The Sporades Islands – Tips, Recommendations, and General Information

A perfect group of islands, each one a perfect gem on its own!

So, what makes them so perfect?

Let’s start with their location and general description: The Sporades are situated east of Pelion, north of Evia, and south of the Halkidiki. And most importantly, relatively far away from the scorching summer heat.

This island group is strategically positioned to offer expansive sailing areas that are protected from prevailing winds (which typically come from the north-northeast during summer), providing genuine enjoyment and boundless delight for sailors.

The northern location offers a relative escape from the heat, bringing along pleasant weather even during the hot summer months! In the evening of August, we sat outside in a comfortable, long-sleeved shirt…

And the islands are:

First and foremost, Skiathos ,

This island boasts its own airport, welcoming numerous tourists from Italy and the UK with direct flights. (Prior to Covid-19, direct flights were also available from Israel.) You can also reach Skiathos via a connecting flight from Athens or other parts of the world. You can easily reach it through a quick sail by ferry from Evia or Volos, or on a longer sail from Athens and its surroundings (Piraeus, Porto Rafti, Rafina, Lavrio, etc.).

Skiathos Airport is located right at the edge of the large and central bay of the island, on its northeastern side. This is where the main harbor and large continuous docks are situated, accommodating various types of charter and commercial boats. The most exciting part here is that someone anchoring in the center of the bay on an anchor can almost touch the airplane’s wheels when it is landing with the tip of the mast. It’s that close. Quite a few people walk to the junction where the bay meets the airport to observe it and experience the G forces firsthand during landings and takeoffs 🙂

The island is packed with tourists during the summer, and some even call it the “Northern Mykonos” (in my opinion, a wild exaggeration, but there you have it :)). You can sail from it on a short ferry to the rest of the Sporades Islands, therefore it is a central and very popular destination.

The island around is very beautiful, full of small bays for afternoons, but not something to stay overnight in my opinion; First, they’re not well protected, many ferries and boats pass through the area, creating uncomfortable waves. And second, the large central bay usually has enough space for everyone. It’s better to drop anchor, reverse towards the floating dock (the main concrete dock is reserved for commercial boats and will probably kick you out) to fill up on water, connect to electricity, and do some shopping at the many supermarkets in town. Keep in mind! The waters that fill Skiathos can be quite unpalatable for drinking. If you must fill up, it’s advisable to consider taking mineral water for consumption.

You can definitely consider leaving the boat for a night or two and exploring the beautiful island by car. However, before doing so, make sure the anchor is securely set and that the distance from the shore is sufficient, as the many passing large ships can create quite uncomfortable waves near this anchorage spot!

Perfect for young people who love the nightlife and the fun of loud music in bars and the many clubs on the island. It’s also very noticeable to those who prefer to sleep on the boat and probably less suitable for the “elderly” among us.

So, for those who enjoy tranquility and relaxation… let’s continue to the next island:

Skopelos: You could say it’s a kind of middle-sized island. On its eastern side, there’s quite a large anchorage where ferries also arrive (yes, there, too, they create a terrible wave that rocks the boat from side to side, and it’s very annoying! You need to moor well all the time!)

The stunning calcareous grassland, located on the upper part of this island, actually begins right from the harbor. It overlooks the sea, facing east towards the nearby island of Alonissos. There are charming restaurants, bars, taverns, and modern cafes around the port and the calcareous grassland. It’s truly a breathtaking place of beauty!

But on the other side (and the third and fourth too…), Skopelos is completely surrounded by beautiful bays! The most stunning bay among them is Panormos. It’s located on the western part of the island, very close to the Skiathos harbor mentioned above.

This is a very deep bay.. and it’s also relatively wide, which makes it very well protected! The waters there barely move, they are clear and clean.. and most sailors there are very calm. It might be that this is the place that creates the atmosphere of tranquility, or perhaps it’s the human presence sailing in this area.. but usually in similar places, like in the Saronic/Cyclades/Dodecanese for example, we got used to taking out the surfboards, using all the horsepower you can on dinghy engines and start a carnival of unbearable waves and noise. In Panormos, they sail in a dinghy with oars! Even starting a four-horsepower engine is considered rude. That pretty much sums up the place, in my opinion.

Beyond that, once again… there are many beautiful and peaceful bays around Skiathos, but most of them might offer less protection, and spending the night there could be uncomfortable and unpleasant (from experience).

Where can you find tranquility, pleasantness, stunning beauty, and exceptional protection?

Look no further than the upcoming island… Alonissos:

Alonissos stands out as the most authentic of the three central Sporades islands, with its charming villages, agrarian atmosphere, and breathtaking beauty!

Alonissos is the furthest of the three from the mainland, with Skiathos having the airport and Volos being the largest city in the area.

On the eastern side of the island, most of the protected and interesting bays are concentrated, and they are just a few minutes of sailing apart from each other.

In the southern part of the island, there is a beach called Marpounta, which can be used as a midway stop on the way from Skopelos and/or Skiathos. It is protected from the north and northwest.

Further north, there is the main harbor of the island Patitiri, where ferries arrive. Larger ones have a separate dock outside the harbor, preventing them from creating waves. Smaller ones have a jetty inside the harbor, in its center, but be careful not to anchor there! The dock you can anchor is the concrete dock along the Starboard Side anchorage when you enter. Across, at Port Side, there is an area where you can easily drop anchor and go ashore with the dinghy, and a few buoys I wasn’t sure were suitable for the general public to use.

