This relative isolation has resulted in an island that has gone its own way, marked out by its own distinctive culture and traditions, limited tourism, and where income is still derived more from farming and fishing than from foreign pockets. Which means that this island certainly ticks all our boxes!
Skyros is not a tiny island. Measuring some 210 sq kms it is the 19th largest in Greece and has a population of some 3000 souls, who are outnumbered 15 to 1 by the 45000 sheep and goats! A significant number of residents still make their living as shepherds or making local produce such as honey. The island’s central Aegean location inevitably means it has seen many occupiers over the centuries - Romans, Crusaders, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans to name a few - all of whom have left their mark, and its history can be traced back millennia, as evidenced by the impressive neolithic site of Palamari dating back to 2500 BC. Skyros is also said to have played an important role in the Trojan War. The war poet Rupert Brooke is buried here, and his evocative resting place - high above the sea in a remote rocky landscape - is worth visiting.
The island divides into two quite distinctive parts. The north is thickly forested with pine and cedar and has some good walking trails. The south is quite contrasting, being barren and rocky, and has the highest peak, called Kochilia, at 792m, which is a Natura 2000 protected environment due to its biodiversity. The south is also where you are most likely to see Skyros’ famous miniature wild horses - unique to the island and, sadly, now quite endangered (conservation efforts are ongoing).
The whitewashed main town is a gem. Simply called Skyros or Chora, it is one of the loveliest you will find. High above the sea, largely facing inland for camouflage from pirates, its winding main street climbs up past the square to the Venetian kastro above. En route are characterful village shops, chapels, colourful cafes and authentic local restaurants. Fairly sleepy in the heat of the day, the village comes alive in the evening. It is home to a Byzantine monastery, an archaeological museum and a folklore museum, which grants a fascinating insight into the culture of the island through its exhibits of ceramics, embroidery and woodcarving.
Below Chora are lengthy strands of sand named Magazia, Molos and Gyrismata and it is behind these where most of the island’s accommodation is to be found. Although never too busy, during the season the beaches are organised in parts, and serviced by various cafes and taverna restaurants. There are some 30 other lovely beaches further afield, some of which can only be reached on foot or by boat.
Skyros produces herbs, cheese and wonderful thyme honey. The local lobster, when in season, is an island speciality and very well priced. A boat trip operates from the small port of Pefkos on the west coast and includes swim stops at remote beaches, a visit to the offshore island of Sarakiniko and lunch. Hiking is an attraction for all levels and guided half- or full-day walks can be arranged, as can private guided tours (half-day Chora and the monuments or full-day island tour). For further exploration car hire is highly recommended as, although there are taxis, there is no bus service to speak of.
Skyros is a wonderful island with plenty of interest, a largely untouched nature and a long history which has forged its unique character and strong traditions. It is an island for anyone seeking an authentically Greek escape away from the crowds, and those who make the small extra effort to come here will not leave disappointed.