How do I stay for three weeks on a Greek island that contains more than 300 churches and 24 monasteries and leave the island with only a handful of photos of them? Tell me how that happens.
Here’s how: they’re everywhere. One can’t possibly photograph them all.
That was me last June when my husband and I spent three weeks on Skopelos Island in Greece, as part of our five-plus week journey across Greece. Yes, we were on the island for three weeks and yes, this meager post contains the entirety of my church photo collection. I wish I had seen more, but that’s for the return trip, right?!
No matter where you look, whether in town or in the countryside, you’ll see a church of some sort.
Some churches — whether they’re in the town (Skopelos Chora) or on the greater island — are quite large and are designed to hold a small congregation.
Others, on the other hand, are private and built by a family for their own use.
Even so, you’re looking at what photos I do have because (let’s be real), these churches are simply stunning.
Spectacular yet humble.
Ornate on the inside, yet unassuming on the outside.
In short, so very different from what I’m used to here in the United States that I was captivated.
Each church is so different in design from the others! To think that someone designed these buildings, supervised their construction, and saw them built in this little village where they continue to be used to this day.
Once you wander outside of Skopelos Chora, you’ll start to see the many small, private family churches that dot the countryside.
And now let’s head back to town to see a few more…
Thanks for reading!I hope you enjoyed these photos of the churches we saw on Skopelos Island in Greece, including those in Skopelos Chora. Follow my blog for more posts from our travels last summer. Also, check out my categories for more destinations near and far.
On every Sunday morning last June, my husband and I were mesmerized by the calming tones of musical chants floating on the breezes wafting across the natural amphitheater arrangement of Skopelos Town. Also known as the Old Town or Skopelos Chora, the largest town on Skopelos Island is home to 123 churches Greek Orthodox churches.
We discovered this church last June when we visited the island, one of three that compose the Northern Sporades east of Athens on the Pelion Peninsula. I’m not sure exactly where this church is within the town… somewhere down the hill, tucked among whitewashed homes and shops, nestled along a cobblestone street that may or may not show on Google Maps.
Follow my blog to catch my next post on the churches of Skopelos (both those in the Old Town and those scattered about the island), where I’ll show you a slew of charming places of worship, both private and others.
Click on this video to hear music similar to that heard on Sunday morning in Skopelos.
Three-plus hours of exercise and socializing in the Greek countryside
On Wednesday night (June 12), Mitch and I hiked across Skopelos Island from Skopelos Town to the little seaside town of Panormos. The three-hour hike was organized by Heather Parsons, founder of Skopelos Trails.
I had heard of Parsons last fall when I found her in an online search. It seems when you research Skopelos Island, her name will eventually surface. Her organization, Skopelos Trails, is dedicated to restoring, maintaining and improving the ancient stone pathways, called calderimi, that are sprinkled across the island.
Parsons has written and published a book as well, called Skopelos Trails. It shows the paths for the island’s many walking and hiking trails. Parsons has provided detailed—almost step-by-step directions— for finding and following the paths either on your own or with guidance from her or her business partner and our guide, Emmanuel.
According to a post on Facebook just today, the local forestry department recently asked Skopelos Trails to provide them with details of all the closed trails.
In the post it says that Emmanuel had drawn in by hand 116 km of trails on the department’s terrain map. Clearly, Skopelos Trails knows its the land better than most.
Parson’s book also contains hand-drawn illustrated maps that appear alongside the directions and description of the Trails. The illustrations may not be drawn to scale and if a business was used as a landmark on the map, it may have changed, especially if you are using an older edition of the book.
The trails are marked and rated by level of difficulty and the trail we walked Wednesday night, the Coast to Coast Trail, is considered “not strenuous,” or at least that’s how Parsons described it to me in her reply to an email I had sent her as we were making arrangements. (Since I had a 7 a.m. ferry ride to catch the next morning, I wanted to make sure the three-hour Coast to Coast Trail would not wipe me out for the next day’s travel to Venice to see my daughter.)
With Parsons’ “not strenuous” description, we decided to sign up for the 25€ hike, but we opted to take the bus back later from Panormos to Skopelos Town instead of going to a restaurant with the other hikers. I would have loved to socialize more with the others, since during the hike we were able to visit for only a short while.
The plan was to meet at 5 pm at Kahili’s Bakery and Cafe down on the harbor front street or at 5:15 further up the hill near our apartment, where the calderimi, which started just down the hill a small distance, passed by.
As we stood near the telephone pole with a Skopelos Trails trail marker (a 3″- diameter white circle with a yellow hiking boot footprint), we began to hear huffing and puffing from an approaching group.
