Skiathos: visitors count on its sandy beaches
Photo: Andy Collins
Skiathos is hugely popular for Greek Island holidays thanks to a score of golden sand beaches along its southern coast.
What Skiathos lacks in Greek atmosphere it makes up in quality beaches and a cosmopolitan style.
Skiathos holidays are very popular with families and couples and, if a beach holiday is what you want, few can match the quality and quantity on Skiathos.
Skiathos is a small island, just 12km long and 4km wide, but beaches come thick and fast — there are reputed to be 60 of them — and almost all have deep, fine sand with shallow waters that make them ideal for families with children.
The main port of Skiathos Town is where visitors can enjoy has a vibrant cosmopolitan atmosphere with an exuberant night-life in the tavernas, music bars, and clubs.
Inland are many walking trails in the pine forested hills with visits to atmospheric churches and monasteries making for popular days out if you tire of the beach.
The picturesque medieval ruins of the hilltop Kastro and the white pebble bay at Lalaria win the photographic prizes and there are daily boat excursions to both.
Proximity to the Greek mainland brings offers of excursions to Athens, Delphi or the monasteries of Meteora as well as excursion trips to nearby islands of Skopelos and Alonissos.
Most holiday sands of Skiathos line the south coast backed by a good road with a regular bus service making them all easy to reach.
Sandy Skiathos beaches and bays include Megali Ammos, Achadies, Troulos, Kanapitsa, Vromolimnos and Koukounaries, the latter regularly voted as one of the best beaches in the world.
For those who prefer to escape the crowds there are wilder beaches on the north coast, just as good as the south but with fewer facilities and more difficult access.
Skiathos is notable among all among the Greek islands for the profusion of soft, sandy beaches. Those near the main port at Skiathos Town are busiest and have gone belly-up to commercial interests. Resorts like Megali Amos are packed with sunbeds and lined with beach tavernas and cater to families and holiday couples.
Further west most of the popular beaches are dominated by beach hotels as Nostos and Achladies and you need to get there early to bag the best spots. Troulos has the biggest sands and the most apartments.
To the far southwest of Skiathos is the world famous beach of Koukounaries, a 1 km crescent swathe of sand that regularly picks up best Greek Island beach awards.
There is little chance of finding a quiet, deserted cove on the south coast except on the Kalamaki Peninsula which offers the best chance of a quiet spot away from the crowds.
To the far west and on the north coast things are different. There is only a handful of beaches but they are less easy to reach and demand a walk or drive along forest trails. They are just a sandy though and most have a small beach taverna serving the basics.
The west coast Banana Beach is the exception. You may have to walk through woods to get there but is the premier clubbing beach on Skiathos and expect big crowds, noisy music bars and be prepared to party through the night.
On the Kastro at Skiathos is the remains of a 14th century citadel perched on a rock outcrop. First built as a refuge from marauding pirates it was once the island capital and contained more than 300 houses and 20 churches. Little has survived, just the ruins of a couple of churches, a mosque, parts of the old battlement walls and the gateway into the fort. It commands dramatic views over the island and it's a tricky drive on forest trails to reach it or a up a long flight of steps from the beach if you take one of the many excursion boat trips. There is a beach here of shingle and stone and some small sea grottos accessible only by boat.
Tsougria, Tsougriaki and Arkos
Just off the south coast are a trio of uninhabited islets at Tsougria, Tsougraki and Arkos. Excursion boats leave Skiathos Town daily in the summer season. Tsougria is the most popular as it's nearest to Skiathos Town. It is also the biggest and has a couple of good beaches with a beach taverna on the best one. Tsougria are smaller rocky islet and also Tsougriaki doesn't have a beach there is very peaceful swimming to be had in in any of the many coves. The islet of Arkos has a small beach and a cantina that opens in the summer.
There are not many monasteries on Skiathos but those that exist make for interesting visits. The four main one are St John of Parthenis, St Charalambos, Evangelistria (Annunciation) and Panaghia Eikounistria (Holy Virgin). Evangelistria is about 5km north of Skiathos town and cloaked in woodland. Founded in 1794 it was finished around 1806 and it was here that the Greeks first swore allegiance to the independent Greek flag. It has some fine frescoes and a magnificent carved wooden iconostasis. Panaghia Eikounistria is the patron of Skiathos and has several frescoes including one of St Christopher with a face of a dog. The monastery of Panaghia Kounistra is near Troulos and set in a very pretty spot, with a taverna within its walls.
