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
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
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
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
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
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