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HOLIDAYS: I HAVE A DREAM.. HOLIDAY - on Greek islands where Mamma Mia! was filmed.

Byline: JOLENE DEARSLEY

WITH the new Abba movie Mamma Mia! now in the cinemas, JOLENE DEARSLEY puts on her dancing shoes and heads to the Greek islands where it was filmed, Skiathos and Skopelos...

THERE aren't many resorts where you could afford to check into an A-listers' hotel without giving your credit card a severe hammering.

But this is the laid-back Greek island of Skiathos, where Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep and Julie Walters stayed during the filming of Mamma Mia!

Like me, Pierce and Colin were checked into the Skiathos Princess hotel, just a short bus ride from the port where several scenes were filmed.

OK, the stars could probably run to the EUR7 taxi - but there is a bus stop just outside the hotel door if your agent hasn't negotiated a private chauffeur.

We were staying in Skiathos for three nights and then taking the ferry to neighboring Skopelos for the final three days of our holiday.

The Skiathos islanders are still basking in the reflected glory of all those stars and crew on their tiny island.

The cameras certainly did justice to the beauty of Skiathos, smallest island of the Sporades group in the Aegean.

It's only 12km long and 6km wide from north to south but what it lacks in size it makes up for in beaches, with more than 60 to choose from.

Even better, they're renowned for being the best beaches in the Greek islands.

Skiathos Town is also photogenic with its whitewashed, red-roofed houses running uphill from the ports.

There are two ports in the town. The old port on one side of the Castle of Bourzi and the new port on the other. Both of them are stunning and ooze character, although the older of the two has the edge.

The Skiathos Princess is absolutely stunning, with its own private beach, immaculately-kept lawns and good-sized pool.

There's also a spa well up to movie star standard. My face hadn't seen sun for six months so turned pink after just one day. A good excuse to treat my skin to a Vitamin C facial in the hotel's spa.

I was back the following day to tend to my neglected feet with a pedicure - pure bliss.

We went for half-board, which I was a little anxious about as I usually get bored with the selection after a couple of days.

But, Leto, the hotel's main restaurant, of fered huge platefuls of delicious food, including the biggest sea bass I have ever seen.

We managed to drag ourselves away from the hotel on the second day and headed down to the port for lunch.

The islanders pride themselves on their local cuisine and, with so many famous Greek dishes to choose from, I was in my element.

My favourite was the famous cheese pie (or tyropita), a circular tube with bitter local feta cheese encased in crispy filo pastry.

It doesn't look very appealing but what it lacks in looks it certainly makes up for in taste.

The food is also very reasonably priced - we didn't pay more than EUR42, and that was including two courses and a bottle of wine.

We thought we'd add a little culture to our holiday and headed to the Evangelistria Monastery, which is perched up in the hills above the port.

The monastery was founded in 1794 and completed in 1806. At one time there were 70 monks living and working there. Today, there is only one monk and a helper left - but it's well worth visiting for it speace and tranquillity.

The views were outstanding on the walk back down to the harbour and it would have only taken us an hour to walk back if there hadn't have been so many great photo opportunities.

As it was, we spent a couple of hours making our way back. We could have taken the white bus - a frequent service runs from the port and costs about a pound. That evening we checked out the nightlife and headed back down to the port, which looked even more spectacular in the twilight.

The waterfront is lined with Greek tavernas. Throughout our stay we managed to try five different places, all of which were superb.

The hospitality is also overwhelming. At one place, the owner kept sending us over free ouzos.

We had heard that it was extremely rude to leave a drink if offered to you, so we were trying our best not to seem impolite. Naturally, after a few ouzos we were inquiring as to where to find the livelier bars. He recommended Bar Rock and Roll in the new port.

With brightly-coloured cushioned sofas overlooking the harbour, this was the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by - which we did, contently, for another few hours.

And of course we put on our dancing shoes to hit the floor.

On the fourth day of our holiday we crossed to Skopelos, taking the Flying Dolphin catamaran ferry - as seen in the movie. We travelled on an especially calm day and we were mesmerised by how silky-smooth the Aegean appeared. We seemed to just glide effortlessly over in no time at all.

Skopelos is the largest island in the Sporades yet more traditional than Skiathos. It is the greenest of the islands, with hillsides covered in trees, orchards and vineyards.

Happily, the locals seem content to keep it this way. The people live off tourism and agriculture, growing olives, fruit and walnuts. A bar owner told us how many of the is - landers work non-stop through the summer then either find work on the mainland during winter or take a well-earned rest.

We stayed at the Aeolos Hotel, which was very reasonably priced and only a short walk into Skopelos Town.

Most of the rooms are sea facing but ours was in a new block at the back of the hotel overlooking a pretty courtyard.

We caught the bus to explore the beaches - at only EUR2.10 and running right on time it seems the best way to get around the Island.

Kastani beach is a must - this being the beach where many of the scenes for Mamma Mia! were filmed.

However, one of our favourites was Milia - hardly surprising as we had the whole beach to ourselves for most of the day.

And we almost got lost exploring the narrow cobbled streets of Skopelos Town, with its dozens of restaurants and shops behind the harbour.

The people of Skiathos and Skopelos have taken great care to look after their towns and have retained the traditional architecture of the islands.

They're deservingly proud of their heritage and wholeheartedly welcome tourists to share it.

It's rare enough to discover one beautiful, welcoming island - but to get two for the price of one really is truly special.

A film director's dream, you might say...

What's the deal?

PRICES for Skiathos and Skopelos with Olympic Holidays start at around EUR825pp, based on two sharing. Price includes four nights' half-board at the four-star Skiathos Princess Hotel and three nights' B&B at the three-star Aeolos Hotel on Skopelos, plus Gatwick flights and all transfers. Go online to www.olympicholidays.com

CAPTION(S):

Dancing queen... Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!; Skiathos Town, the tiny capital of the island; The golden sands of Koukounaries...one of Skiathos' 60 beaches; Dancing shoes ...our Jolene; Princess Hotel, where Pierce Brosnan stayed; Skopelos' Aeolos Hotel overlooks the sea; Spectacular... Skiathos Town harbour at night Pictures: GIOVANNI SIMEONE/4 CORNERS IMAGES/UNIVERSAL PICTURES
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 13, 2008
Words:1255
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