SKIATHOS is one of the Sporades group of Greek islands that lie just off the east coast of Greece and this one's the nearest to the mainland.
This was one of the first islands to cash in on the holiday boom of the 1970s thanks to an airport that can handle regular charter flights and it has remained one of the most popular Greek island holiday destinations..
Skiathos is a small and compact island, just 12km long and about 6km wide, and its main claim to fame is a plethora of large, deep, sandy beaches strung right the way along its southern coastline.
The lush pine forests and the numerous sandy beaches make Skiathos a firm holiday favourite with the British, Germans and Scandinavians.
Recent years have seen an explosion in tourist facilities and, nowadays, a virtually unbroken line of hotels, apartments and neon-lit tavernas flank the once rural road that runs the length of the south coast.
A ban on high rise hotels has curbed major downmarket excess and the tavernas may be as much baklavas as burgers, but Skiathos still groans under its own weight in annual tourist numbers.
The island's ever growing popularity has resulted in higher prices in the most popular resorts and the inevitable drift to dumbed down touristy tackiness.
The closely-packed Skiathos holiday beaches are sandy and safe for children, making this an ideal island for family holidays.
Most of the interior of Skiathos is hilly, heavily wooded and almost totally deserted with a few less crowded beaches on the north coast.
Skiathos is famous among the Greek islands for its profusion of soft sand beaches. The whole length of the south coast of this small island is just a succession of sandy coves. Most are now given over to commercialism and quiet, deserted coves are few with the Kalamaki Peninsula offering the best chance of a quiet spot away from the crowds. The few north coast beaches have avoided exploitation and those seeking less developed sands should head for these. Many Skiathos beaches regularly pick up Blue Flag awards for their clean and safe sands.
The main Skiathos resort of SKIATHOS TOWN bristles with tavernas, bars and nightclubs alllying within a deep double bay on the south-eastern side of the island.
It is a busy and bustling resort where cosmopolitan harbourside bars thump to the steady beat of disco music and the air is punctuated by the noisy whine of passing mopeds. Charter planes swoop in low over Skiathos Town bay to land at the nearby airport and ferries pull in regularly to disgorge the latest arrivals.
The background noise may not be to everyone's taste but it's not unpleasant to lounge the evening away in one of the busy quayside cafe watching the tourists stroll by. Or you can join the throngs of holiday shoppers cruising the Skiathos Town boutiques and trinket shops that line the traffic-free centre.
Skiathos Town has two quays split by an outcrop of rock known as the Bourtzi. Dozens of busy cafes run the length of both harbours, the old port to the west and new harbour to the east. Cafes in the old harbour are bigger, many of them 10 or 12 tables deep.
The old harbour is also traffic-free, making a pleasant evening stroll for many visitors, mostly middle-aged tourists take a sedate stroll in their cleanly pressed linens. And it is here that the Skiathos island caquies tie up and pitch the display boards offering barbecue trips around Skiathos and daily jaunts to many of the neighbouring islets.
The main Skiathos Town shopping street leads inland from the Bourtzi up the hill. Here there are shops and even more cafes jammed along the narrow street, spoiled only by the occasional whiff of sewage from the drains that run beneath.
Eating out in Skiathos Town can be hard to swallow. Menus are uniformly pricey and meals are mediocre to poor. Too much passing trade has taken its toll on the tavernas.
Many new cafes have sprouted up over the last few years as Athenian businessmen cash in on the roaring trade. Tavernas overlooking the bay to the west tend to be the most expensive, as are the cafes that line the old harbour. None of them can be considered cheap.
Most of Skiathos' golden sand beaches are found strung out along the island's south coast. The beaches are well sheltered from the northerly meltemi wind and many are set in small to medium sized coves, backed by pine clothed hills. No one has to travel far on Skiathos to find a sandy cove; they are as thick on the ground as tourists and all served by the asphalt road that runs the length of the island. Some Skiathos beaches are backed by low rise hotels and many can get overwhelmed with tourists. Others are less easily found and have correspondingly fewer visitors. Just about all enjoy deep sand, shallow seas and the usual tourist facilities.
