With their excellent golden sand beaches, fragrant pine trees, and unspoiled villages, you might think that the Sporades ("Scattered") islands have always been major tourist magnets. But because these islands lack major archaeological remains and historical associations, foreigners traditionally headed elsewhere in Greece.

These days, however, the Sporades are no longer the natural retreats they once were. Skiathos becomes extremely crowded in high season -- although in spring and fall it can be lovely and relaxing. Even in summer, it's worth a visit by those interested in a beach vacation, good food, and active nightlife. Skopelos is nearly as bustling as Skiathos in the high season, but isn't quite as sophisticated. Its beaches are fewer and less impressive, but Skopelos town is among the more attractive ports in Greece, and the island offers some pleasant excursions. These two most popular islands also have fine restaurants, fancy hotels, and an international (heavily British) following.

More remote Skyros hardly seems a part of the group, especially as its landscape and architecture are more Cycladic. But it has a few excellent beaches, as well as a colorful local culture, and it remains a fine destination for those who want to get away from the crowds. Although space limits do not allow us to describe Alinossos, the fourth of these islands, it might be attractive to those seeking a less popular, more natural island.