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Island of Alonissos
As you enter the harbour of Alonissos, the hydrofoil slowly sits on the surface of the water and looks once more like an ordinary ship. These 'flying dolfins' bring to mind Captain Nemo and Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Beneath the Sea. Reality is much more prosaic however. These diesel-fueled craft are imported to Greece from Russia, where service routes on the river Volga. A Greek ship-owner though that they could perhaps be used for journeys to the Greek islands. So he bought some, made the necessary modifications and launched them in the Aegean. Today they are a common sight in the ports of many islands and we frequently see them speeding across the waves, reducing considerably the time needed to reach the islands.

  For the past few years hydrofoils have been making regular trips to Alonissos, alongside the conventional ferry boats. And so Alonissos, which was for years cut of from the mainstream of tourism, has opened its doors to the world. Nevertheless, Alonissos continues to keep a pace of its own, which you sense the moment you step ashore in its pretty harbour with its crystal-clear waters, Patitiri. There is a pervasive calm in the atmosphere, which is only disrupted by the sound of motorbikes.
Some hotels have been built on the island but they do not mar the natural beauty of the landscape. Credit should be given to the efforts made by the EURONATURE Fund which, in collaboration with the Alonissos Cultural Movement (OKPA), local associations of fishermen, hoteliers and other bodies, to conserve the environment without inhibiting tourism. This is in fact one of the basic aims of the National Marine Park, of which Alonissos is a part.
The only inhabited island in the main area of the Marine Park
Alonissos lies within the area of the National Marine Park of Alonissos and the north Sporades and is the only inhabited island within its narrower ambit. Together with the nearby desert islet of Peristera, it belongs to Zone II of the Marine Park, in which specific protection regulations do not yet apply. Alonissos was included in the Marine Park plan because of its suitability as the headquarters of the Park and the best point of access to it. Moreover, the Marine Park is of economic importance for the people of Alonissos. Zone I of the Marine Park extends to the east of the island and includes the entire region of the Erimonisa (desert islets). It is divided into smaller zones in which different protection regulations are implement. Alonissos is an ideal base for visiting the Marine Park, the creation of which put forward a series of objectives which can only be realized with the cooperation of the Alonissians. Fortunately, they have been positive from the outset in embracing this idea and have consistently promoted it for many years. The primary aim of the park, which motivated its founding, is the protection of the Mediterranean seal (Monachus monachus), which can be seen rarely in the Park area. There are only a few sea caves-refuges remaining for this endangered species of mammal amd in order to preserve them we must keep our distance. In addition to the seal, the archipelago of the North Sporades is also an ideal habitat for a rich and varied fauna anf flora.

If you know and observe the basic rules of tourism and respect nature, Alonissos offers you the chance to see at close quarters a representative sample of wildlife in the North Sporades, without upsetting the delicate ecological balance. Begin with a tour of Alonissos and then take a caique for a day-trip to the Erimonisa, in the area of the Marine Park. Visit Psathoura and the Kyra Panagia Monastery. If you are lucky, dolphins will keep you company on your way.
Alonissos is 64 km2 in area, approximately 20 km long and between 2.5 and 4 km wide. The highest points are the summits of the mountains Kouvouli (476 m a.s.l.) and Geladias (456 m a.s.l.). The northwest coast is precipitous and unscalable, while on the soutthwest side, opposite Peristera, the mountains slope gently towards the sea, creating charming coastal landscapes. Maquis, brush, pine wods, olive groves and cultivated fields cover the greater part of the island.
Most of the island's 1600 inhabitants live in Patitiri and Votsi, which have now virtually merged into a single settlement. Patitiri is also the island's port, where the ferry boats and hydrofoils dock. Public services are located there, such as the post office and the health centre as well as the Euronature Information Centre on Environmental Protection. Only a few families live in the fishing villages of Steni Vala and Kalamakia, on the east coast of the island, which were once pirates' lairs.
Settled since the Neolithic Age
Alonissos is one of the Aegean islands that was settled very early. Evidence of man's presence in the Neolithic Age have been found on Cape Kokkinikastro and the isle of Vrachos that lies just infront of the promontory. Skeletons of mainland animals, such as rhinoceros, pygmy-horse and deer have also been revealed at Kokkinokastro, indicating that sea level in the Mediterranean during the Middle Paleolithic period (100,000-30,000 BP) was about 90 m lower than today and so these animals could pass overland to the area of what is now the islands.
On the seabed in the vicinity of Vrachos islet are remains of an ancient city that was submerged centuries ago and which could perhaps shed light on the early colonization of the island. In all probability it is Ikos, which sank in historical times, whereas in the past it was joined to the coast of Kokkinokastro and the present islet of Vrachos. It seems that as a result of continuous geological upheavals the sea level rose, covering the city with water. However, in order to evaluate the importance of these finds further archaelogical research is essential. The same applies to the Mycenean tombs brought to light in the area.

  Palia Alonissos:

The old capital of the island, which was also called Alonissos, is no longer inhabited by local people. The village was destroyed by an earthquake in 1965. The first makeshift houses were set up by the harbour at Patitiri and everyone gradually moved there and to nearby Votsi. The new houses were built hurriedly with concrete frames and without town-planning. Consequently the island's present capital, Patitiri, has none of the features of a raditional Chora. The name Patitiri derives from the pressing of grapes by foot in large vats (patitiria) and alludes to the basic occupation of Alonissians until the 1950's, viticulture.
Locals relate that some of the inhabitants of Palia Alonissos insisted on remaining in their village and tried to rebuild their destroyed houses. However, during the military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974), life became very difficult for them. When the new school was built at Patitiri and Palia Alonissos had absolutely no facilities, the last inhabitants left.
For many years Palia Alonissow was a ghost-village. It began to revive from the mid-1970'w when some of the foreigh tourists who had started visiting the island showed an interest in the abandoned houses. At that time many North and Central Europeans bought ruined houses for a song and set about restoring them to their original form. Palia Alonissos has truly risen like a phoenix from the ashes. Property prices have increased tenfold. In the summer months the quaint alleyways of the village fill with the new seasonal inhabitants, whiile in winter it is once again deserted.
Palia Alonissos is built in an imposing location and seems to have above the Aegean like an eyrie. There is a magnificent view of Evvia (anc.Euboea) opposite and on a clear day you can see as far as mount Athos. From the west side of the village the remnants of the fortification wall can be seen. This was built in Byzantine times and subsequently repaired by the Venetians to protect the settlement from piratical raids.
In order to visit Palia Alonissos it is advisable to go on foot along the old mule path linking Patitiri with the former capital of the island. This route passes through fields of crops and fallow meadows, and is preferable to taking the metalled road from Patitiri. In spring you will enjoy the enchanting Mediterranean countryside in full bloom. As you climb up this steep road, which was once the only link between the port and Palia Alonissos, look at the landscape all around and you will observe that after a long period of abandonment the locals have returned to their fields and begun cultivating them again. The old terraces once planted with vines now host mainly olive trees, fruit trees and vegetables. A traditional rural economy is coming back to life, together with the fallow fields and ancient dry-stone walls.
Another excursion worth making on Alonissos is to the chapel of the Sts Anargyroi, which is hidden way in the middle of a pine forest on the steep north coast of the island. From the chapel there is a breathtaking view of the cliffs plunging abruptly into the sea.
A visit to the biological station in the Bay of Gerakas is also recommended, mainly because of the route there, which involves crossing the entire island and gives you an overall picture of Alonissos. However, the station itself is a great disappointment. It is a misguided investment, an example of an absurd policy of the European Union for the protection of nature, which all too often fails to take into account the needs of the local population or even of the natural environment it is supposed to protect.
In the fishing village of Steni Vala is the care centre for sick or orphan seals, which was inaugured in 1990 by the Society for the Study and Protection of the Mediterranean Seal (Monachus monachus) The unit has already succeeded in rearing three young seals. Unfortunately two seals brought there recently for therapy did not survive. Such care units are certainly necessary but can only function effectively in the framework of an integrated management programme for protected marine areas.
On the road from Steni Vala to the village of Kalamakia, on the coast at AGhios Dimitrios, is a small wetlands area. Habitats such as this area used as resting places by migrating birds and their protection and conservation is imperative. Unfortunately on many Greek islands these marshes are considered worthless by the locals and many have already been destroyed. On Skiathos for example, as well as on Zakynthos in the Ionian islands, wetlands habitats have been sacrificed to construct airports.
The economy of Alonissos today is based primarily on tourism and secondarily on agriculture and fishing. As is the case all over Europe, here too farming as a main occupation is continually losing ground. At one time it was the main source of income for the Alonissians and up until 1960s it was a wine producing island. In tat decade , however, an epidemic of phylloxera (vine-pest), caused by a parasite brought from America, infected the vines which were destroyed in a very short period, reducing the inhabitants to the verge of poverty. Many Alonissians emigrated to the United States or turned their attention to fishing. This does not have a long tradition on the island, even though the waters around it are considered among the richest fishing grounds in the Aegean. The explanation lies in earlier periods when sudden attacks by pirates were frequent and the locals turned their back on the sea. Today some 85 families make their living from fishing.
The island's fishermen arwe organized in a co-operative (Alonissos Fishing Co-operative) that markets their catch and is a model for fishermen all over Greece.
The prospects for environmental-friendly tourism
Tourism has developed relatively recently on Alonissos and the peak months are July and August. It is hoped that an alternative form of tourism that is friendly towards the environment, Ecotourism, will attract visitors in other seasons, such as spring and autumn, which are the most suitable for Ecotourism. This idea is being promoted by EURONATURE in collaboration with the local hoteliers' association and the Alonissos Ecological and Cultural Movement (OKPS).
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