To our left, trudging up the hill with the entire town of Skopelos spread behind them as a backdrop, proceeded two couples from England; Anna, a young Athens native who lives in Skopelos; a woman from Skopelos who had built a brand new home in the mountains of Skopelos; and our guide, Emmanuel.
Our addition to the group included Mitch and I plus Grayson and Victoria Phillips, who is serving an artist residency at Skopart.
In total, there were eleven of us—quite a good number for an end-of-day stroll (and I use that term loosely) across the island.
The previous Thursday, according to the Skopelos Trails’ Facebook page, a group of five hiked the path starting at 9 a.m.
It would have ended in the heat of the day, so maybe an evening hike, with it’s cooler temperatures during the latter two-thirds of the hike, makes for a more tempting outing and attracts more participants.
We did stop occasionally during the hike— about five times. During our stops, we would take a photo, drink water, or refill our water bottles at a natural spring. There are several of these springs on the island and many islanders use them for their drinking water.
The water was cold and clean, Emmanuel assured us. Our bottles were nearly full, so we didn’t drink from the spring, but I wish I had. Should have tasted natural Greek spring water. How often do you get to do that? I did scoop up some of the icy water and rubbed it on my arms and neck for a cool-down, though.
We arrived right on schedule at 8:15 pm in Panormos, having traversed the island through olive groves, along stone-walked paths, on top of stone-bordered terraces, alongside pastures where goats and an occasional horse roamed.
The hike took a solid three hours and fifteen minutes. I’m writing this post in Venice; when I return to Skpelos, I’ll look into my copy of Skopelos Trails to see how many kilometers we covered. I’m guessing right now about five.
We also came upon five tiny and well-maintained Greek Orthodox churches. Our guide told us that many of the churches were built by families so their members would have a central location for burial. In at least one, a single candle flowed in the darkened nave.
I was tired when it was over. I would definitely label the hike “moderately strenuous.” It’s very rocky, and very steep in parts, and in many places we were walking in thigh-high grasses or on steep grades that were covered with a cushion of small, smooth leaves (a eucalyptus variety?) that made a few of us nearly fall.
Even though it was a challenging three hours, it was very enjoyable literally getting off the beaten path to see the rural Greek countryside, and rugged and forested mountains, which are particularly unique to Skopelos.
We also enjoyed meeting and visiting with people from around the world. As Judy, an English hiker from Bristol said, “It’s so interesting when people from all different parts of the world with different lives come together to connect in this way.”
Thanks for reading! This was a fun experience and when I return to Skopelos next week, Mitch and I hope to take another (probably shorter!) hike using the Skopelos Trails book. Follow my blog for more posts from our summer travels and feel free to leave a comment about some interesting hikes you’ve taken recently.
The studio we’re staying in runs €40-80 night, depending on the time of year. July and August are the most expensive times; it varies greatly after that. In addition, if you come to the island to participate in a Skopart artist residency, your rates may be lower.
Mayorka Studios comprises twelve units perched high on the hill that overlooks Skopelos Town below. In fact, if you look in the picture below, you can see the apartments in the extreme upper left corner. They are not white, but instead are painted a light coral color and have red tile roofs.
Our room has a king-size bed and a twin. It also has a limited kitchen with a few pots and pans, an ice cold fridge, double sink, a small two-burner stove, …
and a kettle that boils water in no time flat.
The kitchen has the main appliances we need, but not a microwave or oven; however, I don’t think that microwaves are as popular here as they are in the U.S. As for the oven, yes, I would like to have one of those–even more so than a microwave, actually– but oh, well. My daughter’s apartment during her first internship in Venice didn’t have an “oh-ven” either.
The kitchen also contains the basic utensils needed, but we did have to go buy a sharp serrated knife for slicing tomatoes. (We have Greek salads with nearly every meal to make sure we get our daily allowance of feta cheese.)
The bathroom has a small shower and a hand-held shower head that hangs over the faucet. The shower at our AirBnb in Athens featured this same type of shower setup, so it must be common here. It’s a little awkward to get used to… you’re never just standing under flowing water. You have to hold the shower head. Kind of a pain. Man, am I a whiner or what?!
The toilet functions, except for “the rule.”
That would be the “never flush paper” rule, which was also awkward to get used to. Flush NO paper, not even the dirtiest paper? Nope. Apparently, it clogs up the pipes. So, instead of tossing your paper into the toilet, you just toss it into the lidded trashcan. I noticed this same rule at a hillside restaurant near the Acropolis in Athens. That place had a large lidded basket for the used paper.
