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The monasteries of Skiathos

The Moni Evangelistria monastery

Woodland walks on Skiathos unveil some monastic havens of peace

Wall paintings at Moni Kounistra monastery
The monastery of Moni Kechria

The monasteries of Skiathos are set deep in the wooded hillsides and make an ideal destination when enjoying a walk along many of the woodland walking trails that snake over the island interior.

The island also has many small chapels that, unusual for the Greek Islands, are often unlocked and allow visitors a peep inside. Many of the chapels also have a small living room attached.

The most important monastery on Skiathos is that of Panagia Evangelistria. located just five kilometres north of Skiathos Town and sited on a heavily wooded hillside slope.

The only inhabited monastery on Skiathos has been refurbished in recent years and is now in very good condition. Open daily to visitors, Panagia Evangelistria makes for an interesting day trip either on foot along walking trails, by taxi along a surfaced road or on infrequent buses from Skiathos Town.

One of the most important religious centres in the Sporades Evangelistria also figures prominently in modern Greek history. The monastery was a refuge for Greek heroes in the country's fight for independence and the spot where the first blue and white Greek flag was woven and flown in 1807.

Inside the monastery walls are the katholicon and chapels of Agios Ioannis and Agios Demetrios as well as a small ecclesiastical museum with displays of priests' vestments, rare books, silver crosses, Byzantine icons and some 17th-century manuscripts.

A small folklore museum is housed in an old olive press with an unusual collection of ancient musical instruments while a tiny shop sells wine, olive oil and honey produced by the monks in the monastery's fields.

Outside are bench seats beneath the shady trees and fresh spring water to drink. A well-marked path leads further up the hill through the trees to a beautiful whitewashed chapel hidden in the woods.

The monastery of Panagia Kounistra or Ikonistria is noted for its many fine wall frescos. Located above the Skiathos holiday resort of Troulos it is reached along a scenic, meandering paved road from bus stop 18.

Picnic benches are laid out beneath the trees and the pine forest setting is lovely on the path to the beach at Aselinos. Tradition has it that a monk found an icon of the Virgin Mary swinging from a nearby pine tree and started the building work in 1650. The name 'kounistra' is Greek for 'swaying' and the monastery hosts one of the biggest festivals on Skiathos each November.

The intricately carved iconostasis and the impressive wall frescoes often draw gasps from visitors as to the many icons on display, although the frescoes have been dimmed by years of candle burning.

Nearby is the little-known monastery of Agios Ioannis, reached along a narrow footpath from Kounistra. It can be difficult to find as it is not waymarked although directions can be found in the book 'Walking on Skiathos' by Victoria Sandels which also has more information about the monastery.

Other monasteries on Skiathos worth a look are the monastery of Agios Charalambos, about five kilometres north of Skiathos Town. Thought to be the oldest on the island, no-one is quite sure when it was established but it has undergone a major renovation in the early 1800's.

East of Kechria Bay is the 15th-century monastery of Panagia Kechria, reached on a pleasant footpath trail from the beach It is empty and abandoned but located in a delightful and peaceful spot in the deep forest near the island Kastro.

It's had a facelift and is in good condition. Visitors can see the sparse living quarters of the original monks and there are benches and a table set out beneath the trees, although visitors will need to take their own food and water to this remote Skiathos monastery.