The Sporades is the name given to the Greek archipelago of 24 islands situated in the Aegean Sea, south of Thessaloniki and north of its perhaps better-known Cyclades archipelago, with famous islands such as Mykonos and Santorini. Only four of the Sporades islands are inhabited though, these being Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros. With the exception of Skyros, these islands are far greener than you can imagine and a popular destination for foreign tourists, as well as local Greeks due to their unique flora and vegetation.
2022 may be a record year for visitor numbers to Greece, with an estimated 32 million landing on its shores. The Sporades are another reason to visit, with some of the best beaches in Greece and national reserves. Surrounded by pine forests, they are also home to the cheese pie, and of course, the setting for the film Mamma Mia!, letting you relive those Meryl Streep moments.
Locals speak fondly about wine on the islands, though unfortunately phylloxera devastated the industry from 1958 throughout the archipelago. Wine was a crucial part of life, and to the islands, with vines touching the sea and covering the lush green vegetation you have today.
There is limited wine production now, with one modern winery in Skiathos and some local wine production on Skopelos with indigenous Greek varieties still in their infancy. Alonissos produces very little too, but you can find some rustic table wine made locally. Skyros has two established wineries. Almost all wine produced is sold locally.
Landing in Skiathos is a bumpy ride to say the least. It’s the Sporades’ only airport (for Skopelos and Alonissos), being the gateway to the islands and also famed for being one of the shortest and narrowest runways in the world. However, in Greek tradition, landing there is exciting, and it’s an ideal place for plane spotters too, where the planes come almost in touching distance of the road.
This is probably in line with what arrival on the Greek islands is all about: for centuries, the Ancient Greeks battled the infamous north-westerly Meltemi winds, controlling arrival and departure on the island. Philip the II of Macedon used them strategically to prevent southerly fleets of ships from reaching him, such is the power of these winds. However, they also bring a welcome cooling effect when temperatures can easily reach 40°C (104°F).
It’s best to base yourself in Skiathos Old Town, venturing out around the island every day. However, with over 60 sandy, soft, crystal-clear watered beaches to choose from, staying close to one of these may give you a private beach, if only for a short while.
Parissis Winery is the only winery on the island, started in 2019 by Giannis, a hotel owner, electrician and now winemaker. They have planted only Greek indigenous varieties such as Malagousia, Roditis, Assyrtiko for whites, and Xinomavro and Limnio for reds.
The vineyards are located at some of the highest points on the island, giving a welcome freshness to the wines, however, the Meltemi winds can also cool off the heat at some of their coastal vineyard plots too.
They produce five different wines: three whites, a rosé, and an easy drinking red for summer. Most of the island’s top restaurants stock them, so if you don’t manage to leave the beach, it is very easy to find at your local taverna.
On Skopelos, the island of Mamma Mia! so verdant in pine forests, plum trees and olive groves, finding a little gap on this lush green idyl is nigh on impossible, even for vines. The main town is the best place, again, to be based, where it comes alive at night.
Skopelos is not as well-equipped as Skiathos when it comes to sandy beaches; it’s far more hilly, almost rocky, but it’s that challenge that makes it possibly more rewarding and the waters may be even clearer because of it. Vines used to perch on cliff edges into the sea as was the beauty and charm of viticulture on the island, just as Tantalus in Greek mythology was always in a pool of water under fruit trees. The same experience can be had on the beaches here, just with vines replaced with pine trees.
There is local wine on the island, with vineyards located in the centre, but no official winery. Plenty of great restaurants offer impressive Greek wine lists, with top names to choose from, but if you are keen on trying local wine, Molos Restaurant and Taverna is the spot. Excellent food, and the wines, local to Skopelos, include a red Agiorgitiko/Limnio, a white Roditis/Athiri and a rosé that’s a touch off-dry, made from Chardonnay and Merlot.
