When every moment counts, I thought that I’d chart my adventure across the Aegean Sea, should you wish to escape for a while…
Journeying like something of wistful Odysseus, June of 2017 saw myself and the women of my family do a reverse Penelope. Slightly restless following a holiday drought, Greece seemed entirely opportune for a little Mediterranean sunshine. We settled on 7 blissful days staying at the Skopelos Holidays Hotel Spa, a gorgeous spot nestled neatly in the hills, framed by verdant greenery and the odd olive grove. The novelty of this idyll was definitely the 2 pm hike up the hill toting a few litre bottles of water from the one-stop. Why we chose high noon for this, in hindsight, escapes me – but at least we had a laugh!
Each of our apartments was a wonderful mix of terracotta, stone floors and rusticity – with exactly the kind of cool, open patio doors and light breeze modernity you crave after a day which has left you with dusty feet from a-wandering. A big part of my holiday was spent indulging in the god-send that is the no-strings, no-guilt siesta. Rest and play were high on the agenda, so, airy clean white sheets and a bed you could roll over a fair few times before falling off had all the appeal in the world.
Breakfast promised panoramic views on the terrace and all the treats a girl could wish for at 9 am. I stress that nobody needs an excuse to have Madeira cake and a croissant for breakfast – when the pastry gods give you this opportunity, you very much worship at the altar. At this point, I would like to shout out to continental cereals – particularly the corn flakes, which I can only describe to you as corn puffs. Dust these with sugar, pour on lashings of milk and it’s quite the party.
Breakfast reading was well provided for by a friendly bookcase – I feel that a circulating library is a welcome addition to any establishment. You could find a mixture of titles in a mixture of languages, passed on by fellow travellers. It was from this shelf that I managed to pull out The Girls by Emma Cline – one of that summer’s bestsellers. Fortuitous? I think so.
Breakfast sorted, our days tended to follow the same, lovely pattern. We’d meander down to the harbour, where you could find a handful of colourful shops selling local goodies and constant reminders that you were, indeed, in the land of Ancient Greek Heroes. The streets became wonderfully familiar and you could nip in and out of these places to settle on something a bit different. Local patisseries, too, sold this more-ish selection of desserts that were perfect for that 4 pm lull between lunch and dinner. I discovered two things of note: the milk pie and the ice cream cookie of dreams.
Behold, the ice cream cookie of dreams. Do these delicacies have a name? I think I saw boxes advertised across the island. They very much deserve their spotlight and spin-off as the undisputed champion of the afternoon snack. I love how, when you’re away, most restaurants advertise their menu on brightly photographed placards to breach the language barrier; it’s both novel and an effective way to ensure that yes, I will again be having the pasta.
One of the loveliest things about Skopelos? It’s practically untouched and remains in a bit of a time capsule. Yes, you have your creature comforts, but you also have the sense that you’re somewhere entirely other with the deepest kind of sun-drenched charm. The pace oozed and the mopeds would comically navigate their way up the steep, cobbled side streets as you dove right to save your open-toe sandalled feet from getting run over. Wacky Races, eat your heart out. That’s not mentioning the airport, which I believe to have been entirely untouched since the 70s – and all for the better.
I travelled with the Petites of my family. Mum and I broke quite the stride whilst my very small, very lovely grandma, her tiny sister and my teeny cousin made up the pepper-pot quota of our party. This made for some fantastic photos, where it looked like I was a regular mother earth, proudly embracing my brood of lovelies. I had opted for the bum bag and ergonomic footwear combo loved by elderly tourists the world over. Did my feet thank me? They would have, had they not broken out with heat rash on that faithful 3rd day (sensitive skin? always pack your Piriton).
Yes, this was the island where Mama Mia was filmed and yes, I did play the soundtrack on the flight. Out and about, there were plenty of moments when you’d just look up and expect to see Meryl Streep and co dance out from a tavern waving their tea towels about. Whilst the entire island wasn’t the hyper-idyll which you see in the film, it was possibly more beautiful in its reality. The streets were this colourful, eclectic mix preferable to any keen enthusiast of the pastel aesthetic.
Among the gems which we sought out were this gorgeous building which greatly appealed to my love of porcelain…
…and a colourful, fantastically novel bookstore which honestly felt like home.
I think we should take a moment to talk about the island’s plant life – speaking as someone pretty big on the botanical. In June, Skopelos was in full bloom. I loved/lived for all of the green; poking out from behind fences, climbing walls, shading walkways… It fed into the whole Meryl Streep in dungarees ‘Earth-Mother’ vibe that I channelled for the duration of the holiday.
You kind of make your way up Skopelos, by which I mean, head into the hills to seek out that spot you saw on a picture postcard. For this, we boarded the stagecoach of (thankfully air-conditioned) dreams to haphazardly make it up some of the most winding, rickety ‘this is where we die’ roads imaginable. All credit and kudos are due to the tour de force guys driving those buses – they have mastered the hare-um scare-um route and could probably drive it with their eyes closed (or at least backwards, which one driver did with this reverse up-hill manoeuvre which nearly gave me severe heart palpitations).
The point of our pilgrimage? To see the beach where Sophie gets down and dirty with Sky in that faithful lads coming out of the water in scuba gear scene. The alcove was gorgeous, the sea, though tempting, was pretty bracing. The same applied to the hotel swimming pool, which, whilst lovely to look at, was a bit like one of those cold dipping pools. Nobody’s perfect and I preferred sitting by the pool with my cassette player (yes, I went entirely off-grid) and sketchbook.
No visit to Skopelos is complete without an outlook of the Ekklisia Agios Ioannis Chapel. At this point, you honestly feel as though you’re somewhere else entirely – as silly that sounds. The view and setting uplift you. You can walk up and take a peek into the interior – thankfully there’s also a hastily put-together café on hand for a beautifully restoring orange juice once your feet touch the ground again.
My fondest memories came from Finikas Restaurant, a husband and wife run kitchen with produce from their garden and the freshest ingredients to be found on the island. Within an intimate setting, I fell for their lamb burgers, which were divine and served with their hand-cut, seasoned chips. I nearly got laughed out the room when I made the rookie error of asking for some ketchup (never ask for ketchup at a traditional Greek restaurant, it’s certainly not needed). The wine was also lovely – and more than affordable by the glass, leaving us very merry on the walk back. The owners, too, were charming.
I’d definitely recommend poking around to discover all of the hidden away gems which make Skopelos, as an island, sparkle. We’re all so intent on authentic experiences and it is indeed important to find places you can get lost in. To truly unplug, Skopelos was perfect – the evidence being that it took me almost a year to write it out. On another note, do watch The Durrells ahead of your visit – a firm favourite of mine. The show reminds me of family holidays growing up and very much makes we want to get lost in Corfu, soon. Apparently, I’m a Margo.
I very much hope that your plans for adventure unfold beautifully.