Greece is still my favourite destination
My love affair with Greece started in 1979. Skiathos in 2016 rekindled the romance.
Back then I travelled overland with my uni friend, through the former Yugoslavia by coach. We then met up with Rob in his VW van. After staying in Athens with some millionaires went on to stay on Hydra and Crete.
We ran out of money, almost got arrested and discovered the friendliness of Greeks and the fabulous food. Since then I have visited Greece more than I have visited any other country. I have seen it change, not always for the better, yet like the sirens it continues to call me back year after year.
As life has been hectic this past few months and Sorrento while enjoyable wasn’t exactly a restful holiday, I decided that Phil and I needed another holiday. Greece was in my mind when I went in search of a cheap deal to anywhere. Greece was top of the cheapest first list. Yes!
I dashed to the travel agents and said ‘I would like to go to Skiathos please and my budget is under £400 for two of us’. They laughed, how they laughed.
And then the computer not only said yes but also said this holiday has been reduced by £800 to £324 for two in a self catering apartment. After the travel agent had recovered from the shock (these were 1990 prices after all) it was booked and we were off to Skiathos, thank you very much.
Skiathos is a small island, with one of the shortest runways in Europe. If you are a transport geek and like me a little bit crazy, you can stand on the road at the end of the runway and wave to the pilots before they take off.
Warning, they are not waving, they are telling us to move back because the thrust from the engines will literally blow you away. Totally worth it for shots like this.
Cash is king
We took lots of Euros with us as cash is still king in Greece. Despite hiring a 4wd to explore the island, eating out in many excellent tavernas, splashing out on boat trips and walking tours, we struggled to spend £500 in the week we were there.
Resorts and where to stay
We were based in a small village called Agia Paraskevi. There are a few small hotels and a number of self catering apartments, set off the main road along narrow lanes, that are too small for coaches. If on a package, you will be dropped off on the main road and then walk to your apartments up to 15 minutes away, past fields and a few apartments and tavernas.
The village is small and relatively uncommercialised, much like what I recall Greece was like in the 80’s. Not quite My Family and Other Animals but there are goats and chickens in the fields and you will see women dressed in black gathering greens and herbs.
Sitting on my balcony early evening the only sound I could hear was the jingle jangle of the bells around the goats necks.
Both Troulos, the next village/resort along the road, and Koukounaries, where the main road ends, seemed to be more holiday resort than Greek village. Shops selling beach toys were absent where we stayed. Perhaps because the beach was relatively small? Anyway, I liked where we were. And outside Skiathos, it seemed it had the best tavernas, cafes and restaurants.
We stayed at Marialena, and while they were clean and in a good location, I would not rush to stay there again.
They were spacious, had hot water, a pleasant balcony but the owners just did not seem to care that you were there. See below what I thought of the food at Marialena.
If I were to return I would like to be based in Skiathos town for some of the time to experience the bustle of the harbour, day and night. I would also return to Agia Paraskevi as it offered good traditional food, a peaceful location and a bus service to town. I would look to stay at Green Park or Dream House.
If beaches are your thing, there are probably better places, however the beach here looked perfectly fine to me.
Koukounaries seemed to be the beach lovers resort, with Big Banana beach and Little Banana beach, the naturist beach, if that is your thing. There is also a nature reserve there which makes for a very pleasant walk. (See walking below).
Eating and Drinking
On our first day we parted with €10 for a litre of wine and two souvlaki at Oneiro (attached to the Dream House apartments). This was to become our favourite place to chill out. It is a friendly, family run taverna, serving traditional food in a cool, modern setting, with wifi.
Elsewhere beer was between €3 and €4 in most places for half a litre or €1.50 in the supermarket. We paid on average €25 for dinner with wine. Sometimes we splashed out, mostly we didn’t.
Jimmy’s on the main road is a traditional taverna, and the guy that waits tables is excellent. We went at Sunday lunchtime, the taverna was full, one guy managed all the tables, big family group comes in and all tables are moved around, just like the old days.
The only place where the food was just not great was at Marialena Apartments, where we were staying. We arrived at lunchtime and decided to eat there. I had Kleftiko covered in cheesy chips (never had that before). This was the dining area and most days it was this busy.
A few days later we thought we would give them a second chance with breakfast. The bread rolls came out warm and then hardened to such an extent that I could have used them as a cricket ball.
There were too many good places to eat in Agia Paraskevi for us to waste our money here. All with better ambience and wifi.
The two restaurants that came highly recommended were Calma and Green Park. I cannot disagree with those recommendations although for my money Green Park was the best food I have ever had in Greece or at any Greek restaurant I have ever eaten at. And there has been a few. Calma was good, it was just that we had eaten at Green Park first so the bar had been set very high. Both served traditional Greek food with a modern twist.
Another outstanding meal in Skiathos Town. Fresh Prawns and Calamari in a traditional taverna overlooking the harbour. There were a number of them all vying for business, with fixed price set menus. Prices were around €8 to €12 depending on what you chose. Good value for a prime location.
We ate at a different taverna every night and usually went for the special of the day. Without exception food was good to excellent, service always good, house wine around €8 a litre and very drinkable. Traditional food was on offer everywhere, even the children’s menus were smaller portions of the normal menu.
