Skiathos is one of the Sporades group of Greek islands that lie just off the east coast of Greece, and this one's the nearest to the mainland.
One of the first to cash in on the Greek holiday boom thanks to an international airport Skiathos has remained one of the most popular Greek island holiday destinations.
Skiathos is a small and compact island, just 12 kilometres long and about 6km wide, and its principal claim to fame is a plethora of broad, deep, sandy beaches strung right the way along its southern coastline.
Recent years have seen an explosion in tourist facilities and, nowadays, a virtually unbroken line of hotels, apartments and neon-lit tavernas flank the once rural road that runs the length of the south coast.
A ban on high rise hotels has curbed major downmarket excess and the tavernas serve as many baklavas as burgers, but Skiathos still groans under its own weight in annual tourist numbers.
The island's ever-growing popularity has resulted in higher prices in the popular resorts and the inevitable drift to dumbed down tackiness.
The closely-packed Skiathos holiday beaches are sandy and safe for children, making this an ideal island for family holidays.
Most of the interior of Skiathos is hilly, heavily wooded and almost wholly deserted with a few less-crowded beaches on the north coast.
Skiathos is noted among the Greek islands for its profusion of soft sand beaches. The whole south coast of this small island is a succession of sandy coves, most now given over to heated commercialism. Quiet and deserted coves are few, with the Kalamaki Peninsula offering the best chance of a day away from the crowds. The few north coast beaches have avoided the exploitation seen in the south but they are less easy to reach.
The primary island resort of Skiathos Town bristles with tavernas, bars and nightclubs all lying within a deep double bay on the south-eastern edge of the island.
This is a busy and bustling resort where cosmopolitan harbourside bars thump to disco music and the air is punctuated with the whine of passing mopeds. Charter planes swoop in low over Skiathos Town bay to land at the nearby airport and ferries pull in regularly with arrivals from the mainland.
The background noise may not be to everyone's taste but it's not unpleasant to lounge the evening away in one of the busy quayside cafe watching the tourists stroll by. Or you can join the throngs of holiday shoppers cruising the Skiathos Town boutiques and trinket shops that line the traffic-free centre.
Skiathos Town has two quays split by an outcrop of rock called the Bourtzi. Dozens of cafes run the length of both harbours with the old port to the west and the new dock to the east. Cafes in the old harbour are more prominent, many of them 10 or 12 tables deep.
The old harbour is also traffic-free, offering a pleasant evening stroll for visitors and it is here that the Skiathos island caiques pitch the display boards touting barbecue trips around Skiathos and daily jaunts to neighbouring islets.
The main Skiathos Town shopping street leads inland from the Bourtzi up the hill. Even more shops, cafes and tavernas are jammed along the narrow road, with the occasional whiff of sewage from the drains that run beneath.
Menus are uniformly pricey and meals are mediocre to poor as the volume of passing trade takes its toll on quality. Many new cafes have sprouted in the last few years as Athenian businessmen cash in on the roaring business.
Tavernas overlooking the bay to the west tend to be the most expensive, as are the cafes that line the old harbour but none anywhere in Skiathos will be considered cheap.
Most of Skiathos' golden sand beaches are strung along the island's south coast. Well sheltered from the northerly Meltemi wind, many are set in medium-sized coves and backed by pine draped hills. They are as thick on the ground as the tourists and are all serviced by the single asphalt road that runs the length of the island. Some beaches are backed by low rise hotels and many get overwhelmed with tourists. Most beaches have deep sand, shallow seas and the usual tourist facilities.
Xanemos is one of the island's naturist beaches, and it sits on the end of the airport runway near Skiathos town. It can get very windy here and there is not much in the way of shelter.
Xanemos beach is broad and flat but scruffy, with more shingle than sand. Facilities are few – a cantina opens in the summer with a dozen or so sunbeds for hire.
Nevertheless, Xanemos is easy to reach from Skiathos Town by bus or taxi or even on foot around the eastern end of the island.
The village of Kalyvia is nearby, a pretty spot in the hills above Xanemos on the road to the Evangelistra monastery. There is no village, just a few houses and apartments among the pine trees.
