Skiathos Travel Guide
Skiathos may be the smallest of the Sporades complex of islands, but it is certainly the most popular and cosmopolitan island of the complex due to its vivid atmosphere and amazing nightlife. Nevertheless, the island has managed to keep its authenticity, being picturesque with narrow streets made of stone slabs, lush green nature with pine forests and olive trees that extend to the beaches, abundant water and beautiful crystal clear azure waters in the sea. It is not by chance that back in the '70s the Greek Tourism Organisation used for its campaign one of Skiathos' beaches, the famous Lalaria with the white round pebbles and the turquoise waters, to lure generations of tourists to Greece - the same way that the Navagio (Shipwreck) beach of Zakynthos is used these days. After the famous movie "Mamma Mia" in 2008 which was filmed in Skiathos and Skopelos, the number of tourists was skyrocketed, but Skiathos' inhabitants, having lots of tourists from back in the '60s, managed to keep the island "unspoilt". Thus, today Skiathos is perfect not only for youths who want to stay on the beach all day and party all night and for travellers in yachts and sailsboats who cruise in the Aegean Sea, but also for families and for those who want to reconnect with nature on their holidays. Colourful cultural events, concerts and art exhibitions held throughout the summer add a special touch to holidays on the island.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Skiathos is a small Greek island of the north-west Aegean Sea and it belongs to the Sporades complex of islands, which consists of 24 islands only four of which are inhabited - Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros. Skiathos island is the westernmost island of the Sporades, having the Pelion peninsula in Magnesia on the mainland of Greece in the west and Skopelos in the east. It is about 12 km long and 6 km wide on average, covering a surface of 48 km², and has a population of approximately 6.200 people.
The Municipality of Skiathos includes the islets of Tsougria, Tsougriaki, Maragos, Arkos, Troulonisi and Aspronisi, covering totally an area of 49.898 km2. These islets are scattered a few kilometres off the southeast coastline and are clearly visible from Chora and the beaches. The island of Skopelos, being only 6 nautical miles away, is visible from Skiathos with the more distant islands of Evia and Skyros being visible under very clear weather conditions.
The coastline is indented with inlets, capes and peninsulas. The southeast and southwest parts of the island have gentler slopes and that is where most settlements and facilities are located. The terrain is more rugged on the north coast, with the highest peak at 433 m. on mount Karafiltzanaka. Skiathos has over 60 beaches, most of which are sandy, and sea caves, such as Pounta, Fonissa and Altanous, which can be discovered by boat. The major settlement on the island is the town of Skiathos, Chora, while all the other settlements - Xanemos, Kalyvia, Troulos and Koukounaries - are holiday settlements.
Skiathos has two small lagoons, Agios Georgios, near Chora and Strofylia, near Koukounaries beach.
Agios Georgios lagoon, located 1.8 km northeast of Chora, is protected by the International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUCN). It is included in the national inventory under the code GR143135000 and named "Lagoon of Ag. Georgiou" and the WWF Hellas census for the Aegean wetlands. It is a lagoon with two interconnections with the sea in the past and one today, in the northern part of which were sweetened fresh waters underground and superficial. In the strip separating the lake from the sea there is a small yard installed for hundreds of years. Although seafood is entering, no fishing is made there. As the wetland is surrounded by streets and scattered construction, fresh water inflows have been reduced.
The lagoon of Strofilia is a rare wetland which creates a wonderful scenery in the southwestern part of Skiathos with rare migrating birds choosing the place to rest during their voyage. It has been declared a protected area due to its enormous ecological value. Strofilia communicates with a natural channel with the sea and is encircled by a lush pine forest, covering a surface of 9.5 acres. The famous long, sandy beach Koukounaries, ranked 7th in the world and 3rd in the Mediterranean, is right at the end of the forest, with the needles of the pine trees basically “touching” the water and offering unique natural shade.
Apart from the Stone Pine forest at the Koukounaries location, much of the island is wooded with Aleppo Pine. The island's forests are concentrated on the southwest and northern parts, but the presence of pine trees is prevalent throughout the island. Moreover, the island has fig, olive, plum, and almond trees, as well as grapes.
The climate of Skiathos is Mediterranean, with mild winters and warm, sunny summers - not as hot as the Cyclades islands due to its position near Pelion and the green nature it has.
HISTORY OF SKIATHOS
The name “Skiathos” was given to the island in the pre-Hellenic period. There are two alternatives about the origin of the name. According to the first, the name was given by the Pelasgians, a pre-hellenic tribe that came down from Thrace. The Pelasgians, who were the first inhabitants of the island, were impressed by the great shadow ("skia" in Greek) of the many trees they found there. According to the other version, the island took its name after Dionysus, the main god on the island, as his cult name was “Skianthos”. After its first settlers, Skiathos was inhabited by Cretans and then by Mycenaeans.
