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BY Rika Z. Vayianni

| Sep 02, 2015

Activities

Pocket Archipelago

A boat trip from Skiathos to the beautiful, tiny islets of Tsougria and Arkos.

There is no such thing as the wrong way when it comes to experiencing the island of Skiathos. You can  park your shiny chopper on the front lawn of your villa, land your private jet at the airport, or anchor your spectacular mega yacht in the town’s old port as passing locals gasp (in pride, not envy). Or you can join the unpretentious army of ecstatic travelers who arrive by ferry, ride the bus and swarm the decks of the numerous excursion boats heading for the island’s premier attractions.

You can even finally make use of that skipper’s license and man a single-mast sailboat, or simply hire a humble motorboat and explore the ridiculously enchanting waters around this jewel in the crown of the majestic Sporades archipelago. However, when it comes to visiting the nearby tiny islets of Tsougria and Arkos (a distance of about four nautical miles to both destinations and back), there is one tip I would like to share with you: think small! Then, think even smaller.

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We normally ask friends and acquaintances – even total strangers around the port – when we want to locate the elusive Captain Tsirlias; he is indeed a hard man to find. A retired seafarer who has survived open-ocean explosions and escaped bar fights on the other side of the planet, but has never set foot in a Buenos Aires opera house, a casino in the south of France or a museum in northern China, being too busy discovering the less salubrious port districts after months of isolation on the ship.

Captain Tsirlias is now the proud owner of “Chara” (“Joy”), a small fishing/cruising/dining/sleeping/swimming/coffee serving vessel. Size does not matter: “Chara” is licensed to carry up to 10 passengers. She picks you up wherever you want and whenever you wish; she will have you for a morning, an afternoon, or a month. She is old in age, Mad-Maxian in style, and incredibly, magically versatile. She will accommodate you and your sweetheart, you and your friends, you and your 85-year-old aunt or grandmother who are terrified of anything that floats.

She will set a comfortable, steady, slow pace even on those rare occasions of choppy waters. She will provide shelter from sun and rain. She will drop anchor right next to the beach, any beach in the area. No need to look for mooring facilities. In fact you can spend days on end aboard Chara without ever getting more than your toes wet. But then of course you would be missing the whole point of everything that is Greece.

“ She will set a comfortable, steady, slow pace even on those rare occasions of choppy waters. She will provide shelter from sun and rain.”

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On a calm day, you will lose count of the number of perfect swimming beaches – washed by emerald waters – on the island of Tsougria. In addition to its many beaches, this postage stamp of an islet also has a large lake. Yes, a proper lake, smack in the middle of a – wait for it – dense pine forest! Food and water, not to mention recreational alcohol consumption, are readily available at small canteens next to the two main beaches of Tsougria.

Keep in mind that the management of these establishments changes frequently. You might be in for the culinary and aesthetic treat of a lifetime, or a plastic meal and an exorbitant bill, depending on the whims and background of whoever put in the highest bid to operate the canteens for the season. Safest bet? A loaf of freshly baked bread bought in the village, some feta cheese, tomatoes, olives, a bucket full of ice and the staple drink of the area, fiery tsipouro from nearby Thessaly, along with a few bottles of water. Simply load “Chara” with your supplies and the chances are that it will turn out to be one of your most memorable meals ever.

As hard as it is to avoid flirting with the idea of just buying the entire island (it is, in fact for sale, and has been for many years; it is rumored that the Beatles made an offer but got turned down), find the strength within to resist its magical call. 

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Now, instead of returning to Skiathos, head straight for Arkos, an hour or so before sunset. Arkos is the smaller of the two islands, just one mile from Skiathos’ main port. A sandy, shady utopia, a speck of an island that catches the pink light of dusk in a way that obliges you to pinch yourself hard to check that you’re not dreaming. The mojitos in the canteen (yes, the ever-present canteen) are strong; there may be soft, soothing music, and if you look up, you will notice the bizarre river of sand cascading down the island’s single hill right to the water’s edge. When a full moon rises over the tiny island, it’s almost too much.

Finally, “Chara” (or any similar vessel you may find on Skiathos) weighs anchor and departs Arkos as night approaches. The strong, dry etesians have all but stopped and the sea of the Northern Sporades has the look and feel of a honey-glazed, luminous lake. Enjoy the short, breathtakingly quiet trip back (such beauty can only be absorbed in undisturbed silence). And remember: sometimes you need to “think small”; it’s the best way to digest the enormity of such exquisite beauty.