Greece’s first marine park offers the rare experience of exploring a protected wildlife reserve whilst also enjoying Mediterranean scenery and pristine beaches.
If you’re a wildlife lover, you’ll be sold just on the roll call of species found in the reserve. More than 80 types of bird (from tiny warblers to cormorants, gulls and eagles) and 300 species of fish reside here, along with reptiles and other animals. And, of course, the increasingly rare Mediterranean Monk Seal (so called because of its love of isolation), for which the park is best known.
Around 10% of the estimated 500-600 Monk Seals (Monachus-Monachus) left in the wild live in the sea caves and along the rocky shorelines of the park’s islands. They’re amongst the biggest seals in the world and live to 35-40 years old, but they breed only once a year and seeing them is a very rare treat. More common are dolphins (striped and bottlenose).
But to take a boat trip around the marine park’s 6 islands (excluding Alonissos) and more than 20 islets isn’t just about seeing the wildlife. It’s about swimming in beautifully clear water and even going ashore to visit monuments dating from Classical to Byzantine times.
The largest of the islands, this is believed to be the where Ancient Alonissos was located. There are two beautiful bays, Agios Petros and Planitis (to the south and north), where some boat trips stop for a swim. And to the east is the monastery of the Virgin Mary, with wonderful views from a height of 300m.
Peristera, the second largest island (and closest to Alonissos) has two natural harbours, Peristeri and Vasiliko, and a number of beautiful beaches. An extraordinary 5th century BC shipwreck, with more 3,000 amphorae, was discovered here, confirming that the area was an important ancient trading route.
Located between Alonissos and Skyros, Skatzoura was a stronghold in Hellenistic times and traces of rural settlements have been found here. There’s also an abandoned monastery located on the highest point, with panoramic views of the marine park. It’s an important reserve of seagulls and Eleonora’s falcons.
The northernmost island is volcanic and rocky, with flora that does not exist on other islands in the park. To the south is Mandraki, the island’s only beach, with white sand and black rocks. You can swim here but you’re not permitted to stay overnight. Before you leave, you can visit the impressive 29m tall 19th century lighthouse.