olympicairlines.com
- Skiathos Airport also handles direct charter flights from many European and U.K. cities.
- Flying Dolphin Hydrofoils, numerous daily arrivals from Agios Konstandinos (on Greek mainland, near Volos). Click on www.hellenicseaways.gr
- Regular and slower ferryboats also leave from Ag. Konstantinos. Consult Greek travel agencies and ticket offices for schedules or call Skiathos Port Authority, 24770.
Places of interest
The Kastro sits upon the headland projecting out into the sea. This once fortified stronghold was once the capital of the island, with about 300 hoses and several churches in was in use from 1540 to 1829. The Kastro is accessible by boat and then an easy clamber to the top, where you will be reward with fantastic views.
This charming 18 th century monastery, built above a gorge, 450m above sea level, it is well known for the wine (which you can taste and buy in the museum shop). The monastery was a safe haven for freedom fighters during the War of Independence.
History of Skiathos
The history of Skiathos dates back to antiquity, when it was founded by colonists from the Euboean city-state of Chalkis. In 480 BC, King Xerxes of Persia discovered Skiathos when his fleet ran into a ferocious storm while on its way to do battle with Athens. He took control of the island and held it while repairing the few ships he could salvage. On a rocky reef called Lefteris (between Skiathos and the mainland) Xerxes built the world’s first lighthouse.
Skiathos became allies of the victorious Athenians and later sided with the Macedonians and Romans, but constantly fought battles against the Saracens and Slavs.
The natives preferred to live in the southern region of the island, whose flat, fertile lands and deep natural harbor afforded them a good living, but enemy attacks eventually forced them to abandon their homes and flee to the northern tip and build a village (Old Skiathos) on the steep cliffs overlooking wild, open seas. When the pirate attacks persisted, the Skiathites built a fortress and rampart walls (Kastro) for defense, the ruins of which are visible today.
The Byzantines were exiled here and the Venetians ruled Skiathos for three hundred years, until the Turks defeated the Crusaders and Skiathos became part of the Ottoman empire.
It wasn’t until 1829 that the locals gave up their Kastro citadel and returned to Skiathos Town, which is built on two hills overlooking the island’s main port. An airport opened in 1965 and for fifteen years or so, Skiathos was a favorite playground of the international “jet-set.” Mass tourism changed all that in the 1980s.
How to get around
Ample buses and taxis can be found in the area around the main harbor. Agencies renting cars, motorbikes, bicycles and speedboats can be found here as well. Some agents even offer “round the island” donkey trips (a big favorite with kids).
Another way to investigate Skiathos is by boat. Dozens of caiques make day-trips to various beaches and coves on the south (and lee) side of the island.
Where to stay
Most of the island’s many tourist beds are in Skiathos Town and have been pre-booked by European package-tour agencies. However, new rooms for rent are added every year; there is a room-owners association kiosk on the quay. Local travel agencies such as Mare Nostrum (0427/22 463) or Helotropio (0427/22 430) can also help the independent traveler find a place to rest his head.
Among the island’s outstanding hotels are the following:
Skiathos Princess Luxury Resort Occupies whole of beautiful Platania Bay. Call 24270/49731.
Aegean Suites Attractive boutique hotel, near Troulos. Call 24270/24069
Atrium Located on a hill above Platanias Bay, this 75-room hotel resembles a Mt. Athos Monastery. Call 24270/49345.
Skiathos Town is packed with “modern,” charmless hotels and pensions. The ones with a little character include the Mauria Hotel & Taverna, Areti Iouannou (behind National Bank), 24270/23069; Bourtzi, Moraitou Str, 24270-21304 and Meltemi, overlooking the waterfront, 24270/22493. If you stay in town, though, you will have to cope with the noise level: jukebox and disco music, ear-splitting motorbikes, drunken, carousing lager-louts.
To find peace and quiet, one must find rooms outside the city (see above) or live in a tent or caravan. The island has three official campsites. Because Koukounaries and Aselinos were fully booked when I visited Skiathos, I ended up staying at Xanemos, which is 3km northeast of Skiathos Town, but unfortunately adjoins the airport.
Where to eat
- The Windmill, Skiathos Town. One of the island’s finest restaurants, located in a refurbished old windmill. Dinner only. Call 24270/24550. The food here is largely nouvelle cuisine and on the expensive side, but the views (and wine) are first-class.
- Ta Psaradika, far end of the old port, 24270/23412. Mostly seafood dishes. The ambience matches the masterful cooking; don’t miss the fish soup.
1901 En Skiatho, close to Platia Trion Ierarhon, offers traditional Greek dishes with bouzouki music. Prices are reasonable and the singers/musicians keep things hopping.
- For a less showbizzy but authentic Greek taverna, try Zorba’s, opposite the taxi stand in Skiathos Town. Ellenikon, on a side street above the west seafront, also has home-style cooking and earthy wines; it became my favorite place to eat.
- When you tire of Greek food, there is always the Calypso, on the east waterfront, which serves authentic Italian food.
