Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos show off the great variety of Greek holidays, reports Katie McGonagle
Movie musical Mamma Mia! was a sensation, breaking box office records and becoming an Abba fans’ favourite – all while proving Pierce Brosnan should never go near a microphone again. More importantly for Greece, it was a smash hit for tourism.
The film was better than any brochure in tempting travellers to explore the fine-sand beaches of family-friendly Skiathos and lush hikers’ haven of Skopelos, where much of the movie was filmed. Along with relaxed, rural Alonissos, these Aegean islands – just a few miles off the east coast of mainland Greece – make up the main tourist spots of the Sporades.
Between them, they offer a microcosm of Greek holidays, with everything from sandy beaches and picture-postcard harbour towns, to hiking, sailing and scuba diving. Get the lowdown on where to stay, what to do, and how to sell these idyllic isles, and you’ll soon be singing their praises too.
SKIATHOS: BEACH BEAUTY
Sell: This island has plenty going for it, not least of which is the ease of airlift. Charter flights operate from Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol and East Midlands, and transfer times are short. Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides suggests targeting the island at families who want an authentic Greek island experience but still like the convenience of a direct flight and good facilities.
See: Skiathos boasts 60 golden-sand beaches, many backed by thick, fragrant pine forests. Koukounaries in the southwest is most popular and always busy with watersports, but for families, the gently shelving beach at Platanias suits younger swimmers, while Kolios is a quieter option. On the east coast, Megali Ammos is the main resort, but fills up during peak season thanks to its proximity to Skiathos Town. For more secluded spots, suggest the quieter northern coast.
Kayaking or waterskiing are available at most beaches, and many also offer scuba diving; the Dolphin Diving Centre at Tzaneria beach is just one example. On land, try horse riding or visit the island’s dog sanctuary.
Round-the-island boat cruises depart from Skiathos Town’s old port, often stopping at sea caves and pretty Lalaria beach, which is accessible only by boat, before continuing to the medieval town of Kastro; most are priced about €25 plus lunch. Visitors can hire a boat from beaches such as Koukounaries and Kanapitsa without a licence, with prices from about €80 for a smaller vessel, plus fuel at around €50 a tank.
Alternatively, set sail for Skopelos: Thomson’s family-focused Sporades Sunshine Cruise is one of several pre-bookable options, starting at £28.50 for adults or £19.99 for under-12s. Cyplon offers a Mamma Mia Cruise on a traditional fishing boat, visiting the deserted island of Arko plus some of the Skopelos beaches used for filming, followed by lunch in a beachfront taverna; from £55, departing on Tuesdays.
Skiathos Town’s waterfront (pictured) and main street of Papadiamanti are home to an eclectic mix of antique shops, chic boutiques and restaurants, plus a thriving fish market. There are plenty of lively nightspots in town, or try the stretch of buzzing beach bars at Vromolimnos.
Stay: The five-star Skiathos Princess suits luxury-seeking families: it’s near Agia Paraskevi beach, has a children’s pool, crèche and kids’ club to keep little ones occupied while parents try the hotel’s new healthy living programme or ‘YogAqua’ sessions. Couples looking for peace and quiet might prefer the adult-only Aegean Suites, a stylish five-star, all-suite property near the capital.
Mid-range favourites include the 258-room Skiathos Palace Hotel, on the southwest coast. Olympic Holidays highlights the recently renovated 38-room Mandraki Village Boutique Hotel, while the four-star Hotel Atrium is a favourite with Cosmos customers as all 75 rooms have a balcony or terrace offering spectacular views.
Budget-conscious travellers can keep costs down with self-catering: Thomas Cook features three-star studio and apartment options such as Myrtia Summer Village in Koukounaries, or family-run Beltsios Studios in Troulos. Greek specialist sister brand Manos also features The Muses Hotel, a three-star bed-and-breakfast. Islands of Greece has added Sergios Apartments for summer 2013, with prices from £479 including flights and taxi transfers.
SKOPELOS: GO GREEN
Sell: Skopelos is a 40-minute hydrofoil transfer from Skiathos, so don’t let clients be put off by the lack of airport. It’s about double the size of Skiathos but attracts fewer visitors, making it a good choice for couples seeking a quieter break. Target it at niche markets including hikers, amateur artists and photographers.
See: Skopelos Town’s white-washed houses, red-tiled roofs and flower-filled balconies make an enchanting approach by water. Eat fresh fish by its pretty harbour, then walk up to the town’s highest point to see the ruins of a medieval castle, the island’s oldest church and superb views of the bay.
As one of the greenest islands in the Aegean, one of the key activities in Skopelos is hiking or walking through its lush vegetation: footpaths or trails are easy to follow, but there are guided walks for those who need a hand navigating.
Sunbathers need not fear, however: the southwest of the island has a mix of sand and shingle beaches. The best is the enclosed bay at Panormos, but Milia has white sand, a selection of beach bars and good windsurfing conditions, and Kastani beach is more secluded.
Stay: Hotels are concentrated around Panormos and Skopelos Town. Some of the cast of Mamma Mia! are said to have stayed at the four-star Prince Stafilos, one of Olympic Holidays’ most popular hotels, along with the Skopelos Village Studios and Apartments, both near Skopelos Town. The operator features a selection of two, three and four-star properties, with prices leading in at £445 for a week’s B&B plus flights at Dionyssos Hotel.
GIC The Villa Collection has begun featuring the cosy Villa Blue Stone, which sleeps two adults and up to two children, set on a hillside above Skopelos Town with views across the valley (from £704 based on four sharing, with Gatwick flights, car hire and maid service).
In Panormos, Islands of Greece has introduced the Blue Suites to its summer programme, and is offering discounted rates to agents keen to test out the property for themselves. Departures in June start at £549 with flights, transfers and a week’s B&B, reduced to £479 for agents.
ALONISSOS: AQUATIC ESCAPE
Sell: Olympic’s Lambrianides calls Alonissos “a patchwork of forests, orchards and meadows”, making it ideal for clients keen to get away from it all. It is easily accessed by a 90-minute hydrofoil journey from Skiathos, coming into port at Patitiri. Like Skopelos, it will appeal to niche interests including photography, wildlife and diving.
See: The waters around Alonissos are so clear, the area has been declared a protected marine park to encourage its native monk seals to breed; they are hard to spot, but can be glimpsed in some of the sea caves dotted along the coast. Try a guided kayaking trip to explore lesser-known spots: Islands of Greece has pre-bookable half and full-day trips between May and October, starting at €30 or €65. For those who don’t fancy powering their own way along the water, there are boat trips from €35 a day.
To enjoy the peaceful waters from the comfort of a sunlounger, choose from quiet beaches such as Chrisi Milia, named after its golden sands, or the pebbled coasts of Rousoum Gialos and Glyfa beach in the north. Next, visit Chora, a town largely abandoned after an earthquake in 1965 but now busier than ever with souvlaki restaurants and charming shops.
Stay: Accommodation is more limited than on the other islands. Olympic Holidays has a handful of small hotels and self catering apartments, with prices from £415 for a week, with flights. One of its best-sellers is the three-star Atrium of Alonissos, near Patitiri, where most rooms come with a sea view.
Self-catering options include the Maria Studios in Patitiri, and Christou Beach Studio, a small villa sleeping up to four in the fishing village of Steni Vala. The latter starts at £525 with Islands of Greece, including flights from Gatwick or Manchester and transfers.
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