Wasp-waisted Skyros island is the odd one out in the Sporades chain of islands that lie off the east coast of Greece. One of the largest islands in the Sporades it is also the most remote and somewhat off the main tourist trail and thus the least visited of this island group.
Skyros' isolation has helped it preserve its distinctive Greek character and customs - foreigners, for example, are banned from owning houses here. Tourist beds also number only around 1,000 and the resolutely traditional Skyros islanders seem intent on having no more, although visitors who make the effort to mix are very warmly welcomed.
Skyros stands so much apart from the rest of the tourist-hungry Sporades group that there is no direct ferry link from neighbouring islands. The landscape is green and densely wooded in the north; much more dry, rocky and barren in the south.
Traditonal festivals and occupations play a large part in island life and Skyroshas long been noted for its arts and crafts, its beautiful pottery and for its hand-carved furniture.
Most inhabitants live in and around the island capital of Chora and Skyros has a permanent population of around 3,000 people, mostly engaged in farming and fishing.
A tomb in the southern half of Skyros island is renowned as that 'corner of a foreign field that is forever England'. It is where the verse's author, the poet Rupert Brooke, was buried in 1915, brought ashore from a passing ship. His grave is one of the island's main tourist attractions.
The heavily indented coastline of Skyros is peppered with sand and pebble beaches, remote secluded coves, rocky inlets and even sea caves. Most summer visitors are found in the main beach resorts that line the shore below Chora. The 800m stretch of sand that links the twin resorts of Magazia and Molos, are a favourite with holidaymaking families and watersports enthusiasts. Those looking to escape the crowds have a number of splendid coves to choose from but access can be difficult along rough tracks and several can be reached only on foot or by boat, especially in the south.
Prepare to be disappointed at your first sight of the island capital CHORA. It lies on the east side of the narrow waist of Skyros that divides the island north and south.
Sometimes touted as one of the prettiest places in the Aegean, the bus from Linaria will drive through a rash of charmless mini-markets and other utilitarian buildings built to be as ugly as only the Greeks know how.
In the centre of Chora though, things change for the better, with white Cycladic-style cube houses stacked on top of each other to the summit of the hill. The subsequent fiendish maze of steep and narrow streets are ideal for walking.
The town is crowned by the Kastro‚ a mostly a Byzantine fortress with some Venetian trimmings built over an ancient acropolis. On the way up to it is the church of Agia Triada with some fine frescoes and the white monastery of Agios Giorgios founded in 962 which has a painting of St George slaying a dragon.
The main street of Chora is also narrow and little more than a strip of tourist shops, travel agents, cafes and overpriced tavernas that eventually lead to an open square overlooking MOLOS beach and the sea.
Here, perched on a terrace, is the banal bronze 'Statue of Immortal Poetry' erected in 1931 to commemorate the English poet Rupert Brooke, who is buried on the island.
Paid for by a rich Belgian businessman, it was actually intended as an allegorical figure rather than Brooke himself - the original model s thought to have been a male prostitute.
Under Brooke square and along some steps is the small archaeological museum which has exhibits of local copper artefacts‚ and a striking ceramic ring decorated with ducks and snakes from around 900 BC. Even more interesting is the private Faltaits Museum with a terrific collection of domestic items, clothes, embroidery and pottery.
The sprawling tourist development below Chora and behind Magazia beach now blends into neighbouring MOLOS village, about 4km north from the capital.
Typically squat and ugly Greek hotels and apartments now lie behind what is an attractive, long and sandy beach that snakes out to what was once a remote headland.
An old mill, now turned into a taverna, is a reminder of what a beautiful spot Molos must once have been. At least the taverna food is less mediocre here and less pricey than in the town. Lobster is the local specialty of Molos tavernas and worth a try.
There are a good many fish tavernas here as well as bars and cafes, a bakery and a mini-market. Molos is basically the northern end of the more popular Magazia beach.
A ten-minute walk down the hill from Skyros town, and a long stairway, brings you out past the island's official campsite and onto the fine dark sands of MAGAZIA just to the south of Molos.
Magazia is a long, sweeping beach that serves the main town of Chora and is named after the gunpowder magazines that were once stored here in Venetian times.
The Magazia area is fast being developed, but it is still reasonably quiet and relaxed despite the growing number of tourist trappings such as watersports. As Magazia is the main beach of the main town on the island, apart from Linaria, Magazia can get rather crowded in the high summer season.
Magazia beach is long and sandy, if rather narrow, curving out to the headland at Molos to the north. There are sunbeds on the most popular stretches and the water is quite shallow. At the southern end of Magazia a broken concrete breakwater lies offshore.
At the northern end of Magazia the rock has been carved and quarried into bizarre shapes, with a church and cave-like houses hewn from the stone.
The road past Molos bring you to the excellent PAPA TA CHOMATA or PAPATAHOUMA beach. The name translates roughly into 'land of the priest' but you are more likely to find less of the cloth and rather more of the flesh here as this is the island's unofficial nudist beach.
The sands at Papa Ta Chomata are fine and the water is clean, although it can be a difficult descent down a narrow cliff path to the beach. Beaches further south of here are disappointingly drab until you get to ASPOUSS which is a pleasant spot with a couple of nice beach tavernas.
Nearby BASALES offers an even less developed alternative to Papa Ta Chomata but visitors must beware the sewage that can float in on the tide when wind is in the wrong direction (north or north-east). This is not the cleanest beach on the island as sewers from the main town end up near here.
Further south still is the beach at ORMOS ACHILLIS. Set in a deep bay this once boasted one of the best beaches on Skyros and was earmarked by developers for a yacht marina.
The marina project was part of a government drive to attract yachting tourism away from Turkey but, apart from a half-dozen fishing boats, a few anglers and an abandoned tugboat, the place is deserted.