- If your budget should become stretched beyond reason, you always have the fallback of eating at one of Skiathos’ innumerable burger/gyro/pizza joints
The possibilites are endless, especially in Skiathos Town where the main and side streets are chock a block with “British pubs,” bars and discos. Clubs can also be found in every beach resort around the island and even out in the countryside (mostly discos that open at midnight and keep rocking till dawn).
The names of many of these clubs and bars change from year to year, but here are some traditional favorites:
- Near the Polytechnio are Borzoi (the oldest club on the island), Stones and Apothiki Music Hall.
- On the seafront BBC draws a young, raucous crowd.
- I mostly hung out in such boites as Banana (pop), Kentavros (blues & jazz), Adagio (mostly classical music)
I was also glad to be able to go to the movies. Refresh Paradiso, an open-air cinema on the ring road, plays relatively new releases in their original language. Be prepared for the screening to break off midway so that ice-cream and candy pop can be hawked.
The beach at Koukounaries is perhaps the most well known, and therefore can be busy, as are many of the beaches on the southwest side of the island. On the northwest you can find less crowded beaches, but in the summer the “meltemi winds” blow over the area. Some of the beaches are only accessible by boats which make regular trips around the island.
Skiathos is synonymous with beaches. There are almost a hundred of them, with the popular ones lining the lee (i.e., south) side of the island. Just about every beach on Skiathos will be crowded with tourists, who average fifty thousand a week in season, but that doesn’t mean the water itself won’t be clear and refreshing, the amenities varied and appealing. Almost all of them have snack bars and pubs where you can drink an iced coffee or a cocktail.
The beaches on the north coast are the least crowded. The sea runs hard and swift here, making swimming less than pleasant. Also, the beaches are not accessible by public bus. To reach Lalaria Beach, for example, one must either rent a motorbike or take an excursion boat from Skiathos Town. But once you are there, the rewards are many. The pebbled beach has steep cliffs behind it and there are three famous grottoes nearby, Skotini, Galazia and Halkini.
The most popular beaches are in the south, around the last bus stop of Koukounaries. The meltemi, the prevailing tradewind, does not blow so strongly here, making for protected swimming and snorkeling.
Koukounaries itself is a jumping resort town with hotels, tavernas and bars drawing hordes of tourists. The town has three beautiful beaches with white sand and backing pine trees. Jet-ski, motorboat, waterski and windsurf stations abound.
Aghia Paraskevi Beach
The other main southern beaches are Troulos, Kolios, Ayia Paraskevi, Vromolimnos, Kanapitsa and Kalamaki. Many wealthy Greeks and Europeans own stately villas on the Kalamaki peninsula. Vromolimnos offers the usual water sports; on the east side of Kalamaki can be found the Dolphin Diving School.
Another way to escape the crowds is to persuade a local skipper to make a day-trip to one of Skiathos’ many islets. Tsougria, for example, has three beaches and a taverna.
Banana Beach, Skiathos Island
Near Koukounaries, by the way, is the “Banana Beach,” a nudist beach which got its name from those who like to peel off everything. There’s another (unofficial) nudie beach at close-by Ayia Eleni.
Attractions & other activities
- Galerie Varsakis Antique Shop. Platia Trion Ierathon, near fishing port. Call 24270/22255. More folk museum than antique shop.
- Evangelistria Monastery. Sits on the island’s highest mountain and was dedicated in the 18th century by monks from Mt. Athos. The monastery once served as the meeting place of Greek revolutionaries seeking independence from Turkey. Today its high walls enclose living quarters, a ruined kitchen, a library and magnificent Orthodox church with three domes. A gift shop sells the monastery’s own wine, olive oil, preserves and icons. One-hour walk from Skiathos Town, near Lalaria. No phone. Open 9-7 pm.
- Beyond Evangelistria can be found another monastery, this one abandoned: Ayios Haralambos. About a two-hour walk away is Kastro, whose fortress walls have largely crumbled but whose three churches (and frescoes) have been well-preserved. Sitting high atop a wind-swept peninsula, Kastro is the most dramatic and beautiful place on the island. Down the hill from it is a fresh-water stream and a path leading to a small, pebbled beach. Don’t expect privacy here, though: numerous excursion boats visit daily and there are large numbers of campers. The swimming is good and there is a (daytime) taverna serving fresh fish.
- Papadiamantis Museum, Skiathos Town. Tues-Sun 9.30-1.30 & 5-8.30, free; call 24270-2384
- Skiathos Riding Center, near Koukounaries. Call 24270/49548 or visit www. skiathos-riding.com
- Dolphin Diving Center, Porto Nostros Beach. Call 242701/21559 or visit www.ddiving.gr
Skiathos pretty much switches off its tourist machine at the end of October, but the off-season is still an ideal time for hikers and nature-lovers to visit the island. Some hotels and restaurants stay open year-round; the hordes are gone; “normal” island life resumes.
Highly recommended is the three-hour walk to Kastro, which takes one through fields ripe with olive, plum and fig groves, forests filled with Aleppo pines and prickly-pear cactuses.
It rains in winter, but the rainfall results in the island being blanketed in wild flowers. Cicadas chatter in the trees, hawks wheel in the sky overhead, sheep and goats nibble on the hillsides. One finally understands why Skiathos was once called “the serene island.”