By Tamsin McCahill
One of the hardest things about going on holiday to Greece is deciding where to go. So many islands and so little time! But before you don a blindfold and stick a pin in an atlas, have a look at our pick of two of the most unspoilt Greek islands of them all – Skopelos and Paxos. And if you’re on a budget (and aren’t we all these days?) we’ve even included some great ways to have the unspoilt Greek holiday of a lifetime without the eye-watering credit card bill at the end.
Mamma Mia was filmed here! Need we say more? Oh, we do? Well, before Meryl, Pierce and Colin descended here, Skopelos’s main claim to fame was that it was Greece’s greenest island – 80% of it is covered with pine trees. Relatively unheard of on the tourist trail before Hollywood came a-calling, Skopelos is far less commercially developed than other islands, making it more homely and genuinely welcoming. This sleepy island is perfect for those who prefer to Take A Chance (sorry, I couldn’t resist)on a quieter holiday retreat.
What to do
Unlike its more popular neighbour Skiathos, sandy beaches are rare here. But having some shingle under your flip flops doesn’t make the turquoise waters any less appealing. If you can tear yourself away from your lounger, hiking is a great way to spend your time here too. You could make the trek to visit the pirates’ graves near the town of Glossa, or climb to the very top of the Agios Ioannis (the chapel featured in the film). Eating is another past time the Greeks take very seriously, and no trip to the island should be without a taste of tyropita – a tasty local speciality of feta in filo pastry.
Where to stay
Whether you go for luxurious villa holidays or bargain basement apartments, the accommodation in Skopelos won’t disappoint. Villas in Greece can be a great way to experience everything your chosen island has to offer. Many villas in Skopelos come with their own swimming pools, and most have cool, marble floors and shady verandas to escape from the heat. Skopelos Town is a great place to stay, full of whitewashed houses standing out against a perfect blue sky. And in the evening, anyone who’s anyone descends on the town for a stroll around the waterfront.
How to save money
Fantastic beaches and crystal clear seas are yours to experience free of charge, so enjoy them to your heart’s content without spending any of your hard-earned Money, Money, Money (I’ll stop now). There’s no need to hire a car either. Public transport in the form of the island bus is surprisingly good here. You don`t have to spend a fortune when you eat out either. Try one of the many traditional ouzeries on the island, where you will be served a meze dish (a Greek version of tapas) along with your drink.
This tiny jewel of an island is only seven miles long and so peaceful and secluded, you can be sure there’ll be no screaming tourists on banana boats or large, impersonal resorts here.
What to do
Hire a boat to explore some of the island’s beautiful coves – and get the chance to have one all to yourself. Take a snorkel and don’t forget your picnic – you’ll be spoilt for choice with all the fantastic fresh produce on offer (think yoghurt, feta and olive bread). Head back to your villa for a siesta, then go to Mongonissi in the afternoon – it’s the only sandy beach on Paxos and a firm favourite with families. In the evening, check out the huge yachts in the harbour town of Lakka and enjoy a cocktail or two under the stars.
Where to stay
Holiday villas and apartments are available to rent all over Paxos. The best places to stay are in the small settlements of Gaios, Loggos and Lakka. Gaios itself is a particularly beautiful little town, the capital of the island, with its lovely Venetian architecture.
How to save money
Staying in a villa in Paxos is one of the best ways to do the island on a budget. Having your own kitchen means you save a fortune on meals out, but if you do want to try a restaurant, seek out the little tavernas the locals go to. And, whilst you’re there, order jugs of local wine instead of imported bottles of vino to make your holiday money go further.