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Skyros isn’t the first island you think of for your holiday in Greece, but it does have a devoted following which comes back year after year. This island in the southern Sporades is famous for its diminutive carved furniture and painted ceramics. Meanwhile, one of its residents – the diminutive Skyrian horse – looks like it might have escaped from the frieze of the Parthenon.
Fresh lobsters abound in the waters around Skyros and are delicious, particularly in the local style, served with spaghetti. Like hiking? Marked trails help you explore Skyros’ two faces: the rocky south, so beloved of the British poet, Rupert Brooke, and the pine-forested west. Plus, there are beaches for every taste and a main town that puts on its best for your holiday entertainment every night. Skyros is an island with its soul still intact.
The main town of Skyros is built on a hill topped by the monastery of Saint George, itself topped by the remains of a Venetian-era castle. You can spend hours walking (there is no other way) around the narrow alleys of Hora, where the whitewashed houses seamlessly merge with each other.
With the smell of jasmine in the air, feel free to peer through open doors and windows of the living-rooms proudly decorated with colourful ceramics and finely carved wooden furniture. You can get a closer look at the Folk Art Museum of Skyros, which also has a shop.
British poet Rupert Brooke died on Skyros during the First World War. Along with his tomb elsewhere on the island, he is commemorated with a statue in a square at the north end of town, with a wonderful view over the main beach. Once upon a time, there would have been numerous lookouts at spots like this to keep an eye out for pirates. Nowadays, all you’ll see are yachts and fishing-boats sailing the peaceful Aegean.
The main cobbled road through Skyros town from the lower square to the statue of Rupert Brooke comes alive at night. It is lined with shops selling souvenirs and examples of beautifully decorated pottery, wood-carvings and colourful fabrics – all examples of the crafts of Skyros being kept alive by locals, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars which really get going when the shops close.
For those who like a challenge, it’s possible to drive around the inhabited part of Skyros in less than 1½ hours. But why rush? Drive from the port towards Magazia, the large and popular sandy beach below the main town, and then head inland to the forested part of Skyros. On the west coast, you’ll find lovely places to swim, such as Agios Petros, Kyra Panagia, Atsitsa, Agalipa and Agios Fokas, many of which also have terrific tavernas on or near the beach. On the final stretch before returning to the port of Linaria, it’s worth stopping at the chapel of Agios Panteleimon for the spectacular view of the bay of Pefko and the uninhabited islands south of Skyros.
The diminutive horses of Skyros can be sighted running wild on the central plateau and placidly foraging in farms. The story of their origin is intriguing. One theory is that they are descendants of the breed of horses used by 5th century BC cavalries in ancient Greece and another is that they are related to Scotland’s Shetland ponies. Your kids won’t be able to resist a ride on these exceptionally rare Lilliputian steeds at a farm on the way to Kalamitsa beach.
At the otherworldly seaside site of Pouria is an ancient limestone quarry where you’ll see a weird rock formation, the stone mushroom. You’ll find a tiny church literally carved into the rock.
Skyros has been famous for its plentiful lobsters since antiquity, but it is doubtful the ancients prepared them as deliciously as the locals of Skyros do today. A slow-cooked tomato bisque is the base for the lobster-spaghetti you’ll find served in many seaside tavernas around Skyros. If you’re feeling brave ask for it in Greek… “Astakomakaronada!”
The great August full moon is at its most romantic as rises out of the sea behind Magazia, Skyros’ main beach. You can marvel at it from the coastal pathway above the beach or one of the seaside tavernas at any time of year.