Me, going to a Greek Island, and just do nothing? No, this is just unthinkable! Even if this time I enjoyed a more relaxing pace than usual and considered my scuba diving holiday in Alonissos a perfect summer retreat, I couldn’t help exploring the island and uncovering the most extraordinary things you could do there. An adventurer may need to rest sometimes, but you cannot take his thirst for discovery away!
Let me guide through the most memorable experiences I had in Alonissos and give you all the details you need to organise your holiday in this Greek scuba divers’ paradise:
1 – Wandering in Chora, the old town of Alonissos
Patitiri, the main port of Alonissos where ferries arrive is lovely and lively, but Chora, the Old Town in Greek, is the jewel of Alonissos. Located on top of a hill with an impressive 360° view around, it used to be Alonissos’ main town and the perfect vantage point to watch the pirates coming in the past.The earthquake in 1965 had a lot of its inhabitants moving to the shore, this is when Patitiri was created.
In the last decades, important refurbishment work was done, and Chora has regained its splendour. It might be a tiny village, but it’s impossible not to fall in love with how charming and adorable it looks. You won’t need more than 2 hours including a drink to explore it, but it is an unmissable visit of Alonissos.
There are two perfect and very different moments to enjoy Chora:
– Take the first bus at 9 am in Patitiri and enjoy sleepy Chora in the soft morning light, so you can have the village for yourself and take beautiful pictures (especially when you are a solo traveller using a tripod!).
– Or, go about an hour before sunset to see Chora coming to life with its many restaurant terraces filling fast with people who came to enjoy sunset drinks with friends.
The bus ticket between Patitiri and Chora only costs 1,60€! You can buy your two tickets when you arrive in Chora at the mini mart near where the bus stops (you can’t buy it on board).
2 – Scuba diving & Snorkelling in Alonissos National Marine Park
Alonnisos National Marine Park was created in 1992 and was Greece’s first marine protected area. With a protected surface of 2,260 km, it is one of the largest in Europe. This is where the endangered monk seals (Monachus monachus) live and breed. They can sometimes be seen around Alonissos, but this is rare. However, the fact they chose Alonissos National Park as their home shows the quality of the ecosystem.
Unfortunately and maybe, fortunately, scuba divers cannot anywhere in the park. However, with crystal water at 26°C in August, and beautiful and varied dive sites with abundant marine life, Alonissos is certainly one of the best places to scuba dive in Greece. My two favourite dive sites were the Blue Cave that even beginners can enjoy and the Gorgonian Garden, a deep and demanding dive site that advanced divers love. Check my complete guide to scuba diving in Alonissos.
For certified scuba divers, 2 tank trips are at 90€ with Triton Dive Center. All the equipment is included in this price (full 5mm wetsuit, boots and adjustable fins). Discount applies if you take packages.
Another way to enjoy the beautiful shores of Alonissos and the nearby islands of Skopelos and Peristera is by joining a snorkelling trip. This how I saw my first fried-egg jellyfish and I couldn’t be happier to stay in the water with it for long minutes to take many pictures of it!
My snorkelling trip to Skopelos lasted for hours from 2pm am to 7pm, we had plenty of fruits and refreshment, and if course all the snorkelling gear included. Snorkelling tours are at 65€ with Triton Dive Center.
3 – Volunteering as a marine conservation research assistant with MOm
After my first marine conservation experience as a volunteer of Capturing our Coast in Scotland, I was eager to get another experience to broaden my understanding of what marine conservation is about. In Alonissos, I was lucky to be introduced to Kimon who is a marine biologist working at MOm (Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk seal). He is involved in the Northern Aegean Dolphin Project, a citizen science program aiming at recording encounters and behaviours such as social interactions of the different species of dolphins found in the park.
MOm welcomes motivated citizen scientists to join for a week or just a day their team to help to spot striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), and Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus). Although, the day includes a pic-nic and snorkelling break for lunch time, don’t misunderstand the operation with a tourist tour. Following a precise route called the transect, each person on board every day will be dispatch around the bow and assigned an angle of observation. In my case, I was on the starboard side, watching from 3 o’clock to 5 o’clock (you need to picture us dispatched on a clock!). In case of any observation, the spotter would speak up and count how many time he saw the dolphin on the surface as they usually do a 3 surfacing cycle before going deeper and re emerging somewhere else, but at least we can know dolphins are around. Kimon had a super professional camera and take pictures of each sighting as the fins shape and colour help to identify dolphins already seen before. What I can tell you, is the period called “on effort” when you need to watch the surface for hours is really tough because you can quickly lose concentration with your thoughts or maybe even fall asleep. In my case, doing a few stretching exercises while scanning back and forth the surface helped a bit. Never ever say to a marine biologist they just relax on their boat!
