Secret beaches in Greek paradise

Steve White

They may say, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts", but there was nothing but genuine hospitality when the elderly couple living near my Greek island villa sat me down with a generous glass of raki and a smile. Moments earlier I'd appeared at their door asking for help after locking myself out without my phone.

The island in question - Alonnisos, in the Sporades chain just off Greece's east coast - is remarkable, in fact, for its relaxed, unpretentious friendliness. Quiet and uncommercialised (no nightclubs, no loud music), it has the innocence and unassuming charm of a bygone era.

My villa, in contrast, is very of-the-moment - added to GIC The Villa Collection's portfolio just two years ago. I love the monogrammed towels and pillowcases and night-lit spiral staircase, not to mention the gadgetry.

Outside, huge grounds include a private pool, shaded area and even resident tortoises. A large sun terrace offers stunning views down to the island's main town, Patitiri, and the sea beyond. It's perfect for magnificent sunrises and great for watching the rare, elegant Eleonora's falcon found in this region.

In the other direction is a tantalising view of the picturesque Old Village, reached by a pleasant 15-minute walk along a donkey track. Partly abandoned after an earthquake in 1965, today it's a flourishing artists' haven; its narrow streets are a charming mix of restored, flower-clad houses, gift shops and tavernas.

From here you can see just how green this tiny, five by 25km island is - the hilly terrain softened by rich pine and oak woodland, criss-crossed by well-marked trails.

Apparently, if you stayed for two months, you could visit a different beach every day and still not see them all. But even more remarkable is the crystal clear sea - the island lies in Greece's first national marine park, established in 1992 and now offering some of the cleanest water in the Med.

If you only have a few days to play with, these are the beaches you should try.

1. Megali Ammos

Reached via 4km of rough, single-track, unmade road, the drive to this beach is not for the faint-hearted - and be prepared for a steep, 10-minute walk through woodland once you arrive. But the small, sheltered, white-pebbled beach, with vivid green pine trees clinging to the hillside, is pretty and pristine. Megali Ammos means "big sand" in Greek, but all the sand lies underwater, so bring beach shoes to negotiate those pebbles, especially the gentle slope into the sea. The water, however, is great for snorkelling. There are no facilities - it's just you and the odd bit of driftwood.

2. Kokkinokastro

This breathtaking bay is named after the island's iconic red cliff (the so-called "red castle") at one end of a long sand-and-pebble beach. Unusually for Alonnisos, there's a car park, basic toilets, steps to the shore, and even a cute changing hut, not to mention sunbeds and a pop-up taverna in high season. The water is shallow and clean, so it's ideal for children. Just to the south is the island's most popular beach, Chrisi Milia, which, with fine, golden sand sloping gently into a turquoise sea, gets packed in high season.

3. Cape Marpunta

Hunt out this beach just before the end of the unmade Cape Marpunta road on the island's southerly tip; you'll spot the word "beach" painted on a telegraph pole just before a makeshift parking area for a handful of cars. The path down is challenging; first, a steep, stony track, then - wait for it - a six-metre drop to the beach, negotiated with the help of a thick black knotted rope tied to a tree. Not a flip-flop day, then, nor for small children, but the small, sheltered, ultra-exclusive, south-facing pebbly beach is worth the effort.

4. Agios Petros

There are spectacular sea vistas on the pine-scented drive down to this beach, signed off the main road, north of Kokkinokastro. The final walk to the sea, marked at a small pull-in, is down a pretty, flower-strewn path (steep in places). There are no facilities, but the beach - a mix of sand and pebbles - has easy access into clear water. It's overlooked by the odd villa though, so you may have company. A 10-minute walk leads to the tiny, adjacent fishing port of Steni Vala - an idyllic quayside, with tavernas, a shop and a rescue and rehabilitation centre for wounded and orphaned baby seals.

5. Gerakas

A 30-minute drive north from Patitiri along Alonnisos' occasionally hair-raising "main" road, ends at this tranquil fishing bay. The pebbly beach has sunbeds, but those in the know come to eat at the tiny kantina run from a Ford Transit van by the wonderful Kostas. After a fisherman's life travelling the world, Kostas "retired" here in 2008, and calls it his "small paradise". Enjoy his morning's catch, simply fried, with salad and chips, or Greek staples such as souvlaki (kebabs), washed down with beer or his own-recipe Tsipouro (the local grape spirit).