Spend an idyllic summer holiday enjoying the beaches and tavernas on the Greek island of Skiathos
With its protected pine forests and sun-drenched beaches, Skiathos is an Aegean paradise in the Northern Sporades that’s long been one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. It also comes with a strong sense of history and heritage, and passionate locals will proudly tell you that the island has remained constant since Alexander the Great’s time (336 BC). German bombings in World War II, however, meant that the town had to be rebuilt and only a few original homes remain amid the island’s terracotta-roofed houses.
The old town
The old harbour of Skiathos on the tiny pine tree-coated Bourtzi Peninsula welcomes visitors ashore and is an ideal spot for morning coffees and pastries. While you’re there, take time to explore Papadiamanti Street, the main shopping road in this pretty pedestrianised town.
But as the temperatures rise, the only thing to do is head to the beach, take refuge under an umbrella and enjoy endless hours dipping in and out of the turquoise sea.
All of the island’s 70 beaches and bays have their own unique appeal. Banana Beach and the Koukanaries Beaches are golden and sandy, and good for water sports. Quieter beaches include Kanapista, Kechria (a pebble beach), Mikros Aselinos and Ambelakia (meaning vineyard), all of which are lined with tavernas with laid-back appeal. There are often no menus at these little eateries; the owner describes the day’s specials in broken English, disappears into the kitchen and simply brings out the food when its ready. The Greeks are so hospitable, and it’s not unusual for taverna owners to give their customers a dessert or an ouzo (anise- flavoured aperitif) on the house. These alfresco lunches are always followed by an afternoon siesta, essential refuge from the sweltering heat.
A must-visit is the taverna at Krifi Ammos beach and it’s well worth the trek down the hill and rather treacherous terrain (if you’re in flip-flops) to get there. The friendly owner who cooks from the heart, the setting, smell of the sea and flavours wafting from the kitchen, make this a truly memorable experience. Other favourites include Sklithri Taverna, where you can lunch on fresh fish at the waters’ edge and perhaps spot a few A-list celebrities – actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell are known to spend leisurely afternoons there when they visit the island.
There are many ways of seeing the island’s sights and the great thing is that you can circumnavigate it in a day. Cars, Jeeps and scooters can be hired to reach the more isolated beaches, thereby avoiding the crowds on the bus route. Alternatively, rent a private boat (or hop on a taxi boat) and sail around the island to its pristine beaches like the beautiful Lalaria Beach at Kastro, which can only be accessed from the sea. Once anchored, swim into shore and take a slow stroll up the hill, discovering quaint medieval churches and ruins as you climb. At the top, a sumptuous lunch of traditional Greek fare is easily washed down with a litre (or two) of the local rosé wine served in tin jugs.
Skiathos offers various tourist attractions other than its glorious beaches. Take the Mamma Mia boat trip to the neighbouring island of Skopelos, where the movie was filmed or watch the movie in an open-air cinema. Or visit the former home of the famous Greek author Alexandros Papadiamantis, now a museum. Other options include hiking, mountain-biking, horse riding and scuba diving. On a balmy evening, head up the hill to the Monastery of Evangelistria.
Food and entertainment
As the sun starts to set, Skiathos town bustles with restaurants, bars and nightclubs ensuring all-night entertainment. Mesogia Taverna, owned by a Skiathiti and his Durban-born wife, (whose melktert has become legendary on the island), is a popular dinner choice. Wherever you dine, expect fresh fish and traditional Greek fare such as tzatziki, dolmades, souvlaki, moussaka, fried calamari, saganaki (fried cheese) and of course, baklava.
There is plenty of accommodation on the island that caters to all budgets and tastes. A South African favourite is Villa Athena, which is perched in an olive grove overlooking the Aegean Sea, a two-minute walk down to the popular Megali Ammos Beach (and a 10-minute sweat back up the hill!) South African owner Peggy Loebenberg welcomes many international and South African holidaymakers to her villa every summer.
MUST-SEE SIGHT: The breathtaking view from Kastro.
MOST DELICIOUS BITE: Shrimp saganaki at Sklithri Taverna.
SHOP UP A STORM: Explore the charming little side streets and find hand-painted tiles, jewellery, leather shoes and clothing.
ALSO TRY: Beach horse riding, scuba diving and hiking.
THE NIGHTLIFE: Laid-back lounges, tavernas, cocktail bars and night clubs.
ESSENTIAL ITEM: Beach shoes to walk over hot beach pebbles and a few bits of rough terrain.
NICE TO KNOW: Most tavernas charge €8 (about R115) to hire a lounger and umbrella.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
GETTING THERE: You can fly to Skiathos from Athens or get a ferry to the island.
WHEN TO GO: It’s best to visit in early summer when it’s warm but not too crowded.
VISAS: South Africans require a Schengen visa. An international drivers’ licence is required to hire a vehicle.
WHERE TO STAY: Go for accommodation that overlooks olive groves or a beach. Choose from a wide range of hotels, houses, self-catering villas and apartments. See bookings.com/skiathos
USEFUL WEBSITES: villa-athena.com; skiathosinfo.com and visitgreece.gr