An Irresistible Island

Robin Glover reviews Skiathos Princess Hotel, a luxury destination for families seeking something extra-special in European holidays.

After visiting Italy and Sardinia in recent issues, our attention was drawn a little further east, to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea, which remain prime destinations for discerning families looking for top-quality holidays and very good value.

We settled on the Sporades, a sheltered sprinkling of small, picture-perfect, islands nestling just off the east coast, 60 miles north of Athens. They are less exposed to the extremes and vagaries of the Mediterranean climate than the larger island groups to the south, and certainly not victims of the ‘sun, sea and sangria’ excesses of bulk tourism.

Skiathos is served by its own international airport, meaning it has benefited from greater inward investment than its nearest neighbour, the slightly-larger (38km x 12km) island of Skopelos. Although there are more than seventy sandy beaches and coves, there are only three 5-star hotels and all development has, mercifully, been in absolute sympathy with the gentle rhythm of life in the Sporades. Like the superstars and production team of the film-hit ‘Mamma Mia’, we chose to stay at one of these three, the admirable ‘Skiathos Princess’ resort, perfectly located on the beautiful Aghia Paraskevi beach, on the south coast ten kilometres from Skiathos Town. The property sits in tranquil seclusion, between the island’s only bus route (very helpful, efficient, regular and cheap) and the cobalt-blue sea. We were not disappointed, either, by the politeness, courtesy and enthusiastic efficiency of every member of staff.

The resort, owned and carefully managed by the Santikos family, has been designed to take full advantage of its prime location, with a committed emphasis on relaxation, hospitality, comfort and luxury – everything for guest satisfaction. The range of complimentary guest facilities is amazing, including 24-hour reception and room service, free WiFi access, a fully-equipped gymnasium, twice-daily maid service, etc. Among other services available, but charged for, are tailor-made fitness programmes, spa, massage and beauty treatments, laundry and valet services and hairdressing, Naturally, there is a baby-sitting service, to ensure stress-free grown-up time.

The management also provide a shuttle-bus to and from the Santikos’ other hotel, the 5-star ‘Aegean Suites’ whose guests are able to take advantage of the facilities at the Princess. It is beautifully appointed but exclusively aimed at those preferring a child-free, luxury holiday.

At the Princess, we found the little ones particularly well provided for as, in addition to the sublime pleasures offered by the beach and pool, there are two Ofsted standard children’s clubs in the daytime, one for those of pre-school age and the ‘Little Seals’ mini-club, catering for 4-12 year olds. In high season, the older youngsters might enjoy the evening mini-club.

The well-appointed rooms, with free WiFi and all the luxurious frills that you would expect, all benefit from a well-furnished balcony or terrace area and are set in four low-rise blocks, around the lawns and flowerbeds. The family rooms, whether standard or deluxe, are situated at ground-level, in the interest of guest/child safety, each with a private garden leading onto the generous, and immaculately maintained, garden areas. The other accommodation available consists of standard double/twin rooms, and a selection of spacious suites, both junior and deluxe. For any heads-of-state amongst our readers, there is also a Presidential Suite!

Waking on the first morning, hungry but thoroughly refreshed by a deep sleep in an amazingly comfortable bed, we sought out the dining-room for the buffet-style breakfast. And what delights awaited us! Given the variety of nations represented, there should have been no surprise that every taste was catered for, from the ‘full English’, through freshly prepared omelettes and pancakes, to fresh fruit and pastries, all unlimited and lubricated with an endless supply of teas and coffees. For those with bad experiences of ‘buffet’ dining, I am happy to reassure you that there is absolutely no sense of the ‘herding’ which can so mar this aspect of hotel life.

Buffet lunches and dinners are also taken in this dining-room and, again, there is a vast choice to suit varying tastes and appetites. As alternatives, in the evenings guests may choose to dine in the Italian-themed Basilico restaurant or the Churrasco grill-room. As you can see, there are many options and, throughout the resort, there is an air of unhurried, unperturbed calm, especially in the sumptuously furnished public areas and lounges, which provide havens of cool tranquillity.

