The other side to Skiathos, Greece
Skiathos is well-known for its golden stretches of coastline offering a plethora of fine, pale sandy beaches but more - including lush countryside, monasteries and scuba diving - awaits for those who wish to discover the other side of this popular Greek island.
The natural harbour in Skiathos attracts many a yacht and sailing boat. The tiny peninsula neighbourhood of Bourtzi divides it into two parts. Built in 1207, Bourtzi itself was once a walled fort, ruined in 1660 but revived in 1906 with the building of a school.
These days, the area is teeming with pine forest and the school serves as a cultural centre and summer theatre. With sweeping views over the Aegean, can you think of a better place to indulge in a theatrical or musical performance on a warm summer's night?
The island's capital is built amphitheatrically around a windless bay, and after its complete destruction in WWII by the Germans, was rebuilt and is now the focal point of the island. While away your time by relaxing in one of the many cafés or browsing the shops.
Admittedly, it caters mostly to the tourist crowd but it's possible to escape this by meandering through the small cobbled streets, admiring the simple white houses and tiled roofs that are quintessentially Greek. Round off your day with the many nightlife options available, ranging from quiet bars to livelier night clubs.
Hit the hiking trails
Whilst Skiathos doesn't offer many official walking paths, you can discover tracks into the hills and mountains that take you to various monasteries, churches and the more secluded beaches on the north coast. Most walks range from 12 km to 20 km and can be circular, making it easy to drive your hire car out to your start/finish point.
One such example is the 13 km walk from/to the Evangelistria Monastery, the only working one left on the island. It offers a library, ecclesiastical museum and numerous cells.
Expect to pass through forest, the occasional farm, past shrines and smaller country churches - some abandoned and now home to the occasional cat or two.
Unless you're a hardcore hiker, any type of walking is advised for spring or autumn visits to the island as temperatures in summer can reach up to 40°C.
The old castle - or, Kastro - of Skiathos is perched atop a high cliff in the northern part of the island. It's a natural fortress, protruding out into the sea and its chequered past - built in the Byzantine period, occupied by the Venetians, Turks and Venetians again until the Greek state was formed and took control - means the castle offers plenty of history.
The many ruins scattered around the hillside shown that at one time, the Kastro district was densely populated. Nowadays you can expect to find several churches in the vicinity, all in various states of repair and disrepair.
Reaching Kastro is an adventure in itself. You can either take a small excursion boat from Skiathos Town which will drop you onto small, pebbly Lalaria Beach. The rest of the way is a steep climb up a twisty path. In the height of summer, this route is really only suitable for experienced walkers.
Otherwise it's possible to drive or take the bus (alighting at 'Bus Stop 9') from Skiathos Town but note that the road is mostly track from the village of Agios Konstantinos. Kastro itself always seems to retain plenty of heat, so be sure, whichever way you choose to visit, to take plenty of water with you.
The Monastery of Evangelistria may be the only working one, however, Skiathos offers others that have been refurbished and give you an idea of what life used to be like when they were in use years before.
Meanwhile, Panaghia Kechrea Monastery is a small, abandoned in the 15th century yet refurbished building, allowing the visitor to garner an idea as to what life was like in the past.
Then there's the serene setting of the 17th-century Kounistra Monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and integral to the religious life of the locals. Whichever you choose, a visit to the monasteries of Skiathos makes for an alternative day away from the beach.
Skiathos offers magnificent natural wonders such as the two sea caves off the popular north coast beach of Lalaria. The 20-metre deep Skotini spilia (dark cave) is characterised by a low and narrow entrance, accessible only by boat.
The larger Galazia spilia (blue cave) is named due to its rare reflections of blue on the rock from the water. Boat trips from Skiathos Town can take you here to swim.
With warm water temperatures and visibility up to 30 metres deep, the water surrounding Skiathos is a draw for scuba diving enthusiasts, especially the various shipwrecks dotted around the island dating back as far as Roman and Byzantine times.
More about Skiathos
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