After our mid-pandemic trips to Santorini, Milos and Sifnos in 2020, David and I were hooked on Greece. And in particular, Greek islands. I’d always been mildly embarrassed that I had never explored the dazzling isles of my parents’ motherland, but COVID gave us an opportunity to rectify that problem, and in 2021 we added Skiathos, Zakynthos and Naxos to our list of Hellenic conquests. Today I’ll be talking about our trip to the beautiful island of Skiathos, which I’m not afraid to say is my favourite Greek island (so far).
David and I arrived on the island after overnighting in Athens, which is something that I just love to do as it’s one of the most vibrant, gritty, crazy and wonderful cities I’ve ever been to (standby for a suitably colourful Drunk In… Athens). Still slightly hungover when we landed in Skiathos (see Athens, above) we picked up our rental car, a cute little Suzuki Jimny, and made our way to our villa. I was a little nervous about what we’d find when we got there as I’d broken one of my own cardinal rules of Airbnb, which is to never rent a place that hasn’t already had its cherry popped by other guests. I usually need to read at least one review. Also, according to the listing there was no BBQ, which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for me but it’s pretty fucking close. I absolutely loved the property though, and during my search for the perfect place I just kept coming back to it. Torn, I knuckled down and did some serious forensic holiday research, finally coming to the conclusion that being the first guests would be worth the risk. After all, when I’d emailed the host, Laura, and asked her if the house did have a BBQ that perhaps they had forgotten to list, she told me that they didn’t have one, but she would happily buy one for us. Now that’s Greek hospitality, people!
Waiting for us at the villa was our host’s effervescent mother, Katerina, who showed us around the property. And wow, what a beautiful property it was. A two bedroom villa set amongst a lush, almost tropical, garden and surrounded by ancient olive groves and countless cicadas, chirping in the hot midday sun. After the tour, Katerina sat us down and gave us the inside tea on all the cool, hidden places to visit on the island. Tavernas, beaches and bars that most tourists wouldn’t have a clue about.
After Katerina left, we headed out for a walk looking for a yummy lunch, and almost immediately stumbled upon a taverna just around the corner from our place called The Koutsavaki. We weren’t sure whether it was open or not as it was very quiet. Don’t forget, this was still in the depths of COVID, and unfortunately during our time on all the Greek islands, too many restaurants, bars and cafes were either closed or empty. We felt bad whenever we were the only customers at a taverna, but we also felt good that we were supporting them during that difficult time. We had a wonderful lunch at Koutsavaki, ordering all our favourite Greek dishes, including sardines, skorthalia and greens washed down with delicious white wine served in a half kilo jug. What a fantastic way to start our island adventure.
The food was delicious, and the service was hospitable, but what made that first lunch on Skiathos truly special for me was the song that played half way through our meal. I jerked up in my seat, wide-eyed and with a broad smile growing on my face as the lyrics rushed back to me. I was instantly transported back to my childhood, bouncing on my father’s knee as he sang the song. I used to squeal with delight when my Dad clucked his tongue to recreate the clip-clop sound of the horses trotting in the song (and which you can hear in the clip below). I hadn’t heard that song in over forty years, and it was exhilarating to unearth it from the memory graveyard of my mind. Hearing it brought up so many early memories of my beloved family and I got quite emotional, shedding a few tears over my food.
Later that day we walked into town to get a drink before dinner, heading to a place called Borzoi Club. I used to work with an Emirati guy called Salah who’s been to almost all the Greek islands coz he’s lucky enough to have a Greek girlfriend. Salah’s a very cool dude, a Teflon-coated hotshot who can smooth talk his way into, and out, of any situation. He’s also a massive party boy. He was the one who recommended that we holiday in Skiathos in the first place, and for that I will be eternally grateful. But he and I definitely have different criteria for what makes a good holiday. He’s into partying, beach clubs and trendy venues. David and I are into tavernas, homemade food and isolated beaches. Cocktails at Borzoi Club, which Salah had recommended, just confirmed the contrast between us. While the place was super fashionable and the cocktails were tasty, the service was disinterested and everyone in there was trying super hard to be cool. It just wasn’t our kind of place.
