Skopelos: Ready For Its Closeup

Monday, October 6, 2008

Skopelos may be getting the Hollywood treatment, but this little Greek island isn’t letting it get to its head — with looks like this who needs Hollywood?

By Andy Boxall

As of the date of this publication, there are no official “Mamma Mia!” tours in Skopelos as there are “Sex in the City” tours in New York, but given Skopelos’ prominent role in the hugely successful film adaptation of the stage show, the idea doesn’t seem too far-fetched — in theory at least. In practical terms, it’s highly unlikely. This tiny island of 5,000, just to the east of Greece’s mainland, is about as eager to embrace its new-found famed as it is to embrace the modern world in general — which is to say: not at all. So you can breath a sigh of relief; you won’t find any ouzo Cosmopolitans here, but what you will find is a charming, beautiful Greek island with some of the best sights in the Aegean Sea, and with hardly a tourist in sight for most of the year. Or for that matter, a singing Pierce Brosnan, a godsend to all.

Just thirteen miles in length and five miles wide, Skopelos is perfect for anyone seeking seclusion. There’s no airport on the island, and the only way of getting there is via boat. If you’re combining your Greek visit with a few days in Athens — which is the recommended way of doing things — you can take a two-hour journey south to the port of Agios Konstantinos and board a catamaran that will take you to the inland in about two hours. (Or you can fly to nearby Skiathos and take an hour-long ferry from there instead, all depending on your tolerance for open-sea voyages.)

Outdoor Adventure

In town you’ll see the familiar sights of white-washed houses, tiny, winding streets and plenty of tavernas (small restaurants serving Greek cuisine) and cafes, but it’s outside of town where Skopelos really comes alive. What may come as a surprise, especially if you have just come from smoggy Athens, is just how green and lush Skopelos is, perfect for both avid and casual hikers. With dense forests covering the mountain sides and fields of trees and wild flowers that dot the valleys, Skopelos is one of Greece’s greenest islands. And like many Greek islands, Skopelos is very mountainous, with two main peaks splitting the land, creating valleys and gorges across the landscape.

One highly recommended trek is to scale Delphi, one of the many mountains on the island. Along the way you can expect to encounter many varieties of wildlife that call the island home, including various birds of prey, butterflies and all kinds of trees from plums to walnuts. The views from the mountain peaks overlooking the island to the sapphire-colored sea aren’t half-bad either.

The southeastern part of the island is protected under the National Marine Park of the Northern Sporades and is home to several endangered species including the Mediterranean Monk Seal, one of the world’s most endangered mammals of which an estimated 500 remain in the world. The seals can also be found on the island of Alonnisos (the next island after Skopelos), the location of Europe’s largest Marine Park.

Hit The Beach

Life on Skopelos runs at a slightly slower pace, perhaps even slower than most other Greek islands, so don’t expect a bustling nightlife scene or couture-filled shopping centers when you’re back in town. No, this is a place for exploration, relaxation, and a return to a simpler way of living. While it may be a little busy during the high season, try to visit when things have settled down (May/June or September/October) and when the weather is still pleasant and the crowds have thinned considerably.

Like many Greek islands, Skopelos’ beaches are one of its main attractions. Kastani Beach (the location of many scenes of the movie) about 18 kilometers west of Skopelos Town is worth a visit for a swim in its clear waters, but a trip to Glysteri, just of north of town, is less well-known and therefore quieter but every bit as enjoyable.

Skopelos’ Newest Famous Locale

Probably one of the most amazing sights in all of the island is the Agios Ioannis Chapel, the tiny chapel that sits precipitously atop a rocky outcrop above the choppy sea below. Located on the northern side of the island about an hour outside of Skopelos Town, this chapel was the location for the final wedding scene in the movie, contrary to rumors that this scene was actually shot in Corfu.

They say that fame changes everything and if that were always true, Skopelos, after a starring role in a huge Hollywood production, should just about be in its falling-out-of-posh-parties-drunk-at-5-a.m.-phase right now. But the island has simply shrugged off its fifteen minutes like it never happened. Agriculture continues to be the main occupation and the seafront cafes retain the same clientele they did before any stars came to town. Just as the influx of tourists in summer is treated as something that just “happens,” so was the movie industry. Now it’s gone, Skopelos has quckly moved on, and has returned to what it always has been: a glorious, quiet, Mediterranean beauty spot.


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