A foodie guide to the Sporades
We have recently returned from a fantastic week in the Sporades, and so many of you have emailed since I returned to ask for your travel tips and recommendations, so I’m delighted to bring everything to you here in one place.
Before I get into the specifics, I must say that we had an absolutely fantastic time and I’d recommend a visit to anyone. What became abundantly clear to me was the esteem in which these islands are held by so many of you. I have never visited a destination before where so many of you have got in touch to share your fond memories of time on these islands.
Most of our time was spent on Skiathos and Alonissos, so I’ll be focusing on these islands with a few general tips, too.
Skiathos is a spectacularly beautiful island with lots of offer for visitors of all ages and with varied interests. Of course, if relaxing on the beach is all you plan for your break, then you will be well catered for, but there is much, much more on offer, too.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Skiathos Princess hotel, which is one of Skiathos’ leading hotels, and one of the very few 5* hotels on the island. The hotel is situated on the south coast of the island at Agia Paraskevi, which has its own beach access, not a private beach, but loungers and parasols are reserved for guests only), and around 15 minutes drive along the main road to Skiathos town. The Skiathos Princess is owned by the Athens-based Santikos Collection, and it was really nice to stay in a Greek owned hotel, staffed almost entirely by Greeks. We had a very pleasant stay here.
The hotel is a small beach-resort with large bedrooms sat in three story blocks around a large green, which leads down to the sandy beach. There are two restaurants and a pool adjacent to the beach. Rooms are large with a good size balcony and bathroom, and have been refurbished in different stages, with the bathrooms looking much older than the refurbishment in the rooms.
Breakfast is taken in the main restaurant in buffet form, with plenty of choice on offer. The staff were especially good here, and were extremely friendly and good at remembering preferred drinks and where you like to sit, for example.
There are two restaurants at the Skiathos Princess that serve dinner. The breakfast room, Basilico, turns into a buffet restaurant at night, and there is a separate beach restaurant, PR Ammos. We ate at both during our stay. Basilico is a good buffet with a wide choice of Greek and international dishes. We particularly enjoyed roast whole perch and some delicious salads, cheeses and Greek pies. We also enjoyed our meal at PR Ammos. The choice here is much more limited, as there was no fresh fish available on the day we ate, but we did have a really excellent pork souvlaki – the best of our trip. House wines were very good and we really enjoyed the Greek wines we tried, too.
As Greek food is largely based around fresh, seasonal ingredients, we generally found it easy to eat with food allergies. The hotel had a small choice of free from items for allergy sufferers, which were available on request.
The hotel has a number of SUP boards available to guests to hire, which we did twice, which was brilliant. On a calm day, the surrounding coves are easy to navigate and utterly spectacular to explore. There is also an in-house spa, gym, pools and table tennis available. For excursions, the helpful Guest Relations desk will organize vehicle hire and tickets.
We loved staying in a really Greek-feeling hotel, as opposed to a huge international chain, and we had a hugely enjoyable and relaxing week here.
Where to eat
Aside from our dinners at the Skiathos Princess, we went into Skiathos Town to eat. There is plenty of choice here for all tastes. We like to have a light picnic lunch on holiday, as we will often have a larger breakfast than usual and a late dinner. This is where we particularly enjoyed simple, seasonal Greek produce. All shops sell good quality fresh fruit and vegetables, so a typical lunch would consist of some delicious tomatoes, some Greek cheese, maybe made with either sheep or goat milk, perhaps some sweet pointed peppers, some good bread or pies from Ariston bakery, either the tomato or olive bread or a piece of spanakopita, and some fresh fruit, such as cherries, apricots, which were especially good when we were there.
Many beaches have a taverna, and they are generally very good. Many serve fresh juices, Greek salads, grilled meats and fish and cold beers. The very best one we encountered was at Kastro beach, run by an utterly charming family, and serving delicious food. A truly memorable experience.
For dinner, the very best restaurant we found on Skiathos was Bakaliko. We went several times in the end, and every time, we loved the food, service and atmosphere, both for lunch and dinner. Standout dishes were the grilled vegetables and halloumi, grilled octopus and lamb klefiko. Bulk wine was with the bill, every time. The outdoor seating on the waterside is just a lovely place to sit, and other diners were a great mix of locals and tourists, who left booking for the next night. Very highly recommended and good value at around 50-60 Euros for a generous two course meal for two adults with wine and water. It’s easy to eat for less, too. We chose pricier dishes.
To be honest, everywhere else we tried did not make the cut to recommend to you. I wanted to love Ergon, a smart Greek deli, which sells Greek artisanal produce, which is very pleasant and sells some really lovely food gifts, such as oils, dried herbs, biscuits, all of which are spectacularly presented and are lovely quality, but whilst it is nice to eat in, it’d say it is OK at best.
