Skiathos, Greece: The paradise from Mamma Mia
The Mama Mia sequel has been storming the movie theatres the past few months, drawing romantics to fall hopelessly into the arms of a dream Mediterranean love affair, set among the pines, azure waters, and bougainvillea.
Cobble pavements, white walls, blue shutters, and glorious tapas only add to the whimsy. And irrespective of Piers Brosnan's dubious tones the movie has struck a chord across the globe, placing Skiathos and Skopelos firmly on the map. Ironically Skopelos is the ‘Mama Mia Island’ but Skiathos, its more established neighbour, has garnered the lion's share of tourists.
The reality of Greece can be overpopulated, commercial and replete with strutting European posers or "tipsy" Brits. Moreover, Croatia and the lesser-known Greek islands now vie for attention from visitors around the world hungry for that sublime Mediterranean experience, still untouched in parts.
Staying in the South of the Island on the Kalamaki Peninsula we were in pole position to experience the pristine beaches from Kolios, to neighbouring Vromolimnos and Kanapitsa, to Agia Eleni.
In the bid for a genuine Greek experience we avoided hotels and opted for the real thing, Villa Maestrali - a stone clad, mountaintop villa, bedecked with the very blue shutters and cool white walls that complete the dream sequence. The veranda, surrounded by towering firs, offered a 180-degree view of the ocean and the surrounding small islands.
The owner, Elisabeth Powers, was a superb host, meeting us at the airport and driving us to Villa Maestrali to settle us in. As we arrived the fridge was kitted out with local yoghurt, wine and beer, fruit, greek salad, fresh meats and milk.
A red, open-top jeep drove the fun and authenticity of the experience to another level as the warm air and hot leather seats provided no respite from the July heat, our donut ring and ice lolly lilos flapping in the wind. The family was unanimous - we were living the dream. Without aircon. The popular alternative is a local bus route with frequent, well-positioned stops along the coast.
The beaches are all united by the same clarity of water, aspect, and temperature, but some leveraging their shade to provide beach restaurants on different levels of style, ambience and quality. Lalaria and Secret Beach have special appeal for their beauty, but for us Agia Eleni and Koukounaries assumed the top spots.
The main drag of shops and restaurants gives the gives a second burst of energy as the kids look for bargains while my wife browses the boutiques, and I pull in for a Gyros (filled pita) at the famous ‘No Name’ taverna. There's a quaint outdoor movie theatre on the high street - no surprises which movie was on rotation. Seriously.
But perhaps the best tip I could give was to look out for the Islea Hospitality Group. They seemed to have the recipe for quality, both in decor, cuisine, and location. Restaurants include Marmita and Scuna and our favourite, Bourtzi Cafe, an outdoor restaurant surrounded by the sea, a canopy of pines, woven with fairy lights - lit to perfection.
Or, if that's a little too polished, there are many surprising corners that present the most quaint side street restaurants, delivering that still, dream evening you had travelled 24 hours to find.
And that says it all. Skiathos, for all her fame and celebrity, has refused to change her personality over the years to compete with her siblings. I can't promise perfection - she certainly goes off script in places - so if it's Mama Mia you're looking for, be prepared to find something more authentic, and fall head over heels with the quirks of her reality.