Skites

Ouranoupolis, Macedonia, Greece Book from Book from £78 per night

A laid-back bohemian retreat near mystical Mount Athos where you can switch off in style
Secluded Skites, a 25-room hotel just 2 hours from Thessaloniki, was created by the Bohn family in the 1980s, and retains an arty, unconventional vibe that feels blissfully off the beaten track. The road dividing the low-slung rooms and lush fragrant gardens from the pool bar and pebble beach is still unpaved. Road signs are scarce; we drove past it twice. On arrival, it came as something of a surprise to see a convivial gathering on the terrace, Parisian jazz drifting on the sea breeze and moules marinieres on the menu.

Karin, who now runs Skites, has infused the place with her unique 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 salon, pool and garden areas 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 - the jump off point for Mount Athos (the men-only monastic republic, established in 1927 and unchanged for decades). With its wonderfully restorative, meditative atmosphere, Skites is about as close to this as you can get: ideal for artist gatherings or romantic escapes.

Highs

  • The remote setting and relaxed staff create an atmosphere of absolute calm
  • Alfresco restaurant serving the best Meditarrean food in the area
  • The flower-filled pool area and pretty beach has the feel of a laid-back private villa
  • The beach bar is magical at sunset and by moonlight; in summer Karin holds poetry readings and silent movie nights
  • Seeing the historic Unesco-listed monasteries of Mount Athos either up close (men only; permit needed) or from a boat cruise

Lows

  • Rooms can seem a little dark and sparsely-furnished, though you do get air-con
  • The small beach is a rock and sand mix, though the sea is a wonderful translucent green 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.

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.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Great Outdoors
Wedding
  • Beach Hotel
  • 25
  • Restaurant and bar
  • Allowed but not ideal
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

Backed by pine-forested hills and only a few steps from the sea, the rooms are enclosed by blooming gardens of fig, olive, gardenia and honeysuckle. They are spread amongst several buildings and fall into 3 categories: 13 twin-bedded ground-floor Bungalows, with private terraces and garden views. Above them sit 8 Upper-Floor Rooms with 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. All the terraces and balconies come with iron tables and woven chairs.

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 but in general the rooms have plenty of charm. Quirky ornaments like ecclesiastical oil lamps, and a few choice antiques and icons liven up the whitewashed walls. Bathrooms are small and basic with showers and local toiletries. Concessions to modernity include WiFi, air-con, a mini fridge and hairdryer.

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 dining 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 (highlights include fried feta with sesame and honey, zucchini balls with tzatziki and baked aubergine with sweet peppers), fresh seafood (such as calamari, octopus with prunes and mussels), and incredible homemade puddings, including baklava.

The breakfast buffet focuses on local produce: homemade jams, pine honey, seasonal fruit, Greek yoghurt, pastries, cakes and boiled eggs often with an oven-fresh traditional cheese or spinach pie.

There’s a pool bar and wooden deck overlooking the beach that seems made for sundowners. Drinks come served with a side of fresh almonds in their shells. (Note that the bar and restaurant can only accept cash payments.)

If you want to eat out for a couple of evenings, head into Ouranoupolis (a 15-minute walk away). O Kritikos has an impressive wine cellar and exhaustive seafood menu, including stewed octopus and excellent orzo with prawns.

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, there are segments of sand for sunbathing
  • Make a pilgrimage to the spectacular monasteries of Unesco-listed Mount Athos. You’ll need to be both male and organised - visa applications must be made 6 months in advance. Alternatively (ladies), arrange a boat trip around the Athos peninsula from Ouranoupolis and admire the breathtaking monasteries from afar
  • Hike through pine forests to the crumbling 10th-century monastery of Zygou, just outside Mount Athos
  • 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
  • Have Karin arrange boat hire and enjoy the independence of exploring the white-sand beaches of the nearby uninhabited Pena islands

Activities on site or nearby include:

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

Kids

Children are allowed but it is not an ideal place for them - this is an incredibly peaceful hotel.

Best for:

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

Family friendly accommodation:

The Suites have a bedroom, an alcove with twin beds where children can snuggle up, and a separate living room.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 3 independent reviews from i-escape guests

9/10
Room
9/10
Food
9/10
Service
9/10
Value
9/10
Overall

If you want a week of soaking up the sun, reading books, lazing by a pool and just switching off this is a good place to go. We found it simple, unaffected and very laid back. The service is watchful but never intrusive - which we loved. Karin, the owner, is warm, witty and idosyncratic.
Even with a car the options for sightseeing are limited. You obviously can't get to the rest of the Athos peninsula, but you can drive into the mountains or cross to the beaches on the other side (dirt track roads). That said, we discovered lots of little deserted sandy coves within walking distance - the better ones usually required a lot scrambling over rocks to get to them and the swimming is first rate. Eating options are limited to the string of beachside restaurants in Ouranoupolis and the good little hotel restaurant (although why the menus have to be laboriously spoken rather than written and why you have to pay cash separate to your accommodation, is odd). We liked the fresh, healthy breakfasts too.
The L-shaped swimming pool is pleasant with deckchairs rather than sunbeds - although you can stretch out on the small area of sand on the mainly pebble beach below. The little pool bar was sadly closed while we were there, but the quiet beach location, the wooden jetty and little deck where you can watch the sunset and gaze at the tremendous views are what makes this place special.

7/10,

I had the most heavenly stay at Skites - it is a little slice of paradise.

10/10,

It was a perfect place to relax; I have to thank Karin, because her hard work to organize the hotel is allowing us to get a first class quality journey. Everything was above our expectations. Indeed, it was quite painful to leave this hotel. A wonder, a must. We'll be back there.

10/10,

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Rates for Skites