House of Alexander Papadiamantis
Just off the main street of Papadiamanti in Skiathos Town is the former home of Skiathos writer Alexander Papadiamantis. Considered one of Greece's best writers he published 170 short stories and several novellas. The ground floor is a museum of Skiathos while the upper floors are preserved as the writer left them. Many of his short stories were inspired by the people of Skiathos. Only a few works have been translated, notably his 'Tales from a Greek Island'.
Skiathos is a very popular island for package tour firms and much of the holiday accommodation gets block booked for the summer season. There are rooms to be found if you are an independent traveller but it's not advisable to turn up at the height of the summer season without a reservation. A few room owners do meet incoming ferries with offers and the Skiathos Room Owners Association has a kiosk in the port with latest lists of available rooms.
Skiathos Town has no beaches but it does have the shops and the nightlife. There is a good supply of decent hotels and rooms over the town with the 90-room Alkyon easily seen from the port. All the main beach resorts have hotels, rooms and self-catering apartments. The most luxurious is the Atrium in Platanias with an Olympic-size swimming pool and the Skiathos Palace above Koukounaries beach which boasts a rooftop garden. Those on a tight budgets will find a campsite at Koukounaries, close to the beach and with good facilities including a cafe and mini-market.
The climate on Skiathos is typically Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters. Spring ushers in the Skiathos holiday season in April-May when temperatures reach 16-20°C with eight hours daily sunshine.
The average holiday temperature in June is 23°C, rising to 25°C in July and August, with highs of 30°C on the sunniest days and practically no rainfall. Fresh northerly winds can be quite strong.
Autumn weather on Skiathos is similar to spring. October sees the start of the rain, with November, December and January being the wettest months on Skiathos. Winters are mild at an average 11°C.
Skiathos Airport (JSI) is the main flight destination for visitors to the Sporades islands. The airport is about 3km north of Skiathos Town and takes charter flights from all over Europe. There are daily domestic flights from Athens (20 minutes) and there are also flights from Volos and from Thessaloniki.Skiathos Airport has a notoriously short runway and aircraft taking off from here only carry a minimum fuel load to keep weight down and they land at nearby Thessaloniki to refuel, adding extra time on homebound journey.There are few facilities at the airport and parking is very limited. There is no dedicated bus service to the airport and taxis can be quickly snapped up so you are advised to book ahead.
Skiathos is well served by ferries although there is no direct service to Athens. A daily high speed ferry goes to Agios Konstantinos on the mainland where there are buses to the capital.Ferries also run to the mainland port Volos and there are hydrofoil services to Agios Konstantinos and Volos throughout the summer. There is a summer ferry service to Crete, calling in at Skopelos, Syros, Tinos, Paros, Naxos, Ios and Santorini. Minoan Lines run a twice weekly route from Thessaloniki which leaves for Paros, Tinos, Mykonos, Syros and Naxos before heading to Crete. A new service from Thessaloniki to the Sporades operated on Mondays and Fridays and there are several ferries to the neighbouring islands of Skopelos and Alonissos.
There is just one road on Skiathos that snakes along the south coast serving most of the main beach resorts. The road surface is generally good but there are hills and bends around Achladies that claim accident victims every year. Off the main road the conditions deteriorate and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is a necessity.Skiathos has an excellent bus service along the south coast road to Koukounaries with buses every 20 minutes or so in the summer. The information kiosk in front of Skiathos harbour has free photocopies of bus timetables.Taxis ply the route between Skiathos Town and the airport. There is a taxi rank on the harbour front or you can flag a taxi down. Fares are regulated but drivers charge extra for going off the main road and there is an extra charge for phoning the taxi station. Water taxis are another popular travel option on Skiathos. They leave the old harbour in Skiathos Town every hour to Achladies bay, Kanapitsa beach and other popular beaches. The last one leaves for Achladies from Skiathos Town at 11.45 pm.
Whether you are an experienced diver, a beginner, or just a snorkeler, Greece has a seabed for you. Andy Cornish swims in one of the world's best aquatic park.
Mandraki is off the beaten track in the westernmost part of the island and cloaked in thick pine forest. Fortunately trails have been hacked through the forest to provide woodland walks.
One look will tell you why Koukounaries beach is voted one of the best in Greee with a kilometre long crescent of golden sand sweeping around the bay backed by a tree-lined lagoon.
Excursion boats on Skiathos leave the harbour daily throughout the summer holiday season to take visitors across the bay to the trio of islets at Tsougria,Tsougraki and Arkos.