The next day, after a boozy lunch we walked along the small harbour, admiring the bazillion dollar yachts before climbing up the steps to Bourtzi, a small peninsula which was once an ancient fort. Built in 1206 by the Venetians, who conquered Skiathos and ruled it for over three centuries, the fort has a turbulent history. After the Venetians chewed the island up and spat it out, the Turks decided to take over, mercilessly bringing the Skiathians to their knees for another three hundred years. In 1829, the beleaguered people of the island decided enough was enough and took up arms, fighting the Turks off from the secure stronghold of Bourtzi fort. Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of hardship for Skiathos, which had the shit bombed out of it when the Germans invaded during World War 2. After the war finished, Skiathos was finally left alone and permitted to flourish. Not much remains of Bourtzi fort, save for a few walls and ruins. David and I drunkenly frolicked up the hill, stopping to take several photos of the incredibly beautiful sea and to watch a couple of winsome, brown limbed boys on the rocks below, egging them to jump into the crystal clear waters. They cheerfully obliged and we rewarded ourselves at the top of our climb with glasses of ouzo, refreshing frappés and the extraordinary view.
So, what exactly is a frappé? I’ll be so bold as to say, more than any other, it is the national drink of Greece. When shaken with ice, the relatively unassuming ingredients of water and a couple of heaped teaspoons of Nescafé instant coffee produce a delicious iced coffee drink with a thick, glossy crema that will have you licking your fingers; and which is far, far greater than the sum of its parts. The eagle-eyed among you will remember that I don’t normally drink coffee for coffee’s sake anymore (coffee naps are an exception), but when I’m in Greece I drink the hell out of frappés. They are delicious, satisfying, extremely moreish and just one frappé will perk you up for hours.
The next morning after yoga and a leisurely swim in the glorious pool we decided to try out one of Katerina’s suggestions and drove to Kastro Beach Taverna on the northernmost point of the island. From the parking lot, the beach is accessible only by foot down a somewhat treacherous rocky mountain path. But the effort is totally worth it. On the way down we had to make multiple stops just to soak in the breathtaking beauty of the sea below. When we made it to the shore we discovered that the taverna wasn’t open yet, so we pitched camp on the hot sand and went for a dip while we waited. Even before midday, the sun fiercely beat down on us, and we lamented that we were the only ones on the beach without an umbrella. Mental note to self: get a beach umbrella. Stat!
Keeping an eye on the taverna, we made a beeline for it as soon as it started showing signs of life, and claimed a table in the middle of the rustic porch. Two cute boys with big smiles and bleached hair expertly weaved between the chairs and tables to take drink orders and serve the food. Hot from the sun, we rehydrated with a couple of beers before ordering our usual ouzo and white wine. And then, of course, we moved onto the delicious traditional fare. We spent a couple of hours there, under the large driftwood shade, just chilling, reading, talking and enjoying the great vibe. For real, Michelin can just suck it. This is the good stuff, right here.
So, David and I are weirdos (in case you didn’t know), and we like to celebrate not only our annual wedding anniversary on the 23rd September, but also the occasional monthly wedding anniversary. Coz why not? So, if we happen to be on holiday on the 23rd of any month, we’ll usually do something special to mark the occasion. And since we were in Skiathos on the 23rd June we celebrated our 177th month wedding anniversary at a restaurant located in one the oldest buildings on the island, a windmill originally erected in 1880. The view from the top balcony, which I’d booked for romance and privacy, was magnificent. The setting was super intimate, the service was impeccable and the food was delicious. But I needn’t have spent the extra cash on the honeymoon table as, once again, we were the only patrons there. Sad face.
The next morning we set out in our little Jimny intending to take her on an off-road adventure to a beautiful, isolated beach called Mantraki. Unfortunately, shortly after turning off the main road, a big-ass van got bogged on the dirt track in front of us and we couldn’t get around them. We waited half an hour to see if they could get out (they couldn’t), and then changed our plans and headed to another of Katerina’s beach recommendations called Kriffi Amos, which translates from Greek as Hidden Sands.
The beach was beautiful and secluded, hidden away from the mountainous road by trees and brush and accessed by walking down a very steep, uneven dirt track. We fell in love with the super chilled vibe of the beach taverna, not much more than a shack really, constructed of driftwood and dried palm leaves, and decorated with old fish nets and buoys. The rambunctious owner of the taverna, Maria, took a particular liking to David (of course), doling out compliments, winks and raunchy jokes followed by rasping howls of laughter in between puffs of her cigarette. After we’d ordered lunch, she suddenly reappeared at our table wielding a large tablespoon of tzatziki, giving us each a generous taste. She explained that her chef was making up a new batch and he wanted our opinion on how it tasted. Feeling a little sassy, we told her that it was perfect… for public consumption, but that we personally liked it with a little bit more garlic. She took that information back to the kitchen and when our lunch came out, the tzatziki was garlicky as fuck!!! Hell yeah! We spent the whole day at Krifi Ammos beach, heading up to the taverna every now and again for a refreshing ouzaki, frappé or ice water. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the goddamn life.
