To answer a few questions about Skiathos

This is a second article taken directly from Jack Causton’s ‘Blue Book’ in which he answers a few of the more commonly asked questions about Skiathos:

“How did Skiathos get its name?

‘Skiathos’ means ‘Shadow of Athos’, and although it is separated from the Athos Peninsula by 150 km (90 miles) of open sea, the visibility in Greece is so amazingly clear that the 2,033 m high peak of the Holy Mountain can, on occasion, be seen from Skiathos.

How many other islands are there in the Aegean?

About 165 inhabited islands and over 1,200 which are un-inhabited.

What is so special about Skiathos?

In three words; beaches, greenery and villas. There are as many as seventy sandy beaches and coves spread out around its indented coastline and separated from each other by steep rocky headlands and one of them, Koukounaries, (‘Bay of Stone Pines’) is claimed to be the finest beach in Greece. Practically all the beaches provide excellent safe bathing and wonderful under-water swimming. Many of the Aegean islands are rocky and barren and some almost completely devoid of trees and vegetation; Skiathos is one of the great exceptions. It is a green, green island, with rolling hills chequered with dark-green pine plantations and vast silver-green olive groves and well-watered valleys shaded by giant plane, poplar and chestnut trees. There are also many varities of fruit trees and abundant natural vegetation, which includes white and purple heather, ferns, broom and evergreen arbutus unedo (strawberry bush). In spring the island is a riot of wild flowers.

What about the villas?

This is a story in itself and another article; ‘The Early days of Villa Development’ will tell you how it all started.

At present there are over 300 (in 1979- today its closer to 3,000!) attractive and well-equipped villas most of them with mains electricity, piped water and septic tank drainage and built to a standard which compares favourably with that of villas anywhere in Greece. These villas which are nearly all on sites of at least 2 stremata (half an acre) fall into several categories; the beach villa, with the tranquil Aegean only a few meters from the terrace; the ‘cliff-hanger’, built up high on a rocky cliff or headland, with steep steps winding down to a sandy cove below and magnificent views straight out to sea; and the hill-side villa, set amoungst pines or an olive grove having panoramic views over country and sea. These villas and the numerous, self-contained apartments, hotels and studios, more recently built, provide ideal holiday accommodation for families and can be rented (when not occupied by their owners) for periods of a week, a fortnight or longer.

Is there anything Skiathos lacks?

There are no archeaological remains (or none that have as yet been unearthed), no museum (update: there is a Folklore museum at Evangelistria), no casino, no sophisticated entertainment (there is now a thriving night life!, Pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants, offering a wide choice of international cuisines to suit every taste and pocket can be found both in Skiathos Town and other more recently developed self-contained resorts, such as Troulos and Koukounaries).

What is the best time to visit the island?

This depends on what is your primary interest. If this is bathing and sun-bathing then come in June, July or August when the sun normally shines all day, every day. It is however warm enough to swim in May and September and also in October and November. In spring and autumn moreover, in addition to being much less crowded, the island is at its greenest and these are the ideal times for walking. Those that want to see the wonderful wild flowers at their best and observe the abundant bird life (see separate article on ‘Flowers and Wildlife’) should come in March and April.

What is the town like?

The town, which is of course also the port, is situated on one of the finest natural harbours in the Aegean – a vast beautiful bay, which is completely sheltered from the northerly Meltemi. From the sea, the town is a most attractive sight – the white-washed red-roofed houses clustered on two low hills, the colourful awnings of the cafes and shops which face the quay; the fishing caiques and luxury yachts, moored side by side and, at one end of the main harbour, the Bourtzi Island which is approached by a small causeway. To absorb something of the atmosphere of the town read the separate article: ‘Shopping, Eating and Drinking’.

What is there to see and do in the town?

The churches in the two main squares (the ‘Upper’ and the ‘Lower’) are worth a visit, as is also the house of the famous Greek writer Alexander Papadiamantis (this has been preserved more or less as it was when he occupied it over 70 years ago). A wonderful view of the town can be obtained from the small church of Aghios Nicolas, which is on top of the hill with the clock tower on it – approached from the side waterfront (The tower also now houses the Skiathos live web-cam). There is also good bathing off the Bourtzi and if you want entertainment there are numerous bars, pubs and restaurants with live music to suit all tastes. But to appreciate the charm and warmth of this small town you must do the ordinary things; sit at a café or restaurant leisurely sipping an ouzo (accompanied by the customary plate of meze), observing the evening volta along the paralia (waterfront) or watch the fishing boats chugging in to tie up for the night; stroll through the narrow streets, where old people sit outside on their door-steps on a hot evening; saunter down the pedestrian only, cobbled main (Papadiamantis) St. lined with glittering gift and artisan shops and modern fashion boutiques and visit the many tavernas where young lads of the village perform impromptu dances to the strident sounds of the bouzouki.

What beaches should I visit?

The ‘musts’ are Koukounaries and Lalaria but there are a large number of other lovely beaches and coves on the island. The separate article ‘Bathing and boating’ will help you select the ones most suited to your requirements.

What else is there to see and do?

I maintain that you really won’t have seen the island at all unless you’ve taken a walk into the still largely unspoiled interior, meandered through one of the beautiful fertile valleys; strolled in a pine forest amidst the profusion of ferns and heather; walked along a ridge of the hills and looked down at the shimmering silver blue waters of the Aegean, far below you; visited one of the many monasteries and country churches or the remains of the old fortress town of Kastro. The article ‘Walks and rides’ will describe some of these places to you and tell you how to get there. Also of course you should also do some trips by boat – particularly one right around the island, if possible – and if you walk along the paralia in the evening you will see details of the next day’s trips put up on notice boards beside the handsome caiques which make them.

What is the main livelihood of the local community?

It’s always been olives. It was once, possibly olives, and also caique-building and fishing. It is now almost certainly, olives and tourism. Skiathos, with its 6,000 olive trees is a wealthy island by Greek standards and a good crop (harvested between October & March) could be worth as much as (£563,000 in 1979). The majority of its people have always been and still are, basically peasant farmers. One of the particular charms of this island is that the daily life of its small community goes on much as it did fifty or a hundred years ago. And the visitor, in observing it can feel he has stepped back into another age; an age of tranquillity and content. The church plays an important role in the life of the Greek people and the articles ‘Faith and Folklore’ and ‘Christos Anesti’ will give you an insight into some of the significant religious events of the year.

Is Skiathos a good place for retirement?

It’s not easy to give a straight and useful answer to this question. From the point of view of climate, the beauty of one’s surroundings and a quiet and relaxed atmosphere the answer is definitely ‘yes!’ but not everyone can live happily on a small island and if theatres, concerts or even bowl or golf play an important part in your life, Skiathos is probably not for you. Then there are always the little difficulties and strange happenings which are always cropping up, many of them caused by language misunderstandings; these are often amusing in retrospect but, at the time, liable to raise one’s blood pressure. All in all though, given the right temperament one can find happiness here – my wife and I certainly have. A hobby of some sort is essential but this can be reading, gardening, painting – or even editing Guide books!”