XANEMOS is one of the island's nudist beaches and found right off the end of the airport runway near Skiathos town - what more could a holidaymaker want? It can get very windy here and there is not much in the way of shelter.
Xanemos beach is deep and flat but scruffy, with more shingle than sand and it's a not particularly scenic spot. Facilities are few - a cantina opens in the summer and there are a dozen or so sunbeds for hire.
Nevertheless, Xanemos is fairly popular with those staying in the main town and you can get there by bus or taxi. An alternative is to walk around the eastern end of the island parallel to the runway.
KALYVIA is a pretty hillside community in the hills Xanemos on the road to the Evangelistra monastery. There is no village as such, just a collection of houses and apartments dotted among the pine trees.
Kalyvia has become a popular spot with tour operators in recent years thanks to the peaceful location and the extensive views over the south of the island to Skopelos. The biggest drawback for Kalyvia visitors is the relative isolation. Car hire is highly recommended as there is no bus service and it is a long and steep walk to Skiathos Town.
There is a small British ex-pat community here but little in the way of facilities. The nearest supermarket is a 20 minute walk and a couple of tavernas on the road to Skiathos Town open for the summer season.
Another beach within walking distance of Skiathos town is MEGALI AMMOS. This is a mixture of sand and shingle that slopes fairly gently into the sea. It forms part of the same beach that also forms neighbouring Vassilias.
The name Megali Ammos means 'Great Sand' and that is what you find, although it is a narrow beach and is packed full of sunbeds. Being so close to town Megali Ammos can get crowded early in the day: by lunchtime it can be heaving with visitors .
There is quite a steep climb down to the beach, so it's not much good for the old folk or those with mobility problems but the steep hill behind does offer protection from northerly winds. There are the usual facilities here including plenty of watersports.
Megali Ammos is a good place to stop if you prefer to stay near to the main Skiathos Town and if you don't mind the crowds too much. Holidays in Megali Ammos can be relatively quiet out of the main season.
There are the usual gift shops and a pretty waterfront that is lined with tavernas and cafes. There is a small quay for fishing boats and a clutch of bars for those who like the nightlife.
For walkers there is a road to the right at Villa Ella which peters out into an old footpath that will take you to Katsarou, Platanias, Kolios, Livetakia and Kechria.
The narrow pebble and sand beach at VASSILIAS or VASILIAShas a suicidally steep approach. At the western end it's hardly a beach at all actually, just a very narrow strip of sand and rocks hugging the steep cliffs that rise almost vertically behind.
Vassilias is a pleasant place to avoid the crowds and there is an excellent taverna hidden in trees halfway down or, much more welcome if you are leaving - halfway up. The steep cliff means that many hotels and apartments offer outstanding sea views.
The eastern half of Vassilias beach (it translates as the King's beach'), nearest Skiathos Town, has a better strip of sand and a small cantina serving up the basics. There are sun beds for hire and plenty of natural shade from the trees that border the back of the beach.
Further west are several hotels so the beach gets a little more crowded, although nowhere near as busy as neighbouring Megali Ammos. Like Megali Ammos, Vassilias sits below steep hills that protect both beaches from northerly winds.
South of the resorts of Megali Ammos and Vassilias is the coastal village of KATSAROU. Some good hotels and apartments have made Katsarou increasingly popular with tour companies in recent years.
Katsarou is a typical sleepy village of cobbled streets and whitewashed houses just above the main road on the steep pine-carpeted hillside. The elevated position makes it cooler but the relative isolation will not suit everyone. It is a steep 1km walk downhill to beaches at Vassilias and Kassandra Bay. Car hire here is a must unless you want to hide away for the holiday, although local hotels do offer free bus services.
For those that prefer a quiet break in serene surroundings this could be just the spot. There are a couple of pleasant tavernas in the village.
