‘Skiathos – the Shaded Isle’

Skiathos– the Shaded Isle’ (affectionately known as ‘The Blue Book’) was the first comprehensive guide to Skiathos to be written in English. It was compiled and edited by Jack Causton, one of the first ‘foreigners’ to settle on the island and who, with his artist wife, Nancy (who specialised in decorative maps and botanical drawings of the flora of Skiathos) built Villa Nicara in 1964.

His book contained contributions from some of his fellow expatriate residents – sadly, many of whom are no longer with us – and it provided an invaluable source of local history, topography, culture, custom and all-round general information on the island. There were only 3 editions ever published (in ’72, ‘74 and ’79) and as it is, alas, no longer in print (and many of the facts and observations remain valid, even today) I have taken the liberty of reproducing some of the original articles here. I shall endeavour to update any discrepancies wherever necessary and, using currently available information, update key facts, whenever possible.

My additions and corrections are shown in italics.

In his ‘Introduction’ Jack wrote:

This beautiful island has only recently been discovered. Discovered that is, by tourists. And many of the early ‘discoverers’ were from Britain – a few intrepid people who were not daunted by the lack of roads, electricity and other amenities nor by the rigorous six-hour caique voyage from the mainland, and who in the early 1960’s created a demand for the villa development, which has become such a feature of Skiathos.

Now a few years later there is an airport a (now twice) daily car ferry, (regular ‘Flying Dolphin and ‘Sea-cat’ services), adequate roads serving a large part of the island, bus and taxi services, an automatic telephone exchange (and internet cafes), and several luxury hotels and it is difficult to realise that prior to 1963, there was not a single road on the island which could take a motor vehicle and that the only means of transportation were boats and mules.

Almost simultaneously with the first roads came the first tourist brochures in English and there would seem no better way of giving those of you who have not yet visited Skiathos the ‘feel’ of the place, than by quoting form these fascinatingly worded publications, which so captivated the tourists of the early ‘60’s.

Here is an extract from a little illustrated pamphlet which was headed “Skiathos the Island of Gods”

“With warmth and sunny climate, with fine weather from March to end of October, it is an ideal spot for carefree vacations. The green hills above and the crystal clear sea below, olive groves, pine woods, lovely ports and golden sand beaches provide magnificent scenery. Lovely houses hidden among flower-covered gardens, old monasteries set amid running waters and wooded hills and picturesque white chapels, with beautiful alter screens, scattered over sheltered beaches, present to the tourist pictures if infinite beauty”

Then there was the publication entitled “ Touristic Informations” from which the following are a few selected passages;

“On arrival, an amusing, ready to serve GANG of young and old will arrange everyone in a short time”

“Meals are obtainable at accessible prices and there are many neat Tavernes with local colours which have inspired very much the great Papadiamantis, and two pastry shops on the quay, where you will find several kinds of pastries and sweets, the renouned ‘BAKLAVA’, Almond candies and during the first fortnight in August their famous doughnuts. There are also many coffee houses where you can drink the ‘Ouzo’, which is served with piquant tit-bits and delicious octopus, cooked into embers”

“At Koukounaries, with the golden sea-shore, there are handy barracks, where you will find momentary meals”

“Visitors will have the opportunity of visiting the famous MANDRAKI, a sea-shore on the north back-side.

“The memorial day of AGHIOS FANOURIOS is celebrated quite pompously, to the vigil eve participating not only the natives but also the strangers”

At this stage you may be wondering whether a small island like Skiathos (it is only about one tenth of the size of the Isle of White) can really offer all the attractions referred to above. Yet I can assure you, it can – except, perhaps, for the ‘beautiful alter screens scattered over the sheltered beaches’, which still causes me some mystification!

Skiathos is without doubt an island paradise, which can have few equals anywhere in the world, and although considerable development has taken place over the years, it is still largely unspoiled.

But for how long can this continue?