The anchorage is relatively sheltered, but not always the most pleasant. Most of the time, there’s a gentle and uncomfortable swaying coming from the sides when the wind is coming from the northeast. If by chance there’s a south-eastern wind, it’s not advisable to stay there at all. The rest of the time, it’s comfortable.

In the harbor, you can stop to fill water, electricity, and supplies. You can also drop off and pick up friends on ferries wherever needed. And of course, you can take a car/taxi/bus (the bus station is at the edge of the harbor and it’s convenient and cheap) and go uphill to the beautiful calcareous grassland. You can enjoy a nice beach right next to the harbor and, of course, charming taverns, cafes, and bars scattered around.

But if you go\ sail a few minutes up north, you reach Votsi, and that’s a completely different story!

In my eyes, Votsi is a paradise for boats. You can call it a small and sheltered fishing anchorage. Last year, they renovated the local fishermen’s pier located at Port Sids’s entrance and improved the water and electricity infrastructure. This dock is reserved for the locals, so there’s no need to be clever and attempt to anchor there! Furthermore, it boasts two wave breakers that form the entrance to the harbor and also protect it from waves coming from all directions!

The safe anchoring side is the Starboard Side. As you enter, there is a small, sandy, and charming (!) beach that in the evening fills up with dinghies (without their engines 🙂 that slowly carry the sailors to enjoy a local tavern around the anchor. Among the restaurants, there’s one that stands out as modern, flavorful, and quite expensive compared to the others, but highly recommended, especially for those who want some variety from traditional Greek food.

We drop anchor as far as possible from the eastern side of the anchorage (near the local fishing boats, but not too close), and then we go backwards to tie the stern to the rocks. The water is so clear that it’s a bit worrisome there might not be enough depth 🙂 I didn’t check the entire length of the shore, but it seemed like there was sufficient depth for everyone to anchor close and safely.

The distances between the anchored boats are sometimes small, and everyone wants a spot in this paradise bay, therefore be on guard for when additional boats enter. Whole families come with all their floating tools to spend an entire summer in this place. Uncles, grandparents, and grandmothers in a scheduled parliamentary shift, both morning and evening, and of course, all the children. They all anchor their boats as one big raft and have so much fun that you can only envy and be amazed.

If you managed to leave Votsi due to running out of water, electricity, or time (otherwise, there’s no reason to leave), then a short northern sail will allow you to enjoy a fairly sheltered area between Alonissos and the eastern island of Peristera. Together, they create a sort of lake with various anchoring spots all around (just open Naviliy and choose). But one of them is unique and worth not giving up on, despite being crowded, noisy, and perhaps finding no anchoring space. Steni Vala is basically a concrete dock, along a deep inlet. If you manage to anchor there, it’s advisable to have someone responsible for the depths on the stern because there are rocks near the dock, and even spots that lead to the dock through the dinghy, because you can’t get any closer. There are long gangways provided by the locals to safely reach the dock, and there are also decent spots, near the supermarket, where you can get close enough for your gangway to reach (highly recommended to read about the place in any app or book you have before heading there).

At the dock, everyone assists each other in anchoring, creating a supportive technical environment 🙂

The dock is brimming with restaurants and delightful spots to eat, drink, and relish in a truly unique atmosphere. Moreover, there’s a charming seaside beach just a few minutes’ walk away, where you can cross the quaint wooden bridge extending into the sea and reach its other side (signage available on-site).

In essence, it’s a place of ambiance, a distinct experience… highly recommended.

Further advantages of the Sporades islands:

As I mentioned previously, the sailing community in this area is very mature, yet not necessarily in age. Many private boats, numerous young couples, and primarily individuals who savor the leisurely pace. The mutual consideration, connection with nature, tranquility, and overall well-being are evident in every corner here.

A significant portion of the Sporades Islands is, in fact, a protected natural reserve, an immense and unique maritime park recognized by international nature and sea authorities. In some areas, a fee is required to sail within them (extensive information can be found in nautical guides, as well as on Google and various apps). Certain places prohibit anchoring, fishing, etc, and there are signs throughout that update sailors about it. You can get merchandise of the monk seals that grow in the area and raise awareness to the environment in general and the sea in particular.

During the past summer, I sailed for two months in the area and didn’t hear a single word of Hebrew. There were a great many Italians, Swedes, and Brits who came following the filming of the movie Mama Mia in the region.

General pressure on anchorages, making it in time, finding a spot, etc… doesn’t exist here. The atmosphere is completely relaxed and allows for a leisurely day of sailing, for the sake of sailing… without worries and without rushing to reach any destination. In one word – perfection!

And I sincerely hope that this will also remain in the future… 🙂

Apart from the islands I mentioned here, Skiathos, Skopelos, and Alonissos, there are a few more unique islands. I have previously written about one of them, Skiros, and I will elaborate on the other two in a separate post – they deserve special attention. Kira Panagia and Skantzoura.

To be continued…

The author is Oded Freidin – the founder of the Facebook group “Sailing in Greece” who lives on his yacht in Piraeus. ⛵ 🇬🇷