Old and new in Alonissos

by Robin.Gauldie

Hilly and green, the Greek island of Alonissos offers walking, swimming, messing about in boats and an escape from the crowds, even in high season

You don’t expect an out-of-the-way island like Alonissos to be wired – but turn on your laptop anywhere in Patitiri, its main village, and you can click straight onto your favourite sites. Including this one. For free. The whole village has wi-fi access, courtesy of the European Union Regional Fund. What a sensible way to spend EU money.
 
That’s typical of this quirky island. Alonissos is the most remote of the three inner islands in the Sporades group (its neighbours are Skopelos and Skiathos), and getting here involves flying to Skiathos, then travelling by sea, via Skopelos, to Patitiri. For those in a hurry to get out of the plane and onto the beach or into the bar, that’s a deterrent. If you like the sense of discovery that such journeys give you, it’s a bonus.
 
If Patitiri looks surprisingly modern, it is. In 1965, an earthquake hit the island’s main settlement, now rather predictably called Palaio Chorio (‘Old Village’) and its inhabitants moved to new and more conveniently located homes around the harbour. The story of both communities is told in the Alonissos History Museum in Patitiri (follow the signposts from the harbour), where a collection of cannon, muskets and other relics of the island’s piratical past shares space with more peaceful displays of traditional crafts, tools, textiles and household furnishings, as well as in the Traditional House Museum on Plateia Iroon, in Palaio Chorio.
 
No sooner had Palaio Chorio’s original inhabitants moved out than arty-crafty foreigners started to buy up and renovate their old homes, so Palaio Chorio, which stands on a saddle in the hills above Patitiri, has more than its share of potters, weavers, painters, candlemakers and yoga practitioners, many of whom share their skills. Kalithea Yoga offers yoga classes in Palaio Chorio and hotels including the Milia Bay, and painter Chris Hughes offers watercolour tutorials at his hillside studio near Patitiri.
 
For such a small island – only 10 miles long and just three miles wide at its widest – there’s a surprisingly wide choice of places to stay. Cheap and cheerful rooms in Patitiri, where owners greet you as you disembark, start as cheaply as €25. For that, you get clean sheets, your own shower and WC, constant hot water and a giddy view from your balcony, but no such frills as air conditioning.  If you like all-in holidays, you could go for the Marpunta Village, a resort hotel about one mile south of Patitiri on one of the island’s best beaches, with a pool, a choice of bars and restaurants, tennis courts, a cinema, a disco and even an open-air theatre. In high season (June, July and August) you’ll compete for space here with clans of Italians, while in May and October it’s slightly creepily under-occupied. Nearby is the island’s cheapest accommodation: Camping Rocks (not as uncomfortable as it sounds). It doubles as Alonissos’s open-air music venue – so pick this if you want no more than to dance till you drop, then sleep where you fall. In the former island ‘capital’, Palaio Chorio, self-catering apartments at Konstantina Studios start at €45.
 
Our favourite place to stay, however, is the Milia Bay. It’s friendly, it’s family run, it’s peaceful, and the views from its pool terrace are fab, looking across to Alonissos’s tinier neighbour, Peristera, a scatter of uninhabited islets, and a misty blue horizon. Sometimes you can even see dolphins. The rooms (which cost €90-€140) are really open-plan, self-catering apartments (each with its own verandah or patio), but if you don’t want to fend for yourself there’s an excellent restaurant (we recommend the regular barbecue nights with Greek dancing) and the restaurants on Patitiri are a five-minute taxi ride away. Walk down through the woods to the eponymous bay to find a pebbly beach at Chryssi Milia with clear blue water, a summer cantina serving cold drinks and snacks, and a floating playground for kids, with inflatable rafts and slides.
 
A word about taxis: there aren’t many, and demand exceeds supply all through the summer, so be prepared to wait a while, whether you call for a ride from your hotel or wait at the rank by the harbour. That said, if you’re not in a hurry (and why would you be?) taxis beat a rented car as a way of getting around, and the longest journey you’re likely to make takes no more than 20 minutes. 
 
Staying at Patitiri, you can swim from a stretch of white pebbles just west of the harbour – not the best beach on the island, but perfectly clean and certainly the easiest to get to. In the other direction, just over a headland (walking distance), Votsi is like a posh suburb of Patitiri, with a yacht-filled marina and some excellent fish-tavernas. There are more yachts and fish restaurants at Steni Vala, a narrow natural harbour midway up the east coast.
 
The beachcomber’s plage par excellence on this island, though, is Agios Dimitrios. You can’t miss it, principally because the road stops here, and what you’ll find is a long double crescent of pebbles and shingle beside a deep blue channel that divides Alonissos from Peristera. A couple of tavernas serve up leisurely lunches. Beyond Agios Dimitrios, and on the west coast of the island, there are more beaches that are hard to get to except on foot or by boat.   
 

Recommendations 

Activities
Albedo Travel arranges guided walks over the island’s old donkey-paths and on the nearby ‘desert islands’. Albedo also offers boat and kayak rental, as do Alonissos Travel and Steni Vala-based Ikion Sport. Ikion Sport also offers wall and cave dives, wreck diving and other dives for novice and experienced divers.
 
Don’t miss a cruise into the National Marine Park, pausing at the renowned ’blue cave’ and stopping for a picnic lunch, swimming and a visit to the colourful little monastery at Kyra Panagia island. Boats leave Patitiri daily at 10am.

Robin.Gauldie

When Robin Gauldie first visited Greece in 1973 it was love at first sight, and he spent the next four summers island-hopping, walking, swimming and picking up the occasional drachma by part-time grape-pricking. After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1976, he became a local newspaper journalist, then in 1979 joined the travel industry newspaper Travel Trade Gazette, a job which allowed him to travel all over the world at other people’s expense. He became a freelance journalist in 1989, and has written for numerous national newspapers, including the Sunday Telegraph, for which he writes the annual Insider’s Guide to Greece, and the Sunday Mirror. He also writes for National Geographic Traveller, Greece Magazine, and a number of inflight magazines including EasyJet and Ryanair. Robin now divides his time between his home in Edinburgh and a ramshackle village house near Carcassonne and spends several months each year travelling in Greece. He has written a number of guidebooks to Greece, including the new (just out) HotSpots Halkidiki and HotSpots Skiathos, Skopelos & Alonnisos guides, published by Thomas Cook; the Thomas Cook Traveler’s Guides to the Greek Islands and to Mainland Greece; Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Top 10 Crete; Charming Small Hotels & Restaurants Greece; and the Footloose Guide to Greece, as well as guides to Amsterdam, Egypt, Estonia, Goa, Ireland, Jamaica, Morocco, Peru, Scotland, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. With his partner Zoe Ross, he also runs the online image library www.sargasso-travelimages.com