Continuing our exploration, we by-passed the cool and shaded attraction of the Muse Bar, a relaxed all-day bistro café by the pool, and followed the pathway to the beach, only 30-40m away. There we found the tempting ‘PR Ammos’, the hotel’s own beachbar and restaurant. Despite the increasing pull being exerted by incipient thirst, journalistic duty beckoned and we laid ourselves out in the spacious private beach area, on towels and cushioned sunbeds, each with their own shade, provided free of charge to hotel guests.

As you would expect, we were not alone in appreciating the attractions of the beach and, happily, we were soon joined by other families, with children of all ages enjoying the soft sand, the sunshine and the warm, calm Aegean waters. The fun they were clearly having, instead of disturbing the tranquil atmosphere, was almost infectious and put smiles on all the watching faces, old and young. In the quieter times, the clear blue waters lapped gently on the shore, as if murmuring apologies for disturbing the unexpected peace of the moment. The lure of the crystal clear sea proved irresistible when temperatures rose and slow-moving humans joined the many darting fish in taking advantage of the dappled, glistening, gently shelving waters, perfect for parents and children alike.
Just fabulous!

This magical location is just the sort of elegant place for anyone planning a relaxed wedding ‘on the beach’, a speciality of the hotel. The PR Ammos is the ideal discreet venue, yards from the sea, for romantics to find inspiration and the hotel’s bespoke packages are bound to satisfy even the most demanding bride and groom. However grand or exclusive the event, it can only be complemented by the luxurious style and ambience of the setting.

The relatively small pool area is well equipped with sunbeds and umbrellas and people here take advantage of the rather more languid ambience to sleep, read or sunbathe to their hearts’ content. The separate children’s pool is a different story and squeals of delight suggested what pleasures there were to be had! The Muse Bar finally snared me and a large glass (very reasonably priced) of Mythos, the local lager, was unceremoniously ‘downed’.

In the interest of research, despite the strong allure of the Skiathos Princess, we ventured out of the property and, strolling along to the customary Mediterranean chorus of cicadas and lizards, were delighted to stumble on a selection of local bars and tavernas, within easy walking distance, and the bus-stop between the famous Koukounaries beach and Skiathos Town, the only bus route on Skiathos! The town is well worth a visit or two, with its many shops, cafés and restaurants on typically winding streets tumbling down to the shore, where locals and tourists mingle happily in the soporific warmth.

Throughout the summer, there is an open-air cinema on the main-street (pedestrianised) known as ‘Papadiamantis’. This bustling street leads to the quay, where Pierce Brosnan memorably missed his ferry and, from here, you can take to the water for any number of cruises, the most popular of which is the day-trip to the ‘Mamma Mia’ beaches and sights on Skopelos by the MV Kalypso, skippered (as in the film) by Captain Lambros, with the genuine expectation of being escorted by one of the many local schools of dolphins!

There is so much unspoilt beauty to enjoy and explore, on and around Skiathos, that the family were genuinely sad when our stay in the Sporades came to a close. We will always look back fondly on our fleeting visit to the amazing Skiathos Princess with a sincere longing to return at some stage. ✿

Skiathos Reader Offer

Thomas Cook Style offers 7 nights on a B&B basis at the 5 star Skiathos Princess Hotel from £655 per adult and £259 per child, travelling from London Gatwick in May 2014. Signature from Thomas Cook’s European Beaches offers 7 nights on a B&B basis at the 5 star Aegean Suites Hotel from £1,195 per person, travelling from London Gatwick in May 2014. Departures from other regional airports across the UK, half board, family rooms and deluxe suites are available. 0844 412 5970

✽ Prices detailed above include transfers, is correct at time of press and subject to change, optional extras may be applicable at the time of booking.