South of the bay at Ormos Achillis the coast becomes very rocky and virtually inaccessible except for the tiny resort of SARAKINIKO which has a cave and sits on almost the most southern point of the island.
This a popular area for boat trips, not only to see the grave of the English poet Rupert Brooke at nearby Tris Boukes, but to explore the spectacular caves and inlets on the southeast coast.
The functional fishing village of LINARIA is also the main port of Skyros and lies on the west coast at the island's narrow waist, tucked into a small bay about 10km from the capital Chora
The only other major settlement on Skyros apart from Chora, Linaria is little more than a cluster of modern concrete buildings packed around a tiny, though picturesque, harbour that brings in most of the tourist traffic by ferry.
Linaria boasts some excellent tavernas and many make the most of the good sunsets to be seen on this side of the island. There is a small beach within walking distance to the north at AHERONNAS.
It's worth a trek to the church of Agios Nikolaos, on a hill above Linaria port where you can enjoy some spectacular views.
Mainly though, Linaria is just a jumping off point for boat trips around the island. A great favourite is the islet of Skyros Goula which has a couple of small beaches and some rather dramatic caves. There are also jaunts to the islet of Saka Grino which has a small beach at Glyfada Bay.
KALAMITSA, just south over the headland from Linaria, is one of the best beaches in the south-west - which is not saying much as it is just about the only one.
Kalamitsa is not much more than a long swathe of shingle, although the sand does peep through the stones at the northern end of a beach which is fronted by tavernas, a few villas and a windsurfing club.
Nearby is a well-preserved stone sarcophagus and an upright Doric column. At the southern end Kalamitsa blends into the long, white, crescent shingle beach of KOLIMBADES which has some good swimming.
There are coves with stone and shingle beaches further south, although none have any facilities and most can only be reached by boat.
The road north out of Linaria heads up into the hills, barren landscape of low scrub and herds of goats. The road forks right to Chora and left around the bay to AHERNOAS, also called ACHERONAS or ACHEROUNES.
Aheronas has a pleasant long, sandy beach, well protected at the end of a small bay with good shallow water making it a favourite with families.
Two tavernas offer the basics and a café serves ice cream and drinks. As Aheronas beach is only a 10 minute walk from Linaria it is popular with those staying in this part of the island, although the prettier beach of Agios Pefkos is only just over the headland.
This is the beach most visitors head for on the west coast of Skyros. AGIOS PEFKOS lies over the headland from Aheronas at the head of a deep bay.
Once the site of a marble quarry, Agios Pefkos is where Syrian marble was shipped out. Pine trees tumble down to the shoreline at the attractive bay which can reached by car down a dirt track from the main Linaria to Chora road.
Agios Pefkos has a beach of sand and shingle, with rocky outcrops at either end and a small quay. A couple of basic tavernas open in the high summer.
A little further north from Agios Pefkos and down a steep bank is the even more attractive bay at AGIOS FOKAS. Despite being even prettier than its neighbour fewer make it here as it cannot be reached by car. The road deteriorates into a very rough track as you approach Agios Fokas so it can be dangerous except on foot.
Visitors to Agios Fokas must make a long trek along a track up and over the headland and through pine-scented woods and fields to reach it. The rewards for going the extra few miles are well worth it, with a trio of idyllic white pebble beaches.
Agios Fokas has a basic, but excellent, taverna that opens in the high summer. Both Agios Fokas and neighbouring Agios Pefkos have recently been discovered by villa companies and it looks like their days as peaceful havens may well be numbered.
The far north of Skyros has the best of the secluded beaches, although they are not always easy to find and few of them have any facilities.
This coast also takes the brunt of ferocious winds and heavy seas that batter the cliffs over the winter as well as the northern 'meltemi' that blows through July and August
Set in a peaceful wooded bay ATSITSA, on the north-west coast, doesn't have much of a beach. Atsitsa is mostly rocks and stones with a couple of ramshackle wooden quays where boats can tie up.
Atsitsa is home to a British-run holistic health centre which offers meditation, bungalows and PRIVATE KEEP OUT signs in case any non-paying passers-by might stray inside the 'exclusive' complex. The karma here is uncompromisingly up-market'
There are offshore islets, densely wooded coves and some iron mine installations dating from the 19th century. Pine trees plunge down to a shoreline that is rocky enough to make swimming difficult but there is a good fish taverna here.
Just north of Atsitsa are a couple of small and rather nondescript beaches of sharp sand and shingle at KALOGRIAS and at KYRA PANAGIA, the latter of which has a tiny chapel and a summer taverna.
The best of the beaches in this area is AGIOS PETROS, a pale sand beach with a few pebbles and backed by magnificent dunes. Access to Agios Petros is down a track through pine woods that starts near the air base.
Like the others beaches in the area there are few facilities at Agios Petros. A beach cantina sometimes opens in the summer when the beach can get quite busy.
There are several sand and pebble beaches along the stretch of coastline that makes up the northern tip of Skyros. None well known and all are sparsely populated.
Two that are most worth a visit are MARKESI and THEOTOKOS, though you may have to contend with the drone of jet aircraft taking off from the nearby military air base.
Though neither has any facilities both have shallow waters, a little sand and shingle with rocky outcrops on either side.
There are some ancient engraved tombs near Markesi for those interested in archaeology.
PALAMARI is most noted for the rather neglected site of a Bronze Age settlement which still shows the layout and pattern of the original streets and houses.
It was first built around 3,000 BC and flourished for a millennium. The total area covers about five acres, though the eastern part is now under the sea.
The main reason for the ancient city's growth was the metals that were once mined in the Palamari area. Below Palamari is a very pleasant sand beach but care must be taken not to wander too near the military base which is a restricted area.