What Skopelos lacks in ruins, museums and art galleries, it more than makes up for with monasteries. There are dozens scattered around the island, including perhaps 10 on Mount Palouki alone.They make for a perfect ecclesiastical crawl – what more innocent, life-affirming activity could there be?
Each monastery comprises suntrap courtyards, a dusky chapel filled with glittering icons and intricate altar linen, and chirping birds in cages. Some – such as Evangelismos, built in 1712 and the only one visible from town; 16th-century Sotiros, manned by a single, rather grumpy monk; and Prodromos, where a female custodian, in gratitude for our donation, doused us liberally with pungent cologne – can be reached by car, but the dirt road soon becomes a donkey track, so it is better to walk.
From Sotiros, you can join the T1 walking path (there are three other marked routes on the island). It meanders up the mountain, and darts in and out of the forest – ensuring moments of blessed relief from the summer heat. However, vigilance is essential, thanks to the uneven terrain and the countless spider webs that criss-cross the track through the trees. They wait to swat the unwary rambler – a nuisance for most; terror for arachnophobes such as myself. The path ends at the atmospheric abandoned monasteries of Taxiarches and Anna, both partially hidden by overgrown walnut trees. It’s a wonderful route, overwhelmingly green, teeming with life and with dramatic views of Alonnissos, the next island in the Sporades archipelago, yet remains largely untrodden. Besides the monks, and the obligatory goat herd with his bleating livestock, we had the entire mountain to ourselves.
Even the chapel of Agios Ioannis on the north-west of the island, which perches, Meteora-style, atop a 100m-high rock and is the best-known Mamma Mia! location (it is where the wedding scene was shot), we found deserted, while no more than 10 people occupied the beautiful beach below it.