As a former Chartered Surveyor, I am acutely aware that some degree of Town Planning would very much benefit Skiathos at this crucial stage of its growth as a tourist island. Is it too much to hope that future development can be, to some extent at least, planned and controlled by the powers that be so that this little island is not ruined as so many of the beauty spots of Europe have been?

In any case, in Greece, where the spirit of ‘avrio’ (tomorrow) still prevails, almost everything is done at a fairly leisurely pace. Because of this, I believe that Skiathos – or at least a major portion of it – will remain unspoiled for a number of years more and it will continue to provide a haven for those who want to get away from the stresses and strains of their normal lives, the crowds and the traffic jams and have a quiet unsophisticated holiday in the sunshine. It is the ideal pplace to find relaxation, both mental and physical, and also a place where one can observe the treasures of nature with this small isle so richly endowed.

Some of the treasures will I hope, be disclosed to you by the articles in this book. I have included an extract from the writings of someone who knew and loved the island many years ago: Alexander Papadiamantis, one of Greece’s most famous short story writers, who was born on Skiathos and who was buried here when he died in 1911. ……”

How well Jack knew his beloved island and its inhabitants! Forty years on, development though considerable, has indeed taken a’ fairly leisurely’ pace and I’m sure he would be thrilled to learn that today much of it is still remains ‘unspoiled’ and Skiathos continues to provide a haven of peace and tranquillity, for those in search of those increasingly elusive qualities. Several major changes to the island Jack could not have envisioned (but I feel confident he would have approved of) have been afforded by funds made available following Greece’s entry to the European Union: Evangelistria Monastery and other important churches and buildings have been beautifully restored, the town’s main street and several key communal areas have been sympathetically paved and landscaped, existing roads have been improved and are well-maintained and some (but thankfully still very few!) areas of the island that were previously accessible only on foot, can now can be reached by car. Adhering to EU directives, in more ecological matters (such as waste disposal, recycling etc) a new land-fill site has just been completed. They have brought the previously ‘haphazard’ development of the island under tighter control with building regulations in particular and although there is much still to be done, there definitely appears to be in place, a clear vision; an on-going, long-term plan for Skiathos’ future, which will hopefully benefit the islanders and visitors alike, on all fronts.

The ‘Forward’ to the book was written by Air Chief Marshall, Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris GCB, DSO,OBE ,MA, RAF, formerly Chief of Defence Personnel and Logistics, British Ministry of Defence, who had himself built a villa on the island and spent many holidays there. He wrote:

“I can never quite understand why the word ‘escapism’ has recently acquired so derogatory a meaning. After all, if a man succeeds in escaping from a cell or dungeon or some other unpleasant circumstances, we appreciate his motives and applaud his determination. Why then does the same not apply to those who consider their normal surroundings; find them unpleasing and decide to make an escape from them either for ever, or at least for a while, to a more desirable place? Certainly our own decision on these lines, in 1963, has never given us a moment’s regret.

For that is what we are, we who have found full or part-time houses on Skiathos, we are escapists – but in the best sense of the word. As in fabled Camelot, we have found a place where the sun shines, the breezes blow and the rain falls in just the right proportion; where the people work long and hard but remain gay, welcoming but unvaryingly courteous; where the land is green, the sky and sea, unbelievably blue; and the grim colours of what we normally hold to be matters of importance fade rapidly to the unconsidered backgrounds of our mind, leaving at last, time for space and thought, for friendship and for thankfulness.

Greece has a way of life and an approach to it all of its own. Skiathos epitomises all that is best in it. Where else would your bank manager offer to toss you double or quits when you cash a cheque? Where else would a mousetrap, robbed cunningly of its cheese two nights in a row, catch two mice on the third night when it was left un-baited? Where else would your friends outwit you of large sums in a business deal one week and offer you the money back as a gift the next?

No – I make no apology as an escapist on Skiathos. Rather I congratulate myself; and I sympathise with those who have not had the good sense or good fortune to follow me there”