The Sporades are a cluster of Greek islands in the northwest Aegean Sea. The four of them – Alonissos, Skiathos, Skopelos and Skyros are known for their beaches, rugged natural terrain, coastal snorkelling and alluring island atmosphere. Alonissos has won a Gold Medal for the quality of the beaches and for its eco-tourism facilities. This medal is awarded by the Quality Coast Association, under the auspices of the European Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC) and given every year to the cleanest, greenest and most sustainable coastal destinations in Europe. Claire, our travel expert, talks us through her recent trip to the impossibly pretty archipelago.
As a member of the GIC team for the past 11 years, I have been lucky enough to travel to Greece many times in order to look at properties and get the feel of islands and resorts to get a feel for the islands and resorts that we feature. Having lived there for 7 years, The Aegean always has a special place in my heart and it’s always a pleasure to go back.
This time I was lucky enough to get to know Alonissos a lot better and, because my children travelled with me (aged 19, 14 and 7), I benefited from a whole new perspective on all matters Sporades!
Travelling out early on a clear and crisp Friday morning, there’s always a sense of smugness that you are about to leave the chill behind and enter the relaxed warmth of Greece, where the air is always sweet and the sun ready to welcome you.
The transfer from Skiathos to Alonissos is seamless, giving you just enough time to catch your breath over a cool drink before boarding the boat to take you onward to your holiday destination.
Arriving into Alonissos you are met with a sense of stepping back in time, and of immediate relaxation. Patitiri is the ‘main’ town, fringed with traditional tavernas, coffee shops and ice-cream vendors – very important for the younger traveller. A population of around 1,600 inhabitants live in the gently sprawling town behind and up the hill from the port.
Driving is easy here, just one main road really, a little windy but no steep drops. All accommodation is reached in within a 5-25 minute drive and we were happily ensconced in Villa Manolia within 15 minutes of stepping off the boat.
From our accommodation we can see Alonissos Old Town or ‘Chora’ as it’s known locally. The village, once the island’s capital, has been meticulously re-built since it was devastated by an earthquake in 1965 and the inhabitants were forced to move out and re-locate to build the current capital of Patitiri. We walk the charming cobbled streets and after popping into our Konstantina Studios, superb by any standard, we climb up to the top of the village and take a refreshing drink overlooking the islands to the south and Skopelos in the distance.
Villa Manolia, Eos and Selene and Villa Paparouna are all built on the ridge above Patitiri and almost exactly halfway between there and Chora. This fantastic position means that you are afforded breathtaking views and that you are (with sturdy shoes) able to walk to either village via the donkey path that leads up or down. As a family we enjoyed doing both, and because taxis are now readily available on Alonissos, we were able to walk down for dinner, and be taxied up for only 6 Euros so, the best of both worlds if you are looking for a peaceful villa haven by day and to still be able to dine out without the car in the evening.
A particular favourite for dinner in Patitiri was ‘Archipelagos’, with panoramic sea views, traditional fayre and that distinctively Greek way of making you feel at home. We were looked after by Giorgos on our many visits there, who himself had studied in England, only to be pulled back to ‘his island’. Who could blame him?
As we travel north along Alonissos main road that shadows the spine of the island, your eye is drawn down to the magnificent bays of Votsi, Tzortzi, and Lefto Yalo, with their emerald green water that’s so clear that you can see through it like glass. The next major village you reach is Steni Vala, a sleepy little picturesque harbour with fantastic fish restaurants perfect for afternoon dining – that may well lead well into the night!
We carry on another 5 minutes and reach the hamlet of Kalamakia with it’s 4 tavernas that edge along the curve of the quay and are overlooked by our Katia’s House, a quirky villa with stunning views across the sea to ‘Peristera Island’, with it’s 10 seasonal inhabitants, and the northern islands nestled within the National Marine Park.
Another day, another experience and a firm favourite with us all, a boat trip to the National Marine Park.
We set out at 10:00 from Patitiri port, sun cream on and ready to explore! Immediately there is a cry of ‘Delfinia’. We begin to race off course towards the uninhabited islands of ‘Duo Adelfia’ (the two brothers), in pursuit of dolphins that have been spotted jumping through the air and returning to the cool of the sea. Unfortunately, we were not fast enough and we see their little fins speeding off, so we turn back on course, tracing the eastern coast northwards to the National Marine park and all it has to offer.
Along the way I have a chance to see our properties from a different perspective and with pride, noting how fantastically positioned they are. Fisherman’s Cottage and Seahorse Cottage to name just a couple.
As we go further past Kalamakia we suddenly make to pull over and back into a cave. A quick stop to see the Blue Cave of Alonissos, only accessible from the sea and well worth the visit!
Onwards now to the island of Kira-Panagia which is within the National Marine Park. As we approach from the eastern side and alight from the boat and walk up to the Monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, we spot our first Eleanora’s falcon, which breeds predominantly around the islands of Greece. Having all dutifully walked the path that leads to the Monastery and bidding farewell to the 2 monks that, apart form one hermit goat herder, are the only permanent inhabitants on the island, we now move on to the other side of the island for our first swim stop and lunch.
Along the way, the island of ‘Piperi’ is pointed out to us. This is a strictly protected area, home to many rare species of flora and fauna and to around 350-400 pairs of Eleonora’s Falcons. It’s also home to the Mediterranean Monk Seal, an endangered species, that is currently on the brink of extinction: Piperi has become one of its places of refuge.
Swimming commences and although a little ‘breathtaking’, the freedom of swimming in these cool clear waters surpasses any stress busting technique that I ever tried, and the density of the salt means flotation is easy. You can be confident even if you are not the best swimmer in the world.
Lunch is light and perfect, grilled meat, salads and a touch of wine, followed by fresh fruit and something a little sweeter to finish off.
We then head back, stopping a further 2 times to swim and passing another island that is inhabited by famous goats who could show Olympic gymnasts a thing or two with their ability to balance on a precipice!
At 6pm we are safely delivered back, more relaxed, educated and kissed by the sun. A trip like this costs only around 45 Euros for the day but, if you are more the independent type, you can always hire your own little boat to travel around the bays. You are, of course, not able to go across to the aforementioned islands.
When we arrived only a few days ago, I was ‘packing’ 3 London-living children, two of whom were in shock that the WiFi was not continuous. Now we are sitting out for evening pre-dinner drinks, no phones on the table, whilst my two youngest ‘hang out’ with the local children. We are not even home before they are asking me when we can visit again.
Has Claire’s story left you with a taste for island life? Find out more about holidays to the Sporades here.