The next day we drove to a beautiful taverna at the top of the hill at Mega Gialos for lunch. We were warmly welcomed by the lovely host and seated outside on the deck that wrapped around the restaurant, overlooking the stunning blue water and the neighbouring island of Skopelos, which you might remember from the movie Mamma Mia! We had delicious food and delicious wine and we chatted with the friendly host, telling her we were planning to hike down to Mega Gialos beach after lunch. She shook her head and said we should go to nearby Nikotsara instead. Fine by us! Anytime a local recommends something, we listen. And we were handsomely rewarded for followed her advice because when we got to Nikotsara we discovered a stunning little secret cove that we never would have found by ourselves. The only other people there were a couple of wrinkly, leathered German naturists on the other side of the beach, and they took off after a few minutes so we had the whole place to ourselves. We set up our umbrella, took off our kit and splish splashed the afternoon away. Happiness.
A couple of days later, we went back to Mega Gialos, determined to check out the famous beach despite the waitress’ word to the wise. From the taverna at the top of the mountain, it’s a difficult 20 minute trek down through thick brush, prickly shrubs and cobwebs, and you definitely need proper walking shoes to do it. When we got to the gorgeous beach we were thrilled to find that once again we were the only ones there. Unfortunately, we soon realised that the reason for that (apart from the horrendously difficult hike) was that the water, which was the most beautiful, most crystal clear water I have ever seen in my life, was full of bastard baby jellyfishes.
We deliberated on it for a long time, and finally decided to risk a swim. We carefully waded in, the sun glistening like diamonds on the salty water which felt like velvet on my skin. I gazed up at the intense blue sky, and smiled at David. I got comfortable. I got complacent. And I got stung. I’ve never been stung by a jellyfish before and I did not handle it well. Screaming like a banshee, and comically wind-milling my arms around, so as to thrash the water (and other jellyfishes) away from my body, I hightailed it onto the pebbly beach thinking I was going to die (don’t forget, I am Australian). I melodramatically implored David to piss on my arm, and he fell over laughing (no, I had not been aware that was just an urban myth). It stung like hell, but in the end it wasn’t actually that bad. Certainly not as bad as I’d expected. Sulking on the beach under our excellent umbrella, which was doing a phenomenal job of reflecting the powerfully strong sun, I felt pretty resentful looking at that beautiful water, knowing that it was infested with electric devil spawn. There was no way I was going back in so we didn’t stick around much longer, and the hot and sweaty climb back up the mountain felt all the more gruelling for having been for naught. When we got to the top we stopped off at the taverna to quench our hard-earned thirst with an ice-cold beer, which is when David told me that he had also been stung by the jellyfishes, multiple times. And he’d never said a goddamn word. My husband, the tough guy.
On our way home from the beach we decided, against our better judgement, to spend the rest of the afternoon at Koukounaries, apparently one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and one that my colleague Salah had raved about. In Greece, beaches are classified as either organised or unorganised. Organised beaches are maintained and have sun-loungers and umbrellas for rent, public toilets and usually a taverna or beach bar to buy food and drinks. We prefer unorganised beaches, which are exactly what it says on the label. There usually aren’t any facilities at all, though you can still find tavernas at some unorganised beaches
Knowing that Koukounaries was definitely not our style of beach, we turned into the carpark anyway and crawled around for 15 minutes looking for a spot amidst the hundreds of vehicles. Not a good start. We grabbed our stuff and shuffled unenthusiastically towards the busy beach. As we approached the sand, the distant sound of muffled doof-doof music became louder and doofier, the number of tourists in a variety of shades of sunburn varying from light pink to deep lobster became greater, and the revving of jet-skis became even more obnoxious. We saw signs for €30 (front row) lounge chairs, waitresses serving blue cocktails, kids running around screaming and what seemed like thousands of people crammed into a narrow strip of sand. No thank you. We turned around and legged it back to the car, deciding that an afternoon in our gorgeous pool was a much better proposition.
We went out a lot for lunches and beach adventures while we were in Skiathos, but our villa was so beautiful, and the pool so inviting that we stayed in most evenings. It was so lovely to just jump in the pool whenever we needed to cool off in the intense Greek summer heat. Also, we did get a fantastic BBQ provided especially for us; it would have been a travesty not to use it. Every day we’d go to the local supermarket and pick up whatever meat looked great, usually lamb but sometimes pork. We’d also get some olives, dips, tomatoes, lemons, local cheese and fixin’s for David’s special tzatziki (yoghurt, cucumber and lots of garlic). And wine, obvs. David is a master chef on the BBQ so we ate like Greek gods. Afterwards we would read or play backgammon and listen to music. And we would always, always, finish the night with a midnight swim. Always, always accompanied by shots of mastiha, a delicious sweet liqueur made from the resin of mastic trees. This has become a tradition for us now, and we will always, always drink mastiha while skinny dipping in our pool late at night whenever we are in Greece. You should try it sometime.
