Chilled out sun in Skiathos

Slow down on the Greek island of Skiathos


If you can’t relax on Skiathos, it’s possible you’ve actually forgotten how to. Our days stretched ahead with the challenging question of which beach to visit, or whether to go to the pool instead? Should we take the day’s boat trip to neighbouring Skopelos, or hop on the water taxi to Skiathos Town?

With five days on the island, we managed the lot, and still came home feeling like we’d spent a month unwinding.

Tucked away near the Greek mainland, at the western edge of the Sporades, the bars are buzzing in August but outside peak season, it’s perfect for a low-key escape. Unlike some of the bigger islands, you won’t find ancient temples and archaeological sites to explore, but that’s all part of the charm, especially for families.

Low-key doesn’t mean a lack of luxury though. Our hotel, the five-star Elivi Skiathos, opened last summer on a forested point of land near Koukounaries in the south west.

With a new kids’ club for this year, a mix of rooms designed to suit couples — including some with their own slice of infinity pool — and spacious villa style options for families, there’s access to four beaches, two pools and three restaurants, as well as several bars and a small spa.

Staying in The Nest, as one half is known, our elegantly chic suite had its own little terrace with plunge pool and space for four to sleep. Black swan artwork, the hotel’s icon, adorned the walls while a sleek rolltop bath stood in one corner of the main bedroom, along with the room’s two bathrooms.

Staying early in the season, The Nest restaurant nearby hadn’t opened, but if you don’t fancy the five minute walk over to the other side of the resort, little golf buggies shuttle to and fro. With the impressive spread on offer at breakfast, including a gigantic stack of pancakes which entirely defeated my daughter, every step counted.

Especially as our days tended to revolve around the hugely comfy loungers on the beach. With their extra-thick cushions, it felt faintly like we’d transferred the princess and the pea to the seaside.

With four of the island’s 60 beaches attached to the hotel, there’s certainly choice enough for even the pickiest princess, especially with more staff on hand to bring towels and cool drinks.

Closest to our suite, only the occasional parascender and my daughter’s enthusiastic paddling disrupted the peace of Banana Beach. Around the corner lies beach number two, Little Banana Beach — although it’s worth knowing this is one of Skiathos’s nudist beaches before you settle back for the day.

On the opposite site, little Ampelakia beach was even quieter, while down the wooden stairs through the pines is one of the biggest: Koukounaries beach with its string of bars.

For a slightly more energetic walk, we ventured down the hill into Koukounaries itself, one long row of tavernas for those nights when we wanted a relaxed alternative to the hotel’s restaurants: fine dining at Leda and the Swan, or the Asian fusion of Hagoromo, with some of the best sashimi I’ve ever tasted.

Everything revolves around the water here, right down to the most tempting way to get around. From the end of May, a water taxi speeds the 20 minutes from Koukounaries beach to Skiathos Town half a dozen times a day. Stopping in the capital’s old port, with the white buildings rising up the hillside, it beats the island’s bus or hiring a car hands down.

Unlike many Greek islands, there’s little Jewish history to discover here but the quiet twisting alleys hide some fascinating stories. Little museum Skiathitiko Spiti was once a family home: frozen in time from the early 20th century, where a fourth and fifth generation descendant show visitors around.

A gramophone from 1910 sat opposite a 1920s radio, still working today and brought to the island via Boston where one family member briefly emigrated.

Dresses and carpets in the island’s traditional burgundy decorate the living room, while in the bedroom, a bride’s wedding chest sits at the end of the bed and a traditional loom occupies another corner nearby.

Family keepsakes fill display cases alongside wartime memorabilia, including a letter of commendation from the British to one former inhabitant for his help to the Allied forces.

Elsewhere hangs the portrait of King George I of Greece which, according to family legend, saved this house from being burned during the Nazi occupation. German soldiers, seeing the picture of the German-born former Greek monarch, saluted and moved on.

Today the town’s little maze of streets is lined with tavernas and bars, as well as souvenir and jewellery shops at every turn. In the ruins of the Bourtzi fortress by the harbour, you’ll find an art gallery too — to explore the island’s castle, the Kastro, you have to head to the north coast where locals fled in the 14th century to escape pirates.

Close to Lalaria beach, one of the island’s best, it’s not surprising they stayed for several centuries.

Climb up to the island’s clocktower by Agios Nikolaos church and you’ll also pass the home of Skiathos’s most famous son, novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis, now converted into a museum.

Then catch your breath over views of the red tiled roofs stretching down to the sea and Skopelos shimmering on the horizon beyond the smaller uninhabited islands of the bay.

Only a dozen miles away, it’s easy to take a jaunt across to Skiathos’s bigger sister. Hopping on board our boat trip from Diamanti Sailing, with Captain Babis at the helm (when not liberally pouring white wine for us), we had the emerald waters of the west coast in our sights.

Passing Skopelos’s Mamma Mia beach, which appeared in the hit film, we roused ourselves from the beanbags and cushions on the sundeck to swim to another tiny beach, a sunbleached tree lying on the sand, before snorkelling into a little sea cave where tiny silver and black fish flitted past the sea urchin encrusted rocks — there are floats and snorkels on board to borrow.

Rewarded with taramasalata and tzatziki as well as fish pasta, the day had one final treat as a pod of wild dolphins appeared, circling the boat playfully diving underneath, then leaping joyfully through the water in one final synchronised flourish before speeding off through the Aegean.

When every day revolves around sun, swimming and food, who wouldn’t feel just as content?


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