Travel Report: Greek island of Skiathos

Beach retreat: one of the restaurants at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi

Beach retreat: one of the restaurants at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi

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AS OUR driver sped along the snaking road from the airport towards Skiathos Town, I joked to my wife: “I hope it hasn’t pulled the shutters down,” writes Paul Thompson.

Really, I knew it would be business pretty much as usual.

Beauty spot: Looking out to sea from the beach at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi.

Beauty spot: Looking out to sea from the beach at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi.

I had to smile at the memory of overhearing a woman tell a Sheffield travel agent that she had doubts about going to Greece because of the “trouble” there.

The Greek economy may have been creaking and there may have been occasional protests in Athens last year, but problems in London would be no deterrent to holidaying in, say, Cornwall, would they?

It was to be obvious on our return that not much has changed on the island of Skiathos: it has retained its captivating mix of Greek tradition and modern resort.

The blend of scenery, beaches, peace and quiet, plus many things to see and do, had convinced us in 2005, on our first visit, that one day we would break a general rule of ‘keep trying something new’ - a rule followed fairly closely in a total of 16 years of visiting Greece and its islands.

Beauty spot: the pool and part of the gardens and beachfront at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi.

Beauty spot: the pool and part of the gardens and beachfront at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi.

We love the country for its climate, food, scenery, beaches and people - and Skiathos lured us back because it is probably our favourite island.

Snuggling up to the east coast of the mainland, it is picturesque, with tree-clad hills, and despite its compactness, has a good selection of resorts, all of which are linked by an excellent bus service and in some cases by water taxis.

On our first visit we chose self-catering in Skiathos Town, which was a very acceptable option, but the return was for a week of affordable luxury by the one-mile beach at Aghia Paraskevi, which is roughly midway between the town and the western tip of the island.

After a 20-minute trip from the airport we were on the balcony of a splendid, seaview room at the five-star Skiathos Princess, 100 yards from the beach. A few minutes later, after a quick change into swimwear, we were sipping cocktails and relaxing on deluxe sunbeds (free to residents) by the sea.

Luxurious touch: one of the rooms at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi,

Luxurious touch: one of the rooms at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi,

The hotel has a big swimming pool and spa treatment centre, for those who like to stick around and chill out, and we did plenty of that.

All the amenities you would expect from a five-star also include a gym - the treadmills are useful, for runners such as me when it was bit too hot to tackle the nearby hills.

Meal options include buffet breakfasts and dinner, evening a la carte, Asian and grill, and lunchtime variety.

It is probably the best hotel that we have ever come across in Greece.

Dusky beauty: the pool at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi, after the sun goes down.

Dusky beauty: the pool at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Aghia Paraskevi, after the sun goes down.

You need not be confined to this pleasant retreat.

There are a few tavernas and bars nearby, and Skiathos Town, with its jumble of whitewashed, red-roofed buidlings, is a short, 1.60 euro bus ride (or eight euro taxi trip) away and has tavernas, bars, restaurants and shops, mostly clustered around the pedestrianised Papadiamantis Street, plus an old port, a new port an open-air cinema and theatre.

The town beach is a stroll from the centre - but there are better ones, for example ours at Paraskevi.

Koukounaries is perhaps the best known, at the western end of the the island, but there are quaint spots as well, such as secluded Kanapitsa, which has a nice taverna and is walking distance from Paraskevi.

We strolled back to our hotel via a two and a half mile tour of the Kanapitsa peninsula. This was an real exercise in getting away from it all: along a track that climbed and undulated along the top of cliffs, dotted here and there with villas, and giving spectacular views out to sea. We came across just one other couple.

Evenings are the time for people-watching in town, from any one of the many bars and tavernas overlooking the main promenade and the port.

The back streets are worth exploring; there is little pub, though thankfully the town in general is un-Anglicised. Kentavros is a bar for the true music fan, playing rock, blues and soul, and decorated with memorablia of the Sixties and Seventies.

There are a small number of night clubs on the coast road near town. That same road runs right past the start of the airport runway; the sign that says “beware blast” is not there for nothing!

A bloke parked his motor scooter too close we saw it blown over by a jet.

An alternative 10-minute walk back from the airport to town leads through a network of peaceful paths and roads overlooked by fruit trees.

The island bus service, which is very well used by holiday-makers, operates until late at night and stops outside the Skiathos Princess - ideal when we wanted to spend an evening or two in town after relaxing for most of the day around the hotel.

There are various activities and boat trips around the island.

I recommend the marine park around the nearby island of Alonissos: dolphins did not just swim within sight of our boat: two of them were almost touching the bow as they sped alongside us just beneath the surface.

Other trips advertised by local boats include “Mamma Mia island” - that is Skopelos, where scenes in the famous movie were filmed, and the wedding took place, at the spectacular Agios Ioannis church. Some of the film was shot in Skiathos - you may well recognise the port area.

But give me serenity during the day, and the laid-back luxury of the Skianthos Princess Hotel, For a relaxed evening, the hotel provides some elegant singers and musicians.

The food and room were excellent, staff were welcoming, and the beachside location was unbeatable. All in all, a memorable week.

HOLIDAY FACTS:

1 A boat trip to Skopelos and Alonissos to go dolphin-watching. There are plenty of boats to choose from, at the port in Skiathos Town.

2 Exploring by bus: a cheap, frequent service links all the resorts, and each stop has a number. The one outside the Skiathos Princess Hotel is No 16.

3 A beach lunch or drink with a difference at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, lounging on big cushions, looking out to sea. There are chairs if you wish!

* Thomas Cook Holidays with Style offers seven nights B&B at the Skiathos Princess Hotel from £720 p.p, departing Manchester, May 8. Half board and room upgrades available. www.thomascook.com, 0844 412 5970. Includes saving of £66 p.p. when booked by January 31, based on two adults in a superior sea-view room, includes flights, transfers, 20kg luggage, in-flight meals by TV’s James Martin.

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