As successful movies go, Mamma Mia! is right up there as one of the big winners in recent years. It has the perfect combination of a happy (if oh-so-cheesy) plot, feel-good music sung by film stars who were obviously having a great time making the movie, and the most spectacular locations as a backdrop to the story.
Ah yes, those locations. The island of Skopelos was the setting for many of the major scenes, and in the aftermath of the film’s release there were expectations of a massive surge in tourism for this beautiful small island in the western Aegean Sea. For some (notably the owners of restaurants and hotels on Skopelos who saw this as a way to fight back against the recession) it was a case of ‘the more the merrier’. For others, there was a fear that ‘the Mamma Mia effect’ would change the island’s traditional way of life for ever.
Four years later and the island has thankfully not lost its soul through its moment of fame. Of course there are those who come to Skopelos to find the beach on which many of the scenes were set. Most visitors will recognise the almost-too-perfect white church that was the setting for the wedding at the end of the film, but this would surely have been an attraction in its own right without the help of any movie.
What does draw most British visitors to Skopelos has nothing to do with Hollywood. It is in fact the same charm that has attracted folks to travel here for many generations. Considered very much Greek in character and tradition, life on Skopelos runs at a relaxed pace. Pretty villages made up of a hotch-potch of whitewashed houses, decidedly sleepy in the midday sun, only slowly come to life slowly as the heat of the day starts to fade. The narrow roads that link the island’s villages cut through the pine forests that cover much of the island. It’s a great place to enjoy hiking or cycling (there are excellent hiking trails, with some suitable for those who just want a gentle stroll and others for the more active types looking for a full day of walking).
For those of us with a mental picture of the perfect Greek holiday, it probably includes watching the sunset on a quiet sandy beach before sitting down at a seaside taverna on a warm summer evening and enjoying a freshly cooked meal along with a nice glass of wine. On a visit to Skopelos, such evenings are surprisingly easy to find. And rest assured, you’re not likely to have Meryl Streep or Piers Brosnan suddenly appearing from nowhere and bursting into song to ruin the moment!