ACHLADIES or ACHLAIDIES is not the easiest beach to find, unless you are a resident of the large and shoe-box ugly Espirides hotel that backs onto the sands and virtually monopolises them. There is steep track from the eastern end or a long series of steep through an apartment complex nearby. Otherwise you enter Achladies beach through the hotel itself or along a fenced concrete path to the west of the hotel. The path leads to a friendly taverna where the owners don't seem to mind the straggles of visitors that wander through to the beach.
Achladies beach (the name means 'Pear Trees') is long and narrow but the sand is very fine and the waters shallow. A clutch of tavernas at the western end provide passable food if you want to avoid the hotel and enjoy a more a romantic setting for an evening meal.
The beach is set at the end of a small valley floor, planted out with olives and citrus. There are views from Achladies beach to the islet of Tsoungria offshore and on the horizon you can just make out Skopelos. The hotel has tennis courts and water sports. Tavernas and mini markets have sprouted up on the main road above Achladies beach.
Small and heavily crowded, TZANERIA or TZANERIAS is the 'gateway' to the Kalamaki peninsular and is dominated by the huge Nostos hotel complex whose apartment blocks climb all over the nearby hill. Tzaneria beach is not very wide but it's deep and the fine sand is regularly raked flat to reveal a soft bed of cigarette butts beneath.
Sheltered by cliffs on either side the water here can often be like a mill pond. A small taverna backs onto Tzaneria beach for lunchtime snacks and evening meals and nearby woods a little some shade along the edge of the sand. There is not a great deal of shade though as the woods have been fenced off with ugly high wire mesh. For the more sporty visitors there is a scuba diving school on the beach and there are tennis courts at the Nostos Hotel.
Nearby, down a dirt track from bus stop 11 is the small and delightful beach of SKLITHRI, hemmed in by hills and with a small traditional taverna (an increasingly hard thing to find now on Skiathos). The small bay provides very good shelter for boats and many anchor up here and while away some hours in the splendid taverna.
The relatively large and pine cloaked KALAMAKI peninsula juts out into the sea between the resorts of Tzanaries and Kolios. Kalamaki was one of the first areas of Skiathos to be developed with tourist villas going up in the early 60s. Nevertheless it remains one of the more exclusive areas of Skiathos, dotted with up-market homes and apartments.
The Kalamaki area is also noted for its fine walks through hilly pine forests with fine views can be had along the coast, especially between Tzanaries and Kanapitsa. The road from Bus stop 12 to 13 goes right around the peninsula and the walk takes about 60min. Beaches in the small bays around the Kalamaki peninsula coast may not be as spectacular as the rest of the island and you may have to negotiate steep tracks to get to them but they benefit from being far less crowded.
There are several of sandy, hidden coves all around the coastline, but the main beach area of the Kalamaki peninsula is the sands at KANAPITSA. Its popularity has fallen off in recent years as other resorts have grown but it is in a lovely setting.
There are two stretches of beach at Kanapitsa, both long and narrow but very sandy and the water is shallow so it's a good spot for families. There is a large recently renovated beach cantina and water sports and a small pool bar can be found at the Hotel Plaza that sits behind Kanapitsa beach. There is also an hourly water taxi service to Skiathos Town which takes about 20min.
Half-way round the peninsula on the opposite site from Kanapitsa, and down a very steep footpath, is the small beach of KOUTSOURI, never very busy. A small beach cantina opens in the summer and is sometimes visited by daily boat excursion trippers who spend an hour or two on the beach. There is room for parking above but it is a steep scramble down and an exhausting climb back up.
Another scramble around some rocks at Koutsouri brings you to the tiny but beautiful beach of DELFINIKI which translates as 'Little Dolphin'. You can reach it from the road but it is an even tougher scramble than Koutsouri so most arrive by boat. The western side of the peninsula tends to be hotter, away from the prevailing northeast breeze, but there are spectacular views across the sea to Evia and the Greek mainland.
