Olympic Holidays

Hilltop Kastro of Skiathos

Little has survived of Skiathos island's past and much of what hasn't been lost over time and through neglect has simply been botched by cement mixers. Places that are worth a visit on Skiathos include the Kastro - a fortified former capital built in the 14th century on a rock outcrop above the main town. Skiathos Kastro was built as a refuge from marauding pirates, notably the Barbarossa brothers, and commands a dramatic position over the sea. the Kastro used to house more than 20 churches and 300 odd homes.

Only two churches have survived the ravages of time and the several half-hearted attempts at restoration. Also remaining are part of the wall and gate of the old fort as well as a half-ruined mosque and a cannon. A wooden drawbridge has been replaced by a flight of cement steps and a house has been rebuilt.

You can get to the Kastro on foot but it is a good three-hour walk. Most take one of the excursion boats that make the trip daily from Skiathos town and drop passengers at the bottom of a long series of steps up the cliff. There is a flat beach here of shingle and stone and a ramshackle beach taverna that gets packed out as the boats arrive. Nearby, and accessible only by boat, are three sea grottos, named Galazia (Blue), Skotini (Dark) and Chalkini (Copper).

Offshore islets of Skiathos

Lying just of the coast at Skiathos Town are three uninhabited islets of Tsougria, Tsougriaki and Arkos that have become popular with day trippers, with boats leaving Skiathos Town all day in the high summer. Not only are the islets away from the crowds on the mainland they also have some very fine beaches.

The most popular is Tsougria which lies directly south of Skiathos Town, is the biggest and also enjoys two pleasant beaches. The best one lies in a sheltered bay of shallow water, making it the one that most families with children head for. A small beach cantina opens in the summer months for refreshments and snacks. The alternative beach is on the other side of the islet and involves a walk over the headland or a longer boat ride, though visitors must take care to avoid some underwater rocks that can make mooring a little difficult.

To the west of Tsougria is the smaller rocky islet of Tsougriaki which doesn't have a beach although visitors often tie up for an afternoon of peaceful swimming in one of the many coves. Northeast, and nearer the coast is the islet of Arkos. Day trip boats don't go here so you need to rent your own but there is a small beach there with a cantina that opens during the summer.

Monasteries of Skiathos

No Byzantine ecclesiastical monuments survive on Skiathos. Those monuments that do survive date to the Turkish occupation of the island. Most notable are the church of Christos, in the Kastro, and the monasteries of Agios Ioannis of Parthenis, Agios Charalambos, Evangelistria (Annunciation) and Panagia Eikounistria (Holy Virgin).

Evangelistria is about five kilometres north of Skiathos town and buried in the most beautiful countryside. You can't see the monastery until you are on top of it. Founded in 1794 it was finished around 1806. It has a giant footnote in Greek modern history by being the place where fighters against the Turks took their oath under the first independent Greek flag. It is a cruciform Byzantine church with three domes. Frescoes are found in the sanctuary but the monastery's real treasure is a magnificent carved wooden iconostasis. On August 15 the ceremony of the Burial of Our Lady is performed here.

Panagia Eikounistria is the patron of Skiathos and has several frescoes including one of Agios Christofos with a face of a dog.

The monastery of Panagia Kounistra is just above Troulos and is where the holy icon of Panagia Kounistra patron of Skiathos was found. It is set in a very pretty spot, has a grape arbour and a taverna within its walls. It has a beautiful gilt wooden iconostasis decorated with vine-leaves and grapes.

Famous author of Skiathos

About 100 metres along the main street in Skiathos Town called Papadiamanti Street is a small alleyway. At the end of it the house of Skiathos' most famous son the writer Alexander Papadiamantis. Considered today as one of Greece's best writers of modern prose he wrote some 170 short stories and several novellas.

He wasn't born in the house and he left for Athens University in his youth. But he returned here in old age and died in 1911 of pneumonia and drink aged 59. He published his first novel 'The Immigrant' in the newspaper Neologos while working as a translator in Athens. Much of his work was written this way, published in episode form in literary news periodicals.

The house was built by his grandfather in 1850-1860 and was bought by the Ministry of Culture in 1994. It has two floors with the ground floor now a museum of Skiathos and the upper floors pretty much kept as they were during the author's life. He lived here from 1904-1904 and wrote his novel The Female Assassin. He returned to Athens where a celebration of his 25 years as a writer was held by his patron Princess Maria Bonaparte. In 1908 he came back to the island and stayed here until he died.

Much of his work, and especially his short stories, were influenced by Skiathos and the people who lived here. He concentrated on the tight-knit peasant society and the superstitions and local lore that ruled their lives, steeped in witchcraft, sorcery and myth. Only a few works have been translated, notably Tales from a Greek Island, which is the only one I can find in print at the moment.

He is difficult to read in the original Greek apparently as he wrote in a mixture of Byzantine and New Testament Greek sprinkled with modern vernacular, the style ingrained with local dialect and even Turkish. The stories are rich and intense, gripping tales with unexpected twists, though many are dark and brooding, unlike the island on which he died.