Almost Heaven….

I know I risk becoming boringly repetitive –  but the fact is that even after 30 years of coming to Skiathos (somewhere so small, relatively,  that I feel there can’t be anything left to discover) I’m continually amazed how it still  manages to hold surprises up its sleeve for me!

This week I visited a dear friend (and very talented artist), Sam, who, along with her Greek husband, Philippas, has built a beautiful home in an area  just on the outskirts of the town, that I’m not at all familiar with. I admired the spectacular views over the rooftops, towards Skopelos way in the distance, from her beautiful garden and  saw a whole new perspective of the town I thought I knew so well.

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“If you like this, come with me” Sam said mysteriously and lead me outside where she promptly mounted her motorbike and told me to hop on behind. (Motor bike? Me?!! Er….) Before I had time to think better of it, we were off, bouncing along and climbing up through the narrow cobbled streets.

As experiences go, this one was untried territory for me but, feeling all of twenty-one again with the wind in my hair, was completely exhilarating all the same – until, that is, we began to climb a very narrow and VERY steep lane (we were almost completely vertical!). But before I could complain Sam had already stopped, parked-up and announced that we’d have to continue the rest of the climb on foot.

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“Where are we going?” I gasped, breathless already (remember? steep climbs and I don’t like each other very much!)

“You’ll see…..It’ll be worth it” was all I could hear through the blood pounding in my ears…

Sam briskly strode on ahead up the steps …..and I, rather more slowly, brought up the rear:

“Here we are, Aghios Fanourios. My local church” Sam announced proudly.

And rightly so – it was indeed beautiful. SO beautiful that I can’t believe I never even knew of it’s existence!

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Standing sentinel at the highest point of the town, and guarded by ancient olive trees, its view, of almost 180 degrees, is breathtaking:

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Outside, the traditional stone barbeque area (where everyone gathers to roast a lamb and celebrate on the Saint’s day)

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is immaculately kept by the keeper who lives in a tiny stone cottage (kalivi) nearby:

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Inside, the church is painted in a soft turquoise colour throughout giving it an air of century-old, quiet serenity

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It was magical standing in the silent stillness watching the rays from the late afternoon sun filter through the tall windows, fall across the mosaic floor and illuminate the dim, candle lit interior.

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Typical of so many Greek island churches, the simple rustic exterior,

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gives little clue to the opulence that lies within;  every surface adorned with gilded and silver religious artifacts, icons and three magnificent bohemian crystal chandeliers hang from it’s high vaulted celing.

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The shimmering sea and islands beyond, can be seen through the striking stained glass windows:

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We lit our candles, each lost in a moment of quiet prayer and then returned to the sunlight where we sat for a while, watching the town far below as the island ferry arrived in the port, way off in the distance –  Eventually we headed back for a very English tea of home-made scones, whipped cream and strawberry jam (yet another lovely surprise – Thank you Sam!)