Later on, the island was inhabited by the Chalcedeans. These were Ionians who came to Skiathos during the period of their colonizing activities from the 8th century on. They seem to have arrived on the island during the 7th or 6th century, on their way to found colonies in Chalkidiki (Macedonia). They built their town on the southeastern side of the harbor, on a height, where it could command a view and control the large bay and the inner double harbor.
The town was encircled by a wall of square marble blocks, large and rough-hewn, and communicated with the inland and the port by two gates. This town survived all through the Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods, until the medieval town, the Kastro (fortress) was built on the northern side of the island.
Skiathos reappears on the historical scene during the Persian wars. As the historian Herodotus tells us, in 480 B.C., when the Persian fleet was sailing down from Thessaloniki, the Greeks awaiting it at Artemission in Evia, were warned by lighted torches on Skiathos. When the 1st Athenian Alliance - known as the Delian Alliance - was founded in 478- 487 B.C., Skiathos took the side of the Athenians.
From the "taxation lists", still preserved in attic inscriptions, it is understood that allied towns were divided into regions for tax-collecting purposes and Skiathos was included in the Thracian region paying 1.000 drachmas per year - a very small sum, which indicates that it was a poor island at the time.
During that period of the Athenian Alliance, Skiathos had its own democratic and autonomous administration, as all the other allied cities did, which means that it had its own "Vouli" (administrative/legislative council), its citizens' assembly ("Ecclesia tou Dimou"), and an "eponymous archon" (member of the executive in office for a year, whose name was used to designate that year). In the end, however, the alliance developed into an hegemony with the Athenians exercising dominance over their allies and an authoritarian form of government.
At the end of the Peloponnesian war in 404 B.C., when the Athenians were defeated by the Spartans, Skiathos came under the rule of Sparta and its system of government became that of an oligarchy. In 386 B.C. during the Antalcidean or Basilean peace, in accordance with which all the islands with the exception of Limnos, Imbros and Skyros where the Athenians allotted holdings to settlers - were granted their autonomy, Skiathos, too, was officially declared independent. The Spartans, however, violated the peace treaty and soon seized Skiathos again, together with other islands, where they left a garrison and imposed heavy taxes.
In 378 /377 B.C., Athens established the 2nd Athenian Alliance, a genuinely defensive alliance this time, with the aim of opposing the expansionist intentions of the Spartans. Skiathos once again ranged itself with Athens, following the campaign of general Chabrias in Evia and the Northern Sporades in 377 B.C. Skiathos remained in the 2nd Athenian Alliance with its autonomy and democratic institutions, approximately 40 years.
It seems that during this period, the island's financial situation improved so much that it was able, towards the middle of the 4th century B.C., to mint bronze coins with the head of Hermes on one side and his caduceus (staff) with the word "SKIATHI" in the other. Later, the island was used by the Athenians as a naval port and a base for its expeditions against Philip II of Macedonia.
In 338 B.C., after the battle of Chaeronea, which virtually brought to an end the independence of the southern Greekstates and marked the beginning of Macedonian domination, Skiathos came under Macedonian rule. The Macedonians established an oligarchic system of government in Skiathos and the island remained undisturbed for many years. Historically, it emerges again from the time of Philip V (238-279 B.C.), the Macedonian king who was, at that time, at war with the Romans. This was a troubled period for the island, as the surrounding areas became scenes of battle.
When the 2nd Macedonian war began, in 200/199 B.C., Philip ordered Skiathos and Skopelos to be destroyed to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy fleet and being used against him. And indeed, in the same year, the Roman fleet, together with that of Attalus I of Pergamum, who was an ally of Rome, arrived on the island, and plundered whatever was left after Philip's raid.
Despite the great extent of the destruction, the town quickly recovered and, following Philip's defeat at Kynos Kephales in 197 B.C., democracy was again restored. When the Macedonian Kingdom was overthrown in 168 B.C., the Romans granted a degree of freedom to the Greek cities and states. However, in 146 B.C. the whole of Greece was subjugated by the Romans and Skiathos followed the fate of the rest of the country.
In 42 B.C., after the battle of Philippi the victor, Antony, handed over Skiathos along with some other islands to the Athenians, as a token of gratitude for their friendly attitude towards him. Skiathos thus re-established its democratic regime, along with the Athenians, and retained it well into the years following the birth of Christ.
During the first years of the Byzantine period Skiathos belonged administratively to the province of Thessaly, which constituted part of a Macedonian military district. With the propagation of Christianity on the island an episcopate (a bishopric) was created under the Metropolitan Bishop of Larissa. In 758 A.D., during the reign of Constantine Copronymus, the Byzantine fleet, on their way to help Thessaloniki, which was supposed to be attacked by the Bulgarians and the Slavs, anchored at Skiathos' harbor.
