Alonissos: Travelling to a Purer Greece
Although I wasn’t even born then, I imagine that 50s/60s Greek islands looked pretty much as Alonissos does today. The pine-clad and serene island with each beach very different from the other remains generally unaffected by tourism and all the modern, often sadly deriding infrastructure that goes with it. The island has a dreamy, innocent and natural ambiance that makes it ideal for couples, friends and even the whole family.
Known as the heart of Europe’s largest Marine Park (since 1992), which is home to Caretta Caretta sea turtles, the Mediterranean monk seal, various species of dolphins and exciting aquatic life, Alonissos in the Northern Sporades is a natural gem. The vast Marine Park (2260 km) is made up of seven islands: Alonissos, Peristera, Kyra Panagia (with it beautiful monastery), Gioura, Psathoura, Piperi and Skantzoura, and 22 small islets. The island is also home to the International Academy of Classic Homeopathy run by the ‘modern father of homeopathy’ Professor George Vithoulkas: medical doctors interested in introducing homeopathy into their practice visit there from around the world to follow his courses, and Vithoulkas has his home on land where he grows his own fruit and vegetables and is known to get around with his electric car. Overall, the island has developed an ecological character that was boosted further a few years ago when it became the first in Greece to ban plastic bags.
The Old Town of Chora is a delight to walk around with its low-rise whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs built on a hill, abundant nature like climbing vines and magnificent wildflowers, narrow roads, simple yet interesting shops and low-key cafes and tavernas. The scenic, lush and hilly island is great for hiking and a local artist, Bente Keller, who has an art gallery in the Old Town sells her hiking guide at her store; also, consider Alonissos for a springtime visit as its hills and mountains like Kalovoulos, Megalo Chorafi and Kouvouli, the highest, become carpeted with beautiful varieties of flowers and herbs, olive groves and fruit trees. There are 14 marked hiking trails to explore; for a good trek go from the Old Village to Patitiri, then to Megalos Mourtias and back to Patitiri (two hours, medium difficulty), or from the Old Village to Yialia beach and then back to the Old Village (two hours, medium difficulty).
Another great village to visit is more contemporary Patitiri, the port town, where you’ll find a good choice of cafes, restaurants, and bars as well as the essential stores and where you can also visit the Alonissos Museum to discover the antique history and cultural heritage of the island.
You can also enjoy discovering the island by sea – rent a kayak or boat trip and go around the island to find wild beaches and coves, or go scuba diving to get acquainted with the big blue around the marine park, Spartina bay and the surrounding deserted islands such as Gioura. You could also visit the 1200 AD sunken Byzantine ship in the waters of Aghios Petros or go to Psathoura to explore the remnants of an ancient city.
If you’re looking for one of those endless, organised beaches with water-sports head to popular Aghios Dimitrios. At Leftos Gialos you’ll also find umbrellas and sunbeds for rent as well as a (somewhat noisy) beach bar and restaurant, but the water is crystal clear. Kokkinokastro is known as the “red beach” as the rocks surrounding it have a deep ruddy shade. It is also organised but off-season can be enjoyed for its wild beauty, and the water is clean and clear here too. If you’re in the mood to discover a shard of ancient pottery, head to Tsoukalia beach, where an ancient ceramics factory once stood, and where legend has it that the sea-bed is strewn with pieces. For a more natural option – with fewer umbrellas and sunbeds but also a taverna so you can spend the day here, is Megali Ammos beach.
One of the most magical experiences to enjoy in Alonissos is dinner in the small, natural harbour of Steni Valla, where sailors and yachters hop off their boats to have dinner at the unpretentious Tassia’s Taverna. Decorated with gardenias, basil, and bougainvillea, the taverna serves the best langoustine pasta, fresh seafood as well as rare-to-find salads like sea samphire. For home-cooked-style ‘mageirefta’ and seafood go to Meltemi in Megalos Mirtias. At Kastro in the Old Town, you’ll find a traditional grill and homemade specialties, and at Afrod in Rousoum Yialos you can enjoy a seaside dinner of refreshing, colourful salads and fresh fish. Also in the Old Town is Hayiati, which is a great place for breakfast as well as a sunset drink as it’s set on a balcony overlooking a scenic landscape.