Our king-size bed is very comfortable and firm. There are plenty of good pillows also. The place is spotless thanks to the housekeeper who drops in every morning around 10.
The TV (an old tube version) doesn’t seem to work. I suspect that the batteries in one of the remote controls are dead; however, I still can’t seem to get the little black box that sits on top of the TV to be friends with the actual TV.
But it doesn’t really matter, since the one night I was able to get something to watch, it was a soccer game with a Greek-speaking commentator (duh). So it was no great loss, but still. I get a kick out of watching TV when I’m in another country. I think it’s fun to learn what people in different countries are interested in, their perspectives and priorities.
As for laundry, we wash it by hand.
Yes, you read that right. In fact, there’s a lime green plastic washtub wedged between the toilet and the wall specifically for the purpose. We take the tub, put it on the floor of the shower, turn on the water, sprinkle in some powdered Tide for handwashing and get to washing.
Then we rinse (sometimes in the tub, sometimes just in running water) and hang the wet duds on the clothesline on our balcony just like everyone else.
It works really pretty well, and yes, saves a lot of energy. I can handle not having a dryer, but a washer really would be nice. Our place in Athens had one, and even though we were there for only two nights, we washed a load of laundry. (And honestly, I do think it might be a little unusual to not have one in our unit.)
So even though we handwash our own clothes, can’t flush toilet paper, and the TV doesn’t work, this place is still the bomb. And that’s because…
it’s all about the balcony.
The view is absolutely incredible. In fact, who needs a TV when you have a front row seat to the best show in town all day and all night?
Watching the ferries, tour cruises, and boats of all shapes and sizes sail in, unload, and sail back out will probably be one of my best memories from this entire trip. We can also see people way down there walking up and down the harbor front street. And late at night, when the balcony doors are open (and they usually are, because it’s quiet and safe up here), you can hear live Greek folk music rising on the breeze from the Paganitsa Tower taverna. It’s heavenly.
I guess you could argue that the balcony is our only sitting area, however. You’d be right. There is no indoor dining area, for example, or an easy chair to sit in.
Last Saturday night, during the second night of the music and dance festival, when students were showcasing their modern dance routines, someone must have been performing to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. Those crazy-good chords floated up from the performance at the City School down below…
another nice memory.
So, except when we’re in the kitchen fixing meals, if we’re in the apartment, then we’re on the balcony sitting in the two wicker rattan love seats, looking out at the Aegean Sea, and maybe sipping a glass of wine. There’s a glass-topped table there and that’s where we have breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We’ve dined out only twice in the week and a half that we’ve been here. We head to the grocery store downtown (or catch a ride with friends from Skopart) whenever we need to pick up a few things. I know we’ll eat out a few more times eventually, but I’m perfectly fine with eating in, shopping at the little market, and buying just what we really need for that day.
That seems to be the way they do things here.
Thanks for reading! I thought it would be interesting to show our digs while we’re on Skopelos Island in Greece. The rates for lodging are highest in July-August; however, Greece is still relatively inexpensive compared to other locales. Click “like” if you found this interesting and feel free to leave a comment. If you’ve stayed in Greece before, what was your experience like?
We downsized our Sunday afternoon with a walk to this nearby beach
We had planned to go to Stafylos Beach, about one mile away across Skopelos Island. However, that would require a bus, and we didn’t know if there would be buses running on a Sunday, since Greek Orthodoxy does play a major role here in Sunday activities.
In fact, every Sunday morning, you can hear Greek Orthodox monks chanting via loud speakers throughout the “bowl” that is Skopelos Chora (the main town).
From my vantage point high up on the hill overlooking the harbor and town, however, I would say that yes, the buses do run on Sundays, since I don’t see any down below parked at the bus station on the main street. I’m assuming they must be out and about. Oh look, one is pulling in right now, in fact.
So instead, we walked down to Glifoneri Beach. We passed houses (some beautiful, some ramshackle), chicken coops, and abandoned stone sheds along our way.
When we arrived, the water was quiet. It was stunningly aqua in color, but quiet and serene. Approximately thirty people were there. Kids played in the waves, middle aged couples lounged and slept in the sand, and young twenty-somethings ventured out further into the waters.
Around 1:30 p.m., however, a procession of waves began rolling in. First, the waves were small, but then they gradually built in size to the point where I turned around to see if the water was reaching our backpack and beach bag. It wasn’t, but it was only about a foot away.
