Skyros’ labyrinthine alleyways are the arteries containing its lifeblood. Starting from the town’s main square (it’s car-free from here), slowly wind your way upwards, past the shops, boutiques and little churches. As the terrain becomes steeper, you feel as if you are losing your way – but virtually all paths lead up to the castle and back down to town. Treat yourself to an ice cream on the way up and a jar of thyme honey on the way down (both locally made, of course).
A peek inside a house
You’ll have seen the hand-painted ceramics and ornately-carved tiny wooden chairs in shops in town, but you’ll only understand their place in Skyrian culture by peeking into a house in the residential upper town. The locals will be happy to show you. The diminutive furnishings match the teeny living spaces and, displayed on beautifully carved wooden cabinets or hanging on the wall above bulging fireplaces, will be a collection of ceramic plates passed down through generations. And look out for the embroidery (part of dowries) and the bed built on an open-air platform above the lounge. It’s called a sfa.
The castle and monastery
The crown jewels of the main town are the Byzantine Kastro and even older monastery. Reaching the very top of Hora, you enter the gates of the Agios Giorgos Monastery, dating from around the 10th century and a dependency of the Megisti Lavra Monastery in Mount Athos. The main church is from the turn of the 17th century, as indicated by an engraving on the impressive bell tower. Spend some time admiring the beautiful frescoes and impressive iconostasis before continuing up to the castle. The remains of the fortress are accompanied by good explanatory information, so there’s no need for a guide. The highlight is a 360-degree, bird’s eye view of Skyros and the sea.
Brooke (as the square is referred to by locals) – or the Square of Eternal Poetry – is found just below the castle, heading north rather than returning to town. It has fantastic views over the town beach and its focal point is a bronze statue of a naked man, dedicated to the British First World War poet Rupert Brooke, who died on Skyros in 1915. (You can also visit his grave elsewhere on the island). There’s a long path of stone steps to the beach from here.
Before you head to the beach, pop in to Skyros’ two museums just next door. The Faltaits Folklore Museum, within the 19th century residence of Manolis Faltaits, contains a collection of arcane household memorabilia, such as traditional costumes, maps, manuscripts and sepia photographs. And the small but purposeful two-roomed Archaeological Museum has gathered locally sourced ancient findings, including pottery from the 2800-1900BC prehistoric settlement of Palamari, to the north of the island.
After scaling the castle and looking around the museums, you’ve earned a swim and an afternoon on the beach. Continuing the steps down to the coast, you reach Magazia. Almost a kilometre of beachfront, Magazia (or Molos, as the bay is called) has everything from tavernas, beach bars and clusters of umbrellas and sun-loungers, to long stretches of nothing but sand. You can have dinner here or return to town by taking the stairs you descended or catching the bus.