Skyros is a long sea journey from Athens and connections from nearby Kymi on Evia were limited for years. This accounts for the undisturbed tradtional lifestyle still found on Skyros. There is an airport now, but the island retains its distinctive charm. You may still see older residents in the traditional baggy blue trousers, black caps or long headscarves.
The pre-Lenten Carnival features three characters: the old man in goat costume, the Frank (foreigner), and the Korela, a man dressed as a woman. The three perform the goat dance, or Horos tou Tragou. The young men in goat masks, hairy jackets and jangling copper goat bells dance down the streets of Skyros Town. They are followed by the Frank, dressed in a ragged outfit and blowing a conch shell to scare the children. Each of the men in goat masks has a partner, a man dressed as a bride but also in a goat mask. The revelry includes singing, dancing, performances, recitations, plus lots of eating and drinking. Everyone dresses up in fancy clothes and joins in the fun.
The Carnival traces its roots back to the Dionysian goat worship festivals of pagan times. Goats have been an important part of Skyros' history. Skyros is known for its goat meat and goat milk even today.
The cross-dressing dancers have a long history on the island as well. According to legend, Skyros was the hiding place for the boy Achilles. King Lykomides of Skyros raised him as a girl in an attempt to circumvent a prophecy about the Trojan War. Odysseus discovered the secret, however, and took Achilles off to Troy where he distinguished himself in battle.
You'll see a double-headed eagle motif in the local art. This harks back to the time when Theseus was buried on Skyros. His spirit was seen at Marathon so the Delphic oracle sent the Athenians to Skyros to bring Theseus' bones to Athens. The grave on Skyros was revealed by a she-eagle. During Byzantine times, a much-resented upper class lived in Skyros, which lead to the double-headed eagle motif.
More recently, the poet Rupert Brooke was laid to rest on Skyros during World War I. His grave is at Tris Boukes, at the southernmost point of Skyros.
Skyros has kept its originality and traditions making it a unique experience, in spite of its handy airport.
This island has a reputation as a safe island for solo women travelers. It is home to a number of English and Dutch expats. Avoid the beach at Basales, it is sewage-prone.
Check Joy Koulentianou's book The Goat Dance of Skyros for a description of the annual carnival.