A family holiday on the island of Skopelos (Σκόπελος)
Pine forests, terrific thunderstorms and orange butterflies
It was already dark when a friendly Greek met us at the port. My mother was still hoping for a large ship, but this was only a motor boat covered with an awning. I remember being struck by the fact that the Greek was barefoot, and how, as we raced across the blue sea under the starry night sky, the wind blew aside the awning, and sea spray flew into our faces. It was a small, but exciting, adventure! I wasn't afraid, as I had chosen the time for the trip myself and believed that we would get there without hitch - I merely tried to hold the children tighter. After that things only grew more enigmatic: we were loaded into a black jeep, which bore us to the hotel through a dark, mysterious forest – are there really such forests in Greece? It was the end of May, and we were the first guests in the hotel. We were warmly welcomed by Anastasia, the hotel manager. We had the best room, with three balconies, the most beautiful beach and a simply wonderful holiday!
It is difficult to list all the delights of the island...
It's forested, and we would go on morning hikes through the meadows with their thousands of grasshoppers:
My mother would invigorate her spirits by running along the shoreline in the mornings. We explored all the well-known beaches on the island – conveniently, almost all of them can be reached on a local bus. A surprise awaited us in the middle of June, when for three days there were thunderstorms, and bolts of lightning, illuminating the dark sky with bright flashes, struck right next to us, and we sat upon the pebble shore, enjoying this alluring yet terrible spectacle.
Those three days were cool, especially in the mornings... the temperature gave it the feeling of the Petersburg suburbs, only the air was filled with Greek scents and in the day a Greek sun came out. And we, having grown accustomed to the heat of Greece and having earlier rejected the indignant advice of Grandmother to take a sweater, put on several T-shirts under our denim jackets when we went out for breakfast or for dinner in a restaurant. In June the average temperature was +25-26°C.
To the left of our beach Panormos (Πάνορμος) we discovered the remains of early harbour constructions under the water, and perhaps even an ancient city that had once stood here. To the right of the beach were cosy coves, where couples would happily steal in to swim and sunbathe naked, and Greek lizards with a deadpan countenance sat warming themselves on the flat stones. Once or twice we saw a suspicious back with a fin in the sea, which at first raised many questions – as it turns out, dolphins gather here… not what we had thought at first!
The church from the film Mamma Mia comes to mind, of course, we visited it... Just beside it is a beautiful desert beach and the church of Agia Panagia (Αγία Παναγία) a little further up the road. I also recall the beach at Stafylos (Στάφυλος), in particular the rightmost bay, which I swam across several times and lay for a long time on my back in a little cave, listening to the quiet murmuring of the water.
To this day when I remember how I swam in this bay, I am seized by a feeling of untold joy! Up above are little hotels, and the tavernas sit right above the water upon the rocks, from which children descend to swim in little inflatable rings – who needs a beach? Pure romance. Not far away is what is thought to be the tomb of King Stafylos (Στάφυλος), son of the god Dionysus. The tomb was found to contain a sceptre of pure gold, which is now in the Archaeological Museum of Volos (on the Greek mainland). A Greek brought us a pleasant surprise, giving us a beautiful magnolia, which later blossomed in water and delighted us with its magical fragrance for a long time afterwards.
Is Skopelos crowded? Let's just say that in May and June there was nobody at all, and in July there were very few tourists. Skopelos is perfect for meditating, for a relaxing break, for enjoying the solitude of nature, for a fairytale honeymoon with your beloved, for a pilgrimage (360 churches, the majority of which are located on Mount Palouki, Παλούκι) or for those with an interest in history (Sendoukia tombs, Σεντούκια, the Ancient Roman city of Selinus, Σεληνούς).
By the way, a little story. We waited for my geologist father for the big hike up Mount Dhelfi (Δέλφη) and to the Sendoukia tombs. On Mount Dhelfi are ancient tombs dating back 4,000 years, and to this day nobody knows who is buried in them. At the beginning of the path you are greeted by this lovely goat skull;)
Surrounded by shady greenery, we climbed briskly up to Mount Dhelfi and discovered there a well-preserved ancient path planted with cypresses. We didn't make it the last 50 metres up to the watchtower on the very summit because of the children and the precipitous path, even Dad didn't risk it with all his experience.
Oh, what wonderful orange butterflies were fluttering around!
I remember a Greek woman called Maria, whom we befriended and then visited in her home. When we drove up to the little pond with water lilies on the way up to her house, Maria enticed us out of the car with a mysterious look on her face, took out a loaf of bread and began to crumble it into the water. A host of red and hungry fish appeared in the brown water, and finally, to the extraordinary delight of the children, even a turtle surfaced – who would have thought it, in this pond!
We sailed out to sea in search of dolphins with Captain Vasilis on a yacht, this was our first experience and our first full-on storm. The yacht was tossed from side to side, and we were obliged to wedge our feet against the projections on the deck and convulsively grab onto the handrails (several of us were immediately out of action with seasickness). Everybody took turns to steer in the stormy conditions and came through this baptism of fire, but the award for courage and seamanship went to my middle son. Vasilis was a seasoned captain, as nimble and agile as a crab, managing to do everything.
During the day the storm abated, and the sea was cool and fresh, and we swam, and Vasilis treated us to Tsipouro brandy from his own cellar – what a delicious thing! On those raw autumn and cold winter evenings we remembered your fragrant Tsipouro, Vasilis!.. The dolphins, of course, had swum off before the storm… When we were sitting at the back of the yacht, hanging our legs in the water, he unexpectedly told us the story of some Australians who were afraid even to put the tips of their fingers into the water, asking us: "Are you sure there aren't any sharks here?"
We were also very taken by a little village called Neo Klima (Νέο Κλήμα), where there was a taverna, a regular haunt for a group of French tourists who would sail up on their yacht for lunch (we obviously chose the right taverna!) and, hidden away behind a cliff, a sandy beach. We came across an extremely unusual lemon there.
Yes, that's a lemon, it was growing on a lemon tree! The waves on the beach at Milia (Μηλιά) made an impression on us. It brought back memories of the beach at Limnonari (Λιμνονάρι) with its clear bright turquoise water – how beautiful suntanned arms look in such transparent water, when you are swimming!
At the end of the holiday we moved into a bungalow with a private swimming pool for several days. You sit yourself down on the verandah in the evening by the pool, pour yourself a glass of Greek wine under an olive tree, and admire the starry sky above the town at night – we were amazed to see an ordinary hardware store on the hill shining almost like the Parthenon! No economy at all, as the strict Germans would say, but what beauty, we thought!
P. S. The children were delighted by a bat, which, while hunting for moths, fell into our swimming pool. Working its wings at full pelt, it swam to the edge of the pool, climbed out onto the rim, shook itself and, before taking flight, sat for a few seconds before their delighted gaze.