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
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.
HOW TO GET AROUND
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
HOW TO GET THERE:
Olympic Airways, daily flights from Athens International Airport. Call
80111/44444 or visit www. olympicairline.gr
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. hellenicseaways.gr. Regular and slower ferryboats also depart
from Ag. Konstandinos. Consult Greek travel agencies and ticket offices
for schedules or call Skiathos Port Authority, 24770.
WHERE TO STAY:
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 www.vi-hotels.com/princess
Aegean Suites. Attractive boutique hotel, near Troulos. Call 24270/24069
or visit www.aegeansuites.com
Atrium. Located on a hill above Platanias Bay, this 75-room hotel resembles
a Mt. Athos Monastery. Call 24270/49345 or visit www.atriumhotel.gr
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, www.hotelbourtzi.gr; 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
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.
FACILITIES FOR THE DISABLED
The island is not disabled-friendly.
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 band keeps things
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
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.
WHERE TO SWIM:
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.