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The ferries from Alonissos, Skyros, and Kimi, and most of the hydrofoils and other boats from Skiathos, dock at both Glossa/Loutraki and Skopelos town. Most boats stop first at Loutraki, a homely little port near the northern end of the west coast, with the more attractive town of Glossa high above it. Especially if this is your first visit, we suggest you stay onboard for the trip around the island's northern tip and along the east coast to the island's main harbor, Skopelos town. You'll understand the island's name -- "Cliff" in Greek -- when your boat pulls around the last headland into a huge and nearly perfect C-shaped harbor, and you get your first glimpse of Skopelos town rising like a steep amphitheater around the port.

Skopelos town (also called Hora) is one of Greece's most treasured towns, on par with Hydra and Simi. It scales the steep, low hills around the harbor and has the same winding, narrow paths that characterize the more famous Cycladic islands to the south. Scattered on the slopes of the town are just a few of the island's 123 churches, which must be something of a record for such a small locale. The oldest of these is Ayios Michali, past the police station. The waterfront is lined with banks, cafes, travel agencies, and the like. Interspersed among these prosaic offerings are truly regal shade trees. Many of the shops and services are up the main street leading away from the center of the paralia. The back streets are amazingly convoluted (and unnamed); it's best that you wander around and get to know a few familiar landmarks.

The Venetian Kastro, which overlooks the town from a rise on the western corner, has been whitewashed. Built over an archaic Temple of Athena, it proved to be too strong for the Turks to capture during the War of Independence in the 1820s.

At the far eastern end of town is the Photographic Center of Skopelos (tel. 24240/24-121), which during the high season sponsors quite classy photography exhibitions in several locales around town.

Sporades National Marine Park

One of the most unusual attractions is the National Marine Park off the adjacent island of Alonissos. There you are guaranteed to see some of the dolphins that frequent this protected area, and if you are lucky, you may even see some Mediterranean monk seals, an endangered species protected within the marine park. Several travel agencies in the Sporades arrange for excursions to the park on licensed ships. The trips usually include a stop at the volcanic islet of Psathoura, with a chance to dive into a sunken city, a ride into the Blue Grotto of Alonissos, and a short walk to a Byzantine monastery. I recommend Madro Travel (www.madrotravel.com) in Skopelos; it provides a full-day trip (including noonday lunch) for 45€; 32€ for children). Meanwhile, check out their site, www.alonissos-park.gr.

Exploring the Island

The whole island is sprinkled with monasteries and churches, but five monasteries south of town can be visited by following a pleasant path that continues south from the beach hotels. The first, Evangelistria, was founded by monks from Mount Athos, but it now serves as a nunnery, and the weavings of its present occupants can be bought at a small shop; it's open daily from 8am to 1pm and 4 to 7pm. The fortified monastery of Ayia Barbara, now abandoned, contains 15th-century frescoes. Metamorphosis, very nearly abandoned, comes alive on August 6, when the feast of the Metamorphosis is celebrated here. Ayios Prodromos is a 30-minute hike farther, but it's the handsomest and contains a particularly beautiful iconostasis. Taxiarchon, abandoned and overgrown, is at the summit of Mount Polouki to the southeast, a hike recommended only for the hardiest and most dedicated.

There is basically a single highway on the island, with short spurs at each significant settlement. It runs south from Skopelos town, then cuts north and skirts the west coast northwest, eventually arriving at Glossa; it then runs down to Loutraki. The first spur leads off to the left to Stafilos, a popular family beach recommended by locals for a good seafood dinner, which you must order in the morning. About half a kilometer across the headland is Velanio, where nude bathing is common.

The next settlement west is Agnondas, named for a local athlete who brought home the gold from the 569 B.C. Olympic Games. This small fishing village has become a tourist resort thanks to nearby beaches. Limnonari, a 15-minute walk farther west and accessible by caique in summer, has a good fine-sand beach in a rather homely and shadeless setting.

The road then turns inland again, through a pine forest, coming out at the coast at Panormos. With its sheltered pebble beach, this has become the island's best resort with a number of taverns, hotels, and rooms to let, as well as watersports facilities. The road then climbs again toward Milia, which is considered the island's best beach. You will have to walk down about half a kilometer from the bus stop, but you'll find a lovely light-gray beach of sand and pebbles, with the island of Dassia opposite and watersports facilities at Beach Boys Club (tel. 24240/23-995).

The next town, Elios (Neo Klima), was thrown up to shelter the people displaced by the 1965 earthquake. It's become home to many of the locals who operate the resort facilities on the west coast, as well as something of a resort itself.

The main road proceeds on to Glossa, which means "tongue," and that's what the hill on which the town was built looks like from the sea. Most of it was spared during the earthquake, so it remains one of the most Greek and charming towns in the Sporades. Those tempted to stay overnight will find a number of rooms for rent, a good hotel, and a very good taverna. (The hotel is the Avra; tel. 24240/33-550; fax 24240/33-681.)

Most of the coastline here is craggy and has a few hard-to-reach beaches. Among the best places to catch some rays and do a bit of swimming is the small beach below the chapel of Ayios Ioannis, sitting high on a rocky prominence on the coast a few miles to the east of Glossa; it was at this site and chapel that the climax of Mamma Mia! takes place. (Bring food and water if you plan to swim here.) As for the port of Loutraki, it's a winding 3km (2 miles) down; we don't recommend a stay there.

That ends the road tour of Skopelos, but other sites can be reached from Skopelos town by caique. Along the east coast north of Skopelos is Glisteri, a small, pebbled beach with a nearby olive grove offering respite from the sun. It's a good bet when the other beaches are overrun in summer. You can also go by caique to the grotto at Tripiti, for the island's best fishing, or to the little island of Ayios Yioryios, which has an abandoned monastery

The whole of Skopelos's 95 sq. km (38 sq. miles) is prime for hiking and biking, and the interior is still waiting to be explored. There's also horseback riding, sailing (ask at the Skopelos travel agencies), and a number of excursions to be taken from and around the island. Both Skopelorama Holidays and Madro Travel offer a fine series of excursions, such as monasteries by coach, a walking tour of the town, and several cruises. Another possibility (spring or fall only) is a nature (or town) walk led by a longtime English resident, Heather Parsons (tel. 24240/24-022; www.skopelos-walks.com); if you prefer to go it alone, you can buy her Skopelos Trails Guide (3rd edition) in shops around town.

One excursion that should appeal to many is on one of the licensed boats that take you to the waters around nearby Alonissos that make up the National Marine Park; lucky visitors may spot Mediterranean monk seals, an endangered species protected within the park

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.