There are 6,000 Greek Islands, and only 20 have airports including Skiathos, so should be on the list of those to visit. Now move Skiathos further up the list as its a shorter flight than Mykonos (from the UK), has better beaches, many more restaurants and of course it – and charming neighbour Skopelos – are where Mamma Mia was filmed.
There are three options of areas to stay: ‘in town’, at Troulos Beach, or at the quieter greener end of the island in Koukounaries – means ‘pine cones’ in Greek. All are lovely in their different ways.
In Skiathos Town every hole in the wall is a restaurant: Italians come here a lot, so the standards are high, and in the evening Papadiamantis Street is a pedestrianised catwalk of beach bods and browsers thronging the many, many independent shops, cafes and bars. It’s not all tourist tat either, there are several smart ceramics, homewares and even clothing stores. Step away 100 metres and one is really in the Old Greece of crazy-paved thoroughfares, blue and white buildings and signs that it must be quite a hard life in the winter.
Troulos is maybe queen of the family resorts – pushchair friendly in summer, more elbow room in June and September, but has a fine golden sand beach and a couple of good tavernas as well as the standard, quite tightly packed, 2-sunbeds-and-an-umbrella for 8 Euro, which is the same all over the island.
Koukounaries is our preference. Its main beach, backed by a nature reserve, has organised sunbeds and bars that play soft rock or chillout music all day. The Skiathos Diving Centre is the best beach club with glamorous padded beds and dive/scuba facilities.
There’s a ‘water taxi’ service to and from town for 5 Euro, but it’s also a reasonable walk to two of the best quieter beaches – Agia Eleni is quiet, gently shelving and has the clearest water, and beyond it visitors will find the hopefully misleadingly-named Little Banana, the nude/gay option. If Little Banana isn’t convenient, off-season nobody will mind nudists getting their bits out at the far ends of Mandraki Elias, or Agristos Beach.
To get around visitors can hire a car, moped or – recommended – a quad bike for about 25 Euro/day or use the excellent bus service: there’s only one principal road, stops are numbered from 1 (harbour) to 26 (Koukounaries Beach) and the longest ride costs 2 Euro.
For accommodation in Skiathos Town, if not in need of a pool, the top choice is the Atlas Hotel – clean, smart and air conditioned, decent beds – a rarity in Greece. Just 18 tidy rooms and a short walk to Megali Ammos Beach.
For a place with a pool, look at the Bourtzi – rooms are a bit pastel with sometimes startling art, but bathrooms are modern and it’s handy for everything.
In Troulos, the top pick is definitely adults-only KB Ammos: elegant modern design set against the backdrop of nature and smart, smart, smart: superior rooms come with their own plunge pool, you’ll hardly know you’re in Greece. It’s also one of the few Skiathos hotels with what one would recognise as a spa, using Phytomer products.
At Koukounaries the grande dame of the island is the long-established Skiathos Palace hotel, strikingly set on a private headland with sensational views. Rooms are good, but apart from breakfast we would recommend eating out, which is a brisk walk into ‘Kouk’, or the bus stops right outside.
Nearer the centre of Koukounaries is Mandraki Village – nicely decorated public spaces and rooms in colourful blocks but a smallish pool.
One general point: pools in Skiathos tend to be very deep very quickly. Those anxious about swimming out of depth, email or phone to check. Or go to the beach.
After the beach and a nice dinner, visitors may want no more than a nightcap on their own terrace but there is one genuine gay bar, in a street of other bars in town, called De Facto, it has good music, occasional drag, and a welcoming atmosphere but for live bands, a good alternative is Totem.
It is inescapable that Mamma Mia was filmed here and in Skopelos, but they don’t overdo it. The open air cinema has occasional screenings, but Monday night is definitely Mamma Mia night at Club Borzoi where local vocalist Dawn Christy gives full Donna.
Boat means boat, Shirley
Several tour boats go from the harbour for a swim in a turquoise cove, and to spot the Mamma Mia wedding church, the jetty and the beach from the film, with a homely lunch on board but unlike more synthetic resorts, Skiathos does genuinely have a couple of Greek boat captains whose day long experience offers a bit of authenticity. Captain Stefanos has a 12 metre sailing yacht called Aeriko which does round-the-island day sails or trips to neighbouring Skopelos and Alonissos.
His main rival is the 51 foot Diamanti Yacht, which also offers a sleek day boat experience often to the uninhabited island of Arkos, with lunch and secluded swimming, as well as 2-4 days trips to the rest of the Sporades.
At some point, one needs to head into town for dinner. It is no exaggeration to say throwing a stone up any alleyway in Skiathos Town would hit a decent restaurant. The large number means they’re competitive, typically under 30 Euro for dinner with wine, and it really is hard to pick a bad one. Some personal favourites include Lo & La, Taverna Lynhari, Ricchi e Poveri and Taverna Thessaloniki.
There’s a Monastery, best reached in a hire car. Two strange sounding venues are actually quite an entertaining visit – the cat sanctuary does good work rescuing moggies from the beaches, but at the dog sanctuary visitors can actually play with the residents and take one out for a walk. Skiathos isn’t big on museums, but the tiny Museum of Ancient Greek Technology will amuse for an hour.
Words and pictures from guest writer, Johnny Fox.