During the 7th century A.D., Skiathos suffered much from Saracen pirate raids in the Aegean. Following the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Franks in 1204 and the concession of the Aegean islands to the Venetians, Skiathos, Skopelos along with some of the Cyclades islands were taken over by the brothers Andrea and Jeremia Ghisi, Venetian merchants.
The Ghisi brothers granted Skiathos self-government and several privileges, which are listed in the well-known "Capitula Sciati et Scopuli" and which were still in effect during the 2nd period of Venetian rule. However, they abolished the Orthodox episcopate. They built a new fortress called Bourtzi in the great harbor to have as their residence and for the security of the town. The Ghisi brothers ruled the islands until 1259 and their successors continued for 17 more years, until 1276, when the Byzantine fleet drove them out of the N. Sporades.
Skiathos remained within the Byzantine state until 1453. However, the Byzantine rule was rather nominal, since the pirate raids that plagued the Aegean at that time did not allow Constantinople to make its presence effectively felt on the islands it had reclaimed. Therefore, in the mid 14th century, the people of Skiathos, desperate from the continuous raids on the island from pirates and Turks, abandoned their coastal town and built a new, safer one, the Kastro ("fortress") on the northern side of the island, on a steep rock which constituted a natural fortress.
When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the people of Skiathos, trying to find a powerful protection against the Turks, preferred the Venetian to the Turkish rule. Therefore, they asked the Venetians to take over the island on two conditions: that they would keep the privileges that the Ghisi brothers had given the island and that the Orthodox bishop would remain there. Their conditions were granted and, thus, the second period of Venetian rule began in Skiathos, lasting until 1538.
Life on the island, however, didn't get any better. The pirate raids continued and the Venetian rules were so harsh, that when, in 1538, the fortress was besieged by Barbarossa, some of the inhabitants didn't hesitate to surrender it to him, in order to rid themselves of the tyranny of the Venetians.
The Turkish domination of Skiathos began in 1538, but officially in 1540, when the Turco-Venetian peace treaty was signed. During this period the island was ruled by a Turkish governor, the voivode, who was assisted by the elders of the town - one or two initially, but later more - who were elected each year. Skiathos, along with the other Aegean islands, belonged to Kapoudan Pasha, the Admiral of the Turkish fleet. Every year the residents paid a sum of money as a tax, the "haracci". There was also a Kadis on the island for the court cases, Agas for the administrative ones, and Zambitis for the taxes. The Skiathians, like all the islanders in general, were obliged to serve in the Turkish fleet for some time. Later, this compulsory military service on the Turkish navy was converted into a financial contribution, called "melaheeka". However, in the years before the Greek War of Independence, the compulsory embarkment was brought into effect again.
In 1660, the Venetian admiral Francesco Morosini seized the Kastro and Venetian rule was re-established for the third time. Not for long, however, as the Turks soon took the Kastro again. Thus, their domination continued until the beginning of the Greek War of Independence. The Turkish population of Skiathos gradually dwindled.
The office of Voivode was bought by the locals and there were often no other Turkish officials on the island. Therefore, their functions were performed by the elders, who gradually acquired more rights. The inhabitants, however, continued to suffer pirate raids which still harried them relentlessly.
In spite of their difficulties, the islanders did not lose their interest in navigation. From the beginning of the 18th century, the inhabitants of Skiathos began to build small ships and carry on transportation and commerce with the surrounding areas. Later on, they managed to sail as far as Egypt and the Black Sea on larger ships. The longing for freedom, however, was still alive in their hearts. As a result, in 1770, they took part in the victorious sea battle of Chesme, alongside the Russian admiral Alexis Orlov, and soon afterwards they contributed to the legendary sea-captain Lambros Katsonis, who was active against the Turks at the time, with men and ships. In later years (1805-1816) Skiathos effectively helped the chieftains of Mt. Olympus, Giannis Stathas and Nikotsaras, who, after Orlov's revolt had been quashed, continued the fight against the Turks with raids on Turkish shores and attacks on Turkish ships.
An act of great importance both for the island and all Greece was the creation and raising of the first official Greek flag in September 1807, at the holy convent of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (Monastery of Evagelistria) in Skiathos.
In spite of the fact that it was far from the entre of military operations and thus an easy prey for the Turkish fleet, Skiathos soon joined the ranks of those fighting for Independence. At that time, it possessed a good number of fully equipped ships, with trained and experienced crews, from the previous sea battles in which they had taken part up until 1816 with the Olympus chieftains. The ships from Skiathos contributed greatly to the War of Independence.