The beach at VROMOLIMNOS has become increasingly popular over the years, especially with the youngsters. This is thanks mainly to a large beach bar that blasts out very loud music all day long and even throws the occasional foam party on the sands - judge for yourself, but only if you are hard of hearing.
There are the usual watersports and plenty of beach facilities at Vromolimnos but, as the beach is both popular and narrow, it does tend to get quite claustrophobic at busy times.
Vromolimnos is a splendid beach without the crowds though, with powder-puff sand and pleasant swimming in the shallow waters, ideal for children. Hills on either side make for a very sheltered spot and being west facing the beach is out of the prevailing northeast winds and gets some fine sunsets.
There is a brackish pond behind the beach that fortunately dries up in the summer or it would otherwise be paradise for mozzies as well as the young hedonists buzzing about the Vromolimnos shore.
KOLIOS is small and attractive bay with a narrow beach of sharp sand. Boats regularly pull into the small jetty and there is a pleasant and shady taverna off the back of the sands up some steps.
A popular destination, both for tourists and day trip boats, Kolios beach is small enough to get pretty crowded in the high season. Most of the time though Kolios is pleasantly low-key.
The sands at Kolios shelve gently into the sea and there is good swimming to be had, making this a very good beach for families with children. Tree-covered headlands to both the west and east also make for a sheltered spot.
New apartments have sprung up around Kolios in recent years and there is a selection of tavernas, mini markets and pool bars that have been built to service them.
A short walk in either direction off the main Kolios beach reveals many small and attractive coves where the lucky ones will end up with a 'private' beach to themselves all day.
The large valley at PLATANIAS is about 6km from Skiathos Town and has a pleasant stream that runs throughout the year. A couple of exclusive hotels have been built here and apartments have mushroomed in the area recently. Several tavernas and snack bars have been added to accommodate the annual influx of visitors.
The long and sandy PLATANIAS beach (also called AGHIA PARASKEVI) has a couple of beach tavernas in the summer and pleasant a pool bar at the nearby Skiathos Princess Hotel. The beach lies in the same large bay as both Vromolimnos and Kolios beaches.
The sand at Agia Paraskevi is fine and soft but it does shelve quite steeply into the sea so it's not an ideal spot for families with young children. But there is the full range of watersports here and there are boats for hire.
There are several good walks in the area, the most notable from bus stop 16 to KECHRIA beach, with an abandoned monastery of Kechria on the way - the oldest on Skiathos- or a right turn will take you over the hills to Skiathos Town.
The big, sandy beach at TROULOUS has plenty of tourist facilities, including a couple of decent tavernas and a small hotel on the beach. Troulos is very popular with holidaymakers and is turning into a major tourist beach as more apartments go up in the vicinity.
The wide beach at Troulos (the name means ''Dome' and there is a dome-shaped islet offshore) leaves plenty of room for everyone and the sand is deep and flour-like with low dunes behind. Cheaper sun beds are found at the eastern end. Secluded coves can also be found along the coast from Troulos for those prepared to explore the woods, but the going can be difficult on foot and it's best to hire a boat if you want to explore them.
The Troulos village resort is some way inland and almost totally purpose-built for the tourist trade. Holidaymakers based in Troulos village centre face a long trek to the sea, although there are more apartments are appearing at the back of Troulos beach.
In the inland village complex there are five supermarkets, car hire and taxis plus tennis courts. There is also a dog sanctuary near the monastery above Troulos that opens 10am-2pm. The dogs love being taken for a walk if you fancy something different. Walkers can also head off along dirt tracks around Troulos to the northern beaches at Asselinos, passing the Kounistra Monastery on the way.
The secluded bay at MARATHA lies below the Skiathos Palace hotel just beyond the beach resort of Koukounaries and has virtually be commandeered by the hotel which tends to treat the sands as its own private beach. However it is just a short walk down from the bus stop to a small sandy bay, which is well protected beneath pine slopes that reach right down to the seashore.