We sat at the edge and watched the water roll in, bringing with it bits of leaves, sand, tiny stones and sand. Eventually we decided to dog paddle over a narrow band of larger rocks to where Mitch said the bottom was covered with a fine, white sand. He was right. The bottom was soft to walk on and firm.
We swam out about twenty feet and felt the mixture of currents rolling in from the Aegean. Distinct layers of icy cold waters mingled with warm. We didn’t know whether to relish in the sensation or climb back onto the beach.
We saw a Hellenic Seaways ferry glided around the island from the south and entered the Skopelos Harbor, disappearing from view around Panagitsa Tower, the Church of the Virgin Mary. As it chugged into town, four bright white streams of seafoam trailed behind it, vivid against the inky blue Aegean waters. Ten minutes later, it emerged again and continued on to its next stop, probably Glossa (the next largest town on the island) or Skiathos Island next door.
After spending about an hour and a half at Glyfoneri, we began our walk home back up the hill to Mayorca Studios, where we are staying.
On the way, we stopped at Stella Taverna and ordered some fried squid (calamari) and two Cokes.
Sesame-encrusted bread was served alongside the squid and complimentary miniature chocolate-covered ice cream bars were given to us after we paid our €12 bill.
We interrupted our steep walk back home with several breaks to enjoy the view and rest our aching knees and calves. Skopelos terrain will challenge anyone!
Thanks for reading! My husband is serving an artist’s residency at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts on Skopelos Island, Greece. I’m writing as much as I can about our trip and working on some other projects as well. On the agenda for tomorrow: securing ferry tickets for my trip on Thursday to Venice, Italy to see my daughter, who is serving an internship at the Venice Biennale U.S. Pavilion. I have a direct flight out of Skiathos and plan to stay there for five nights.
Last night, after a dinner down by the harbor at Στου Δημητράκη (by the way, where we dined on giouvetsi, mousaka and ekmek—more on that later), we ventured up the hill to the City School to watch a night of traditional dancing. The show started at 9 p.m. and lasted to midnight and was hosted by the Cultural & Folklore Association of Skopelos.
Jill Somer, assistant director of Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, told me that this is the first night of three end-of-year recitals for a local teacher who currently has 200 Skopelos dancers, including children to adult age groups. Here’s a poster for the festival, which I retrieved from the Skopelos News blog.
As you can see from the poster, the festival continues through Sunday night and will feature ballet, modern dance, gymnastics, and musical performances.
The concert was held in a large concrete amphitheater. Dance teams performed traditional dances from various locales and regions of Greece in the dresses and suits of the respective areas.
When we arrived, many people were there, watching in the stands or chatting on the large plaza behind the dancers. People filtered in and out of the stands all throughout the night. Parents and grandparents scurried to and from the dance floor to take close-up pictures on cell phones and tablets. Some kids played in a large concrete plaza off to the side of the amphitheater.
Others practiced their dances while they waited their turn to perform, adjusting their dresses and suits as they prepared. Of course, the occasional cat wandered through.
It seemed to mostly be a local crowd, but there seem to be so many people visiting and re-visiting the island, that the definition of a “local” might be a little blurry here. (And let’s be real, that probably depends on who you ask!)
At midnight when the concert concluded, we walked back to Mayorca Apartments. It was a long trek, but much of the town was still awake, talking quietly in the streets and tiny walkways. Two or three random scooters with bright headlights zoomed past while we stepped aside.
Google Maps refused to refresh our trek, and we finally gave up, deciding instead to just keep going up and over to where we knew we would eventually find our apartment. At one point as we climbed, the stairway before me continued as far as I could see. Envision Jacob’s Ladder or the Stairway to Heaven and you’ll get the picture! Eventually, we found a landmark (what we call the stone wall), took a left, and knew we only had one final push to the summit.
The night was breezy and mild. The music was loud. The culture was “full steam ahead.”
Footwear varied, as it often does at kids’ dance recitals back in the United States. Some kids opted not to wear traditional dance shoes. Some girls wore black shoes and some wore shimmery pink shoes instead. A few boys wore Nikes and Converse instead of black loafers.
I was fortunate to be able to see this slice of authentic Skopelos culture. Being a teacher, I had wondered where the school was located and was surprised that it was nestled right in with the hotels, homes, and businesses of this beautiful little town.
Thanks for reading! I’m planning to post a story daily on my blog while we’re in Skopelos and on the mainland. Follow my blog to get updates on new posts!
We weren’t inside this little church for more than twenty minutes, but that was long enough to be reminded yet again of my ignorance on… well, so many things. Architecture and Greek Orthodoxy are topics that come to mind, as well as the history of the 100+ public and private churches that exist in Skopelos, the little Greek town we’re residing in while my husband completes an artist residency.