At that time many people who had to flee from their homelands when the revolutionary efforts failed, found refuge in Skiathos. An estimated 30,000 refugees from the Pelion villages, from Mt. Olympus, Euboea and Epirus arrived on the island. This influx of population in such a restricted and small space caused problems, as shelter and food became scarce. Many of the people were armed, and it was not long before fighting broke out and anarchy began to reign. The island was plagued for years by violence and looting, the main offenders being men of Albanian descent ("Liapides") who remained on Skiathos even when most of the refugees had returned to their homelands or settled in safer areas. In 1823 the Turks tried to take over the island again, but were utterly defeated.
In 1829, after the signing of the Protocol of London, on which the founding of the Greek state - which, however, remained tributary to the Sultan - was based, the inhabitants of Skiathos abandoned the Kastro and resettled along the harbor, where the ancient town had stood.
In 1919, Greeks from Asia Minor, from the village of Agia Paraskevi of Cesme (Smirni) specifically, found refuge on Skiathos as they faced persecution by the Turks. When Turkish brutalities ceased - for a very short period, as it would be proven - they re-emerged in Asia Minor. After the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922, the same families settled permanently on the island, first of all because they had known the place from their previous settlement in 1919, but also because it reminded them of their coastal homeland in Asia Minor. Thus, the island was enriched in terms of population, culture and economics.
ACTIVITIES - LEISURE
From its deep green trees to its rockin’ bars and restaurants, Skiathos invites visitors to take part in its distinctive and spirited vibe. Perfect for those who demand high standards, it has long been a premier destination for cosmopolitan, international travellers, particularly those on yachts and sailboats cruising in the Aegean Sea. Whether one wants to hide oneself away from the crowds or do water-sports and then dance until he or she drops – and then wake up and do it all over again –, Skiathos is a real treat for visitors.
Skiathos Town, Chora
The island has only one big settlement, Skiathos Town, called "Chora" - as in many of the Greek islands where the capital town has the same name with the island - which is also the island's harbour. The settlement is built amphitheatrically on the southeastern tip of the island in a windless bay which separates the island of Bourtzi in two. It is composed by whitewashed houses with red tiled roofs, and narrow alleys. Chora is cosmopolitan with excellent tourist facilites. The pedestrianised street by the Old Harbour is the ultimate hotspot for entertainment. Buzzing bars and clubs keep youngsters rocking through the night and until the early morning. The party continues in the area of Ammoudia (on the road to the airport) where entertainment addicts celebrate in big open air clubs. Two yacht harbours front the place and, where yachts go, gourmet restaurants, members-only bars and boutiques follow. The commercial port is separated from the old one by the little peninsula of Bourtzi, covered with verdant pine trees. The old port is still picturesque, despite of the high tourism and it is a pleasant place for a walk, boarded with little fishing boats.
The local traditional architecture of Skiathos doesn't have a strict island character, but instead it is a combination of some village in Pelio and an island village, with neoclassical elements. Certainly, all these elements are influenced by the mentality, the preferences and the needs of the local people. The houses are small in their majority, built close to each other and with two floors. They are built of stone, while their external walls are whitewashed. There are mainly two types of houses, rural and manor houses. On Skiathos nowadays, the narrow streets are mostly traced by chance, they are picturesque and made of stone slabs. These slabs are placed vertically on the ground in herring-bone pattern to ease the flow of rainwater away and to make their structure more stable. In the places where the streets are very narrow and crooked, the corners of the houses are cut in such a way so that walking through them is facilitated. There are small squares in various spots inside Chora, made either by chance or to emphasize something such as churches, fountains or other similar constructions.
Entering the port, visitors are welcomed by Bourtzi: a pine-wood islet that is home to the ruins of a Venetian fortress, built in the 13th century. Across the way, Skiathos’ Chora rises up from the shore like an amphitheatre, with its cluster of homes with blossom-red rooftops.
Bourtzi is a tiny peninsula that divides the Skiathos port into two distinct parts. It used to be a fortress, which was built by the Gizi brothers who ruled over Skiathos back in 1207. Bourtzi was bordered by impregnable walls and there were two towers located to the left and right of the main gate. Presently, it is not feasible to establish the height of the parapet from the ruins. Archaeologists are of the opinion that inside the fort there used to be a small church, the church of Agios Georgios, who was the guardian deity of the Venetians. The church was in all probability built by the Gizi brothers. Due to the presence of that church, Bourtzi was popularly referred to as the "Kastelli tou Agiou Georgiou" (Castle of Saint George). The impregnable fortress was ruined in 1660 with the occupation of the island by admiral Francesco Morozini. In the year 1823, the inhabitants of the island were able to drive away Topal Pasha. After the deliverance, the foremost Lazaret of the island started functioning in Bourtzi. In 1906, a school was built in the middle of the peninsula, which was funded by Andreas Syngros. The bust of Alexandros Papadiamantis that is positioned at the entrance of the school has been in place ever since its inception in 1925. In the present times, Bourtzi is a popular place for rest and recreation. The entire neighborhood is replete with stately pine trees and offers breathtaking views of the surroundings. There are numerous sites where one can still see the vestiges of the past. The primary school presently serves as a gorgeous cultural center. Inside the premises, there are exclusive conference rooms, a municipal cafe where special nights are held and also a marvelous summer theatre which hosts theatre and musical performances every year.