What to do
Skiathos is a great island to explore. There is only really one main road (by which, I mean wide and tarmacked) running through the island. There are two other windier, smaller tarmacked roads and everything else is a rough track. Here, there is a public bus running around three days an hour in and out of Skiathos town. This was a good way of getting around in the day and evening. The bus stops are regularly spaced out, and one is never far away from a clearly marked bus stop if visiting the town or beaches. The bus takes the form of a coach, which gets very full, so be prepared to be pushed down a full bus whizzing around twisty bends whilst getting cash out to pay the conductor! From Agia Paraskevi, we paid 1.60 per person for a single journey. Taxis are around 10-15 Euros a way. Skiathos town is great to explore and is very manageable on foot.
I really recommend exploring the island further as there are some truly spectacular sights to see. Getting around the island requires a hired vehicle, as much of the island is only reached by serious dirt tracks, which require a tough vehicle to access. Many people choose a small 4×4 vehicle, but we selected a quad bike, which was lots of fun and very tough. A UK driver’s license is sufficient to hire a quad bike. A scooter is not suitable for the toughest tracks and requires a bike license to hire. However, with wheels, there is so much to see and do.
Favourite spots of mine were Agia Eleni beach, Ekklisia Panagea Monastery and Kastro. With a thousand beautiful views along the way.
Skiathos is the most visited island in the Sporades and the most developed, with own airport, into which one can fly direct from London Gatwick and Manchester, with a regular flight schedule. We flew with Thomas Cook who offer basic but good value direct flights, and we flew from Gatwick.
Once on Skiathos, it’s really easy to get around. If you are booked onto a package, and we were with Classic Collection, you will most likely be picked up from the airport. If not, there is a good supply of taxis that always stop off at the airport when a flight is coming into the island. I understand that the most a taxi is likely to cost is around 30 Euros.
Quad bike hire is around 35-45 Euros a day.
Alonissos is a much smaller island and is around 90 minutes away from Skiathos by ferry. Services stop at Skopelos en route. Alonissos is connected by other routes to other islands, and the mainland, too.
It is immediately striking how much smaller Alonissos is than Skiathos, and how unspoilt it is. This island is largely covered in pine woods, most of which are simply left untouched, without obvious forest management. Outside the small towns, the island is very sparsely populated. People have asked me how much there is to do on Alonissos. We spent three days there and left longing for more time.
Where to stay
On Alonissos, we stayed at Marpunta Village, at Marpunta, looking out across the sea to Skopelos. Also owned by Santikos Collection, it has been very recently refurbished and offers all-inclusive resort accommodation with two beaches and plenty of things to do, such as tennis courts and free kayak hire.
Our room at Marpunta was absolutely wonderful. We stayed in a small villa with a huge bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and private veranda looking out over the ocean. We were surrounded by tall pine trees, which were teeming with cicadas making themselves heard day and night. We could look out across the sea and watch the swallows returning to their nests at the end of the evening, just before sunset. It was really magical and absolutely immaculate. It was one of the best hotel rooms we have ever had.
Marpunta is a 10-15 minute drive from Alonissos port, and feels set in a pretty remote spot. As such, the hotel offers full board to all guests, drinks included, so you need not leave unless you want to. We enjoyed the food, which was varied and freshly prepared. The chefs were well trained and super helpful, cooking fresh fish and steaks on the grill, to go with a huge range of fresh salads, good homemade breads and delicious fresh fruit for pudding. It was easy and great quality, fresh food.
Where to eat
There are quite a number of small restaurants in Alonissos, both on the waterfront. The recommendation I had every time from locals was Taverna Panselinos in Alonissos old town. The cooking is fresh, seasonal and traditional, and they have some good live music, too. There are some excellent independent food shops in Alonissos town, too. As the island is much smaller, the choices are much more limited and we didn’t see any beach tavernas on the island at all.
What to do
Again, hire some wheels and get out an explore the island. The island is long, and very steep in parts, which allows you to climb high and enjoy sensational views across to Peristera. Alonissos is also a designated marine park, so a boat trip or diving trip is a must to discover archaeological finds, such as shipwrecks near Peristera. Hotels will help organise a trip and there are a number of tour operators in Paitiri you can visit to organise in person.
But aside from it all, the beaches are spectacular, the water is wonderfully clear, the rugged cliffs are mesmerizing. Just soaking up the sun and views from the comfort of your sun lounger is totally blissful and I could not recommend it more.
I would recommend you consider the time of year for a potential trip. Our week in late June was unseasonably hot and many would find this too uncomfortable, especially families with young children.
Hellenic Seaways run regular, fast and punctual ferry services between the islands. We loved the traditional car ferry best as it was blissful being sat out on deck enjoying the sea breeze and views. There are fast services using smaller passenger ferries, too, which offer only indoor, air conditioned seating. Comfortable, but not as memorable. Tickets can be booked online.