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The many faces of Skiathos.

  • Submitted by: Will Robins, United Kingdom
  • Submission Date: 24th Sep 2006

Skiathos: a modern Chimera.

Here’s a familiar irony; that which is most beautiful is often spoilt by those who wish to share in its beauty. The small Aegean isle of Skiathos ought to be an ideal candidate for this sort of ruination: a mountain of greenery, sprinkled with a handful secluded monasteries and encircled by a ring of sandy beaches -eighty nine in all, although I cannot claim to have counted them personally- to which is attached that great tourist artery that is an airport.
Now I would be misleading you if I was to say that the considerable volume of beach bound travellers -the constitution of which I perceived as being an aggregate of largely English and Italian couples with a smattering of other euros- has not distorted what an Athenian classicist might call the ‘platonic form’ of the island: its pure and unadulterated existence as a remote, leafy oasis populated exclusively by fishermen and pious fishers-of-men. Indeed Skiathos is unmistakably touristy; for every boutique in the main town there are two gift shops which typically sell; T-shirts adorned with quirky -English- slogans, miniature pots with unidentified ancient looking characters and a plethora of calendars depicting more ancient Greeks in various sexual postures.
However, I must not be overly critical of Skiathos’ orientation towards the magnetic north of tourism. Indeed the island is a tourist magnet, but taken as a whole this is a label to be worn with pride; a stamp assuring quality and not a warning sign. I cannot speak enough Greek to order a Souvlaki, let alone tell my Omegas from my Omicrons, and so would have been utterly lost were it not for the willingness of guides, shop owners and restaurant workers to learn and speak English. Indeed, tourists are treated extremely well and, refreshingly, I did not detect that odd resentment that some small communities have towards the tourist swarms on which their livelihoods depend. Perhaps this is contributed to by the fact that most of those working in the typical tourist arenas have travelled to Skiathos from mainland Greece or Albania for summer work.
Skiathos does present a duality of sorts, a duality typified by the string of studio apartments/tavernas that snake along one side of the main road, and only bus route, which runs along the southern coast. On one side there are the ‘tavernas’ which all offer a confused mixture of English and Greek cuisine often accompanied by menus in equally confused English and the studios are fairly utilitarian but with a dash of Greek style. Look out of the other window of the bus, however, and you will be rewarded with an astonishingly beautiful blue sea rounded by a horizon of further islets.
On the one hand Skiathos’ natural assets such as it’s beaches and forestry are unspoilt, on the other hand it’s human assets by and large take the form of conveniences for the travelling Englishman. But they are very convenient.
For those who seek cultural authenticity, venturing off the beaten track is extremely rewarding. By hiring your own car or hiking one can venture further inland to discover around seven monasteries. In Skiathos town, it is also worth venturing off the main tourist street in to the old town to discover high end gift shops and superb dining. Without a doubt some of my fondest memories of my visit will be the warm evenings spent at a table on a cobbled street while tucking in to some fresh local fish.

The most popular activity on the Island is of course beach hopping. It only takes a trip down to the picturesque ‘old harbour’ in in the main town to find a boat that will take you to one of the many beautiful beaches inaccessible by land. Among the favourites are Koukounaries; a massive crescent of sand at the far end of the main road, Lalria; a beach composed entirely of sea-smoothed stones by virtue of which it becomes very hot and the water extremely clear, and ‘Banana’ which as you might guess is favoured by those who do not wish to be confined to their bathing suits.
However my personal favourite must be the beach nearest to my residence; Troulos beach. Troulos was modest in size compared to some but peaceful all the same. The beach supports one of the many water sports facilities, which have become fairly ubiquitous, but it appeared to be rarely used by beachgoers. However, I did enjoy hiring a kayak and paddling out to a large off shore rock where further rock pooling and snorkelling opportunities abounded. Trulos beach is also home to what became one of my favourite places to eat on holiday ever: the cheap and cheerful ‘snack shack’ a modest taverna which served fresh and carefully prepared dishes and which appeared to be owned and run by an old lady and her middle aged son.
My accommodation during my visit to Skiathos was the excellent Mythos Studios. Unlike most of the studio apartments that are visible from the main road -which invite anyone to drop in and spend some time by the pool and money in the bar- Mythos is tucked away behind a small hill and thus does not attract any passers by who are not already residents there. Moreover, the proprietor lives on site which is a comfort and a convenience. Rooms are cleaned daily, there is no visible insect presence and the pool is large and clean.
To anyone who has ever experience the pleasure of spending days on end by the sea or the pool with a good novel in their hands and the Sun on their backs, I cannot recommend Skiathos highly enough. Skiathos is a place where one must simply be. Restlessness does not sit well with the island’s ambiance, for the hyperactive it could only be either a torture or a cure. Nearly every other fellow traveller that I met was a repeat visitor and one man I spoke to had been coming on and off for fifteen years. If you are at all tired of the hurly burly of modern life, you would not do badly by setting off for this green and white isle.

Will Robins.