Rugged, rural and relaxing
11th September 2019
Lesser known than some of the more popular Greek archipelagos, the Sporades is ideal for carefree island-hopping, says Fiona Webster
Sipping chilled rosé by a sandy beach as clear blue water laps at your feet, it really doesn’t get any better than this.
Sporades means ‘scattered’, and this understated archipelago does look that way; there are 24 lush green islands casually dotted in the Aegean Sea, with just four inhabited: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros.
More rugged and less well known than busier Greek archipelagos, it’s retained an authentic character and isn’t yet overrun by tourists. You can also fly direct to the main island of Skiathos and be at your resort in just 20 minutes. Not that I’m in a hurry – in Greece no one rushes and after supper by the sea just hours after landing, I feel the same.
Mamma Mia! This is why Meryl came here
The islands date back to Palaeolithic times, when settlers from Crete allegedly arrived in the 16th century BC, kindly bringing wine. The Romans came in 190 BC, and since then, visitors have included pirates from Turkey, exiles from Venice and, more recently, film crews – the movie Mamma Mia! starring Meryl Streep was filmed in Skiathos and Skopelos in 2007. You can see why they all came; the islands are stunning.
I decide to tread in Meryl’s footsteps and head for Skiathos’s Princess Resort where she stayed during filming. The Princess is perfect for families, with a creche for children aged six months to four years old, and a Kids’ Club for four to 12 year olds. The resort is enclosed with its own private beach and is close to Skiathos town, where you can try the cafés at the pretty harbour and see the hillside church – both made famous in Mamma Mia!
The Princess has activities for adults too, like swimming, diving, riding, dancing, cookery, yoga, Pilates and painting on the beach. It has 131 rooms, and family ones on the ground floor have pools for private dips.
Breakfast is served until 11am, so there’s no hurry to get up. For supper, you can eat in the oceanside restaurant, but we opt for the gazebos on the beach, where we dip our toes in the sea, then sit down at a candle-lit table laden with fresh giant prawns, salads and more local rosé.
Discover every island is different
But don’t just stop at Skiathos; the other islands are all different in character and well worth seeing. We hop on a ferry (€11/£10), which you can book in advance (letsferry.gr) or at Skiathos harbour. They boast luxury lounges and cafes, making them more like a mini cruise than a mere journey. Our vessel stops at different islands, including Skopelos, where the hillside harbour is dotted with white-washed houses and terracotta roofs.
An hour and a half after leaving Skiathos, we are docking in Alonnisos, a hilly island in the middle of a marine park. It measures just three miles by 12 and is lined with pine tree-lined cliffs, coves and beaches.
We’re staying at the Marpunta Resort, part of the Santikos Collection, where the 104 rooms are actually little whitewashed houses set in the hillside to resemble a traditional Greek village.
The Marpunta’s facilities include restaurants, bars and activities like scuba diving. My first visit is to the pool, where the morning aqua Zumba class looks a little too active for me. Opting for the beach, I am soon tempted into the water.
A hotel minibus runs into the old town. Here, narrow lanes of houses painted purple and pink lead to a hilltop bar, where we sip Greek beer and drink in the views of the island and the Aegean.
Dining combines traditional and modern
The food at The Princess and The Marpunta is fabulous. Menus are made up of fresh local ingredients prepared by respected chefs and their teams.
Our supper starts with a crisp green salad with olive oil and feta cheese, tzatziki, aubergine, crispy samphire, sun-dried tomatoes, sardines and taramasalata – all home-made. Then there’s calamari, slow-cooked octopus, chicken, pork scallops and prawns.
There are several board options at The Marpunta, including one where you can eat out three times a week at restaurants participating in the property’s scheme. We try Tassia’s Cooking, run by glorious granny Mrs Tassia, famous for her scorpion fish and cheese pie.
She invites us into her kitchen to see her expertly batter the pastry with a rolling pin. She lets us have a go, with far less success. But it’s all part of the fun you find all the way across this archipelago.
How to get there
Olympic Holidays (020 8492 6868; olympicholidays.com) offers a 10-night island hopping holiday for £1,959 per person (based on two people travelling), including five nights at the Skiathos Princess Hotel, Skiathos (B&B), and five nights at the Marpunta Resort, Alonnisos (B&B). The package includes return flights from London Gatwick airport, transfers and baggage.