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Island of Skopelos
 
     
Altough the walk up to Chora through its maze of winding streets may be a little tiring, it is well worth the effort. The Chora of Skopelos has kept its authentic island atmospaere. Its whitewashed houses with their brightly painted doors and shutters present a picture not to be missed and that urges you to continue your stroll. Even in the airless summer heat a 'breeze of history' blows through the narrow streets and alleways leading to the Kastro quarter where the ruins of a 13th-century Venetian castle survive. Pause for a while to get your breath. Close your eyes and let the ghosts of history appear before you. What were the Venetian nobles like, who came here riding horses and mules? Who brought foodstuffs and all maner of goods, vessels and objects essential for their daily life, and whatever else ensured their survival in that period.
Even pirates withdrew here now and again. And if you drift further back in time, you will discover the ruins of an ancient acropolis, upon which the fortress was built. Who knowns what happened here in the course of history? Tales that only the ancient stones could tell, the only ones unaltered by time.
With a little imagination and provided, of course, you have the time and inclination, Skopelos can inspire a small piece of history. Not great, world history, but history that still lurks today in the hundrends of village streets or even moreso in the woods, the olive groves and the fields with their tidy drystone walls. we shall not meet it in the bustling harbours where tourists arrive in droves. To see, to feel and to experience this island you must take things slowly and easily, in order to have the satisfying sense of truly getting to know the place you are visiting, and not merely touching its veneer. Otherwise you will leave Skopelos untouched by its special charm.

 

 
 
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  Narrow streets and vast woods
Skopelos is virtually one large forest, with dense pine woods covering some 80% of its ground. Ninety-six square kilometres in area, Skopelos is the second largest island in the North Sporades, after Skyros. On the north and east sides of the island the terrain is rugged with sheer cliffs on the coast, in contrast to the south and west shores where the hillsides slope gently to the sea and the landscape is tranquil. The loveliest beaches and hamlets are concentrated on the south coast.
Mount Delfi (662 m a.s.l.) in the west and mount Palouki (556 m a.s.l.) in the south are the highest peaks on the island. West of Palouki spreads the fertile Staphylos valley, wchich reaches as far as the northern outskirts of the Chora of Skopelos.
The vista you behold from the ship as it enters the harbour of Skopelos will surely win your heart. Facing you is Chora, built amphitheatrically on the hillside with the harbour at its feet, impressive backdrop of this lively theatre. The old town of Skopelos has managed to preserve its traditional character to a considerable degree. It is a labyrinth of streets that twist and turn, offering a picturesque scene at every corner. No two doors or windows are alike, every householder paints them to his taste, while dozens of blossom-filled plant pots adorn the walls and entrances to the houses. More than 100 churches, chapels and monasteries are scattered throughout Chora, and you will certainly chance upon many of them as you wander through its endless streets. There are 360 churches, chapels and monasteries on the island as a whole, which has a population of only 6500 souls. A few years ago the old town of Skopelos was scheduled as a traditional settlement and is preserved as part of Greece's cultural heritage. This has put a stop to the new 'modern' buildings that were springing up, without respect for the local architecture. a common sight, alas, in many parts of Greece where where anarchical and continual construction activity is tending to eredicate the special beauty and cultural identity of each place.
Some ugly buildings have gone up in the past on the outskirts of Chora. we can only hope that in the future these discordant notes will disappear and Skopelos will manage to keep its distinctive harmony. As a sensitive Skopelite told us, it is not easy to persuade the locals that it is in their best interest ti keep Chora as it is. Only when the islanders themselves began to realize and appreciate that its traditional character is their most precious asset, the magnet that attracts tourists, did they give the green light. Perhaps now the time is ripe for the development here of ecotourism, which will contribute much to conserving the cultural and natural heritage of the place.
Whenever the opportunity arrises for you, as visitors to the island, to explain to the locals that what brought you here is the authenticity of the old and the respect fr tradition, please take it. Because all too often whether we want to or not, we only realize the value of something when others show interest in it.
 