One night we did have dinner in town and afterwards walked along the harbour to a bar right on the water called Gin Fish, which was totally vibing and absolutely packed with tourists and locals alike. I suspect that Salah would have loved it, but unfortunately, the service was spotty and the drinks were overpriced. Disappointed, David and I started walking home through the town when we discovered the much quieter Andersson’s Bar which was superior in every single way. Tucked away in a quiet courtyard, it had amazing service and super delicious cocktails, in a very relaxed atmosphere. We went there so many times after that first visit, that when we dropped by on our last night to say farewell, the owner Ullis Andersson gave us each a big hug goodbye.
So Salah and I might have different ideas about what constitutes a fun holiday (remember Koukounaries), but there is definitely some overlap in our interests. David and I wanted to get to Diamantis beach, another of Salah’s recommendations, but it’s only accessible from the sea, so we drove down to a local boat rental place to enquire about hiring a boat for half a day. When the guy suggested that he take us there himself, we quickly took him up on his offer. Being water-limousined was great because it meant that we could drink as much as we liked and didn’t have to worry about drunk driving a boat home. We just called the guy up when we were done and he picked us up 15 minutes later. This worked out perfectly and was a fraction of the cost of renting the boat ourselves.
Diamantis beach was amazing. Set in a tiny little cove, there were about ten lounge chairs for guests of the taverna and a cool upstairs beach bar built into the treetops, where we had beers and frappés and cocktails until the restaurant opened. The food was trying a little too hard to be fancy (I mean, c’mon babes, don’t mess with perfection), but we had a really fun time, and finished the afternoon lounging around in the sunchairs and going for several swims in the gorgeous (jellyfish-free) water. Bliss.
One of my favourite tavernas on the whole island was Taverna Ligaries located by the sea in a very remote part of the island. But we almost didn’t make it there. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Google maps has been acting kinda loopy lately, sending us down roads that aren’t roads at all and choosing routes that are unnecessarily way off the beaten path. This is what happened to us and our trusty Suzuki Jimny on the way to Ligaries, one dirt road in particular becoming steeper and steeper, until at one point we were almost vertical trying to crest a ridge and it felt like a minor miracle that we didn’t flip backwards. We made it over the ridge but, instead of opening up, the track narrowed even more and the tree branches closed in around us, menacingly scratching the side of the car and threatening to completely envelope us. There was no way we could go back, but it didn’t seem like we were able to keep going forward either. According to google maps, we were on the right track, but the situation was fraught with danger. Gripping the car handle with white knuckles, I actually thought we were going to get stuck and probably lose the Jimny in the overgrown jungle vegetation.
I tried to keep my cool, but my heart felt like it was going to pound right out of my chest, and every now and then I’d burst into hysterical, nervous laughter. Also occasional screams, which I attempted to stifle because I didn’t want David to feel as scared as I was. I didn’t want to put him off his driving game which, incidentally, was magnificent. I was in total awe of his skills behind the wheel, and of how cool he stayed, even when things got really hairy. With my crappy navigation and David’s incredible driving we eventually popped out of the jungle and onto the paved road that we probably could have been on the whole time. Thanks for nothing google maps.
With the adrenaline still coursing through our veins we eventually made it to Taverna Ligaries and gratefully sat at a table under the shady, vine-covered pergola. We ordered a few of our favourite dishes, and before we knew it the place started filling up with big parties of local guests enjoying themselves and getting happily rowdy. After drinking a kilo of white wine, we were getting happily rowdy ourselves. The food was delicious, the service was friendly and relaxed, and the taverna was filled with laughter and shouting and backslapping and table banging. All the wonderful Greek vibes. Afterwards we walked to the beach where we paid €2 each for beach loungers and an umbrella, and sobered up by alternating between lolling in the shade and swimming in the beautiful, clear, warm water of the Mediterranean Sea.
I never expected to love Skiathos as much as I did. I was taken aback by how at home I felt on the island. At how seductive I found its extreme serenity, rugged beauty and spectacular, isolated beaches. How charmed I was by the friendliness of the locals, their willingness to help and their quickness to smile. And at how captivated I’d become by the technicolour palette of the island, the fresh salty air, the hypnotising thrum of cicadas, the rustic and easy way of life where nothing is really so important that you actually need to worry about it. I could imagine living out my life here, just like this. Yoga, nude swimming, delicious Greek food, wine served in ½ kilo carafes, siestas, cicadas, writing, living. I left Skiathos a changed person. I left a Skiathan.