The hypnotic tranquility of Alonnisos

Josh Ferry Woodard 20 November 2021

Alonissos is a peaceful Greek island retaining the charm of yesteryear, easily reached within two hours by ferry or hydrofoil from Skiathos

If you can judge the tranquillity of a place by how low it takes your resting heart rate, I’ve yet to find anywhere as tranquil as the Greek island of Alonissos.

Resting on a sun lounger beside the shore at Agios Dimitrios beach, my smart watch displaying readings that simply must be a technical error, I gaze across the surface of the impeccably still turquoise water to strategise my next move.

Read another chapter of Pierre Jarawan’s spellbinding The Storyteller, disturb the crystal-clear Aegean or simply revel in the serenity of this blissful scene?

I opt for a dip in the ocean, after all everything seems to revolve around the ocean on Alonissos.

National Marine Park of Alonissos

The National Marine Park of Alonissos is a network of islands (mostly uninhabited) and protected waters that are home to one of the last surviving colonies of Mediterranean monk seals.

Whenever I mention to anybody on the island that I’d like to learn more about the marine park and the monk seals, the response is the same: “You must go on the boat trip with Captain Pakis!”

So, early one morning I collect my tickets from Albedo Travel and board Captain Pakis’ boat, the Gorgona. Gregarious and witty, Captain Pakis is a true raconteur who kicks off the voyage with a history of the Sporades archipelago.

“Earth was either created in six days, around 6,000 years ago, if you believe the theologians, or over seven billion years, if you believe the scientists.”

“The fact that, within this very marine park, archaeologists have uncovered ceramic and obsidian tools from as far back as 11,000 BC on the island of Gioura in the so-called Cyclops Cave, suggests the scientists may hold the upper hand on this one,” concludes Captain Pakis with a glint in his eye, as we zip past the vertiginous cliff faces of Alonissos’ northern coastline.

Captain Pakis' 

He goes on to explain how monk seals were feared extinct until a German zoologist encountered a colony back in 1976, a discovery which ultimately led to the formation of the marine park.

“Most of the seals rest and breed in the sea caves of Piperi island, this is the core of the marine park. Apart from a few specific researchers, nobody is permitted within a three-mile radius of the island.”

“Remember, the marine park is a protected natural environment, not an aquarium. We may not see any monk seals today, and to be honest, that is probably a good thing. The last surviving seals didn’t make it this far by coming into close contact with humans,” he chuckles.

Captain Pakis is correct: we don’t see any monk seals. But we do spot some dolphins and migratory Madagascan falcons. We also stop for three glorious swims: two on the island of Kyra Panagia and one near a recent shipwreck on the island of Peristera.

As we sail back to Patitiri port I can already tell that my enduring memory from the voyage will be the mesmerising ocean surface, rippled like crushed cerulean velvet.

Alonissos Underwater Museum

I move my head consciously from side-to-side to view a graveyard of ancient amphorae scattered across the ocean floor. 25 metres beneath the surface of the pixelated Aegean, I spot octopi, fish and Morey eels hiding among the 2,500-year-old wine containers.

Minutes later, I emerge from the ancient shipwreck. I take off my goggles and, slightly disorientated, find myself back in the Knowledge Awareness Centre in Alonissos old town (Chora).

By all accounts, Greece’s first underwater museum is an amazing site for seasoned divers. The ancient Peristera shipwreck has an array of archaeological artefacts, which give rise to its nickname: ‘The Parthenon of Shipwrecks.’

But because I don’t have the necessary scuba certifications, I settle for an immersive virtual reality experience by means to explore this historic sunken ship. Whether underwater or under the spell of VR goggles, visiting the Peristera wreck helps support sustainable tourism on an island that retains the charm that mass tourism so-often tarnishes.

"As we sail back to Patitiri port I can already tell that my enduring memory from the voyage will be the mesmerising ocean surface, rippled like crushed cerulean velvet"

Sandless beaches & Greek hospitality

The beaches of Alonissos are almost exclusively made of pebbles. This sandless quality means the water has less sediment floating about, which contributes to the sea’s divine clarity.

Steni Vala and Agios Dimitrios stand above the rest, for their deliciously still waters. But every beach has its own charms, and it’s well worth hiring a car to explore the many winding roads leading to secluded coves like Kokkinokastro and Paralia Giala.

In addition to its glassy waters, Steni Vala is home to two bastions of Greek hospitality: Hotel 4 Epoches and Tassia’s Cooking.

Hotel 4 Epoches is a stylish and comfortable space with sea view balconies and effortlessly friendly staff. My time on the island definitely benefits from the warming greetings and helpful recommendations of owner Mrs Aggeliki Malamateniou and her team.

Tassia's Cooking, a popular restaurant on the island

Tassia’s Cooking is the kind of place where you can trust that everything on the menu, from classic dips like tzatziki and taramasalata to mains like tuna pasta and roasted lemon chicken, will taste delicious and be made with love.

My particular highlights include the crispy fried courgette, chargrilled pork steak and shrimp saganaki (tomato and pepper sauce with feta cheese). Rest assured, no matter what you order in this harbourside restaurant, Christina and Evangelos will take care of your every need.

Josh was invited to visit the island of Alonissos by RE:MAKE.grMeals, accommodation, transport and tours were provided by the Municipality of Alonissos.

Flights were provided by Jet2.com, which flies direct to Skiathos from May-October.

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