Just before I get stuck in, I want to preface this with a dollop of transparency: we asked for a media rate for this holiday. So I don’t have to write what the brand want; we got a discount on the holiday in exchange for sharing our honest review here.
Last time I went to Greece was with a boyfriend and we booked an £89 holiday that included flights and a daily Greek buffet. Oh Teletext holidays, where are you now?
Anyhow, I was riddled with food poisoning throughout and can never hear the words ‘taramasalata’ uttered again. So when my mate Cerys suggested Skiathos as an ideal spot to park up the fam for a week, the cod roe sweats descended. A light Google of the island – it’s part of the Sporades group in the north-west Aegean Sea – and the cynical eyebrow softened a little.
Thanks to hefty protection measures, Skiathos is the least built-up of the Greek islands. There are no Prince William pubs or heaving nightclubs – complete with this year’s Love Island cast offs and vats of Sex on the Beach. It’s a bona fide place of beauty with 60 golden beaches to boot. (With soft sand over pebbles; an essential tick for those herding 11-month-old crawlers with a penchant for choking hazards.)
In a nutshell it’s a ‘fly-and-flop’ destination. Roman remains and architectural history are exchanged for crystal clear waters and balmy sunsets. We went at the end of May and the weather was a steady – and manageable with the kids – 26 degrees Celsius throughout. Just enough sun to nail the tan (I’m eternally wedded to the old adage, ‘if you can’t tone it, tan it’), while ensuring noone is perspiring over their Greek salad.
After deciding on the location, we approached the Skiathos Princess Hotel after TripAdvisor chucked it up as one of the best kid (and more importantly, parent)-friendly spots on the island. Just 20 minutes away from the airport, it’s got the three big wins: an immaculate, jaw-dropping beach, a kiddie pool the size of a tennis court and a knock-out kid’s club. If you’re looking to cement the ‘flop’ bit of a family holiday, those have become our essential components for dropping the cash on a destination.
The hotel itself eschews any pomp and ceremony for something that could be described as rustic luxury, perhaps. That’s a completely made-up concept but swirly foam on plates (the swank benchmark) is exchanged for hearty, heaving platters of fresh sea bass and coat-hanger smiles from the kind-eyed (my eldest still talks of the waiter Giorgio who made her a paper aeroplane) staff. It’s the best bits of the Dirty Dancing complex mixed in with traditional Greek architecture – think bougainvilleas enveloping white walls and red clay roof tiles. In short, it’s somewhere that doesn’t make you feel rubbish about releasing a weaning 11-month-old who gets roughly 1/3 of food offered in her cakehole. Equally, it’s a place that makes you feel tended to, without any need for cold towelette frippery and Relais Chateaux stationery.
The breakfast buffet is a thing of beauty. Jugs of freshly-squeezed orange juice await your bleary-eyed arrival, with a pancake station (allowing our eldest to order hers every morning was at least five minutes of peace parent-side) centre stage. It can feel a little like the world descends in the breakfast room because it’s a large hotel but everyone seems to disperse to various nooks and crannies throughout the day, ensuring it’s peaceful – even with an excitable 4-year-old and a baby desperately seeking out sharp edges and deep ends.
The key bit: childcare. The Little Seals Kid’s Club isn’t the biggest of centres but it packs a fair punch in the entertainment stakes. This isn’t just a colouring-in outpost; crafting is serious within these brightly-hued walls. Every day our eldest emerged from the fun house, I had another piece of plastic jewellery strapped to my person. There’s also 17 shades of plasticine – which they replenish daily – ready to go at any one time. I had forgotten how alluring and cathartic it is kneading, rolling and making a self-portrait out of soft rubber. (I stayed for the first hour but once my daughter was in the crafting zone, it was easy to slip away.)
For our youngest, it was the under-4 nursery, which is €10 an hour and manned by the genned-up staff who won over my youngest in a record 5 minutes. It’s a worthwhile cost when you can escape to the sun, overlooking the Aegean Sea with your life lobster. The kids were generally ensconced in their kiddie receptacles for two hours a day – to beat the midday sun. (Or that’s how we justified it.) Either way, the kids were alright and my husband, Matt and I had a conversation that went beyond, “can you pass the wet wipes.” I read two books (How To Stop Time and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), which is a holiday record.
