sunrise in Skiathos with boats in the foreground

A Wonderful Week of Summer in Skiathos

Kathrin and I wanted to spend a relaxing week somewhere new. We considered two destinations–Ireland or a Greek island. Since our main goal was to go someplace warm, the question became, where are Condor’s destinations in Greece? A colleague and friend of Kathrin’s recommended Skiathos, a quiet, genuinely Greek island that isn’t overrun by tourists. That sounded like a good place to get away from it all and relax, so we planned a week’s stay.

Skiathos is quite small, 7 miles long and 4 miles wide, with beautiful beaches and pine tree forests. It has one main road that runs along the southern coastline, with smaller, sometimes paved but always curvy, roads branching off and going north.

 

While planning our trip and investigating what the island offered, Kathrin set a goal for us: to find each and every geocache—all 8 of them!

 

The day of departure arrived, and the flight to Greece was smooth. Our rental car was waiting for us downtown and after a short chauffeur ride and the usual paperwork, we were on our way to the hotel, Skiathos Diamond Apartments. It’s on one of those narrow, curvy roads off the main road. Upon our arrival, the hosts, Christos and Soula and their 3 children, made us feel like friends returning for a visit.

Our hotel room was really a studio apartment, with a kitchenette, marble floors, and a balcony offering a view to forested hills. It was very spacious.

 

Breakfast the next morning was on a veranda overlooking the pool. Christos took our order.  Eggs, yoghurt, toast, cake, doughnuts, and cornflakes were on the menu. The rest of the family worked together to deliver our order. We noticed that the daughter was in charge of disinfecting the tables and chairs once the guests left. We were glad to see they were taking hygiene seriously.

Exploring Skiathos Town and its history

Our first day was dedicated to exploring Skiathos Town. This island has a long, troubled history. From the 12th to the 18thcenturies it changed hands several times between the Venetians, Byzantines, and Turks, with a constant dose of pirate raids. Eventually, by the  end of the 19th century, things began to settle down.  

There were no signs of pirates, Venetians, or any other invaders during our visit. We simply enjoyed exploring the narrow streets and white-washed buildings of the town. The absence of mass tourism was quite noticeable here, and we didn’t miss it a bit. Walking down the streets, the most common language was Greek, with only an occasional foreign language to be heard.

The end of the day found us at Infinity Blue, a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. It tempted us with a fantastic view of the bay below. Equally pleasant were the food and service. The only unpleasant aspect of our meal was the occasional, but regular, loud traffic noise from the main street below. Several times we paused our conversation to wait for a loud vehicle to pass.

A Quiet Monastery in the Mountains

Sunday’s agenda included hiking and geocaching, followed by some beach time in the midafternoon. We drove to the Panagia Ikonistria Monastery in the mountains, then hiked to a lonely church. Upon our arrival, a man with a young boy were sitting on a stone bench. He said his grandfather took care of the church until his death, and now he does it. 

Monastery
Idyllic Panagia Ikonistria Monastery

He spoke very good English, even using some expressions that I’m sure he learned from TV, it wasn’t textbook English at all. Once he and his son left to join their family at a nearby beach, we began our search for the geocache. The owner said it was hidden in a rock wall. After a long search, we found it at the opposite end of the wall. According to the online log, the last people found it 2 years ago! This was either a well-kept secret or well hidden. Either way it was no match for us.

A mountain church in Skiathos
The church with the geocache

With our names in the logbook and the cache back in the wall, we hiked to our car and drove to Troulos Bay beach, where the rest of the day was devoted to relaxing and enjoying the laid-back island life. We arrived at lunchtime and were happy to see a small hotel with a restaurant terrace right at the beach. How could one say no to that? The good food and pleasant, friendly staff made for an enjoyable experience.

Troulos Bay Beach and umbrellas
Troulos Bay beach

With full bellies, we ambled down to the warm sand and spread our towels for some well-deserved relaxation. Periods of sunbathing broken up by swimming, or, in my case, snorkeling in the crystal-clear water filled our time here. This is how summer should be. The hours passed quickly and before long; dinnertime arrived. Knowing just where to go, we sauntered back to the hotel restaurant and shared one of their tempting dinner offerings and refreshing glasses of white wine.

As our glasses slowly emptied themselves, thoughts of home and work evaporated from our minds. The sun and the waves made for a soothing backdrop as we walked back to the car for the long drive to our hotel—all six minutes of it.