Moreover, visitors shouldn't pass up the chance to visit the small peninsula of Bourtzi with its lush vegetation and the ruins of the Venetian fortress, for an extra reason: it is one of the most romantic spots on Skiathos thanks to its densely planted pine trees and stunning views of the archipelago.
Maritime and Culture Tradition Museum
The former school on Bourtzi Islet houses a one-room local history museum. Staff will point out exhibits, which are signed in Greek and consist mostly of 20th-century paraphernalia relating to shipbuilding and navigation. The open-air theatre behind the museum is used for summer concerts.
Papadiamantis House Museum
Skiathos was the birthplace of the famous 19th-century Greek novelist and short-story writer Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911), who is looked on as the father of modern Greek literature, and whose writings draw upon the hard lives of the islanders he grew up with. His plain whitewashed 1860 house, built by the author's father who was a priest, is now a small and charming museum dedicated to the writer's life and work, as it was declared as a preserved monument by the Greek Ministry of Culture. The first floor is preserved as the house of Alexandros Papadiamantis with the original furniture and objects whereas the ground floor, used by the family as a storage room, works as an exhibition room and has an impressive collection of manuscripts, books and paintings. It is located at a small and narrow alley within a short walking distance from the port. The house is a typical example of the local architecture, one of the few that reflect the traditional style and character of the island.
The ascetic life of Papadiamantis has left behind nothing more but a few personal things that witness the humble spirit and strong religious faith. Alexandros Papadiamantis is among the most notable Greek writers and literary figures. He used to write ethnographic novels and narrative stories which are considered as masterpieces of contemporary Greek literature. Born in Skiathos in 1851, Papadiamantis expressed his love for religion from an early age. As a result, he adopted an extreme ascetic lifestyle that made him live in poverty with just a little money in his pockets, enough to provide him the basic needs. However, due to this hard and traditional Orthodox way of living, his health was deeply damaged leading to his premature death in 1911. The writer's novels reflect his high spiritual dimension and theological visions. Some of his most famous novels are "The Murderess", set on Skiathos, "The Gypsy Girl", "The Emigrant" and "The Merchants of Nations".
The famous author is commemorated on the island with special celebrations every year on 3-4 January and on the 4th of March.
Moni Evangelistrias (The holy convent of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary)
The Holy Communal Monastery dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin, Moni Evangelistrias is located deep in the Lekhounio gorge beside the springs of Agalianos and under Karaphlytzanakia, the highest peak on Skiathos, immersed in the greenery. The construction of the monastery started in 1794 by a group of kollyvades monks, who had been forced to leave the Holy Mount of Athos in the face of disturbances, resulting from disputes over the celebration of Canonical Requiem Masses on Saturdays rather than Sundays. The objective was to return to the tradition of the Ancient Orthodox Church.
The group leader was Niphon, an Ordained Monk, whose worldly name was Nicholas, born in 1736 in Chios. After serving in the Monastery of the Greatest Banner and the retreat of the Omnipotent on the Holy Mount of Athos, he went to Samos, Patmos, Leipsi and Ikaria where, in 1775, he founded the monastery of the Annunciation at Lefkada. Amongst the monks at the Monastery of the Annunciation was also Gregorios Chatzistamatis, a Skiathian, who, upon the death of his father, inherited extensive property on Skiathos. Possessing this large estate Gregorios persuaded Niphon to move to the green island of Skiathos and establish a new monastery, abandoning Ikaria "for the all-pervading barrenness and unwholesomeness of the place".
The construction of the monastery complex on Skiathos was completed in 1806 and it became the epicenter of the kollyvades, both during the disputation and in the following years. The kollyvades spirit has profoundly influenced the life of the Skiathian islanders, as well as that of Alexandros Papadiamantis and the other Skiathian author's, Alexandros Moraitidis. After Father Niphon, first abbot and founder of the monastery, passed away at the age of 73 in 1809, Gregorios Chatzistamatis, second abbot and cofounder, took his place. From that day until today, there have been 30 other abbots, the last of-whom is the present abbot, Father Angelos Lyssaris.
