Island full of magical moments
Snorkelling at the mouth of a small cave, admiring the wealth of fish swimming through an underwater limestone arch, I feel something brush past my head.
I take my mask off, look up and see about eight sand martins – at least I think they were sand martins – wheeling in and out of the cave and diving down to the water for food for their young. It was one of many magical moments on the island of Alonnisos.
One of the three inhabited and many uninhabited Greek islands that make up the Sporades, Alonnisos feels like the Greece that time forgot. It is an island that still has deserted beaches and forest trails that you can walk for miles without seeing anyone.
There are tiny ports still dominated by fishing boats and isolated houses at the water’s edge or clinging to the side of a hill. And there are tavernas whose menus change daily, depending on what fish have been caught that day or what vegetables the owner has in the garden.
Alonnisos is the least populated of the Sporades that also include Skopelos, where Mama Mia was filmed, and Skiathos, where the actors stayed during filming.
Olympic Holidays has just launched a number of new island hopping tours in Greece, one of which covers Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos.
An early flight from Manchester will see you land in Skiathos before lunch and it is a quick ride to the port for a choice of the fast ‘Flying Cat’ or the slightly slower traditional ferry which allows you to sit out on deck and enjoy the view of the islands en route. As your boat docks in the port of Patitiri on Alonnisos it’s like turning the clock back.
We were staying less than a couple of miles out of Patitiri, in the stunning Marpunta Village Resort.
Once a fisherman’s village, the chic resort is a wonderful collection of low rise white buildings set into the lush green forest.
As well as the restaurants and bars, including the aptly named Sunset Bar, there are comfy sofas areas both indoor and out, a tennis court and for 2018 a new swimming pool area.
There is not one, but three, private beaches, each as beautiful as the other. Here you can lie in the sun, swim or snorkel in the warm sea or take out one of the resort’s stand-up paddleboards.
Marpunta is a delight for the senses. There is the beauty you can see, the wonderful smell of pine, jasmine and other flowers and then the sounds, from the gentle waves lapping on the pebble beach to the crickets chirruping in the sun.
And of course there is the taste of Greek food from the buffet or a la carte restaurant.
For those on the all-inclusive option, Marupunta offers a unique, dine-around alternative which means diners can chose to visit one or more of three tavernas in nearby villages as well as the hotel’s own restaurants.
Constantino Santikou, a member of the family that owns not only Marpunta but The Princess and the Agean on Skiathos, said it was a way of being part of the community of Alonnisos.
“We want to be part of the island, play a part in the community,” he said.
One evening you may be enjoying the hotel’s own Achinos a la care restaurant – high class Greek cuisine – while the next you could be sitting at the water’s edge at the Archipelagos Restaurant in a small hamlet, watching fish jump while you eat authentic Alonnisos favourites, from Cheese Pie to lobster and the white tuna that is an island speciality.
Or try the fabulous swordfish at the popular Mahi Taverna in Kalamakia – outstanding.
While Alonnisos is the perfect plan for rest and relaxation, it is also somewhere where you can embrace the fabulous natural beauty, in or on the water, or trekking in the forest.
The hotel organises a weekly trek to the hilltop town of Old Alonnisos. Guided by Daina, the morning trek meanders up through the pine forest to a limestone ridge, down to a beach then up to the village itself where a minibus then take you back to the hotel.
Daina talks guests through the flora and fauna of the island pointing out the wild herbs and the mastic bushes, from which the delicious mastic liquor is made.
Old Alonnisos is perched high on a hilltop. While it has the look of history, it in fact has been rebuilt since an earthquake in 1965 toppled many of the buildings and sent the villagers down to sea level to live in Patitiri. Meander through the narrow streets, visit the beautiful churches or enjoy a drink at one of the many tavernas watching the sunset.
The island has some of the most beautiful and understated beaches in Greece, small but perfectly formed. You can explore beneath the sea with a scuba try dive off one of the beaches.
Based in Patitiri, the dive centre gives you excellent classroom coaching before you go to a stunning little bay where you dive down to six metres to the floor with its beautiful sealife. And if any of your party doesn’t fancy diving, they will take them snorkelling in the same bay.
If under the sea isn’t for you, take a trip on the Planitis boat to the international marine park around the island. It is a fabulous day.
The beautiful boat takes you along the coast stopping for a swim off the shore on the way to a Greek Orthodox monastery where the climb from the jetty is rewarded with remarkable views and the wonderful icon paintings.
Another stop on the way back to the port took us snorkeling round two wrecks where shoals of fish have taken over the hulls.
The marine park saved the best to last. The area is know for its seals but it was a pod of dolphins that found our boat. They ventured closer and closer and then decided to surf the bow waves at the front of the boat – all the way into the harbour.
Once again Alonissis had waved its magic wand. It was an island that entranced, one I didn’t want to leave.
Olympic Holidays (www.olympicholidays.com; 020 8492 6868) offers seven nights at Marpunta Resort from £1,091pp staying in a superior double sea view on an all inclusive basis including flights from London Gatwick, luggage and transfers. Price based on May 28 departure.
Olympic has just launched a number of new island hopping tours in Greece, one of which covers Skiathos, Skopelos & Alonnisos. Visit www.olympicholidays.com/island-hopping/sporades-islands/