Kalyvia is popular with tour operators who tout the peaceful location and the extensive views. It is relatively isolated with no bus service and a long and steep walk to Skiathos Town.
There is a small British ex-pat community here but few facilities. The nearest supermarket is a 20-minute walk, and a couple of tavernas on the road to Skiathos Town will open over the summer.
Another beach within walking distance of Skiathos town (but in the opposite direction) is Megali Ammos; a mixture of sand and shingle that slopes gently into the sea and makes up part of the same beach as neighbouring Vassilias.
The name Megali Ammos means 'large sands', although the beach is quite narrow, especially when covered in sunbeds. So close to Skiathos Town, the beach at Megali Ammos fills up early in the day, and it can be heaving by lunchtime.
The road to the beach is steep but the hill behind does offer protection from northerly winds. There are all the usual facilities here including plenty of watersports.
The pretty waterfront is lined with tavernas and cafes and there is a small quay for fishing boats. Inland are several more tourist shops, cafes and a clutch of bars although many holidaymakers head to Skiathos Town for the nightlife.
For walkers, there is a road to the right of Villa Ella that peters out into an old coastal footpath leading to Katsarou, Platanias, Kolios, Livetakia and Kechria. Bus Stop: 5,6.
The narrow sand and pebble beach at Vassilias (it translates as the King's beach') lies west of Skiathos Town and is an extension of the busier and more popular Megali Ammos.
The best of the sand is to the east where a cantina serves up the basics and there are sunbeds for hire and plenty of natural shade from the trees that border the back of the beach.
Further west are several hotels, so the beach gets a little more crowded, although nowhere near as busy as its neighbour. Vassilias sits below steep hills that protect both beaches from northerly winds.
At the western end, it's hardly a beach at all actually, just a very narrow strip of sand and rocks hugging the cliffs that rise almost vertically behind and a steep road that winds down to the shore past a small taverna.
Vassilias is a pleasant place to avoid the crowds, especially at the western end. The cliff gives hotels and apartments here some outstanding sea views. Bus Stop: 7,8.
South-west of the resorts of Megali Ammos and Vassilias is the coastal village of Katsarou. Some good hotels and apartments have made Katsarou increasingly popular with tour companies in recent years.
It's a typical sleepy Greek village of cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and a couple of pleasant tavernas on the steep pine-carpeted hillside just above the main road. The elevated position makes it cooler but the relative isolation will not suit everyone.
Car hire here is a must unless you want a hideaway holiday, although local hotels do offer free bus services. It's a steep one-kilometre walk downhill to beaches at Vassilias and Kassandra Bay.
For a quiet break in serene surroundings, this could be just the spot. Bus Stop: 7,8.
Achladies, or Achlaides, is not the easiest beach to find unless you are a resident of the large, shoe-box Espirides hotel that backs onto the sands and pretty much monopolises the shore.
The beach is set at the end of a small valley floor, planted out with olives and citrus. A steep track leads from the main road to the east end of the beach with some zig-zag steps through an apartment complex. An alternative is to stroll through the hotel, or you can take a fenced concrete path to the west through a friendly taverna whose owners don't seem to mind the traffic.
Achladies beach (the name means 'Pear Trees') is long and narrow with soft sand and shallow waters. The small clutch of tavernas at the western end provide good food for those visitors who are not guests of the hotel and also invite a more romantic setting for that evening meal.
Views from Achladies beach take in the islet of Tsougria offshore and, on the horizon, you may just be able to see Skopelos.
The large hotel ensures the beach is almost permanently crowded and it has tennis courts and water sports. Tavernas and mini markets have sprouted up on the main road above. Bus Stop: 10.
Small and sometimes densely crowded, Tzaneria is the 'gateway' to the Kalamaki peninsular and dominated by the Nostos hotel complex whose apartment blocks climb all over the nearby hill.
Tzaneria beach is not very wide but it's deep and the fine sand is regularly raked flat by staff from the hotel. Sheltered by cliffs, the water here is often mill pond still.
A small taverna backs onto the beach and nearby woods offer shade along the edge of the sand although the trees are fenced off with wire mesh.
For the more sporty visitors, there is a scuba diving school on the beach and there are tennis courts at the Nostos Hotel.
Nearby, down a dirt track from bus stop 11 is the small and delightful beach of Sklithri, hemmed in by hills and with a traditional taverna. The small bay provides perfect shelter for boats. Bus Stop: 12.
The pine cloaked Kalamaki peninsula juts out o the sea between the resorts of Tzanaries and Kolios. Kalamaki remains one of the more exclusive areas of Skiathos, dotted with up-market homes and apartments. The area is also noted for its walking trails through the pines with fine sea views, especially between Tzanaries and Kanapitsa. The road from Bus stop 12 to 13 goes right around the peninsula. Beaches in the small bays around the Kalamaki coast may not be the most spectacular and not easily reaches but they benefit from being far less crowded.
The main beach resort on the Kalamaki peninsula is at Kanapitsa which has two stretches of beach, both long and narrow but very sandy and with shallow water.
A large beach taverna provides refreshments and there is a small pool bar at the Hotel Plaza that sits behind Kanapitsa beach. The beach has a watersports centre and there is an hourly water taxi service to Skiathos Town which is a 20-minute journey.
There are many small coves around the coast of Kalamaki that offer a break from the crowds on the busier beaches. Half-way around the peninsula on the opposite site from Kanapitsa, and down a very steep footpath, is the small beach of Koutsouri, never very busy.
A small beach cantina opens in the summer and it can be visited by boat excursion trippers who spend an hour or two on the beach. There is room for parking above but it is a steep scramble down and an exhausting climb back up.
Another scramble around some rocks at Koutsouri brings you to the tiny but beautiful beach of Delfiniki which translates as 'Little Dolphin'. It can be reached from the road but it is an even tougher scramble than Koutsouri so most arrive by boat.
The western side of the Kalamaki peninsula tends to be hotter, away from the prevailing northeast breeze, but there are spectacular views of the sea to Evia and the Greek mainland. Bus Stop: 12,13.
The beach at Vromolimnos is very popular with youngsters thanks mainly to a beach bar that blasts out loud music all day long and even throws the occasional foam party on the sands.
It has all the usual watersports and plenty of beach facilities for the young. The sands are popular but quite deep so there is usually plenty of room for everyone although it can get very busy in the high season, especially at the northern end where a beach bar sits beneath the trees.
Vromolimnos is a splendid beach with powder-puff sand and some pleasant swimming in the shallow waters, an ideal spot for children.
The shore usually gets an annual clean-up and piles of seaweed-strewn sand are banked up at the back of the beach where woodland walks can offer relief from the sun.
Hills on either side give shelter and, being west facing, the beach both escapes the prevailing north-east winds and offers some fine sunsets. A brackish pond behind the beach dries up in the summer. Bus Stop: 13.
Kolios sits in a small and attractive bay and has a narrow beach of sharp sand. Boats regularly tie up to the little jetty and there is a pleasant and shady taverna up some steps at the back of the sands.
A popular destination, both for beach visitors and day trip boats, Kolios beach can get crowded in the high season. Most of the time though Kolios is pleasantly low-key.
The sands shelve gently and there is good swimming to be had, making this a fine beach for families with children. Tree-covered headlands both west and east also make for a sheltered spot.
Several new apartment blocks have sprung up in the area around Kolios and there is a selection of tavernas, mini markets and pool bars built to service them.
A short walk in either direction reveals many small and attractive coves where the lucky ones could end up with their own 'private' beach all day. Bus Stop: 14a.
The Kalamaki Peninsula ends at the Platanias valley, a sheltered fertile spot with a small river that runs down to the sea at the beach resort of Agia Paraskevi where the sands sweep round a large bay. The coast from here to the western end of the island boasts some of the biggest and best beaches on Skiathos. They also have some of the biggest crowds with several luxury hotels providing tourists aplenty.
The large valley at Platanias is about six kilometres from Skiathos Town and has a pleasant stream that runs throughout the year. A couple of exclusive hotels have been built here and apartments have mushroomed recently. Several tavernas and snack bars have been added to accommodate the annual influx of visitors.
The long and sandy Platanias beach (also called Agia Paraskevi) has a couple of beach tavernas that open in the summer and a pool bar at the nearby Skiathos Princess Hotel. The beach lies in the same large bay as the beaches at both Vromolimnos and Kolios.
The sand at Agia Paraskevi is fine and soft but does shelve quite steeply into the sea so it's not ideal for families with young children. But a range of watersports is on offer as well as boats for hire.
There are several pleasant walks in the area, the most notable from bus stop 16 to Kechria beach, with an abandoned monastery on the way, or a right turn takes walkers over the hills to Skiathos Town. Bus Stop: 15,16.
The big, sandy beach at Troulos is a celebrated holiday centre and has plenty of tourist facilities, including a couple of decent tavernas and a small hotel on the beach.
The broad sands at Troulos (the name means ''Dome' and there is a dome-shaped islet offshore) leave plenty of room for everyone with low dunes behind.
Secluded coves are also be found along the coast those prepared to explore the woods, but the going can be difficult on foot and may be better to hire a boat if you want to explore.
The Troulos village resort is some way inland, and purpose-built for the tourist trade. Visitors based here face a long trek to the sea, although apartments are appearing nearer Troulos beach.
In the inland village complex, there are five supermarkets, car hire and taxis plus tennis courts. There is also a dog shelter near the monastery above and the dogs love being taken for a walk if you fancy something different.
Walkers can head off along dirt tracks that reach northern beaches at Asselinos, passing the Kounistra Monastery on the way. Bus Stops: 18,19,20,21.
The secluded bay at Maratha lies below the Skiathos Palace hotel just beyond the beach resort of Koukounaries and has virtually been commandeered by the hotel. However, it is just a short walk down from the bus stop to a small sandy bay, well protected beneath pine-covered slopes where trees reach right down to the shore.
There are sunbeds and a good beach taverna in the woods behind. The water at Maratha is quite shallow so the beach is good for families with children and there is plenty of natural shade from the pines that overhang the back of the narrow beach.
The Skiathos Palace hotel overlooks the beach but the pines are so thick and deep that visitors will hardly notice. Marathi is a peaceful alternative to neighbouring Koukounaries which tends to attract the big crowds, especially in the high season. Bus Stop: 22.
Regularly voted one of the top ten beaches in the world, Koukounaries boasts a kilometre-long sickle of golden sand backed by a wooded nature reserve and a large lagoon.
Impressive at first light, the rising sun soon lures the tour buses and by noon the overpriced sunbeds are heaving, the sea is littered with motorboats and the air is humming to the dentist drill whine of jet skis. It is just too popular for its own good.
The nature reserve status of the lagoon has helped curb tourist development and there are just a couple of beach tavernas. The sands are also overlooked by two hotels and the resort's popularity has long put paid to reasonable prices.
The nearby lagoon is a haven for mosquitoes and virulent squadrons of wasps regularly patrol the overflowing waste bins.
That said, Koukounaries is still a spectacular beach. The long deep sands and shallow water will appeal to families and there are walks in the surrounding woodland. Three watersports centres offer all manner of fun and there are toilets and changing facilities nearby and an attractive harbour at the eastern end.
Large crowds cluster for a teatime scramble aboard the half-hourly buses to Skiathos town and no quarter is given as homebound tourists elbow aboard in a stampede for seats. Crammed to sardine-tin capacity the buses lumber away in a cloud of dust while taxis lie in wait to pick up any survivors.
There is no village in Koukounaries, just a scattering of small-scale hotels and tavernas strung along the road behind the Koukounaries lagoon. A horse riding centre is near the bus stop. Bus Stops: 23,24,25,26.
Exposed to the winds, the west and north coasts of Skiathos are wilder and less accessible than the south. There are also far fewer beaches and all are more difficult to reach. Good roads lead to Agia Eleni in the west and Megas Asselinos in the north but other beaches can only be reached by boat or on foot. Those that venture north are rewarded with less commercialised surroundings and some beautiful walks through the pine forests.
Between Koukounaries and Agia Eleni is the popular Krassas – better known as Banana Beach. It's signposted from the car park at Koukounaries but it is quite a long trek through the woods, so some prefer the water taxi from Skiathos Town.
Banana has two beaches. The main beach is deep, long, sandy and heavily decked with sunbeds and beach bars tucked away in the pine and scrub that lines the small cliff behind.
The soft sand shelves steeply into the sea and sunbeds are expensive but Banana Beach is hugely popular with younger people. Beach parties can erupt in high season and it can get very noisy.
The second beach, called Little Banana, lies just around a rocky headland. It's the island's semi-official nudist beach. Small and flat, it's bound by steep, rocky cliffs that offer some privacy.
There is less well known but equally attractive beach nearby called Spartacus by tourists but known as Apelakia among Greeks. It lies further round the rocky headland and offers relief from the crowds. Bus Stop: 26.
The secluded beach of Agia Eleni is at the western end of the island, just a short walk from the bus stop before the Koukounaries car park. The road forks right over a low hill to the small bay.
Two small cantinas sit of the northern end of a narrow beach of sharp sand and fine pebbles. The water is shallow here, and Agia Eleni is popular with families. West facing, it has excellent sunset views.
A rough track leads around the headland to other small bays. Signs point to Krifi Ammos (Hidden Beach) a 15-minute walk to a lovely cove with a sand and pebble beach.
A beach cantina sits on the hillside but the drop into the sea is very steep, so it's not suitable for children. There is also no room for turning cars, so they are best left behind. Bus Stop: 25.
The densely wooded area of Mandraki offers, after a 40-minute walk from Koukounaries, the three lovely beaches of Xerxes, Elias and Agistri. There are several ways to reach these beaches with trails from Agia Eleni, Megas Asselinos and from the Caravos Hotel at bus stop 21 on the south coast road.
The beach at Xerxes, often referred to as Mandraki, is the furthest west and is backed by a cliff of red sandstone. Expect calm, shallow water and sunbeds around the beach cantina.
The central beach of Elias is long, deep and sandy and, although it drops sharply at the western end, it is far more shallow to the east where the dunes roll up behind. A small cantina is sited on the edge of the wood overlooking the beach
Flotsam tends to litter the eastern end of Elias before it merges into the cove at Agistri or Angistros and there is often enough driftwood lying around for visitors to build complex and arresting sun shelters among the plastic rubbish that gets blown in with the northern winds.
Elias is a favourite port of call for excursion boats but the relative isolation keeps numbers down and this north coast beach trio makes an excellent alternative to the south shore beach strips. Bus Stop: 21.
The big, wild and windy beach at Megas Asselinos is the most accessible northern beach on the island with a new road through the woods from Troulos. It has a large taverna, apparently built to cater for the daily boat trippers that arrive for lunch on their round island tours. There is also a large campsite nearby.
In August the Meltemi wind can blow your socks off and litter can be a problem for bathers as it gets blown in on the waves. It's a massive beach with plenty of deep sand and some pebbles but there is little shade if you don't have a sunbed. A fork right on the approach road to Megas Asselinos takes you to Mikri Asselinos, a much smaller, much more secluded beach that is a favourite with naturists.
The lovely beach at Lalaria is accessible only from the sea and is famed the world over for its white pebble beach, turquoise waters and spectacular rock arches.
The bleached white stones and undersea marble slabs are responsible for a dazzling aquamarine seashore. Less dazzling were the ugly four foot high letters LALARIA painted in red on cliffs above when I last visited.
Lalaria beach is on the itinerary of almost every pleasure boat on the island and scores of visitors disembark on hourly boat landings. Check before you board – some boats will anchor up for two or three hours and there are no facilities on Lalaria Beach.
It is a beautiful spot, but there is nothing to do but avoid the crowds. Postcards of Lalaria beach are on sale in almost every shop on Skiathos.