A Disappointing Boat Tour

To be completely honest, Monday proved to be our least favorite day. We booked a boat tour during our walk in Skiathos Town, which included stops at the “Mamma Mia Church” aka Agios Ioannis Kastri on Skopalos island, and the Lalaria beach with its famous limestone arch on the north coast of Skiathos. The morning of departure, the boat people notified us that the maritime police had “closed” the Mamma Mia church because of high seas. So our sightseeing tour turned into a beach tour. Our ship cruised from beach to beach, staying for 1.5 hours each. This was not how we imagined the day. Heck, we had a rental car to take us to the beaches.

By the third stop, our mood was a bit sour. The crew was not engaging at all. Following a quiet 40-minute boat ride to a beach, a man would yell, “So-and-so beach. One hour thirty minutes.” Uh, ok. No description of the place, nothing. It was basically a bus ride experience. Like all the other sheep on the boat, we herded off and found a shady spot to lay our towels down for the allotted time. After moaning for a few hours, the beach-side tavernas were calling our names. Passing one particular place, the host greeted us with a big smile and suggested a cool drink and a snack to cool off from the heat. His friendliness and welcoming smile perked up our spirits, so we took him up on his offer and ordered something to drink and half a watermelon, just the thing on a hot day at the beach. By the time our boat reappeared, our moods had improved considerably.

typical beach during the boat tour
One of many beaches we stopped at.
dragon cave during boat tour
The dragon's cave

The crew member in charge of making announcements began to warm up to the crowd and, at one point, told us that our current location was on the migration route of dolphins. He tried several times to call some of them towards our boat, but without success. Oh well, he put on a good show. Some minutes later, we stopped at the Blue Cave, where the same host called to the dragon that legend says lives there. Eventually he decided the dragon must be sleeping, so the captain turned the boat towards the highlight of the trip—Lalaria beach with its famous arch.

This was the nicest stop of the entire tour. It is only accessible by boat (one reason for taking the tour.) Ours was one of the first of several boats dropping off anxious passengers. I felt like a marine on an amphibious assault, but instead of securing the beachhead, I was securing a spot for our towels.

With our claim staked, we could relax and enjoy a refreshing swim. Looking around at the crowd, we couldn’t help but notice the young people posing for their Instagram photos. They spent more time taking selfies than they did enjoying the location, or so it seemed to us.

Lalaria beach arch
Lalaria Beach, moments before the onslaught of tourists

90 minutes later, our boat returned to take us back to Skiathos Town. We arrived back at port at dinner time and headed over to the BU, the restaurant at a former Venetian fortress dating back to 1207. There was an empty table with a magnificent view of the harbor calling to us. Watching the sunset while enjoying tapas and a glass of wine was a wonderful end to our day.

More hiking/geocaching followed by relaxing beach time in the afternoon awaited us on Tuesday. Reaching today’s start point required us to drive over mountainous dirt roads that were not at all to Kathrin’s liking. After many harrowing maneuvers that risked life and limb, we arrived at Kechria beach. This was not only the trail head for our hike but also our chosen beach for relaxing afterwards. Geocache #4 was hiding on a rocky outcropping so we searched for it right away, without success. Oh well, it will still be here this afternoon.

Back to the Trails and Beaches

the "enchanted forest"
An ancient olive press

Today’s hike was through an “enchanted forest”. Well, that’s how the geocache owner described it, and the twisted trees with long, winding branches certainly gave the area a mystical sense. After a few kilometers of hiking, we reached the first stop, the ruins of an olive press dating back to 1800. All that remained were a few crumbling walls and the stones of the press. We easily found the needed information before continuing on to the next stop. There was one problem, though. The owner didn’t give the coordinates of the next stop, he just described which way to go. This was not so easy to follow, so we called him up. Fortunately, he was friendly and was delighted to help us. After a few minutes, he gave us a better idea of where to go. “Look for a grain mill,” he said. He described a few of the features and landmarks and wished us luck. Sometime later, we came to the upper level of a structure that fit his description. We searched the site but came up emptyhanded so we decided to continue along the path and try the lower section. Our hunch was right, upon entering the lower level of the grain mill we saw that it fit much better with the photos submitted by previous geocachers. A few minutes later we had the prize in our hands. After signing the logbook, we began the trek back to the beach. Along the way, an old monastery offered a shady spot for a picnic which we couldn’t resist.

Once back at Kehria beach, we rented two beach lounges from the taverna and settled in for an afternoon of soothing, relaxing time. Reclining in those chairs, with the sound of the waves in the background, was therapeutic. After recuperating somewhat from the hike, I remembered the cache waiting for us here, and gave it another try. I climbed up and down that rock formation, looking in every nook and cranny. After about 30 minutes, I found it. Yay, our success rate remains at 100 per cent! Kathrin was beside herself with excitement when I showed her my prize. With that load off our minds, we could enjoy the relaxing beach atmosphere even more. We stayed until dinner time and enjoyed some Greek tapas type snacks—fruit smoothies, garlic bread, and tzatziki. At around 6pm we said goodbye to the beach, and the taverna, and headed back to the hotel.

