The island of Skiathos is blessed with an abundance of pine-fringed beaches. And the most famous of the lot is Koukounaries, a graceful crescent of fine yellow sand on the island’s west coast. In fact, the word Koukounaries itself means ‘pinecones’.
The best of the island’s beaches are found in this area, as well as some great walks amongst the pine. Some beaches are organised and lively, others are hidden away. So here’s a quick guide to beach hopping in the Koukounaries area.
HOW TO GET TO KOUKOUNARIES
The beach resort of Koukounaries is the last stop on the bus line (there’s only one) in Skiathos. Buses from Skiathos Town (and the other resorts on the island) leave frequently throughout the day. See How to Use the Coastal Bus on Skiathos for more info.
KOUKOUNARIES – THE RESORT
Although Koukounaries is the main – and most famous – beach resort on Skiathos, it’s not really what you think of when the word ‘resort’ springs to mind.
The beach itself is a long graceful sandy crescent, backed by the pines of the protected Lake Strofilia Nature Reserve area. The lake separates the beach from the resort. There’s no development on the beach itself – except for a few wooden beach bars and watersports huts.
All of the hotels and restaurants are along the main road which runs behind the lake. There’s just the one road. Hotel buildings are spread out and most have large grounds, somewhat landscaped, and are surrounded by the trees of the Mandraki Pine Forest behind. This is a great area for nature lovers. It’s not overdeveloped.
If you’re wondering whether Koukounaries is the right place for you to stay, check out Where to Stay on Skiathos – Ultimate Beach Resort Guide for a complete rundown of resorts.
KOUKOUNARIES – THE BEACH
Koukounaries beach itself is lovely, deservedly up there with the best in the country. It does get busy though. One of the things I disliked about Skiathos is the tendency to pack the sunloungers really close together like sardines. I don’t mind paying extra for a comfortable sunbed, but not if I’m less than an arm’s length from my neighbours! Can’t really blame them though, it makes economic sense.
Thankfully, there are still stretches of beach at Koukounaries with no sunbeds or parasol where you can lay your towel for free.
There are watersports and a jetty for the water taxis and boat trips at the western end of the beach.
THE BANANA BEACHES
As you stand at the last bus stop at Koukounaries Beach, the peninsula to your right is home to the luxury resort Elivi. This includes the famed Big and Little Banana beaches.
However, a big chunk of land encompassing both Abelakia (also known as Xenia beach), Big Banana and Little Banana (the island’s main nudist beach) has been bought and developed into the swanky luxury resort Elivi.
But Greek law prohibits anyone from owning beaches, so don’t worry – they’re still open to the public, as are their respective beach bars (Grace on Ambelakia Beach, Nest on Big Banana, and Blackbird on Little Banana).
If you’ve never been to these beaches before it can be a bit intimidating as you have to traipse through the resort’s private roads. There were no signposts when I was there, however, this might have changed. I have heard that Elivi provides shuttle buses once the season gets going – good news for those with dodgy knees.
Luckily for me, my curiosity got the better of me.
Here’s how to reach them:
HOW TO GET TO AMBELAKIA BEACH
Follow the Koukounaries road to the end (the last bus stop/beach entrance) and take the last road to the right, signposted ‘Grace’ beach bar. The road branches off into two but you can take either. Once you reach the resort entrance, look for the elevator (pictured) and take some steps that lead down to the Grace pool bar to your right. You’ll be able to see (and make your way to) Ambeliaka beach from here.
The sun loungers are pretty jam-packed on this beach. Expect to pay at least EUR20 for a pair if you’re not staying at the hotel.
HOW TO GET TO BIG BANANA BEACH
Truly, I think this is one of the nicest beaches I’ve visited in the Mediterranean.
It used to be a lively party beach, with the Bananistas beach bar located at the far left end past the rocks. The area behind the beach is now home to the Nest complex, part of Elivi with private villas. Some are almost right on the beach and charge eye-watering prices. If you want a luxury villa with direct beach access then this is the one for you.
So Bananistas is gone, but there is a beach bar as part of the Nest complex.
To get there, keep walking past the Grace development (which is the first part of the hotel you pass), eventually the road veers right and you’ll come to a barrier preventing vehicle access. Simply walk around this. After a minute or two the road forks – take the left-hand path for Big Banana, and the right for Little Banana.
If you’re heading to Little Banana then you’ll want to take the next road that forks off to the left (if you keep going to the right it’s just more villas). It is signposted (both for Little Banana and Blackbird beach bar) but not terribly clear imho.
It’s also possible to climb around the rocks to the right-hand side of Big Banana to reach Little Banana.
As Greek luxury resorts go Elivi is pretty tasteful. The design gods are pleased. But the road down to Big Banana takes you past lots of private villas – it feels very un-private to me.
Big Banana beach is facing due west so gets the sun a bit later than Koukounaries and Ambelakia, and is ideal for sunset.
Sunloungers and cocktails come at a price though. The vibe is now a bit more exclusive. Big Banana has quieter music and a more hushed atmosphere, whereas once the season starts loud music blares now on Little Banana as well as Agia Eleni.
Another option for a smaller beach near Koukounaries is its little sister Maratha beach. This one is hidden away and you’ll have to jump off the bus early, at stop number 22. From there walk back along the road a little bit and the path down is signposted.
The steps are steep and uneven (pictured below) so it’s not suitable for those with mobility issues. But it’s an incredibly scenic entrance to a lovely beach.
It has the same fine sand as Koukounaries but is much narrower. There’s one beach bar, run by the nearby Skiathos Palace Hotel (situated above the road) who also have sun loungers on the beach.
THE BEACHES THROUGH THE TRAILS
But the options for beaches in Koukounaries don’t end there! The north coast of the island, including the area behind Koukounaries, is a protected forest area and the off-road trails open up a number of excellent beaches.
We’re just going to focus on the ones closest to Koukounaries, which are no more than 30 minutes walk.
HOW TO GET TO AGIA ELENI
Known as the ‘summer beach’ of Agia Eleni, this is really a sister beach to the Bananas. It has the same sunset orientation and sand is nearly as good (but not quite).
To get there though, you’ll have to take the signposted track through the forest near bus stop 25 (the second-to-last stop). It’s 15 minutes along a beautiful trail that takes you close to the coast.
In the summer Agia Eleni is a popular beach hangout with a lively beach bar.
HOW TO GET TO MANDRAKI AND MANDRAKI ELIAS
From Agia Eleni you can keep walking along the coastal trail to the next beaches – Krifi Ammos, Mandraki Xerxes and Mandraki Elias.
However, if you’re starting from Koukounaries then it’s quicker to take one of the trails signposted ‘Mandraki’. Bus stop 24 is closest to the trail for Mandraki Xerxes, and stop 24 for Mandraki Elias, but you can get to both from either.
Krifi Ammos is a small and wild beach with gritty sand, down a steep coastal path. There’s a small beach shack. This is one for the explorers. The surrounding coastal paths are gorgeous.
The Mandraki beaches are wide and sandy, with sun loungers but more of a low key vibe than the southern beaches. The beaches along the north get quieter the further east you go. One problem with the north coast though is that it’s occasionally blasted by strong winds, whereas the southern beaches are sheltered.
Read more about Skiathos: