Mamma Mia – Summertime Fun In The Greek Isles

You probably know the story from the movie, or the stage production in London and on Broadway, and are no doubt familiar with the unforgettable music of ABBA, but you may not have visited the Greek islands of Skiathos and Skopelos where filming took place. Starring Meryl Streep as Mamma, Amanda Seyfried as daughter Sophie, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth, this romantic comedy was an instant success when released in 2008, and a welcome addition to tourism in Greece.

Open to the public, many of the scenes in the movie were filmed in and around the beaches and harbor at Skiathos. The locals and tourists joined in the fun of watching old taxi cabs and 4-wheel bikes careen through narrow cobblestone alleyways in a frantic chase to the overloaded ferry waiting to dock, while members of the cast were more than willing to sign autographs for the crowds.

Accommodations (used by the cast): 5- star Skiathos Princess – Rates: $182 to $364 deluxe rooms, suites $390 to $500. The Mandraki boutique hotel also received very positive reviews, as a less expensive, more family oriented place to stay. (Availability seems limited, however, probably evidence of its popularity). Of course, you can leave the main part of town and explore the side streets where you’ll find accommodations at other hotels and small pensions, with prices to fit your budget.

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Be prepared to do some walking, mostly uphill, once you leave the market square of craft shops, tavernas, and restored seafarers’ houses by the harbor, but the climb to the Bell Tower and the small St Nicholas church filled with Greek orthodox religious items is worth the effort. You’ll be rewarded with an incredible panorama of white walls, red tile roofs, and the brilliant color of bougainvillea that clings to small verandas of houses on the hillsides above the sea. Returning to the streets below, you’ll want to do some shopping, have lunch, or take a stroll across the walkway to the pines of Bourtzi Islet, with its own separate harbor (used primarily for pleasure excursion boats.) Here you’ll find the cultural center of Skiathos, with a theatre and statue of Alexandros Papadiamantis, probably the most famous Greek novelist of the 19th century, who lived and died on Skiathos.

Restaurant Recommendations: The Windmill is considered top of the line, offering a fabulous view and a gourmet menu (prices not listed), ideal for special events and romantic evenings. In addition to less expensive and just as popular places, other restaurants recommended include Paraxenos for outdoor dining on Greek and international food, Elados Yefsis for traditional dishes of moussaka and spanakopita, and Portobello, a combination bar, cafè, and garden type restaurant.

Much of the movie was filmed on the island of Skopelos, or “Kalokari” (summer in Greek), the largest of the Sporades Islands, which include Mykonos and Santorini. Other than some fishing, herding, and production of honey, the overall decline in agriculture and wine production has led to a strong dependence on tourism to bolster the island’s economy. Travelers from northern Europe have discovered the climate and beauty of Skopelos as an inviting retirement destination. Besides the wonderful music and great acting, the cinematography in Mamma Mia is spectacular, capturing the beauty of Skopelos, from the deep blue of the Aegean Sea to the dark green of pine forests and the silvery sheen of olive groves.

One of the main attractions on Skopelos is the wedding chapel rebuilt for the film on the site of the Agios Ioannis Prodromos Monastery, rising some 300 feet above the sea near the town of Glossa. A 45-minute ride on the local bus from Skopelos Town brings you to Glossa, situated in the highest altitude of the Sporades Islands. From here, you’ll have a breathtaking view of Loutraki, the harbor just below the village, the sea, and rugged coastline

Sun worshippers will want to visit at least one of the legendary beaches of Skopelos, although most of these are pebbled and lack the fine sand of the ones on Skiathos. However, you can follow the steep, dirt pathway down to the sandy Kastani Beach, which was chosen for the majority of the beach scenes. You can catch a bus from town to Glysteri cove for somewhat secluded sun bathing. Stafylos is an easily accessible beach, about 3 miles from town by bus, and the beaches at Amarantos, used in some scenes from the movie, are a good place to soak up the sun and enjoy the natural beauty of your surroundings. Families will enjoy a short drive to Panormos beach, where you can find tavernas, mini-marts, and small boats for rent in the village nearby.

In addition to sightseeing, hiking, walking, and mountain biking for the more energetic, you may want to visit the Varvaras, Metamorphosis, or Prodromos monasteries, and the Museum of Cultural Heritage in Glossa, which opened free to the public in July 2008. Most shops are open until midnight, and bars even later. At any time of the year, you’ll probably enjoy a village festival, which adds to vacation fun. There are endless opportunities for amazing photography, so a camera is a must.

Accommodations: Numerous cottages and villas on the hillsides overlooking the sea or nestled amid the olive groves are available for rent; prices range from $124 to $168 a day. For example, the Glysteri Pool cottage is located on the hills about a mile from the beach at Glysteri Bay, featured in the movie, and less than 2 miles from town. The cottage has 2 bedrooms, pool, kitchen, and twice a week maid service. Enjoy the open terraces, the nearby tavernas in the village of Agios Konstantinos, and shop at the small museum for local handicrafts.

Villas, sleeping up to 6, with private pools, fully equipped, and beautifully landscaped are available for $178 – $246 per day.

Suites rent for $250 and up at the Skopelos Village Hotel (used by many of he cast and crew), where the air is filled with the aroma of honeysuckle, jasmine, and lavender. The hotel offers numerous amenities including a private beach, two swimming pools, a tennis court, bar, and restaurant.

(Note: Rates fluctuate with on or off-season.)

Tavernas & Restaurants: Agioli (for Italian) at the Skopelos Village Hotel, Agnanti at Glossa, Anna’s, Alexander’s and Finikas, as well as several other reasonably priced establishments. The Ouzeria Anatoli taverna is popular for live music, dancing, and good food. Ouzo is a very strong type of aperitif, with a distinct flavor (which I never did acquire a taste for while living in Greece)! Good jazz can be found also at some of the tavernas on the island.

Transportation: Besides the local bus, you can rent a car, bike, or moped for sightseeing around the island.

Ferry service: High speed and catamaran ferries available to most of the Greek islands. About 1 hr from Skiathos to Skopelos. Slower ferries average $12 to $20 for pedestrians and $30 for cars, one way.

Flights: From Athens, Volos, and Thessaloniki to Skiathos.

(Holiday packages, tours, booking, prices, and other travel information available online.)

With a pleasant Mediterranean climate cooled by the northerly Meltemia breezes, the enchanting islands of Greece attract tourists everywhere. The filming of Mamma Mia brings renewed interest in visiting these beautiful places and experiencing year-round summertime fun.

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Movie tourism

Comments (2)

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  1. Kathi says:

    What is the best vacation to see the Islands of Greece? By cruising or staying in a cottage? & if retiring there, how do you go about that?

  2. Sharon says:

    It’s difficult to say what is the best way,depends on time and money. For an overall idea of the islands, a cruise would be good. However, most cruises only go to the popular islands such as Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, etc. Spending a day or two in port won’t give you the real feel of a place. If you’re seriously considering retirement there, or even having a vacation home, rent a cottage for a month or so on one of the smaller islands. Don’t rush into buying property until you have spent time getting used to the people and the island you choose. If you’re a citizen of the EU, it’s easy enough to relocate, buy, etc. Non-citizens need a residential permit. Either way, there is good info online. Silver house property, for example, seems to have a lot of the ins and outs, rentals, buying, etc. Remember too, that ferry service is readily available and usually a good way to island hop. There are also direct flights to many of the larger islands.

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