Take Stafylos, only 4km from Skopelos Town, a nicely pebbled popular beach with umbrellas that don’t appear until the first of June. Although there are no facilities Stafylos restaurant above the concrete steps that lead to the beachfront copes more than adequately with the thirsty and hungry bathers . But who was Stafylos?
According to legend, Stafylos was the first coloniser of Skopelos, leading a team of Cretans. His mother was Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete who fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread to find his way around her father’s labyrinth. She left Crete with Theseus only for the ungrateful cad to dump her on Naxos and sail away. More fool you, Theseus, Ariadne bagged God Dionysus instead, the father of Stafylos.
All good fun of course, except that in this case myth and reality converge. A 1936 archeological excavation on the headland that divides Stafylos beach from nearby, partly nudist Velanió, unearthed a grave dating to 1500BC – around the time of the legendary King Minos. The grave produced some startling Bronze Age findings, including a the gold handle of a sword displayed in the Athens Archeological Museum.
What about Agnondas, the next beach up? This is a soft pebble beach by a typical Greek fishing village where fishermen still tend their boats while tourists sunbathe serenely. But who was Agnondas? Well, he was a local boy who became a stadion Olympic winner (our 200m) in the 53rd Olympiad in 568BC. Upon his return, the proud Skopelites named the bay in his honour.
Limnonari not far away is maybe the best beach of the island; a long stretch of fine sand, so white it can blind you in the height of summer. Vangelis, the local taverna owner, is keen to narrate the local myth. Ares was the Greek God of war, equivalent to Roman Mars, so Limnonari means Mars’s Harbour for here, on its beautiful beach, did the God of War repose after his fights.
Panormos is another place that has kept its name throughout its history. It loosely translates as ‘Superbay’, because its double wave of a shore can shelter boats from every wind direction. Unsurprisingly, the long pebble beach surrounded by some of the thickest woodland on the island was the location of the ancient city of Panormos, founded by colonists from Chalkis on the island of Euboea opposite. Remnants of the city wall can still be seen today behind the Panormos Beach hotel. As for the Superbay: while working on your tan, squint at the ancillary cove opposite to see where today’s yacht captains have anchored, just as the mariners of times past.
The twin grey sand beaches of Milia and Kastani offer a modern version of a saga, for it was here that the cast and crew of the musical Mamma Mia! were based for a month. Kastani was where many scenes where shot. Donna’s bar was on the south side of the beach, while the jetty where Sky is snatched for his bachelor party was built at the centre. Nothing of the set remains, but the sand – as the beach is in a protected area, the crew had to dismantle everything before they left.
As for Loutraki, the last beach on the western, calm side of the island – if I tell you that it means “Small Bath” you’ll guess it immediately. A series of Roman Baths were discovered in the ancient city of Selinous just outside the modern port.
So, from the Bronze age to the Olympics and from Roman times to a twentieth-century musical: while soaking the sun on Skopelos, remember that every beach here tells a story.
John Malathronas is a versatile travel writer and photographer who has published three narrative travelogues on Brazil South Africa and Singapore, has written for popular newspapers and magazines and co-authored guidebooks for Michelin and the Rough Guides. He also writes in his own blog, The Jolly Traveller.
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