Kechria taverna
Enjoying a tasty lunch at Kehria Tarsanas Taverna

The day didn’t end there for me for me, though. Thirty minutes before sunset I drove to Koukounaires beach for some golden hour photos. This is one of Skiathos’ most liked beaches, and for good reason, it’s beautiful. It’s also big, with hundreds of beach umbrellas/lounge chairs and all manner of tavernas, bars, and such. Everything was closed when I was there, but that didn’t matter, I wasn’t there for the party, rather for the photos. The beach compositions were ok—although a deserted beach looks quite empty. But I also got a nice shot of a sailboat anchored just beyond the rocks. A satisfying end to the photo trip!

The Abandoned Capital

On Wednesday we set our sights on the old fortress and settlement of Kastro, on the north side of the island. Reaching our target was an adventure. To Kathrin’s horror, the route led up the same mountain road from yesterday. I’m happy to say she did much better this time. We didn’t dare drive on the dirt roads so we parked the car where the pavement ended, then hiked along the steep downhill, 3-kilometer route to the castle. The settlement dates back to around 1360, when the people of Skiathos town, having grown weary of the pirate raids, left their homes and fled to this location. Here they built their new town, consisting of a fortress, 26 churches, homes for everyone and a thick defensive wall with one gate at the only land access point. Life was tough in their new town. For one thing, they had to carry in water from springs outside the city wall. The residents stuck it out until 1829 when they abandoned Kastro and returned to their ancestral home. They took with them most of the building materials, which left some of the structures in Kastro in various states of ruin.

approaching Kastro and the medieval town
That was one long, hot, steep hike to the castle
Kastro medieval town
A view of the town from the castle
The greek flag at Kastro, Skiathos
The castle flag has seen its better days

At the time we arrived, the area was still relatively empty. As we walked around the buildings, reading the information signs about the history of this place, I could imagine the locals who came to this remote, inhospitable area must have been desperate to flee the pirates. But on the other hand, it offered a splendid view of the ocean and coastline below. As we wandered through the ruins of the town, we eventually reached the remains of the castle. On the site flew a tattered Greek flag, which has definitely seen its better days! Of course we posed for the inevitable selfies.  The geocache here was quite challenging to find. The hint said it was hiding in a stone wall, but which one? There were a few outlines of buildings with knee-high remains of stone walls. At the third one I found it, and with it completed our goal. We found every geocache on Skiathos!

On our way back to the entrance, we noticed that the place had filled up. Apparently, some of the passengers of the tour boats anchored at the beach below decided to make the trek up to the castle. Approaching the best-preserved church, which also offered the most shade, we saw a group of middle age Italians. Two couples who were boisterously enjoying “La Dolce Vita” and a picnic. We preferred a quieter place around the corner, where we enjoyed our lunch and the view before saying goodbye to this abandoned town. The way back to the car was a hot, tortuous, seemingly never-ending hike.

A shady church at Kastro
A shady church for relaxing

We Found Our Favorite Spot!

Now we deserved rest and relaxation, which we found at Tzaneria beach, just down the road from our hotel, on the east side of a peninsula. A small, cozy stretch of sand, backed by trees that offered some shade.

We settled into our normal routine of relaxing, swimming or snorkeling, followed by more relaxing—or sunbathing. It was a comfortable routine we developed. While snorkeling here, I had my first encounter with a Fried-egg jellyfish, a colorful, softball sized creature. The top part of its body is the shape of a fried egg, except the whole thing is yellow. It has very short tentacles on the bottom half with purple dots on the end. They’re harmless to humans and fish alike, and I even saw a kid scooping some out of the water with a little net.

 
 
Umbrellas at Tzaneria Beach
Tzaneria Beach is an oasis
Baracoa Taverna

As dinner time approached, we strolled over to the taverna, Baracoa, expecting the typical pub grub type menu. Boy, were we wrong, this was a full up restaurant with several delicious sounding offerings. After placing our order and receiving a local brew, we toasted our good luck in finding this place. The meals arrived a short time later and tasted as good as they sounded.

 

This place was the find of our trip. The nice beach, the great restaurant/bar/beach lounge area, the even nicer staff who did everything they could to make their guests feel welcome. What more could one ask for? There was even a green oasis behind the restaurant that included a hammock, massage tent, and an outdoor shower. It was more like a resort than a public beach. We couldn’t ask for anything more and decided to come back tomorrow.