When you get to Alonissos, you arrive in Patitiri, the main port and capital of the island. Patitiri means wine press, a testament to Alonissos’ importance in wine production for centuries, until the dreaded phylloxera hit. The island was draped in vines, just as today it is with pine forests. Finding local wine is difficult though, and there’s only one person that’s giving it a go as a hobby. He’s Fabrizio Tosconi, an Italian experimenting with some of the local indigenous varieties on the island.
Skyros, the least-visited island of the Sporades, is the largest and southernmost of the group. Administered from the large island of Euboea, it feels separate, almost isolated from the rest of the Sporades.
There are two wineries worth visiting, but with booking advised. Paneris Winery (email@example.com) in the north of the island, near the airport. They make a range of white, red and rosé wines using indigenous Greek varieties. Stamatis Nicolau Winery (+30 2222 092210) is further south, but it’s possible to try their wines in the ‘Chora’ (Skyros Town) very easily.
My perfect day in the Sporades
It’s difficult to choose just one island, each one is so special, offering something unique, but the fact that you have some of the best beaches in all of Greece makes Skiathos hard to beat.
I’d stay in town, in the Chora, overlooking the bay at Hotel Villa Orsa, then opt for a quick breakfast at one of the many ‘fournos’ (bakeries) around town, grabbing a freshly baked spanakopita. I’d then jump in my hire car and visit the Monastery of Evangelistria and wander around the museum, which showcases an impressive display of vestments and is also where the first Greek flag was created in 1807. It’s an impressive monastery, where they also make their own wine, which is worth trying for the novelty.
From there I’d meander through the pine-forested cliffs to reach Parissis Winery, the road still unpaved, to have a glass in their recently-built winery, overlooking probably the best view of Skiathos island. From there, I’d take it slow, Greek island style, and head to a couple of beaches at the other corner of the island. I’d try Koukounaries, set in a nature reserve, with sand so soft it feels like powder. If it’s too busy, I’d move to Banana beach just next door, with sand just as soft, but without the huge crowds.
For dinner, I’d try one of the Psaro tavernas, specialising in fish, along the seafront promenade in Skiathos Town. Bakaliko (+30 2427 022669) serves excellent fresh fish, and also stocks wines from Parissis winery. If the queues are too long, another great choice is Paraxenos in Skiathos Town, also serving wine from Parissis.
Your Sporades address book
Agnadio, Skiathos Town, Skiathos
+30 2427 022016
Just outside of Skiathos Town, dine out enjoying the memorable panorama. The food is very Greek, showcasing classic dishes done well.
Bakaliko, Skiathos Town, Skiathos
+30 2427 022669
This is a simple, Greek Psaro taverna at its best, with some of the freshest fish you can imagine. Tuna or swordfish may be available too as the waters around Alonissos make it possible to catch these deepwater fish. Always check what’s on display.
Mouries (MOYPIEZ), Skopelos Town, Skopelos
+30 2424 023305
This is a simple family-owned taverna, located close to the port. What’s special here is that it is only open from 6.30pm every evening, serving psiméno sto foúrno, oven baked dishes such as moussaka, pastitsio, gemista (stuffed peppers), dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) and Imam Bayildi (stuffed aubergine with meat).
To Perivoli, Skopelos Town, Skopelos
+30 2424 023758
Located on a cobblestoned street just away from the Gyros square, To Perivoli has a pretty setting in a courtyard, nestled under grapevines. It offers excellent Greek specialities, and local dishes using koromila (Skopelos plums). A thing to mention is the wine list, pretty extensive with some great Greek producers. If you see the local plum cake on the menu, take it, it’s sublime.
Agnanti, Glossa, Skopelos
Arguably the best restaurant on the island, family owned for four generations and with seasonal ingredients sourced from their garden. Fresh fish or meat dishes with local plums, the choice is yours, washed down with a great wine list, including Charles Heidsieck Champagne as well as some stunning Greek labels such as Estate Argyros, Ktima Gerovassiliou, Alpha Estate and magnums of Tear of the Pine.
