When the boat reached the island of Skyros we faced its southern part, full of rocky mountains and dry land. The port was a cozy little town, full of restaurants and souvenir shops, which despite their touristic purpose, managed to keep a traditional character. Since we traveled during the high season, the boat was full of people that rushed to the island, making us think that we will encounter all of them at some point somewhere around the island. Nothing warned us about what we were on the verge on encountering on the northern part of Skyros.
While the beginning of the route was easy, after a while we had to drag our heavy bikes up an extremely steep hill that made us spend half an hour gasping for air under the sun. As an ultimate reward and as a proof of the fact that everything that goes up will eventually find its way down, a steep downhill followed with an incredible view over the shore and a mesmerizing combination of Greek pines and the blue Mediterranean sea. This view combined with a refreshing wind and a smell of pine made me smile widely: after many years, I finally had managed to spend some days of my summer in my own country. And it smelled like Greece.
Biking around the island was not very difficult despite its wild terrain. Every difficult high-hill rewarded us with an equally steep downhill, usually with great views. Our base was a small beach on the north-west shoreline of the island where the pines were almost reaching the water, providing plenty of shade during the day and numerous spots to hang your hummock during the night, after cooking some fulfilling Greek delicacy and spending some time laughing and talking around the fire.
We decided to stick to the northern part of the island as we did not have a lot of time, although the south seemed equally interesting. The two parts are so different, with the north being green like most of the islands in Sporades (North Aegean) and the south being completely dry, similar to most of the Cycladic Islands (the ones located in central Aegean). Αs a result of the vegetation, agriculture is concentrated in the northern part while the south has been historically used for husbandry purposes. It is believed that the two parts were separated by a small strip of sea, and that they were initially two different islands which later on merged into one. The capital of the island, called Skyros or Chora, is located at the north-east edge of the island and is built on a mountain like most of the capitals on Greek islands, in order to protect citizens from pirates. The fear of pirate invasions lead all the inhabitants to squeeze in the little town and as a result the traditional houses are small. Big luxurious houses are rare, although this is not an index of wealth. Many famous wealthy families were historically located in Skyros.
All houses are decorated in a similar way. Skyros is famous for its folklore art, including mainly wood curving and embroidery. All the furniture are small and decorated with specific patterns inspired from local legends and beliefs, while similar patterns are used in embroidery. Moreover, in the past trading with pirates was usual, as porcelain plates and pottery from all over the world were considered a sign of wealth, and as a result many families have a precious and rare collection of such items even today. During the night many locals sit outside their houses, talking and watching other people walking in the street, a well known activity in Greece called “seriani”. This is a great opportunity for the visitor to admire the local houses as most of the locals leave their doors open. As tempted as I was to take some pictures of this great traditional decoration, and despite the fact that I had numerous chances to do it, my hand kept covering my camera lens, probably a sign of deep respect for these people, which was hidden in my subconscious mind.
Skyros offers a variety of places to explore. History lovers should visit “Palamari”, a prehistoric settlement that belongs to the Iron Age. The settlement dates back to 2000-3000 BC, but despite that its “rural” planning is surprising: it has streets with outfalls, quite developed houses and is surrounded by a strong defensive wall. The objects found at the settlement reveal that the port which is included in the settlement had connections with the Cyclades (the islands of the central Aegean), which had a well known and developed maritime civilization. The area is not an organized archaeological site but it gives a chance to the visitor to observe the archaeologists while they are working. Also, pretty close to Chora there is a beach called “Pouria”, where one can find the remnants of an old mine which was famous during the Roman Empire for extracting “tuff” rock. Close to the mine, there is the church of Agios Nicolas, a small chapel curved into the rock and one of the most photographed sites of the island.
Nature lovers will find their place near Agios Petros in the beaches of Navagio (en: wreck) and Agalipa. The two beaches can only be reached on foot, after a 25 minute hike on short trails which pass through pine forest. However, the green landscape, smell of oregano and thyme, and the crystal clear waters make it worth trekking a thousand miles. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see the Skyrian horses, one of the smallest horse breeds in the world. These tiny horses were very common in Greece during the ancient times and it is believed that they are ancestors of the horses that Achilles used in the war of Troia. It is estimated that the horses were brought on the island from Athens during the 5th century BC. Today only a few are left on the island and they are protected by law as almost extinct.
My last moments on the island were full of beautiful landscapes, smells that bring back childhood memories and sweaty steep slopes combined with some squeaky bike noises, that helped me clear my mind of every thought. However, recalling my last night, while driving away from Chora and looking behind towards the little town, I remember this feeling of gratefulness, for reminding me that on top of every steep and tiring slope there’s always a rewarding view and a relaxing downhill.
Special thanks to:
All the great people that made the little Armorican village of Petritsa Bay seem like a paradise
My lovely brother for dealing with me for a week
Liz for correcting my broken English!