On Thursday morning, I woke up early to go out for some sunrise photos. I drove to Tzaneria beach, but it was closed, so I went further and found a few suitable locations before returning to our hotel for breakfast.

Skiathos' Most Well Known Monastery

Our adventure destination today was the Evaggelistrias Monastery. Dating back to the 18th century, founded by some monks who left their former monastery after some disagreements over rituals. It was the best-preserved historical site we had visited, with several buildings having been restored.  The dozens of basil plants in pots placed at various locations offered a fragrant treat as we explored the site.

After a leisurely stroll around the area, we exited through the back to hike along a mountain trail that led to a geocache, the last remaining cache yet to find on the island. This was the trickiest of the hikes we made so far as it was along the side of a ridge which made for a narrow trail. Add to that a section that was buried under pine needles and you have one slippery trail! Eventually, we made it safe and sound to the search area, where we had to find a cave entrance. As luck would have it, the cave was up a steep slope buried under dried leaves and pine needles—arrrgh! I was able to pull myself up using tree roots and branches—whatever I could grab onto. The light at the cave entrance only shone a few feet into the darkness, so I used my phone as a mirror to reflect sunlight into the depths to get a glimpse of the cache. Luckily, I saw it lying around 15 meters in the cave. Yes! We have successfully found every cache on the island. Achieving our goal made the adventurous hike back a bit more pleasant.

Tzaneria beach and Baracoa Taverna

Once in the car, we headed to our favorite beach location, Baracoa. Our second visit to this oasis was as pleasant as the first. We enjoyed every minute here, including another delicious dinner. Thinking about our early evening departure the next day, we planned to come back for a last visit, relaxing at their wonderful beach oasis, have a quick shower, and change into our traveling clothes. This time we were smart and reserved an umbrella.

We enjoyed our last breakfast with our wonderful hosts, and afterwards went to the office to pay. While saying our farewells, Soula asked when our flight left. When we told her not until 7pm she offered to let us keep our room until we left for the airport.  This family’s hospitality again touched us.

We were the first to arrive at Baracoa and noticed that all the spots had a reserved sign on them. It was a relief to know that our name was on one of those tables! Yep, we learned our lesson after two visits here. The hostess welcomed us back and showed us to our lounge station. Spending the day here is the epitome of relaxing. Music from the bar was perfect, they started off with some jazz. The warm, summer climate, the refreshing ocean water, and the outstanding staff came together to make for a powerful potion too soothe away your cares. I tried one of their iced coffee drinks, later on we had a fruit smoothie. Before we knew it lunchtime had arrived, so we shared a club sandwich.

Eventually, we had to say farewell to this wonderful place. We packed our beach bag and thanked everyone for a wonderful time. Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and said a final goodbye to our wonderful hotel. The whole family came out to wave goodbye to us.

Baracoa Taverna
We just love the Baracoa tavern and beach

Farewell Skiathos!

Getting to the airport was easy. We parked our rental car, left the key under the mat, and walked into the terminal. Our flight was still 3.5 hours away, so we were expecting to wait in a café. To our surprise, the terminal was tiny, much smaller than we remembered from our arrival. A small kiosk sold some sandwiches and drinks for take away. Kathrin bought a couple of sandwiches and we found a couple of uncomfortable chairs in a corner to wait it out.  The small terminal with no place to relax, just seemed rather odd to us, but what were we to do? This would not be the relaxed predeparture rest we had imagined.

At one point I overheard someone ask about the flight to Frankfurt, and the security person said it was in the other terminal around the corner. My ears immediately perked up. I informed Kathrin and walked over to the guy to confirm what I overheard. Yes, we were in fact in the wrong place, the domestic, not the international terminal, so we picked up our bags and made the trek around the corner. Ah, here is the airport we remembered. When we checked in, the agent asked us for digital entry form (required to enter Germany). We showed her a form we filled out coming to Greece, but it was not valid for entry to Germany. Fortunately the agent was prepared for this kind of situation. She handed us a slip of paper with the web address for the form. We stepped aside to allow the next group in line to check in while we filled out the paper work. As we were finishing up a second agent asked for the paper with the web address and handed it to another group of unprepared travelers.  We quickly had the new form completed and were able to finish the check in process. As we walked to our gate we came to passport control. We approached the single officer on duty and handed him our passports. He asked where we were going, to which we replied “Germany.”

“That’s in Europe, you don’t need to show your passport, just go through that gate!” he said while pointing to an unattended entrance. We felt like complete newbies by now. Well, that was the last of the hurdles, the rest of the walk to the gate was easy and we found a couple of chairs to wait for our flight.

We arrived in cool, wet Frankfurt with smiles and a suntan on our faces.

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