Aletri Hotel, Alonissos
First class suites near Alonissos Old Town. A superb location to explore, but there’s a stunning view too from your infinity pool.
Atrium Hotel, Paralia Agia Paraskevi, Skiathos
This is a cut above. A four star family-owned hotel with a large pool overlooking Skiathos bay, spacious rooms and excellent service so you can switch off completely.
Kassandra Bay Resort, Kassandra Bay, Skiathos
A luxurious beachfront resort located in the centre of the island. The view is spectacular, overlooking the islet of Maragos.
Hotel Villa Orsa, Skiathos Town
+30 2427 022300
In Skiathos Town, within walking distance of the centre, it’s a great place to stay if you want to be located in the beating soul of Skiathos in the evenings. Dimitris, the owner, will warmly greet you upon arrival. Make sure you get the rooms at the top, all with a sea view overlooking the old port of Skiathos, with the giant Island of Euboea in the distance.
Evlalia Studios, Skopelos Town, Skopelos
What’s special about this place is how you are in walking distance of Skopelos Town, but far enough away to be by a beach, and have a magnificent view of town. Sea views seem standard. Importantly it’s modern, and very comfortable.
Anemonisia Deluxe Apartments & Maisonettes, Skyros
+30 697 166 7523
A perfect location in Molos, by the sea, overlooking the imposing Skyros Town above. Rooms are clean, spacious and a stone’s throw from the all-important beach.
Wine shops and bars
A deli and restaurant within its own right, serving top quality modern Greek dishes, this is a great place to stock up on Greek products, whether you’re a fan of extra virgin olive oil or some great Greek wines.
Not a wine bar, but a cocktail bar, serving a decent glass of wine, albeit that’s the only choice. You come here though to admire the view after climbing 100 steps or so. It’s worth it.
Things to do
The Chora (Skiathos Town) is a must to wander around during the day or night. It is also the location of the house of Greek writer Alexander Papadiamantis, the Monastery of Evangelistria and the impressive scores (64) of beaches, each one better than the next. Must visit are: Koukounaries, Lalaria, Agia Eleni, Aselinos, Tsougrias.
The Chora (Skopelos Town) is super quaint, and built on a hill, making it slightly more demanding than it’s Skiathos cousin. There’s a 13th century Venetian castle and picturesque white houses but the star is the blue-domed Panagitsa of Pyrgos, perched on a cliff edge and visible from all sides. The Chapel of St John is in the north of the island, the Mamma Mia! film location, but so impressive in its own right. Glossa, a small town in the North East of the island, is worth the trip, probably for some of the best food on the island, if not for the panoramic view it beholds. For beaches, as with most Greek islands, you’re spoilt. Agnontas, Panormos, Milia, Stafilos are just a few that have crystal clear waters and imposing pine forests.
The Chora (Alonissos Town), as usual, is a must to visit, walking around the narrow alleyways and ancient houses of Old Alonissos. Patitiri is just below, by the waterfront, but Alonisssos is most treasured for its marine reserve, a protected area for the Mediterranean monk seal. Diving is, of course, hugely popular.
The Chora (Skyros Town) is a marvel, just like all of these islands’ towns. Skyros is probably most important though for the endangered Skyrian horses, protected by the Island Horse Trust.
How to get there
The main airport serving the islands is Skiathos airport which is seasonal (April-October). Skiathos has daily ferries connecting the other two islands of Skopelos and Alonissos frequently in the summer months. It is also possible to fly to the Greek mainland and take a ferry from Volos (80km from Skiathos and a 1hr 30min ferry ride) or Thessaloniki (250km from Skiathos and a three-hour ferry ride).
Skyros has daily flights from Athens or less frequent flights from Thessaloniki. There is the occasional international charter flight. Skyros has daily boats from Paralia Kymis Euboea (Evia), and less frequent boats connecting Skyros to its Sporades brothers of Alonissos and Skopelos (6hr and 6.5hr, respectively).
As always, ferry timetables are subject to change, you’ll find useful info here: ferries.greeka.com.