There were no fast food joints (phew) unless you count the Giros on the street corners of Skiathos Town. Pizza at Boubounakia was excellent, traditionally cooked in an open oven. Share one, they are enormous.
On the buses
When we were not eating, we were exploring. The bus service on the island is cheap and reliable. There is a conductor on every bus so no faffing to find who sells the tickets.
The terminus in Skiathos Town is next to the port and buses run about every 20 minutes to all stops to Koukounaries. Each bus stop is numbered and that is how you state your destination. Simples.
While waiting at the bus stop taxi drivers will stop and offer to take you and will offer you a price and it is worth bartering. They may start at €8 and you can get them down to around €4 or €5 depending on the distance. A single to Skiathos on the bus was €1.60 so €5 in the taxi for two of us was reasonable. They may stop to pick up other fares on the way. It is a little faster than the bus. The buses run every 20 minutes or so, if you are not in a hurry use the bus, if you are buddy up with fellow travellers and share a taxi.
My view is that the Greeks have gone through a financial crisis and I will contribute to the economy and support local enterprises everyway I can, so I used taxis and buses and hired a car for one day.
Yes this holiday was R&R. It rained for the first two days and while other complained to the rep (because they can stop the rain presumably) we read. And planned our exploring because we are not sunbed by the pool types. We decided to join an evening walking tour of Skiathos, a boat trip visiting Skopelos and Alonissos and hire a 4WD to see more of the island. We booked all through the rep because we were lazy. I am pretty sure that these could be booked independently and cheaper. As it was we met three people on the walking tour that were lovely and they were also on the boat tour the next day, so we had the bonus of excellent company.
The Skiathos Town walking tour
Michael Evans is an English man who has made his home in Skiathos. Like Tamara, our lovely guide in Sorrento, he has turned his passion into his job.
To say he has a big personality would be an understatement. We met him at the harbour and the walk around the town lasted about three hours, winding up for snacks and wine at his house.
This is a good tour to orientate yourself with the town, as it is easy to get lost in the winding, narrow streets. Skiathos was built this way to foil the pirates who frequently attacked the island. You will learn about the history of the island including the aforementioned pirates, why the capital moved to Kastro and back again, the importance of the church in the community and what it was like being an extra on Mama Mia.
Anyway, book it, it is brilliant. He is hilarious. We and the young couple we met were the last to leave and we probably could have spent the rest of the evening there with Michael partying. Our sensible heads told us we had a boat to catch the next day.
The Mama Mia connection
Did you know Mama Mia was filmed on Skiathos and Skopelos? If you didn’t you will soon find out. There are Mama Mia boat trips and the local outdoor cinema still shows the film once a week.
This boat trip will take you past the church featured in the film. Apparently the local priest is overwhelmed by requests to marry there and does his utmost to put brides to be off. They don’t factor in that a walk up the steps in summer will finish them off physically and their hair and makeup will be a mess.
It is a pleasant boat trip with optional guided walk on Skopelos and a bus to the small village of Chora on Alossonius. Low season both are charming and quiet. The views are stunning and the twisting roads and lanes climbing up Skopelos through the shops then to houses and tavernas make for a lovely walk.
After grabbing a less than satisfactory toastie for lunch in The Bookstore Cafe in Chora, on reflection I wished we had waited to get some food at the harbourside. The ice cream made up for the disappointment. The town is small, there is only one baker and one ice cream shop, not hard to find.
A bonus was the dolphins joining us for the ride and all in all it was a lovely relaxing day. On reflection I would book this directly with one of the boats rather than with a rep as the guide though lovely was superfluous to the tour. The beauty of the islands need no explanation. The only thing I wished I had visited was the Pirate Museum on Alossonius which Michael had told us about. If the bus down from Chora had stopped there, that would have been ideal.
The best place for a pre dinner or post boat trip drink
Bourtzi. Reviews are mixed. Yes it is expensive. We only had beer here at €6 for a small glass. The views are probably worth it.
Go, have a beer, decide for yourself. The best time, when the fishing boats come in early evening.
Hire a 4WD
There is only one main road on Skiathos, and if you want to explore further afield a 4WD is recommended. We wanted to visit Kastro, and while a smaller car would probably have sufficed, I am glad we got a jeep.
We had a map, a vague idea of where we were going stopping at The Monastery of Panagia Evangelistria which is incredibly peaceful on the way. It is impossible to get lost on the island because eventually all roads lead to Skiathos town.
Two tavernas are clearly marked on the map we had and we had lunch at Platonos and iced coffee at Panorama. The views from both are stunning, service and food good.
Walking and Hiking
We picked up a walking guide at the dog shelter. All the walks in the book are well marked.
The only one we did was around the nature reserve at Koukounaries. I would suggest that you embark on these in low season, have sensible shoes, lots of water and a hat. Some of them are very ambitious, such as the walk to Kastro. I am glad we did this trip in a jeep. But if walking is your thing, it is a beautiful island for it. There are lots of guides available online.
Take a rescue dog for a walk
Skiathos Dog Shelter opened in 1995. Visitors to the island are encouraged to visit, donate and take a dog for a walk. So we did.
Top tip while waiting for your plane home
Leave the airport, walk 10 minutes along the side of the runway toward Skiathos Town and watch the planes take off and land from the safety of a lovely cafe.
On arrival, the rep made a joke that Skiathos was known as boomerang island, as people come back every year. I can see why.