Legend has it that the gods created the Sporades Islands by tossing colored pebbles into the Aegean Sea. The myth is reflected in the name Sporades, which means “the scattered ones,” and in the colors of their verdant green hills, sapphire blue waters and sandy beaches. Located off the east coast of Greece, the Sporades archipelago includes four permanently inhabited islands, each offering visitors a unique travel experience. From bustling Skiathos with its gorgeous beaches and active nightlife to the picturesque landscapes of remote Skyros, the Sporades have something special to offer every visitor in search of a memorable island vacation.
Less developed than other islands in the Sporades archipelago, Alonissos boasts an array of natural attractions, and there’s an extensive trail system that invites exploration too. As the center of a National Marine Park, the protected waters around Alonissos are crystal clear. The pebbled beach of Megali Ammos is great for swimming, and though it’s located close to the island’s main port Patitiri, visitors often have the beach all to themselves. With exhibits that display the island’s domestic culture, the Traditional House Museum of Alonissos in Patitiri is worth a visit, and admission is free. Excursion boats on the island offer trips to nearby islets, including Kyra Panagia, home to a recently restored 10th-century monastery.
The southernmost island in the Sporades and the largest, Skyros is a study of contradictions. Its central location in the Aegean made the island an attractive naval base for a long line of civilizations but the Skyrians themselves rarely took to the sea. While there are more than 300 churches on the island, most are privately owned. Although the island has many beautiful beaches, it lacks the luxury accommodations offered on other Greek isles. Even the island’s landscapes are an incongruous mix of rocky mountains, forests and farm lands. With a castle that dates back to the 13th century, a Bronze Age settlement, a Byzantine monastery and a Venetian dungeon, exploring the island’s diverse and unique cultural history is part of the fun of a trip to Skyros.
Lovely Skopelos is the most populated island in the Sporades, and the locals are determined to ensure that the island’s growing popularity as a tourist destination doesn’t destroy its natural beauty. That resolve was tested when the movie “Mamma Mia!” was filmed in Skopelos in 2008, exposing the island’s charms and attractions to a global audience. Despite the influx of new visitors, Skopelos remains one of the prettiest islands in the Aegean, full of beautiful beaches, more than 350 churches and an inviting array of cozy restaurants, simple taverns and small hotels. White-washed hillside homes decorated with painted trim add to the appeal of a holiday in sunny Skopelos.
The closest of the Sporades islands to the Greek mainland, Skiathos is the most accessible island for visitors. With more than 50 beaches and a wide assortment of hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs, it’s the most popular vacation spot in the Sporades as well. Most people come to Skiathos for the beaches, and there’s a stretch of sand sure to please every visitor. Southside beaches boast calm waters that make them perfect for swimming and water sports like kayaking and paddle boarding. The windswept shores on the north side of Skiathos offer a less crowded experience. Reachable only by boat, the northern beach of Lalaria is near to several beautiful sea caves well worth exploring.