By Scott Thornburn, Travel Writer
At the end of a beautiful August day spent sailing through the National Marine Park of Alonissos (a Greek island in the Aegean Sea), I glanced over at my six-year-old son, Andreas. He looked blissfully happy after snorkeling, hiking and listening to our naturalist guide tell us about the historical and environmental significance of the area. Curious, I turned on the camcorder and asked Andreas what he had learned during the scenic day trip.
He very seriously looked at the camera and explained , “Don’t pollute or else the animals will die. If you pollute too much, it will be bad for the air and no fishermen could fish and….” His new-found consciousness of how one person’s actions can affect an entire ecosystem made me beam. Our family decided to visit this 50-square-mile island for our summer vacation for two reasons: to expose Andreas to his Greek heritage and to allow him to experience a holiday in nature that I enjoyed as a child living in Greece. Alonissos is a leader in eco-tourism with a well-contained and managed tourism base having just under 3,000 beds available each night during the summer months. These qualities make it ideal for a young family like ours. We sampled such regional foods as chargrilled octopus and amigdalota (almond biscuits), swam through huge schools of fish, and hiked through lush, dense forests of pine and oak trees, mastic and arbutus bushes, and ancient olive and plum and apricot trees that spanned from inland to the coast.
We discovered that although one of the smallest islands in the area, Alonissos contains one of the richest ecological and archeological sites in the Mediterranean Sea due to geographic isolation and the limited degree of human interference. During our sailing tour of the National Marine Park, we were introduced to a magnificent ecosystem of rare and intact red coral, Eleanora’s Falcons and Audouin’s Gulls hovered overhead. Common and striped dolphins and all kinds of fish thrive in these turquoise waters. Andreas’ eyes grew wide as Captain Pakis Athanasiou related stories from mythology about how these islands were formed. This knowledgeable man went on to describe how the local community of 2,500 residents has been working together for the last two decades to educate younger generations on the importance of recycling, stemming air and water pollution, and saving the indigenous Mediterranean Monk Seals from extinction. Andreas took all of this in. I turned the camcorder off while he darted off for one more jump off the side of the boat into the warm waters. Watching him cavort around, I thought, “It’s never too early to reveal both the beauty and the problems existing in the natural world.”
How to get there: By Air / Ferry: You can take a short flight from the Athens Airport (El Venizelos) to the island of Skiathos, and then board a ferry or faster flying cat/dolphin (1 hour) to the island of Alonissos. By Bus / Ferry: You can take a 2 hour bus ride from either the Athens Airport (El Venizelos) or central Athens to Agios Konstantinos port, and then board a ferry or faster flying cat / dolphin (3 hours) to the island of Alonissos. Where to stay: Alonissos offers a variety of homes to rent such as Villa Agnantema and hotels such as Pension Yula that cater to families. However, bookings for July and August go fast. (About the author: Scott Thornburn is a world famous travel writer who was born in Vermont. He has circumnavigated the world 7 times, and speaks 10 languages.)