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Footloose in Skiathos

Forget Pericles--Just Flake Out From 10 to 5

November 08, 1987|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers

SKIATHOS, Greece — When your plane touches down on this Sporades island in the Aegean, forget Pericles and all the rest. The time-line here has only one significant period to remember: 10 to 5.

That's when you're expected to flake out on one of the 65 gorgeous beaches and small coves rimming this five- by seven-mile isle, a peaceful respite from the phalanx of your fellow Hellenists cramming the gift shops of Rhodes, Santorini, Crete and Hydra.

Apart from a few minor naval engagements around 500 BC, Skiathos has kept itself far from the mainstream of Greek, Roman or any other history. Instead, it's famous only for its Aleppo and Scotch pines, fruits, vegetables and a clutch of good hotels and beach-side tavernas catering to Europeans who discovered the idyllic nature of Skiathos a decade ago.

The Flying Dolphin hydrofoil will whisk you across to the beautiful and even more bucolic island of Skopelos, only 15 minutes away.

Barring that, rent yourself a mule for the two-hour ride up the mountain to Evangelistria Monastery, keeping in mind that it's another two hours back down.

And riding a mule for half a day should rightfully be left to those with strong backs, stronger constitutions and strange ideas of what a relaxing holiday is all about.

Here to there: Fly Pan Am or TWA to Athens with stops, KLM or SAS with changes in their home countries, or a domestic carrier to JFK for a change to Olympic's nonstop. Olympic on to Skiathos in less than an hour.

How long/how much? Give it a week if you're just here to conk out, which includes a full day over to Skopelos. Costs for food and lodging, often combined into a half-pension arrangement, are moderate.

A few fast facts: The Greek drachma recently traded at 133 to the dollar, each drachma worth .0075.

Visit in late spring or fall if you can, shunning July-August crowds and winter's wet and raw weather. A bus runs every half-hour along the island's only main road from the airport through town and on over to Koukounaries Beach at the other end, 67 cents for the seven-mile ride. Cabs are inexpensive, too. Most hotels and restaurants slam shut from end of October until April.

Getting settled in: Skiathos Palace (Koukounaries Beach; $82 U.S. double, half-pension, low season, $127 high season) is the island showplace, a huge and modern place on a hill overlooking a bay and the island's best beach. The rooftop garden, pool and indoor-outdoor dining room are spectacular, with views of the bay, surrounding pine groves and smaller offshore islands.

The guest roster is international, enjoying tennis, sailing, windsurfing and other water sports before gathering at the pool-side bar or open-air disco during the evening.

Mealtime menus are not exactly taverna Greek, but the choices are good and dishes the same. Large and airy rooms all have balconies, mini-bars, and TV with house movies in English.

Esperides (Akhladias Bay; $53 double, June and September, $72 July-August, half-pension available) is another large one, most comfortable and with a fine private beach. It's considered the island's second best, right on main road near bus stop, air-conditioned, tennis and requisite pool.

Nostros (Tzaneria Beach; $77 all season) has bungalows sprinkled down a pine-covered hill toward the beach. Most of the resort amenities of the two above, food and service good, but housekeeping could be a bit tidier.

Prices for above first-class hotels are for 1988 and approximate only. Less expensive hotels and guest houses are in town and around the island.

Regional food and drink: Seafood is a sensible choice throughout Greece, particularly fresh and well-prepared in the islands. Try sargos, a white fish always grilled and delicious. Or fangri, another choice denizen of the Eastern Mediterranean. Lobster is fresh from year-end until mid-August, frozen during the months when it is illegal to take them.

Breakfasts are a delight here: fresh melons, sturdy Greek breads and even sturdier coffee, rich and flavorsome yogurt topped with island honey, a glorious way to start the day.

Moderate-cost dining: Skiathos has beach-front tavernas, all rather rustic, and several good ones beside the main road. Catch the bus from town or your hotel and get off when one looks promising. Two good roadside tavernas at Platanias Beach are Theofanis and Platanias across the way. Both are inside-outside affairs, usually the latter during season.

Taverna Statis near Nostros hotel is also good for dinner only, while Carnayo, at other end of port in Skiathos, is considered the town's best.

Bonaparte, a lovely outdoor place at mid-village, aims its menu a notch or two above typical taverna fare, with emphasis on steaks given an added fillip of green pepper, bearnaise and other sauces.

Prices are moderate to downright cheap at most of the above, an occasional impromptu dance-fest likely to start any time after the ouzo and wine start flowing.

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