I learnt so much that day from Kimon about the species of dolphins and whales that can be seen in the Mediterranean Sea, I was so surprised to hear you can even see sperm whales. We also had an honest chat about the different goals of marine observation and how marine conservationist are trying to work to influence environmental policies. What I understood it’s not always easy to compromise when you are so passionate about protecting the ocean, but at the same time a step by step approach takes you closer to the final goal than creating strong opposition by shouting too much. Food for thoughts…
To hop on MOm’s boat and participate in the Northern Aegean Dolphin Project, it costs 70€ for a day. Please note MOm is a non-profit organisation, consider the price as part of covering the expenses of the day and a donation to help MOm to conduct their research. You can also support them by visiting the MOm information centre (free!) and purchasing one of their beautiful seal t-shirts as a souvenir (only 12€).
4 – Exploring Alonissos Island on a mini road trip
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the inland side of the island. Doing a mini road trip, hopping on and off to explore trails through pine tree forests, or just go for a swim, is the best way to enjoy Alonissos. Depending on your tastes you can, for example, enjoy all the best beaches of Alonissos such as Milia, Chrisi Milia, Leftos Gialos, Agios Petros and Agios Dimitrios all on the east coast. Chrisi Milia is the only real sandy beach on Alonissos while Agios Dimitrios might be the most famous with it horn shape, but my favourite place was Leftos Gialos with its beach club in an olive tree garden.
You can visit the fishermen villages of Votsi or Kalamakia for lunch (better than visiting Steni Vala which is now a port for luxury yachts) and explore two “secret” places I got from the locals. Cape Kokinos at the south east tip and Agios Anargiri on the east coast are the two best sunset spots. I found Agios Anargiri, on the west coast, the best place to experience the natural side of the island, I could walk surrounded by pine trees, olive trees and fig trees while enjoying gorgeous sea views with Skopelos in the background.
Generally speaking, the main roads are pretty good in Alonissos, but to reach the most beautiful places you will need to take small rocky roads, so renting a small SUV car is a better option than renting a scooter. Renting a car for a day costs from 30€ in low season to 50€ in high season.
5 – Embracing Greek culture in a taverna for dinner
This is how every single day of my stay in Alonissos ended: surrounded by my new friends of Triton Dive Center in a traditional Greek taverna! Every night was the celebration of the Greek culture with a delicious mezze dinner where the point was to cover the table with as many little white plates filled with seafood, grilled vegetables or fried feta cheese (my favourite). We drank a lot (too much?) of raki, the popular Greek spirit in tiny glasses, listened to Rebetika music played on bouzouki mandolins by the restaurant owner and his friends, and talked about life for hours.
For dinner time, in Patitiri, you can choose a different restaurant every single night, but make sure you book a table at least once at Archipelagos or Ostria, on the harbour, and for the ultimate traditional taverna experience with music, head to To Kamaki, in Patitiri’s main street.
Each dish of a mezze dinner usually costs between 4 to 7€, so you can easily dine like a king without breaking the bank. The only issue is will you be able to stop ordering more delicious food?
How to go to Alonissos?
Thanks to Skiathos Airport, you can fly direct from many places in Europe to the Sporades. Then from Skiathos, you take the catamaran “Flying Cat” or the speedboat “Flying Dolphin”, tickets start at 14€, you can buy your tickets directly from the travel agencies on the harbour. Another alternative is to fly to Volos, the nearest airport on the continent, the ferry then will be just a bit more expensive, or to fly to Thessaloniki, but then the ferry is 2 hours and a half and costs about 40€ each way. Check your ferry route with www.openseas.gr.
Return flight with Thomas Cook Airlines between London Gatwick and Skiathos starts at £145.98 in May 2018.
Where to stay in Alonissos?
During my stay in Alonissos, I had the opportunity to try two different hotels at different budgets around Patitiri area.
The Atrium of Alonissos is a 4-star hotel, 15 minutes walking from Patitiri Harbour, which takes full advantages of its higher location. The hotel has several terraces at different levels, and two swimming pools perfected oriented for sunrise in the morning. Bedrooms are large and have a minimalistic white style, and each has a balcony with sea view. I absolutely loved their Greek coffee “machine” and the mini Alonissos pies (filo pastries with cheese or spinach) at breakfast while admiring the view. Double rooms start at 80€ in low season.
The Paradise Hotel is a 2-star hotel which has its entrance just above Patitiri Harbour and enjoys a perfect location on its poolside above the creeks between Patitiri and Roussoum. The rooms are more traditional and smaller, but they all enjoy a beautiful view. My favourite thing there was to enjoy one of the mini terraces along the stairs leading to the private creek where you can directly swim in the sea from the hotel. And by the way, try their watermelon feta cheese salad for lunch, it is to die for! Double rooms start at 55€ in low season.
If you are looking for something super budget-friendly, you can find pensions or apartments on booking.com from as little as 20€ the night for double occupancy.
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Many thanks to Triton Dive Center & Thomas Cook Airlines for inviting me to discover this incredible Greek island underwater and beyond. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect honestly my experience.
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