Footloose in Skopelos : A Green Tapestry of Greek Trees and Beaches

Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers .

If you're disappointed at having missed the beauty and charm of Mykonos 25 years ago, this is the place to step back in time and relish the uncluttered calm of life on a small Greek isle.

Skopelos also has the narrow and winding stone streets, whitewashed homes tiered upward from the bay and an air of freewheeling gaiety. Yet the islands are quite different.

While Mykonos is an arid and rather rocky place, Skopelos is a green tapestry of Scotch pine, olive and fig trees, peach, pear and other fruit orchards hugging the one narrow roadway that loops around the island and connects its dozen or so lovely beaches.

And both islands have a full quota of churches, convents and monasteries. Skopelos has more than 350, and it has a bit more interest for the student of antiquities.

Most historians think it was once a Cretan outpost settled by Prince Stafylos, who either died, was killed or just lost his sword near a small cove that bears his name. The sword and other funerary relics are in the Volos museum on the mainland.

But aside from the prince's resting place, a 9th-Century chapel and ruins of a Venetian fortress, Skopelos got our attention and kept it with its flowers. Each tiny house or farm seems buried in rose bushes; the bouquet of these, fruit trees and other blooms hang over the island day and night.

Here to there: Fly TWA or Pan Am to Athens with stops, KLM or SAS with home-country changes, a domestic to JFK for a change to Olympic's nonstop. Take Olympic on to the island of Skiathos, then a ferry or Flying Dolfin hydrofoil for the short ride to Skopelos.

How long/how much? Most Greeks and Europeans come for at least a week, your stay dictated by time and adjustment to a fairly heavy beach schedule. Lodging and dining costs are moderate.

A few fast facts: Greece's drachma recently traded at 133 to the dollar, or .0075 each. Best times for a visit are May, June and September, July and August the busiest months, just about everything slammed shut from end of October to April, as it is on most smaller Greek islands. Beaches, hotels and tavernas are strung out along the island's main road, so a rental car or Jeep is a good idea. Motor scooters go for $7.50 per 24 hours.

Getting settled in: Hotel Amalia (in town; $31 B&B; double low season, $45 high), although fairly new and large for an island hotel, maintains a typical air with beautiful hand-painted panels in lobby, rustic furniture in bedrooms, an open-air taverna serving all three meals, balconies with every room. There is also a small pool and bar, very helpful folks on desk.

Rigas House (just outside town; $49 B&B; double) is built around a lovely inner courtyard brimming with plants, vines and Greek artifacts. Old embroidered hangings on whitewashed walls in lounge, simple bedrooms with local walnut furniture, antique light fixtures, beamed ceilings. Breakfast only, but promises other meals for '88 season.

Prince Stafylos (just outside town; $57 B&B; double low season, $76 high) is the best in Skopelos. Large garden and pool in front, glorious lobby with gigantic flower arrangements, antique furniture with handmade fabrics, whitewashed walls hung with old ceramics and copper utensils. Bedrooms simply furnished but all have balconies with views of sea and town. Half and full-pension meals here lean toward Greek specialties, usually taken on broad terrace overlooking garden.

The town is filled with guest houses giving you a double room and bath for about $15.

Regional food and drink: A variety of fresh seafood swims at you from every menu, the kalamarakia fried or grilled being as good as any squid you'll find on earth. Sargos and fangri are delectable whitefish, barbounia the little pink and delicious devils that drive you crazy with tiny bones.

Visit the kitchen, as all Greeks do, to see what else is in store for you: marvelous rice-stuffed tomatoes and peppers, keftedes meatballs, chicken and lamb.

Join locals ain sprinkling oregano on your French fries, lemon on local sausage, island honey on your morning yogurt. Prunes and walnuts, both island crops, figure in many desserts, augato being a heavenly prune pastry.

Cambas and Domestica are the most popular wines, either resin-flavored or straight, Tsantali an excellent white or rose. And ouzo is dear to the heart of every Greek, a clear and potent potion that brings out the Zorba in you.

Moderate-cost dining: Tabepna is the Greek spelling for taverna, and you'll find it on one of the best, La Costa on the port. It's Greek from the white stucco walls and blue windows to bamboo cover over its three terraces. Young owner Costa has a full menu of local specialties and seafood, yet his kitchen's pride is good German food, schnitzels and the like. Nothing fancy here, particularly the clunky bar, just wonderful food.

Right across from the boat landing you'll find Spiros, with people waiting for outdoor tables and a go at his grilled chicken, the house specialty. Also souvlakia, the staple meat brochette, renowned eggplant salad and other meze first courses.

Selini (just outside town) is the most romantic in Skopelos, also having the town's most imaginative menu. Try the pork with prunes, herring salad or one of the Selini versions of shrimp. The dining area is in a rose garden, candles flickering from tables in the evening, soft Latin music or classics completing the spell. Not open for lunch as the owner also keeps a shop in town with exquisite ceramics, weavings and rugs. It's called Armoloi.

On your own: First comes a visit to one of a dozen pine-fringed beaches, two of the best being Stafylos and Limnonari, the first with half the sand reserved for nudists, the latter with a small taverna having a few rooms to let.

Sailing the coast and wind surfing the coves are very large here, and you may also take the Flying Dolfin for a half-hour ride to neighboring Skiathos.

Lots of tacky shops in town, but Skopelos seems to have more good ones than most of the dozen isles we've visited. Try the Armoloi, or the Cocktail for sports clothing, rope-sole shoes for a pittance and very original T-shirts done by a local artist.

And try to find time for an hour's scenic drive across the island to the hill town of Glossa, perhaps for lunch at Taverna Flisbos in Loutraki just down the hill on the waterfront. Magnificent seafood here, prices lower than in Skopelos.

For more information: Call the Greek National Tourist Office at (213) 626-6696, or write (611 West 6th St., Los Angeles 90017) for a brochure on Skopelos and other Sporades Islands, with hotel listings and a map of Greece.

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