In the namesake National Marine Park, Alonissos is a sustainable island destination in the Northern Sporades.
The marine park includes Alonissos and an archipelago of uninhabited islands off its shore.
Some parts are inaccessible, to help conserve the Mediterranean monk seal, but you’re free to go on a self-guided voyage by motorboat to forgotten coves and sequestered monasteries in the park.
Alonissos itself is a fertile island, infused with scent of wild herbs and growing figs, almonds and pears.
The beaches are in snug coves with crystalline seas, and this exceptional water clarity ranks Alonisssos as one of the Mediterranean’s undiscovered diving paradises.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Alonissos:
1. Chora (Old Village)
Today the harbour village of Patitiri is the main settlement on Alonissos, but this wasn’t always the case.
Until 1965 the capital was the Chora, laid out on a hill in the southwest.
It was abandoned following an earthquake in 1965, but over the last 30 years its old houses have been returned to their former glory.
These are quaint limestone and whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofs and blue-painted shutters and balconies.
Writers and artists have helped with the village’s revival, and its galleries bring an air of sophistication.
The Chora has a big choice of tavernas, and make sure you get a table outside as the sunsets are stunning here.
2. National Marine Park
Alonissos belongs to the largest protected marine area in Europe, encompassing 2,260 square kilometres and established in 1992. The area had been recognised for its ecological value since the 1970s, and was protected to safeguard the species like the Mediterranean Monk Seal from the encroachment of tourism.
This species has a delicate habitat, living in the limestone caves around Piperi.
Zone B of the park is open for visitors, while Zone A (Piperi) is limited to scientific research.
The port at Patiitiri is the jumping off point for visits and is home to the information centre for MOm (Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal), the NGO conducting scientific research in the park.
Inside is a small but informative exhibition about the park and its inhabitants.
3. Self-Guided Boat Trips
Piperi is the only island in the National Marine Park that is off limits.
You’re not allowed to go within three nautical miles of its shores, but the rest of the park is your oyster and is a diverse archipelago of large and small islands.
The best way to experience it all is on a self-navigated motorboat from the harbour at Patitiri.
There’s more than you could possibly see in a week, at Yioura, grazed by wild goats and with a cave associated with Homer’s Cyclops, or Kyra-Panagia, which has one of the largest natural harbours in the Mediterranean Sea and the 12th-century Megistis Lavras Monastery.
Peristera has dozens of deserted coves where you can spend the day alone, and the volcanic Psathoura has the remnants of an ancient city on its seabed and the tallest lighthouse in the Aegean, built in the 1800s.
4. Agios Dimitrios Beach
This beach, some 20 kilometres up from Patitiri on the west coast is an unusual pebbly nub protruding into the sea.
But even though this little cape is exposed to the wind it lies on a strait next to Peristera Island, so the water is calm if a little deep.
In summer 2017 the price for two sun loungers and a palm sunshade was €6, while the beach also has a small water sports centre where you can hire a paddleboard for an hour or two.
Also remember to bring your snorkelling gear as there’s vibrant marine life just a few steps from the shore at Agios Dimitrios.
5. Leftos Gialos
The northernmost of a series of beaches running down the east coast of Alonissos, Leftos Gialos may be the best of the lot.
What makes this cove so appealing is there’s an old olive grove on the edge of the beach, with flowerbeds and wild thyme and lavender growing among the trees.
At the two tavernas, Eleonas and Dolopes Island, you can dine in the grove.
The tavernas also hire out sun loungers at €6 a day for a pair, some under pergolas on the shelf above the shore, and others below palm sun shades by the water.
Leftos Gialos beach has clear, rippling water with different shades of blue green.
The surface is laid with small pebbles, so swim shoes are recommended.
6. Alonissos Museum
Close to the harbour in Patitiri is what is claimed to be the largest privately owned museum in the Aegean.
Covering the island’s history, art and folklore, the Alonissos Museum is in a four-storey stone building constructed in 2001. A crowd-pleasing exhibition has artefacts recovered from the wrecks of warships and pirate ships (canons, swords and everyday utensils), dating between the 1500s and 1700s.
There’s also a display revealing traditional life on Alonissos, with items like a grindstone from an old olive mill, traditional costume and old razor blades once used by barbers.
The museum is also decorated with art by people living on the island or visiting, and also puts on an annual art market in July.
7. Chrisi Milia Beach
The most frequented beach on Alonissos is the only one with fine sand on the island.
Chrisi Milia sits in a bay bookended by pine-capped cliffs on the west coast.
This beach is more open to the sea, and is washed by moderate waves that most swimmers should be able to handle, as the sea is so shallow.
Two sun loungers and a parasol will cost €5 for a day, and waiters from the beach bar will pass by regularly to take your order.
Raised on the south side of the beach is a set of tavernas, with terraces looking over the bay under pine trees and pergolas.
Alonissos may only be small, but it’s a sign of the natural splendour in its waters that there are four dive centres to choose from: Seacolours, Blue Dream, Triton, Ikion.
Underwater visibility is as high as 40 metres, and summer water temperatures are almost tropical, rising to 26°C from July to September.
People with PADI certification and drift training can explore the Gorgonian Garden to a depth of 40 metres and dominated by spectacular red gorgonians, larger than almost anywhere in the Mediterranean.
The Blue Cave, teeming with fan mussels and moray eels, is suited to all levels, allowing newcomers to stay shallow and experienced divers to explore a little deeper.
9. Kokkinokastro Beach
Facing south and angled towards the islet of Kokinonisi (Red Island), KokinoKastro is a coarse sand and shingle beach skirted by reddish cliffs.
The surrounding cliffs help to shelter the beach from the wind, creating lagoon-like aquamarine waters.
There’s a beach bar here, renting out a pair of sun loungers and a parasol for €5 a day.
Close by are what’s left of the walls that once belonging to the ancient town of Ikos.
While the islet at the end of the creek has yielded Palaeolithic remains, and some of the earliest evidence of human habitation in the Aegean.
10. Volunteering with MOm
There is a kind of loophole if you want to see parts of the National Marine Park that would normally be off-limits.
And that is to volunteer as a marine biologist with MOm.
Paying €70 for a single but unforgettable day, you’ll sail into Zona A, learning more about the work of marine conservators and putting yourself to use as a scientist.
One of your duties might be to assist MOm’s research by spotting and making notes on monk seals, as well as Risso’s, bottlenose, striped and common dolphins.
11. Megali Ammos Beach
Although “Megali Ammos” translates to “Great Sandy Beach”, sand isn’t what you’ll encounter at this beach on the west coast.
Instead there’s an arc of small pebbles partially enclosed by rocks in an idyllic cove.
For hikers it’s a welcome sight and somewhere to dip their feet in the water on a cross-island trek.
One of the best things about the beach is the large rocks deposited on the shoreline, leaving little pools of sun-warmed, crystalline water to sit in.
High, in the distance to the southwest you can make out the Agion Anargiron monastery amid the green hills.
The handy thing about a compact island like Alonissos is just how much you can see on foot.
Using Patitiri or the Old Village as a starting point there are dozens of walking trails at your disposal.
You can strike out for tiny villages, ravines like Vathi Rema or Kastanorema, or Mount Kalovoulos at 325-metres to watch the sun go down.
Walking this rocky terrain it may surprise you just how diverse the island’s nature is.
The south is a bucolic landscape of pines, wild herbs, olive groves and orchards for figs and pears, while the protected north is all holm oaks, wildflowers and maple trees.
If you take on the seven-hour walk to the fishing Village of Steni Vala on the upper east coast, you can watch the countryside change and enter a magical cedar forest near the end.
13. Tzortzi Gialos Beach
In Milia on the east coast, this small pebble beach is protected by an inlet, several hundred metres long and with low evergreen slopes and a few villas perched over the water.
The joy of Tzortzi Gialos isn’t so much the beach itself, which is narrow and uneven, but the water in front.
This is like a natural swimming pool, remaining shallow for dozens of metres and with a sandy seabed.
You’ll have to bring your own parasol, or seek the shade of the pines at the rocks on the south side.
Tzortzi Gialos is believed to have been the port for ancient Ikos.
14. Threshing Festival
In the Old Village July is time for the annual Threshing Festival.
Here wheat grain is separated from its stems the old-fashioned way, using mules on the village’s threshing floors.
It’s a way of keeping old customs alive, and as well as seeing how the threshing was done you can take in some traditional music and dance.
The dish prepared during the festivities is tarhana (cracked wheat grain in boiled milk), made in big clay pots with a recipe going back to antiquity.
15. Traditional Cuisine
Mizithra is a milky soft goats’ cheese produced on Alonissos.
Aged for just one day, and with a neutral sweet flavour, it’s a versatile ingredient.
You might have it in meze with tomato and olives, in a salad or in one of the island’s much-loved fried cheese pies.
Those figs growing around Alonissos are delicious when grilled, and another sweet treat to look out for are loukoumades, a kind of donut made from water, flour and yeast and fried in olive oil.
Seafood is fresh and abundant, so a go-to could be kakavia, the famous fish stew, or black linguini with tuna.