When I was 13, I remember telling a teacher who I had a crush on that ABBA was one of my favourite bands, just because I knew she was a fan. How confused I was…
Flash forward a couple of decades, I can now say with absolute certainty that I am no ABBA fan. And so, a week in Skiathos (one of the Sporades islands in the northwest of Greece) was not my first choice for a summer vacation.
If you’re wondering what I’m on about, Skiathos is where the Meryl Streep take on Mamma Mia was filmed. (Or so they boast. The majority was actually filmed on nearby Skopedos.) The island has plenty of opportunities to relieve the Mamma Mia ‘magic’, and tourists hell-bent on doing so.
If that’s your thing, you’re in for a treat. No judgement here. But if you have curmudgeonly tendencies like myself, the good news is there are still plenty of ways to have an amazing time without enduring group singalongs of Dancing Queen. It’s a stunningly beautiful island, mountainous and heavy with greenery; tiny but packing a punch with over 60 beaches. Despite its tourist traps, it’s pretty hard to deny the island’s charms.
Here’s how I ‘survived’ a week in Skiathos without taking a single Mamma Mia tour:
People judging watching at Lalaria beach
One of the hot ticket items is a visit to Lalaria beach, and rightly so.
Only accessible via sea, the turquoise water here is electric, positively glowing from the steady stream of sunlight reflecting off the white-stoned seabed. The long pebble beach sits beneath an imposing limestone cliff, with a rock formation jutting out at one end to form an arched bridge extending into the sea. (I didn’t learn until afterwards that swimming through the archway is said to make you younger. Dammit.)
But being such a natural beauty, Lalaria attracts more than her fair share of suitors. Boatload after boatload of tourists arrive and dutifully march straight for the bridge. It means capturing the perfect photo here is nigh impossible during peak times. The crowds vying to do their best mermaid impersonation mean that no matter your angle, you’ll always end up with a bikini-clad Italian pouting in your shot.
To get that perfect photo, you can hire your own boat and go off-peak, or choose a three-hour “‘Lalaria only”’ ferry departing from the Skiathos Old Port. After all the ferries on full-day excursions leave for the next destination, you’ll have a good hour with the beach practically to yourself, giving you plenty of time to perfect your own mermaid pose. Mine’s coming along quite nicely.
Just keep in mind that there’s very little shade on the beach and no facilities, so be sunsmart kids!
Rock this party? No thank you very much
Koukounaries is arguably the most famous beach on the island – and dare I say it, a little overrated. Sure, the one kilometre long crescent beach is pleasant enough, but with rickety sunbeds and Bob Sinclair’s Rock this Party seemingly stuck on repeat, it wasn’t really my fav (remember, I’m curmudgeonly). While many will love the party-beach vibe, I think there are plenty of better options on the island.
For example! Just around the corner was something much more my style. The secluded Mystique Beach Bar on Ampelakia Beach is Skiathos’ version of the beach clubs of Ibiza, St Tropez or Mykonos – without the price tag (although still comparatively expensive by Skiathos standards) or annoying super rich. (Sunbeds are €20, including umbrella, towel and a cocktail).
While it doesn’t have quite the same glamour of the higher-profile clubs, compared to Koukounaries, the sunbeds here are practically king size with memory foam mattress, and nowhere near as packed in. They do great cocktails delivered to your sunbed, and Bob Sinclair is nowhere to be heard. Bliss.
The area is littered with islands, some no more than 15 minutes boat ride away (and Skopedos is within easy reach for those Mamma Mia die-hards).
The standout for me was Tsougria, one of the uninhibited islands lying a few kilometres from the Skiathos shore. While it has a few beaches, only one has sunbeds, and this little gem ended up being my favourite of the trip.
The water here is crystal clear, calm and shallow for quite a way out, making it a perfect spot to just laze in the water and watch the day drift away. As the day did tick by, the bay became a little crowded with day-tripping boats, but it still didn’t feel as chaotic as some of its Skiathos cousins.
It also has a decent taverna. While it won’t change your world, given it’s on an uninhabited island it was an impressive step-up from the basic kiosks at Koukounaries.
Ferries to Tsougria leave on the hour from the Skiathos Old Port (€10 round trip; buy your tickets from the ferry the evening before).
Eat! Eat! Eat! (and drink!)
Arguably the best thing to do in Greece is eat. The ruins are impressive, the beaches lovely and all, but its Greek food that really gets my attention.
Like any other destination attracting a large tourist crowd, there are plenty of opportunities to eat badly on Skiathos. But with a little research (and avoiding anywhere with photos of food plastered on the walls), it’s possible to have some great food in Skiathos.
After a week of extensive field research, here are my favourites:
The standout by far would have to be Agnadio. The view alone would be enough to keep Agnadio in business. Luckily, the food at this little taverna is outstanding too. (So good we went twice!) It’s traditional, home-cooking that I’d argue is difficult to beat on the island. We had succulent slow-cooked lamb, meat-filled cabbage rolls in lemon sauce, and fried feta. (Mmmm….fried feta)
Agnadio is slightly out of Skiathos Town, and half-way up a very steep hill. So heed my advice…take a taxi. Being an open air restaurant there isn’t air conditioning, so stubbornly walking up the vertical hill because you don’t want to pay the cab fare will make you a rather unattractive dining companion. (It took me two bottles of Rosé before I stopped sweating.) To get the best tables, have your hotel book for you.
The runner up
The Windmill Restaurant is a special place. To be honest, this one is all about the views. The food here is good, it’s just not an exciting menu, nor particularly Greek. But the intimate setting – tables scattered across the tiered landings of an old windmill – and the view over the entire Skiathos Town, means this crowd-pleaser is hard to beat.
Save this one for a special occasion, and guys (or gals), to score extra brownie points, ask for the balcony table when making a reservation. It’s also known as the honeymoon table, which I did not realise when booking for my flatmate and I…
Marmita may be in the centre of Skiathos Town, but sitting in the courtyard here beneath a canopy of trees feels a world away from the chaos that lies just beyond its front door.
It’s for this reason that it gets a special mention. That, and the slow cooked lamb which melts. in. your. darn. mouth.
You’ll need to order some dishes like the lamb 24 hours in advance. Check the menu online.
And for a cocktail
Being Mediterranean, the Greeks tend to eat late, and that’s all the excuse I need to sneak in a few pre-dinner cocktails. The bars that line the old port all do happy hour (which actually lasts most of the evening). My favourite though was Bourtzi, which can be found at the tip of the peninsular separating the old port and the new port. Unwinding under the pine trees while taking in the 180-degree vista of the Aegean certainly beats the hustle of the old port bars, hands down.
A final note…
Mamma Mia was on TV over the weekend. I may have watched it.
Damn you Skiathos. Damn you.
Quick tips when travelling to Skiathos