The Monastery of the Annunciation provided significant moral and material assistance to the pre-revolutionary movements, as well as during the revolution of Independence in 1821. It was there that, in 1807, the first Greek flag with the white Cross at its center on a blue ground was designed, woven, blessed and raised. It was on this flag that Father Niphon swore in the guerrilla leaders Theodore Kolokotronis, Andreas Miaoulis, Papathymios Vlakhavas, Iannis Stathas, Nikotsaras, the Skiathian Teacher of the Nation, Epiphanios - Stephanos Dimitriadis and many others following the great assembly held at the monastery to lay out plans to liberate the Greek Nation.
The plan view of the Monastery has a rectangular shape measuring 60 meters by 38. The principal Church of the Monastery is situated at the center of the complex, laid out in cruciform shape 20 by 8 meters in the three-niche Byzantine style with a nave and transept. It is covered by three domes sheathed with grey shale stone. The floor is covered with Maltese slabs and tiles in various arrangements. The carved wooden iconostasis and the fine portable icons dating from the 17th and 18th centuries are impressive. The uplift of the domes, iconostasis and the whole church in general evoke awe and reverence, impressing and enchanting the pilgrim. The nave was decorated by hagiographers in 1822 and it is the only nave decorated by hagiographers from Galatista in Khalkidiki. The remainder of the Church is without plaster. The materials and the uniquely astounding manner in which the church and the other buildings of the monastery have been constructed show that it was the work of experienced, highly skilled craftsmen with high spirits and a yearning for perfection, according to plan and the rules of the art with nothing ad hoc. In the monastery one can still find the cells, dining hall, infirmary, guest house, kitchen, bakery, olive press, library, as well as the chapels of St. John and St. Demetrios, the store rooms, stables, cisterns and tanks. he high kitchen chimney stack, the imposing pylon with the entrance, the passageway and the dining hall which demonstrate the magnificence of the edifice make a great impression too.
A large number of holy relics are in the custody of the monastery of the Annunciation, a true treasure which is truly admirable. In the principal church of the monastery the Holy remains of the following Saints are kept: Haralambos, Pantelemon, Paraskevi, Dionysos the Areopagite, John Chrysostomos, Athanasios the Great, Euthymios, Theodore the Warrior, Polykarpos of Smyrna, Tryphon, Constantine of Hydra, Niphon of Constantinople, Theoktisti, Polydoros, Kosmas the Anargyros, Matrona of Chiopolis, Georgios of Ephessos, Demetrios of the Peloponese, Theodore of Byzantium, Jacob the Persian, John the Hermit, and the (co-) martyr Holy Fathers and many other Saints. Many of these were given to the Monastery by Admiral Lazarus Koundouriotis in recognition of the great contribution of the Monastery to the liberation of the Greek nation.
Moreover, in the library there are lead patriarchs' seals, signets and letters, manuscripts of the last five centuries, printed books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, letters by Saint Nicodemos of the Mount Athos, of Constantine Oikonomos, Theophilos Kairis and many others. The relics that have been saved, are kept in the vestry: silver chalices, trays, bread baskets, tongs, silver and wooden blessing crosses, cherubims and a handwritten and handbound Gospel of exceptional artistry with gold, silver and precious stones dating from 1785, two other testaments bound in 1785, incense and myrrh holders from 1755, epitaph (arks), chalices, candle holders etc. Moreover, in the vestry of the Principal Church there is a large number of portable icons from the 9th, 12th and from the 16th to the 19th centuries including the "un-withering rose", St John the Baptist, the ascension of the Mother of God, the Omnipotent, St. George, St Theoktisti, St. George of Ioannina, The Three Hierarchs, St. Atrhanasios of Athos and many more. Apart from the above, in the old olive press of the Monastery, where now stands a Folklore Museum, one can see many domestic implements, like farming and building tools such as plows, weighing scales, hand-grinders, scythes, looms etc.
Nowadays, the Monastery is visited by many locals in every Mass and on Good Saturday at Easter the resurrection is celebrated with the Holy Flame arriving from Jerusalem a few hours earlier by a private jet chartered by the ship owner Andreas Potamianos.
Another custom found in very few places in Greece is on August 15. More specifically, on the eve of the Holy Feast (which is the evening before the 15 August), the Epitaph of the Virgin is brought out in an atmosphere of unique devotion with the melodic praise of the Mother of God sung by the Skiathians altogether.
Another project running in the Monastery is the creation of a model vineyard for production of the famous Alypiakos wine which had stopped being produced for about 150 years. The name of the wine, "Alypiakos" is owed to Father Alypos, fourth Abbot of the Monastery. Alypiakos wine, as claimed by Alexandros Papadiamantis in his tale "The Black Ignoramuses", was "suitable to relieve the sadness and worries of this world". An adequate quantity of this wine, covering the needs of the Monastery and the wine-tasting made by multitude of pilgrims and friends, is produced. The new projects of the Monastery will have to do with the preparation of traditional confections, honey, tsipouro , bottling of olive oil production etc.