We discovered one of those churches, the Church of Agios Michael Synadon, on our second night on Skopelos Island northeast of mainland Greece. The church is tightly wedged into a small neighborhood and you can easily pass right by it if you’re talking or, like my husband Mitch and me, concentrating on the steep walk down from the top of the hill to the harbor-front shops and restaurants of Skopelos Town.
As you walk by, following the well-marked path from the hilltop, you pass the backside of the church. The apse first caught Mitch’s eye and caused us to stop and wander around the corner to the front of the church.
In fact, according to this Skopelos News blog, another detail that makes the church so notable is the stele placed just below the apse window (see the light-colored stone directly below the dark window in the picture above). A stele is a piece from an old Greek grave that dates from the second century B.C. Steles may feature carvings such as flowers and inscribed names, as this one does.
Another detail worth noting, according to Skopelos News, are five large gray stones, remnants from Roman-era sarcophagi (coffins). There are three on the front side of the church and two on the back. They are the largest stones that you see in the pictures above.
The main front doors of the church were locked, but a door off to the side was not. We knocked and walked inside to meet a woman with shoulder-length brunette hair and dark brown eyes.
“Καλησπέρα,” the woman said, Greek for “good evening.”
“Kali-spera,” we replied and followed her into the nave, the main sanctuary. Inside, it was musty and dark, lit only by a box of candles burning on a table near the front.
“You are Greek Orthodox?” the woman asked us quietly, hesitating in her choice of English words.
“No,” I replied, wondering if that would affect our visit.
She continued, “You are from where?”
“United States,” I replied. She nodded and smiled, and walked to the wall to turn on the lights. The chandelier hanging above us glowed brilliantly, illuminating the entire room filled with icons, paintings, frescoes and artwork, carved chairs and other furniture.
We walked to the front to view the icons there. Finely applied oil paints revealed brilliant cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes, typical for post-Byzantine era portraits. Several had pierced silver elements attached to the paintings, in effect creating mixed media icon artworks.
I stood below and to the side of the chandelier and gazed up at the fresco-painted dome and then around me. There was simply too much, too many details to absorb. I didn’t even think to ask when the church was built.
I still haven’t been able to determine how old the church is, but it does resemble another church in style and materials that we stumbled upon in Skopelos known as Panagia Eleftherotria. According to Skopelos News, archaeologist Adamatios Sampson claims Panagia Eleftherotria was originally built in the 16th century.
Wanting a photo, I asked the woman if I might take one. She smiled and sighed and I wondered if I had overstepped. Surely I wasn’t the first tourist wanting to capture the beauty of this small place. But then she nodded and I took two pictures on my iPhone, taking care to silence it to avoid that annoying click.
We then thanked the woman and the three of us walked back to where we had entered. On the white plaster walls of this side room thirty to forty small paintings, miniature icons, hung from two wires. The woman searched for the English words that suggested these paintings were created by her students. She showed us some larger paintings also tucked behind the smaller ones, which I believe she said she had painted. One Virgin Mary rendition measured approximately 24″ x 30″.
I asked her if the artwork was for sale, since the manner in which they were displayed indicated that they might be. She shook her head, and then I remembered that buying and selling wouldn’t be appropriate in a place of worship. She motioned with her hand to her side and said, “Shops,” indicating perhaps that her work was available elsewhere in town.
Finally, we asked where we could leave a donation. She led Mitch back into the sanctuary, where he placed a €5 into a brass offering box near the front of the nave. We then exited the Church of Agios Michael Synadon.
Outside, we took another few minutes to study the exterior, which was covered with a mixture of bricks, marble stones, the large sarcophagi, plus an assortment of porcelain dinner and serving plates inset as accents into the facade.
In the short span of twenty minutes at the church, there was just too much to see and honestly, I felt like an intruder… an outsider very ignorant of the traditions and rituals that this little building upholds. Maybe that’s the most valuable lesson that traveling to new places teaches us: how much we don’t know.
As we left, the woman called to my husband from the doorway of the side entrance. He walked back to her and then returned with a souvenir for each of us: a small color printout of her Virgin Mary painting.
Thanks for reading! So far during our time in Greece, we have never been treated like outsiders. On Skopelos Island, the residents seem eager to ask where you are from and always have a “Ya-sis” for you in the day or a “Kali-spera” in the evenings. Even when we visit a church we know very little about, the Greeks seem eager to inform us– if they speak English, which most do– about what we are seeing.
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