By Chaitali Patel
The very mention of Greece conjures up images of dazzling white buildings with blue windows and doors, clear bright blue skies, azure waters and flaming pink bougainvilleas. There’s unbounded romanticism, charm and luxury that is associated with the country. Economic upheavals don’t seem to have taken away any of the allure that Greece holds for travelers from across the globe.
With the twelfth largest coastline in the world and an astonishing six thousand islands of which only about 227 are inhabited, Greece can spoil any traveler for choice.
We began our Greek sojourn with a visit to Skiathos, belonging to the group of islands known as the Sporades off the North Eastern coast of the mainland in the Aegean Sea. A 45-minute flight from Athens, Skiathos is rapidly gaining popularity among visitors. The Hollywood musical Mamma Mia, adapted from the famous West End and Broadway musical of the same title, shot in the Sporades has helped put the spotlight on Skiathos.
Like most islands across Greece, Skiathos has a hilly landscape with a verdant cover of pine trees. While a paved road runs through a large part of the periphery of the island, most of the interior parts and the more hilly northern part is accessible only by dirt roads or by sea.
Spread along the harbor, the waterfront and an ancient clock tower are the two most significant landmarks of Skiathos. A steep climb up through the sleepy town on cobbled pathways takes you to the top of the clock tower and offers splendid views of the island. The waterfront is lined with numerous quaint cafes, bars and boutiques. As evening sets in and the lights and music come on, even the most jaded traveler cannot escape the infectious laidback party spirit that is so typical of island life.
On a clear sunny day, we set sail on our own little open-decked ferry to go and explore parts of the island that are not connected by the paved road. Our first pitstop was Lalaria beach. Straight out of the cover of a travel magazine, Lalaria is a strip of pebbled beach, flanked by jagged grey rocks and with a beautiful water-eroded stone arch at one end. Accessible only by sea and devoid of anyone else it felt like we had just discovered our own small piece of paradise.
Next on the itinerary was Kastro, the fortified medieval capital of the island. History goes that this 15th century castle was built by the locals to seek protection from pirates. Situated upon a cliff, the only way to access the castle was through a wooden drawbridge. Today, a short but steep climb up a narrow winding path strewn with pretty yellow flowers swaying in the gentle breeze will take you to the remnants of this ancient castle.
The mainland also has many noteworthy places to explore. Located 5 km from Skiathos town, the Monastery of Panagia Evangelistria, completed in 1806, is an important place of worship with a rich historical significance. Built on the slopes of a mountain and shrouded with a thick cover of pine and fir trees, the monastery played a vital role during the Greek Revolution, providing shelter to fighters and refugees. Today, the monastery has on display ancient texts, artifacts and an interesting olive press.
But being on an island there’s only a limited time that one can stay away from the beach! With pristine white sand, crystal clear blue waters and a pine forest that comes right down to the edge of the water, it comes as no surprise that Koukounaries beach is considered to be one of the finest in the Sporades. While quiet and peaceful during off season, come peak season and the beach is buzzing with activity, with numerous water sports options, bars and shacks.
One cannot go to Greece and not enjoy Grecian hospitality or food. A taverna is a great place to sample both. Commonly found across Greece, a taverna is a family owned and run restaurant that serves up a variety of Greek cuisine. With checked table cloths, generous portions of food and plenty of shots of Ouzo, Tavernas offer a fun atmosphere to enjoy a meal.
With its abundant natural beauty and sunkissed beaches, smiling and ever-welcoming locals, Skiathos quite unexpectedly turned out to be a perfect entree before we headed to dazzling Santorini.
Chaitali Patel is a freelance writer, researcher and producer in Mumbai. Read more stories at her blog, Off The Map
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