The Sporades are a little cluster of islands that sit pretty on the edge of Greece’s second biggest island, Evoia. Covered in lush pine trees and a verdurous, leafy canopy, the Sporades are a green paradise with spectacular beaches (as if they wouldn’t be), delicious culinary treats and a suitably diverse lifestyle to match most tastes. As if that isn’t enough, various water sports, outdoor activities that include hiking trails, canoeing and sailing are on the menu. And that’s before we get to the obligatory historical-mythological sites, of which there are plenty.
Alonissos is the lesser known of the islands, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for you. You’ll be able to amble about the beach undisturbed, not to mention first dibs on the catch of the day at the local tavern.
Alonissos offers a bit of everything, plus a little more. It is home to the largest marine park in Europe, with the endangered monk seals one of its most illustrious guests. With little more than 800 surviving worldwide, the work carried out here is crucial for their survival, as much as it is for the community of Eleonora’s Falcons that breed there, too. Located in the northern end of the island and comprising two other islets, the marine park offers sanctuary to many other species including the wild goats on the islet of Gioura.
The beaches are predictably awesome. They have some of the clearest waters in the world, apparently, so you got that going for you. Try Agios Dimitris for some Caribbean type scenery, or the less frequented Kokkinokastro beach to experience its kaleidoscopic splendor of greens, blues, yellows and reds. If you want an even more secluded location head off to Spartines beach, where you access the beach following a trek through a pine forest. With more than 30 beaches, it’s unlikely you’ll need your phone for beach information.
But its likely you’ll want it to locate Cyclop’s cave. Yeah, that Cyclops. Odysseus and his men sailed from Ikos, as it was known back then, on their quest. It is here that they encountered the mighty beast, in a cave on Gioura. Of further interest is the fact that studies indicate that this cave has been inhabited since Mesolithic times, which would suppose a revolutionary discovery.
In addition to such mythological excitement, there are your typical ottoman, Byzantine and Venetian influences noticeable all around in the form of churches and fortresses and castles, as well as an amphitheater carved on the slope of a mountain overlooking the Aegean, dating back to the Roman times.
In contrast to Alonissos, Skiathos is a destination that caters to a wide array of lifestyles. There’s a decidedly more refined ambiance in Skiathos. It’s the home of the fabled Greek novelist Papadiamantis who wrote his seminal ‘H Fonissa’ in the island. Goldy Hawn also has a summer house so I guess you can call it that. But don’t be fooled. There’s a laid back atmosphere to the island, with plenty of bars and clubs on the beach front, but none of the pretentiousness associated with it.
The beaches are supremely dope; Koukounaries beach is the 7th best beach in the world, and best in Greece, with a forest of pine trees lining its shore. Caribbean green blue waters, fine sand and plenty of water sports opportunities. Banana beaches (little & large) are also a water sports paradise, and with great transit shuttles the need to hire a vehicle is not as big, especially if you locate yourselves near the towns.
Skopelos on the other hand is a relatively new addition to the tourist trail. Following the release of the wildly popular Mama Mia, featuring Pierce Brosnan and Merryl Streep and shot in its entirety in Skopelos, the island has understandably gained from the exposure.
But don’t stress. You won’t find all-inclusive hotels and plum faced northern Europeans with crimson bellies wearing socks with their sandals. In fact, you won’t find much of anything, really. Skopelites like it that way. Village life dominates here. It’s a no-frills, minimal luxuries sort of place. The roads are quaint at best, and the transit near impossible to navigate. There is no party vibe and no clubs, apart from a few bars in Chora. No museums or galleries to speak of.
The beaches however, are mind-bogglingly beautiful, and the food rustic, simple and fresh. Every day, the fisherman gets his van and advertises the day’s catches by megaphone, providing a great opportunity for early morning runs if you’re a light sleeper.
Churches and monasteries are a thing here, too. There are countless of them. Literally. No one has performed a count yet. And they are pretty scenic too. Like the one where the Mama Mia wedding was shot. Perched on top of a huge boulder next to the sea, it’s reminiscent of the Meteora monasteries in mainland Greece.
In a way, Skopelos embodies the spirit of the quintessential Greek island; unpretentious, laid back and authentic. Get up in the morning, go to the beach with your book, have lunch in a typical sea side tavern, long nap, dinner and repeat. Parakalo!