There are sunbeds ,and a good beach taverna in the woods behind to provide the basics. The water at Maratha is quite shallow so the beach is good for families with children and there is plenty of natural shade from the pines that overhang the back of the narrow beach - only just deep enough for a single row of sunbeds.
The Skiathos Palace hotel overloooks the beach but the pines are so thick and deep that visitors will hardly notice it is there. Marathi is a peaceful alternative to neighbouring Koukounaries which tends to attract the big crowds, especially in the high season.
Regularly voted one of the top ten beaches in the world by tour companies, KOUKOUNARIES (Greek for pine cones) boasts a kilometre-long crescent sickle of golden sand backed by a wooded nature reserve and a large lagoon.
Although impressive at first light, the rising sun can sink the spirits as the Koukounaries tour buses roll in. By 11am there are hundreds of overpriced sunbeds heaving with sun-creamed bodies, the sea is littered with motorboats and the Koukounaries air is humming with the dentist drill whine of jet skis. It is just too popular for its own good.
The nature reserve status of the lagoon at Koukounaries has helped curb tourist development and there are just a couple of beach tavernas offering the basics. Owners attract attention by decking their bars out with gaudy flags, or worse. The Koukounaries sands are also overlooked by two of the ugliest looking hotels in Greece and the resort's popularity has long put paid to reasonable prices. The nearby lagoon is a haven for mosquitoes and virulent squadrons of wasps regularly patrol the overflowing waste bins.
That said, Koukounaries is still a spectacular beach to enjoy, especially out of season. The deep long sand and shallow water make it appealing for families and there are interesting walks in the surrounding woodland. Three watersports centres offer water skiing and sailing. There are also toilets and changing facilities nearby and an attractive harbour at the eastern end.
One of the biggest problems with Koukounaries is leaving it after a day on the beach. Huge and crabby crowds cluster for an ugly teatime scramble to board the half-hourly buses to Skiathos town and no quarter is given as homebound tourists elbow aboard in a wild stampede for seats. Crammed to sardine-tin capacity the buses lumber away in a cloud of dust and fumes while taxis lie in wait to claim those that didn't make the bus.
There is no village in Koukounaries as such; just an untidy scattering of small scale hotels and tavernas strung along the long, straight road behind the Koukounaries lagoon. Tourist couples parade along the bleak main road in the evening, dodging the speeding mopeds. There is a popular horse riding stable near the bus stop.
Between Koukounaries and Agia Eleni is the very popular KRASSAS - better known as BANANA BEACH. The beach is signposted from the car park at Koukounaries. It is quite a long trek through the woods and the path can sometimes be used as a toilet, so some prefer to arrive by water taxi from Skiathos town.
Actually Banana is two beaches in one. The main beach is deep, long and sandy. It is heavily decked with sun beds and there are beach bars tucked away in the pine and scrub that line the small cliffs behind.
Good, soft sand shelves steeply into the sea, so families must keep an eye on the children. Umbrellas and sun beds are expensive but Banana Beach is hugely popular with younger people. Beach parties can erupt in high season and it can get very noisy with the beach bar banging out dumbed down disco and the beach full of boys 'up for a larf'.
The second beach, known as LITTLE BANANA is more sedate and lies just around a rocky headland. It's the island's semi-official nudist beach. Small and flat it's bound by steep, rocky cliffs that offer some privacy from the leers of 'brave' youngsters that dare each other to peek. Passing caiques always pull in close to the shore to let Peeping Tom passengers get their photo shots of the naked sunbathers.
There is another less well known, but equally attractive, beach nearby called SPARTACUS by tourists but known as ABELAKIA among Greeks. It is found by walking further around the rocky headland and offers relief from the crowds for those who prefer it.
The secluded beach of AGHIA ELENI is at the western end of the island, just a short walk from the bus stop before the car park at Koukounaries. A right junction just before the car park rises up and over a steepish hill that leads to the beach. There is space to park cars under the pine trees that press down onto the small bay.