Perched dramatically on a rocky headland above the north coast, Kastro was the fortified pirate-proof capital of the island from 1540 to 1829 and that is the reason for its strategic position. Moreover, in the past, the narrow drawbridge served as the only link with the island.
At the height of its prosperity, Kastro had all of 300 dwelling units and 22 elegant churches. Presently, there are four restored churches that stand out as mute testimony of the Fortress's glorious past. Kastro's mystical allure is captivating. An old cannon remains at the northern end, a few finely restored houses, as well as remnants and vestiges of other churches can be found in and around the place. In the charming churches one can admire the art and the fine frescoes, including the murals depicting the Nativity of Christ and the ceramics of St Nicholas. Other enduring tourist attractions of the Kastro neighborhood are the impregnable town walls, the trademark drawbridge, the Turkish baths, all of which make a visit to Kastro a memorable experience.
Although also accessible by land with a jeep, a great way to arrive at the beautiful, isolated Kastro (Fortress) is by boat. Tours leave from Chora's old port daily to the beach below Kastro, from where it's a hike up to the ruins of the main Kastro. Although the path is a bit steep, it is definitely a rewarding experience. On the way up there is a charming little church on that will make visitors spellbound. Anybody who takes the trouble of climbing to the summit is assured of breathtaking panoramic view. From the summit of the cliff, one can view the mainland, as well as the northern part of Skopelos. The view down to the picturesque beach is absolutely breathtaking. For the very adventurous ones, there is also a hiking path to the Castle, but it is definitely not for the faint-hearted, as it is a rather arduous task and takes almost 3 hours to reach.
Monastery of Panagia Eikonistria or Kounistra
The Monastery of Panagia Eikonistria or Kounistra is located 13 km west of Chora and only 2 km of the road leading to the beach Aselinos. From Troulos, a road winds 4 km inland to the serene Monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is the most sacred place of Skiathos, since according to local tradition, in 1650 the image of the Virgin Mary was found nearby by a monk, hanging from a pine tree and was swinging. Therefore, they called it "Kounistra" («the swinging one»). The icon is very old and is supposedly very miraculous. It is stored all time in the Holy Trinity in Chora and returns with all festivities to the monastery on every 21st November. During the Ottoman rule the monastery was a school. It is worth a visit for the fine frescoes adorning its katholikon (church), which is a basilica of one aisle with a dome, built in the 17th century.
Hiking and Mountain-biking
Nature lovers will be thrilled by the 25 well signposted walking routes and trails of 197 km long, which pass through some of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of the island. Depending on your stamina, you can go on walks which last from one to six hours, from easy to slightly difficult. Follow the routes and discover the pristine interior of the island, the past historic sites or fabulous secluded spots with amazing views of the Aegean.
A suggested route to explore the beauties of the island starts from Assélinos and goes past Kounistra Monastery, Small Assélinos Beach and Alygariés Beach ending at Kehriá Beach. The routes Ayia Eleni to Krifi Ammos and Madraki-Elia-Agkistro for discovering excellent beaches of unique beauty.
There are also parallel routes for Mountain-biking. The ideal hiking months are April, May, September and October, when one can enjoy oneself in the abundant nature of Skiathos, in a natural environment full of flowers and herbs that will enrapture everyone with their fragrances. There is also a special book at the hikers and mountain-bikers disposal for that purpose, called "Island and Wandering Guide with a Map of Skiathos", having all wandering paths marked and described in detail. The book is available in all bookshops, hotels and room rentals etc. on Skiathos.
Water-sports - Scuba Diving - Free Diving - Snorkelling
Water-sports fans will be thrilled on Skiathos, since they can do watersports, dive or sail on most beaches. Two of the diving centers of the island are in Koukounaries Beach (for more info, please check: www.skiathosdiving.gr) and in Tzaneria Beach (www.ddiving.gr).
Boat Tours (round of the island of Skiathos, Lalaria - Sea caves - Tsougrias - Skopelos)
It is really worth to have a boat excursion around the island.
Apart from the famous beach Lalaria, which is one of the most photographed beaches in Greece and it is only accessible by boat, visitors can also visit the famous sea caves of Skiathos, such as Pounta, Fonissa and Altanous. Two beautiful sea caves close to the beach of Lalaria are Skotini and Galazia. Skotini spilia (dark cave) is the legendary sea cave characterized by its low and narrow entrance where only a boat can pass through. It is about 20 meters deep and it's really dark. Galazia spilia (blue cave) is bigger in size as compared to Skotini cave. Its breathtaking reflections on the rocks and its rare beauty are quite mesmerizing. These two caves are regarded as nature's most remarkable creations and are among the most beautiful sights of Skiathos that should not be missed. They are both accessible by boat (there are tours available). Tourists find these caves irresistible and they are much preferred by the swimmers and divers who enjoy the underground landscape.
