Skites

Ouranoupolis, Macedonia, Greece Book from

Reviewed by Rachel Howard
A laid-back bohemian retreat near mystical Mount Athos where you can switch off in style
When Pola Bohn first discovered this secluded beach less than a kilometre from Mount Athos in the 1960s, it was a 4-hour drive from Thessaloniki, mostly down bumpy dirt roads. A new highway has cut the journey in half, but Skites - the 25-room guesthouse Pola built in 1989 - still feels blissfully off the beaten track. The road that divides the low-slung rooms and lush fragrant gardens from the pool bar and pebble beach is still unpaved. And the discreet metal sign is easy to miss (we drove past it twice). So it comes as something of a surprise to hear Buena Vista Social Club drifting from the terrace and to see spinach soufflé on the menu.

Pola’s daughter Karin, who now runs Skites, has infused the place with her arty personality. There are chandeliers from Morocco (where she grew up), candelabras from nearby monasteries, lace curtains from local farmhouses, and hand-made driftwood sculptures. Rooms are pared down to the essentials, but the welcoming communal areas and pool are where you’ll spend most of your time. If you want to head out, it’s just a short walk to the small town of Ouranoupolis, which is the jumping off point for Mount Athos - the men-only monastic republic established in 963 and unchanged for centuries. With its wonderfully restorative, meditative atmosphere, Skites is about as close to this as you can get: ideal for solitary retreats or romantic escapes.

Highs

  • The remote setting and relaxed staff create an atmosphere of absolute calm
  • Alfresco restaurant serving delicious Meditarrean food
  • Lashings of personality in the eclectic décor - no Ikea or identikit furnishings here
  • The beach bar is magical at sunset and by moonlight; in summer Karin holds poetry readings and chamber concerts here
  • Seeing the historic Unesco-listed monasteries of Mount Athos either up close (men only; permit needed) or from a boat cruise

Lows

  • Rooms are not remotely luxurious, despite relatively high prices
  • Service can be patchy - the staff prefer to leave you in peace
  • The small beach is mostly rocky, though the sea is a wonderful translucent green (with a wooden jetty for diving) and there are sandy beaches in nearby Ouranoupolis

Best time to go

The hotel is usually open from early May until late October. Best to avoid the first 3 weeks in August, when all of Greece is on holiday and the beaches are packed. Our favourite months are June and September, the former for more active types (hiking, cycling etc), the latter for water babies (warm seas). If you're into Greek culture, ask about the midsummer music and literature events.

Our top tips

Instead of taking the ferry to Ammouliani, rent a motorboat from Ouranoupolis and find your own castaway cove.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Great Outdoors
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
Room:

Rooms

Backed by pine-forested hills and only a few steps from the sea, the rooms are subtly camouflaged by blooming gardens of fig, olive, ficus and honeysuckle. They are spread amongst several buildings and fall into 3 categories: 13 twin-bedded Bungalows are set on the ground floor, with private terraces and garden views. The 8 Upper-Floor Rooms sit above them, and have sea-view balconies. The 4 spacious Suites are standalone buildings with a bedroom and living room, plus an alcove with twin beds where children can snuggle up.

The plain architecture and slightly spartan interiors are inspired by the hotel’s namesake: ‘skites’ are secluded dependencies of the monasteries of Mount Athos. Some fittings are past their prime in the sun-drenched rooms, but in general they have plenty of charm. Wrought iron beds are draped in mosquito nets. Quirky ornaments like ecclesiastical oil lamps, and a few choice antiques and icons liven up the whitewashed walls. Bathrooms are small and basic, but fine, with showers and organic toiletries. The only off touch is the ugly mini-fridge in plain view.

There are a few concessions to modernity - direct-line telephones, hairdryers and air-conditioning - but thankfully no TV to disturb the serenity. Although there is daily room service, linen is only changed every 2 days out of concern for the environment (unless the guest requests a daily change).

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cots Available
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

Meals at Skites are as much about setting as substance: tables are laid on a sea-view terrace brimming with bougainvillea. Chef Ioannis Sarris, has cultivated a diverse menu which focuses on the many classic dishes of the Mediterranean. Expect a wide selection of Greek mezes, Italian style spaghettis and even French gratins.

The breakfast buffet focuses on local produce: homemade jams, pine honey, seasonal fruit, Greek yoghurt and house-blended muesli. There’s a pool bar and wooden deck overlooking the beach that seems made for sundowners.

You can stay on a half-board basis, but you might want the variety of eating out for a couple of evenings, so we'd advise booking B&B and having meals and drinks at Skites on an ad hoc basis. (Note that the bar and restaurant can only accept cash payments.) In Ouranoupolis (a 15-minute walk away), O Kritikos has an impressive wine cellar and exhaustive seafood menu, including stewed octopus and excellent lobster spaghetti, which makes up for the churlish service.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Mostly, you’ll just want to laze by the pool or on the beach, reading and daydreaming. Although it's a pebbled beach, you can run along the wooden jetty and drive straight into the clear sea
  • Make a pilgrimage to the spectacular monasteries of Mount Athos, a spiritual community for 1,000 years and a Unesco-listed site. But you’ll need to be both male and organised - visa applications must be made 6 months in advance through the Mount Athos Pilgrims Bureau. Alternatively (ladies), arrange a boat trip around the Athos peninsula from Ouranoupolis and admire the monasteries - and their breathtaking setting - from afar
  • Hike through pine forests to the crumbling 10th-century monastery of Zygou, just outside Mount Athos and therefore open to all - though a border patrol stops curious women from going further
  • Walk to the bustling town of Ouranoupolis, 15 minutes away, with its long sandy beaches, pretty fishing harbour, fortified Byzantine tower and tacky religious souvenirs
  • Take a boat trip to Ammouliani Island, which has a string of powdery sand beaches lined with fish tavernas. It’s a 5-minute ferry ride from nearby Trypiti
  • If you're feeling active, you can book diving, waterskiing, kayaking, windsurfing and sailing jaunts through a local watersports centre; or borrow a mountain bike and cycle along dirt roads through pine woods
  • In July and August, Karin organises cultural events and concerts at Skites - from classical music recitals to rembetika nights (a kind of Greek blues music) and poetry readings

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Cycling
    • Hiking
    • Kayaking
    • Sailing
    • Scuba diving
    • Snorkelling
    • Surfing
    • Tennis
    • Waterskiing
    • Windsurfing

Kids

Children are welcome and the hotel can provide baby cots (any room) and extra beds (Suites only), but the pebble beach is not ideal for young children.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
9/
Overall

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