     
  Where pirates moored in days gone by
The orientation of the harbour of Skopelos is such that it is exposed to the north winds and he summer meltemia. In bad weather the ship is quite often unable to dock and is forced to put in at Agnontas Bay on the south coast of the island. This supposedly bad position for the harbour, on the north side of Skopelos, is said to have been chosen on purpose, in days of old, to try and prevent piratical raids. For the same reaason the Venetian castle, known as the Kastro, was built; dominating the top of the hill of Chora, at that time it kept undesirable visitors at bay. Chora has been inhabited since Antiquity. At that time it was called Peparethos, as was the whole island, and its capital was located in the closed and sheltered bay of Panormos, in the southwest part.
All that remains of the ancient city are a few remnants of walls. Indeed on the island as a whole very little archaelogical evidence have come to light. Among the few interesting finds are the Roman graves-Sentoukia as the locals call them. Nothing is known of their contents since they had been looted already in historical times. The best-known archaelogical discovery was made in 1936, when the tomb of King Staphylos was excavated in the homonymous cove. This is a Mycenean tomb which yielded rich grave goods, including weapons and jewellery, reinforcing the hypothesis that it belonged to the dead King Staphylos.
Staphylos cove is the first one encountered on leaving Chora, after crossing the fertile Staphylos valley. From here the only asphalt road on the island - fortunately for the nature - skirts the southwest coast and passes through dense pine woods, until it reaches the villages of Klima and Glossa. The old village of Klima was alomost completely destroyed by earthquake and has been abandoned by its inhabitants. It is slowly coming back to life, however, since many foreigners have bought houses, which they are restoring. The new village of Klima was built a little way below the old. The new houses were built quickly in the familiar Modern Greek style, with an antiseismic frame of reinforced concrete and bricks.
There are lovely beaches on the island, ideal for swimming which can be reached along the coastal road from Chora to Glossa. Alternitavely, you can take one of the dirt roads into the woods, which fork off from the asphalt road and enjoy a wonderful walk through the shady pines. For the more adventurous, a hike up Mount Delfi is a challenge.
The coastal road passes through Glossa and terminates at its outport, Loutraki, the second harbour of Skopelos at which ferry boats and hydrofoils call regularly. Loutraki used to be a little haven with a handful of houses, but later grew into a village when an earthquake destroyed the old mountain village east of Glossa. From Glossa there is a spectacular view across to the opposite island of Skiathos and the Pelion peninsula beyond. The sunset here is unforgettable. Glossa is an ideal base for excursions to the rugged northeast coastand the Monastery of Ai Yannis, from where you look out to Alonisos. Another path leads to the Monastery of the Taxiarch with its small Byzantine church, drowned in the lush green pine wood.
From the Chora of Skopelos you can make long or short trips to the monasteries dotting Palouki hill. Visit the Monastery of St Barbara from a peak overlooking the Aegean, or the Monastery of the Annunciation, to enjoy a picture-postcard view of Chora and the harbour. This lies 4 km northeast of Chora and was founded in the early 18th century.
Skopelos is a fertile and verdant island with plenty of water. Where the pine woods end, thick scrub or cultivated fields begin. Olives are the main crop, but plum, chestnut, fig, pear, cherry, lemon, orange and almond trees, as well as vineyards, play an important role in the island's economy. Nevertheless, as on all the islands with tourism, this is the most profitable occupation of the people.
Fortunately Skopelos has so far escaped the fate of Skiathos, where tourism dominates the island. Although tourists and excursion-visitors arrive in droves, man and nature continue to coexist in harmony on Skopelos. We can only hope that in the future a tourist infrastructure will be developed which will not spoil the island's character.
What is urgently needed on Skopelos and all the islands of the nOrth Sporades, is the systematic confrontation of the problem of keeping Chora clean. The phenomenon of accumulating rubbish must be dealt with and ways of refuse disposal that do not harm the environment must be implement. Until recently the drains emptied their contents into the harbour, creating an unpleasant lingerin odour, which got worse in the summer heat. The situation was intolerable, especially for the tourists ambling along the waterfront. The 'solution' of the locals was to place a longer sewer which discharges the waste into the open sea. It goes without saying that this is not a solution, since all it does is transfer the pollution outside the harbour. The people of Skopelos must be made aware of these environmental issues and, again, we suggest that you who visit the island draw these problems discreetly to their attention and perhaps make some helpful suggestions. There is no question that a biological sewage-processing plant is absolutely essential.
 
   
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