When it comes to that mid-way point in the break where you’re getting slight cabin fever, it’s easy to escape to a suitably child-friendly spot. Skiathos town itself is peppered with traditional Greek trattorias where a knock-out Greek salad is yours for under €3. The main coast road is stunning and the buses that weave around the meandering roads are regular and cheap. To be honest the hotel itself offered up enough fodder and entertainment, we fully embraced the ‘flop’ side of things.
Perhaps one of the biggest pulls for young couples (without an entourage) is the aptly-named Banana Beach where folks sunbathe nude, while overlooking the stunning Skiathos harbour. We steered well clear for fear of any loud questioning from our eldest. Noone wants to have to answer the questions that might arise from clapping eyes on a nudist beach.
While this is undoubtedly the best holiday we’ve been on with the team, the hotel décor and furnishings let it down a bit. I loved a turquoise net curtain as much as the next person in the 90s but it doesn’t quite work here. Instead of looking Mediterranean chic, it just feels a tad dated. Also the beds could do with having a little more give, although that being said, I slept like a log and my back feels suitably ironed out.
But when it comes to the core pillars: sun, sea, sand AND childcare, the Skiathos Princess Hotel is, indeed, kid (and parent)-friendly royalty. It’s the sort of place where you know you’ll return because everything just works and you find yourself chirping at each other, “I actually feel relaxed, how is this so?”. Oh, and they do a knock-out taramaslata.
Things to do in Skiathos
Akkiton Open-Air Cinema
Skiathos’ open-air cinema can be found in Papadiamantis Street, and shows English films with Greek subtitles. There are films shown every day of the week, with normally two back-to-back showings in the late evenings.
Cost: c. £6 per ticket
The cruise will take you past the Blue Caves, to the beaches of Lalaria and Kastro, before docking in mainland Greece for lunch in a fishing village under Mount Pelion. You can then relax on the beach, with time for a swim at the uninhabited island of Tsougria before returning back to Skiathos.
Cost: £42.50 for adults, £24.99 for children (ages 2-12)
The Kastro is a fortification overlooking the sea at the northern tip of the island. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but the kids will be interested in the fact the Kastro was used to protect the people of Skiathos from pirate raids. The fort actually became the island’s capital for a period in the 14th Century, when the raids became so bad that Kastro became the only inhabited town on the island.
Make a Dog’s Day
If you’re a fan of our canine friends, this is an interesting treat for the kids and yourself. After visiting the famous dog shelter near Troulos and taking one of the dogs there for a walk with a tour guide thorough the hills, you visit a local, Maria, who will treat you to lunch and teach you some traditional Greek cooking.
Cost: £42.50 per adult, children go free
Megali Ammos Beach
At the beach, just 5 minutes away from Skiathos town by car, you can rent waterskiis, jet-skiis, pedalos and banana rides; a great way to spend time at the beach!
For a bit of exercise while taking in the scenery, your family can rent mountain bikes and tour one of two routes (one of 25km, the other of 14km). This might be one if you have older kids, with the harder tours being for those aged 16 and over.
Cost: various depending upon equipment rented
The Planes at Skiathos Airport
Many a traveller has found an odd pleasure in watching planes land at Skiathos Airport. The airport and runway are fairly small, and there is something strangely mesmeric about lying back and having a picnic while take-offs and landings abound in the near-distance.
Riding Centre in Koukounaries
For keen riders of those who want to learn, the Skiathos Riding Centre is based in Koukounaries in the south-west of the island. There are various things to do, from beginner riding lessons to being able to rent a horse for the day and tour the island by yourself on horsepack. For even younger family members, there’s a small petting zoo and donkey rides available.
Shop in Skiathos Town
It’s very easy to spend an afternoon ambling through Skiathos Town, particularly in the shopping street Papadiamanti. Shops stay open until 10pm, with many specialising in traditional Greek fashions, jewellery, ceramics and linens.
Olympic Holidays is offering 7 nights at the 5-star Skiathos Princess, Skiathos from £1,549 per person based on two adults and two children travelling. The package includes 7 nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation in a family room garden view, and return flights from Gatwick. Departures are available on 21/08/18. The package is subject to availability. For bookings call 0208 492 6868or visit www.olympicholidays.com.