Two small cantinas sit of the northern end of a narrow beach of sharp sand and fine pebbles. The cantinas at Agia Eleni only open in high summer and serve basic snacks, but their charges for sunbeds are relatively high. The waters are shallow and Agia Eleni beach used to be secluded enough to be an unofficial favourite with nudists, but it has become too popular of late and the naturists have moved on. Beach cleaning bulldozers occasionally scoop flyblown pine needles into huge and ugly mounds at each end of Agia Eleni beach. Western facing, it has spectacular sunset views.
There is a rough track leading round the headland to other small bays. The track had been washed away by storms when I ventured along it, but has probably been repaired now. Signs point to KRIFI AMMOS (Hidden Beach) a 15 min walk along the track to a lovely cove with a sand and pebble beach.
A beach cantina sits on the hillside above that opens in the summer. The drop into the sea is very steep so it's not really suitable for children. There is also no room for turning cars so they are best left behind.
Exposed to the northern winds the cost is wilder and less accessible than the south. There are also far fewer beaches and all of them are more difficult to get to than those in the south. There is now a good road to Megas Asselinos but some beaches can only be reached by boat or on foot. Those that venture out will be rewarded by less commercialised surroundings and some wonderful walks through the pine forests.
The densely wooded peninsula of MANDRAKI offers, after a 40-minute walk from Koukounaries, the three lovely beaches of XERXES, ELIAS and AGISTRI. The walk of about 40min starts from bus stop 21 at the Caravos Hotel. This is fighting-through-flour sand at Mandraki that starts well back in the woods making the trek pretty tiring on the legs. But the absence of serried ranks of sunbeds adds to the pleasure of arrival and just a handful of deeply coloured deck chairs dotted the shoreline when I visited. The western end of the sands drop very steeply into the sea but there is a much shallower shoreline to the east.
Flotsam litters the far eastern end of the beach which is known as Elias, with enough driftwood lying around for visitors to build complex and arresting sun shelters. It is not all driftwood, however. There is plenty of plastic, bottle, nylon string and other rubbish blown in on the northern winds - enough sometimes to make walking a hazard. Over the hill is a small bay so full of rubbish it looked as though it could once have hosted a medium sized can factory. The ramshackle cantina offers chips and chips or chips and tomato sauce.
Nearby is Agistri beach (also called Paradise) that is a little more pebbly but still very pleasant with plenty of sand. Access is on foot along rough tracks that lead west over the headland from Mandraki itself, or by boat. Both are quiet and peaceful, away from the crowds that cram the south coast resorts, and both have small cantinas that open in the summer for some basic provisions.
The big, wild and windy beach at MEGAS ASSELINOS is the most accessible northern beach on the island with a new road through the woods from Troulos. It has a huge taverna, clearly built to cater for the daily boat trippers that arrive for lunch on their round island tours. There is also a large campsite nearby.
In August the meltemi wind can blow your socks off and litter can be a problem for bathers as it gets blown in on the waves. It's a huge beach with plenty of deep sand and some pebbles but there is little shade if you don't have a sun bed. A fork right on the approach road to Megas Asselinos takes you to MIKRI ASSELINOS, a much smaller, much more secluded beach that is a favourite with naturists.
The lovely beach at LALARIA is accessible only from the sea and is famed the world over for its white pebble beach, turquoise waters and spectacular rock arches. The bleached white stones and undersea marble slabs are responsible for a dazzling aquamarine seashore. Less dazzling were the ugly four foot high letters LALARIA painted in red on cliffs above when I visited.
Lalaria beach is on the itinerary of almost every pleasure boat on the island and, as a result, the place can looks more like a motorway service station every year as scores embark from the hourly boat landings. Check before you board - some boats will anchor up for 2-3 hours and there are no facilities on Lalaria Beach. Given the hordes that descend on the place in high season you may well get more pleasure from the ubiquitous postcard of Lalaria beach with a solitary, shoreline nude. It is on sale in almost every shop on the island and has been for years. The nude model must be a granny by now.