The name ‘Skia-’ (shadow) ‘-athos’ (Mount Athos) is believed to refer to the fact that, at the time of the summer solstice, the shadow cast by the rising sun from the pinnacle of Mount Athos, 130km (80 miles) to the northeast, is said to touch the island of Skiathos. (The 14th century traveller, Sir John Mandeville, claimed something very similar of the same mountain, when he said its shadow at sunset reached the isle of Lemnos ‘76 miles away’: but he was later to be censured as the ‘greatest liar of all time’ by Sir Thomas Browne.)
Skiathos is famous above all for its dense pine woods and its magnificent sandy beaches. This fame has brought the island prosperity and employment in the shape of an ever enlarging tourism industry, which in turn has done much to transform the appearance and the tranquillity of the town and of the island’s south coast. In effect, this is a thin corridor of intense development, and the sparsely inhabited and densely wooded north of the island has been affected by it hardly at all. Some of the prettiest and most untouched bays in the Sporades can still be found on the north side of the island, and there are abundant walks to be made in the peace and shade of the hills in the interior. Although Skiathos is primarily a destination for recreation more than for visits of cultural interest, a stay on the island can happily combine both nonetheless. The deserted Byzantine settlement of Kastro, on a pinnacle of rock overlooking the sea at the northernmost point of the island, is a magnificent and dramatic site, which alone justifies a journey to the island. Inland of Kastro, is the ruined Hellenistic tower at Gournia. There is the monastery of the Evangelistria, which is of interest both for its fine catholicon and for its historical associations; the painted church of the Panaghia Kounistra, in the south of the island; as well as many other chapels and peaceful hermitages in the hills of the interior. In addition to the celebrated beaches of the island are the less visited ones which are often of greater beauty: Aghia Eleni in the west and—more difficult of access—the bays of Kechria and Ligaries, to the north.
The spare and self-sufficient simplicity of the Skiathos that Alexander Papadiamantis evoked with poignancy and unsentimentality in his writings at the turn of the last century, is now long gone from the island today, but the small uncluttered house where he lived and died in the centre of the town, is a moving window onto that world which no longer exists. It provides a pointed contrast to the swirling culture of materialism which pervades the town today.
Skiathos Island is part of the Sporades Island Group, Greece.