Another amazing spot one can visit by a tour is Tsougrias, the small island opposite the harbor of Skiathos, which is not inhabited. There are small boats that take visitors to the beaches there daily. The picture one will face there is purely exotic, since it reminds an untrodden and complete unspoilt island. The sandy beaches are quite large in width, thus giving waters of a white color.
Boat excursions also take visitors on daily trips to Skopelos and Alonissos, islands that are close to Skiathos.
Visitors should check out where each boat tour is taking visitors, since it is possible to find one boat tour that visits most of these spots in a daily cruise.
BEST BEACHES OF SKIATHOS
Skiathos island, although small, is blessed with more than 60 superb beaches, most of which are sandy, but also pebbly ones (like the stunning Lalaria) and for all tastes, from organised ones with watersports and parties to secluded, partly or not organised ones.
Those who like to mingle with crowds, to try out some exhilarating sea activities or even play tennis at one of the local hotels’ tennis courts will definitely love Koukounaries beach, although the beach is also famous for its lush pine forest - whose needles “touch” the water offering unique natural shade - and Strofiliá, a rare wetland nestling amidst the pine forest, which has been declared a protected area due to its enormous ecological value.
Megali Ammos, on the road to Koukounaries, is a popular beach with crystal clear waters and picture-perfect tavernas by the sea.
Young people will also love Banana (or Krassa bay), a wonderful beach surrounded by pine trees with great water sports facilities and the frenetic parties that take place in its cafes and bars all day and all night.
Banana’s "sister" beach, Small Banana, next to it, is ideal for those who want to avoid the crowds or looking for some peace and seclusion. It is famous for its clear blue waters and its pine trees.
Other beautiful organised beaches with water-sport activities are Troulos, Vromolimni, Kanapitsa, Platanias, Tzaneria, Maratha... the list of these great beaches is endless and will definitely be up to one's expectations.
Those who want to get away from the crowds should also check out the western part of the island: Mandraki, Elia, Agkistros and Small and Big Asselinos are all ideal choices to escape the crowds. Moreover, Megas Gialos, Xanemos, Kalamaki, Lehouni, Krifi Ammos ("Secret Sand") and Punda should also be checked out. The basic rule for those who prefer to have a quieter atmosphere with few or no people is to go wherever the public buses don't...
For those who have their own yacht or boat there are other beaches too, like Stigero beach, on the north part of the island, the islets near Skiathos, such as Tsougrias, and - of course - Lalaria.
Lalaria, on the northeastern part of the island, is the kind of beach one finds once in a lifetime. Impressive white rock formations; small round white pebbles (which is what "lalaria" means in Greek), beautifully clean waters and the “hollow rock” standing imposingly on the beach provide a beautiful natural backdrop that will take ones breath away. Note: the beach is only reachable by boat, departing - weather permitting - from the port of Skiathos.
HOW TO GET TO SKIATHOS
Skiathos has its own airport since 1972, located 2 km at the north-east of Chora and named "Alexandros Papadiamantis" (World Airport Code: JSI).
Apart from direct flights from Athens airport "Eleftherios Venizelos", which are available throughout the year (35' flight), and, therefore, the indirect international flights from all over the world, at summer there are direct charter flights from the following cities:
There are taxis available outside the airport.
There is no ferry from Athens to Skiathos. Visitors could go to Skiathos by ship, Flying Dolphins or Catamaran High Speeds from the ports found below:
- Volos: Ship, Flying Dolphin and Catamaran High Speed
- Agios Konstantinos: Ship, Flying Dolphin and Catamaran High Speed
- Thessaloniki: Ship, Flying Dolphin and Catamaran High Speed ( for more info please check out: https://tickets.goldenstarferries.gr )
- Alonissos: Ship, Flying Dolphin and Catamaran High Speed
- Skopelos (Glossa): Ship, Flying Dolphin and Catamaran High Speed
- Mantoudi: Ship only
- Skopelos (Chora): Flying Dolphin and Catamaran High Speed only
For visitors who arrive in Athens and want to go to Skiathos via the sea:
- To go to Agios Konstantinos, visitors should take the bus (KTEL) from Athens' "Liossion Bus Station". There are buses almost every hour and the trip takes about 2 hours.
- To go to Volos, visitors should take the bus (KTEL) from Athens' "Liossion Bus Station", too, and the trip takes about 5 hours.
* For extra info about schedules and routes, visitors could contact the Port Authority of Skiathos at +30 2427 022017.