The Greek Island Of Skiathos

Feature by Willard Manus

THE GREEK ISLAND OF SKIATHOS 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 rap music.

Skiathos rocks at night as well, with most of the action centered in Skiathos Town, home to armies of fast-food joints, tavernas, bars and discos. Not everything is on the tacky side, though--there are a handful of 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 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 finest writers), plus a riding center and diving school.
The island's Feast Day is celebrated on July 26.


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 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, at which time 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 was 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.


Buses and taxis can be found in the area around the main harbor. Rental cars, motorbikes, bicycles and speedboats can be hired 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 southern side of the island.


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.

Dolphin Diving Center, Porto Nostros Beach. Call 242701/21559 or visit

Skiathos Municipality, Skiathos Town, call 242701/22205
Police Station, Skiathos Town, call 24240/3333

Greek National Tourist Organization, Skiathos Town, call 24270/23300


Olympic Airways, daily flights from Athens International Airport. Call 80111/44444 or visit www.

Skiathos Airport also handles direct charter flights from numerous European and U.K. cities.

Flying Dolphin Hydrofoils--daily arrivals from Agios Konstandinos (on Greek mainland, near Volos).
Click on www. Regular and slower ferryboats also depart from Ag. Konstandinos. Consult Greek travel agencies and ticket offices for schedules or call Skiathos Port Authority, 24770.


Most of the island's tourist beds are in Skiathos Town and have been pre-booked by European tour agencies. However, new rental rooms are added every year; check the housing kiosk on the quay. Such 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 the whole of beautiful Platania Bay. Call 24270/49731 or visit
Aegean Suites. Attractive boutique hotel, near Troulos. Call 24270/24069 or visit

Atrium. Located on a hill above Platanias Bay, this 75-room hotel resembles a Mt. Athos Monastery. Call 24270/49345 or visit

Skiathos Town is packed with "modern" charmless hotels and pensions. The few with a little character include the Mauria Hotel & Taverna, Areti Iouannou (behind the National Bank), 24270/23069; Bourtzi, Moraitou Str,; and Meltemi, overlooking the waterfront, 24279/22493. 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 trailer. 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.


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 peak and was dedicated in the 18th century by monks from Mt. Athos. It 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 Twon, near Lalaria. No phone. Open 9am-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 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.


The island is not disabled-friendly.


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 band keeps 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 Italian food.

If your budget should become stretched beyond reason, you will 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 choked 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 a few 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 (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 soda can be hawked.


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 sea itself won't be clear and refreshing, the amenities varied and appealing.

The beaches on the north coast are the least crowded. The sea runs hard and fast here, making swimming less than pleasant. Also, the beaches aren't 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, Glazia and Halkini.

The most popular beaches are in the south, around the last bus station of Koukounaries. The meltemi, the prevailing tradewind, does not blow strongly here, making for relatively 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.

The other main southern beaches are Troulos, Kolios, Ayia Paraskevi, Vromolimnos, Kanapitsa and Kalamaki. Many wealthy Greeks and Europeans own 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.

Near Koukounaries 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 Ayai Eleni.


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. A few 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."


Feta cheese, virgin olive oil, plum and fig preserves & liquers.