The Saronic islands from Aegina to Hydra: the sea near Athens
There is no island that is not there: the Saronic islands there are and always have been. Except that many don’t know. Or rather: since they are a stone’s throw (on the water) from Athens and from Peloponnesethe islands of the Saronic gulf they are wildly popular as weekend destinations greeks in general and of Athenians in particular. It is we strangers who do not know them. And that’s a real shame. In reality something, albeit little, is changing and now the Saronic Islands are timidly beginning to attract some tourists, mostly Anglo-Saxon, who combine a visit to the Greece classical with a few days of beach.
We said it: in our country they are still little known. And their names, compared to those of the witches’ cousins Cyclades he was born in DodecaneseI’m almost a surprise: I am Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Spetsesalthough the lesser known islands such as Agistri, Salamis, Patroklou, Vleves and Dokos they have their own charm and are often less crowded. Among other things, reaching them is very easy: there are daily connections from the port of Piraeus, and then from Athens, and also tourist cruise services that even allow you to visit three islands in a single day.
But then don’t complain if you haven’t seen anything and tasted very little of the atmosphere and the beautiful things to discover. Much better, if you can, choose one or two of the islands and go and discover them with a little calm, enjoying their traditional charm, natural splendor and lively atmosphere. Of course, such an experience would be best done at the beginning of Autumn or in late spring when the heat and crowds of the high season do not disturb the air too much on the islands.
So let’s take a small ideal cruise between the Saronic islands starting from a banal observation: there is a lot to see and each island has its own flavor and style. In short, there is something for everyone.
The Saronic islands: Aegina, the enemy of Athens
Aegina is the closest to the mainland among the Saronic islands and for this reason, according to someone, it has turned into a kind of marine suburb of Athens, with nice shops, trendy restaurants and a smug metropolitan and cosmopolitan vibe. But it was not always like this: just rummage through the reminiscences of the gymnasium to remember the ancient rivalry between Aegina and Athenstold in the works of Herodotus, which underlined the military power, in particular maritime, of the island which often appears in mythology. Her name would derive from that of a beautiful woman kidnapped by Zeus – for a change – and here the Myrmidonsa mythical warrior people who fought with Achilles.
This is the legend: the reality is that Aegina offers tourists some places not to be missed such as the well-preserved temple of Aphaiaone of the best preserved on the Greek islands with its 25 columns, and the monastery of Agios Nektarios where 365 churches once stood. But there are also some beautiful beaches, particularly in the south area, like Aiginitίssa, Marathónas, Vaya and Pérdika. The pretty towns of Paleohora and Perdika offer an alternative to the capital, even if they are also here, in the summer months, it is often sold out. An extinct volcano constitutes two thirds of the extension of the island which presents itself with fertile valleys where they are cultivated figs and pistachios. And the latter are famous throughout Greece as well as local pottery.
Ferries from Piraeus take a time between 40 minutes and the time to reach Aegina. On the island then there are buses, taxis and vehicle rentals.
The Saronic Islands: Hydra the beautiful
Considered the most beautiful island of the Saronic Gulf, Hydra he lives on tourism but has made a coherent and courageous choice: the construction of new ones is strictly limited and even the renovations are subjected to checks. In short, here they don’t want skyscrapers to spoil the view. But not only that: also cars are banned. And then you travel to back of donkey and mule. Having said that, it should be remembered that it is a very small island – just 6 km wide and 23 km long – which in the past has seen the presence of numerous shipowners and a rich colony of Greek and other intellectuals. And the big one Leonard Coen since 1960 he lived in a white house right on this island.
There port of Hydra is the main village overlooking the crescent of the port where you can immediately notice the stone buildings built by the shipowners in the eighteenth century. They look like small fortresses and if you can, it is interesting to visit those still well preserved that reveal the subdivision of the interior spaces between men and women. The country, as mentioned, today thrives on tourism and therefore offers a great choice of restaurants, galleries and shops to entice visitors.
The monasteries that were prisons
The streets are picturesque with cobbled climbs and some monuments including the cathedral and monastery converted into a Byzantine museum. Around the island there are other monasteries that in the past were also used as prisons for the fighters of the Greek Revolution. Then there are some other villages like Mandraki, Kamini, Vlychos, Palamidas, Episkopi and Molos but to reach them you have to walk, ride a donkey or pedal. There are several beaches, mostly pebble, with transparent water and calm sea. Among the most beautiful are Spilia, Hidronetta and Mikro Camini precisely near the village of Kamini.
To get to the island from Piraeus they serve approx three hours and there are several lines from the port of Athens.
The Saronic Islands: Poros, the sea and the pine forests
Among the Saronic islands, Poros is known for its particular landscapes, where the rich vegetation made of pine forests and of Mediterranean bush it comes to lap white beaches with crystal clear sea. But not only. Poros is particular because she is not one: but two. It is in fact two islets, Spheria and Kalavria, the former is volcanic and where the modern city is located while the latter is north and larger. And between the two sides there is a bridge. The other peculiarity is given by the fact that Poros is separated from the Peloponnese from a strip of water of a few hundred meters.
This island, according to the dating of the Mycenaean tombs found by archaeologists, it has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and today attracts a large group of tourists who give work and wealth to 4500 inhabitants that make the most of the richness of the place: beaches, fragrant expanses of trees, a beautiful archaeological museum and also a very interesting site like the temple of Poseidon, built around 500 BC, in Doric style and of which about thirty columns remain. The main landmark of the city is the clock tower built in 1927 and around it is pleasant to walk among the neoclassical buildings mixed with traditional taverns and cafes.
Then there are the beaches: and they are often very beautiful. Askeli it is located a few kilometers from the capital and is a long strip of sand with waters that slope into the blue. Bars, hotels, shops and taverns are available near the beach.
A beach with a long history
Pleasant is also the beach of Monastiri which takes its name from the monastery of Zoodochos located on the hill above. The waters are clear and the beach is quiet, perfect for snorkelling too. Finally, a very particular beach among the Saronic islands and beyond: it is the Russian bay beach which in addition to being very beautiful has become a site of historical interest as the first Russian ships arrived here to help the Greek revolution against the Turkish yoke.
To get to Poros from Piraeus there are daily connections that take from 40 minutes to two hours depending on the type of boat. You can also arrive by car from Athens (about 150 km) passing through Epidaurus: after 25 minutes you get to Gallata where you can embark and the crossing takes only 10 minutes.
The Saronic Islands: the elegant Spetses
Spetses it is a beautiful island, the most far from the mainland among the Saronic islands but not for this reason, rightly, it is neglected by tourism. Indeed, it is one of the most popular destinations for Athenians on the weekend. Especially the wealthy Athenians. Yes, because this island is not only beautiful but also pretty exclusive as it always has been. Already in the past she was one of the capitals of commerce and trafficking and the proof is in the splendid houses that still survive today in port of Dapia which is striking for the elegance of the buildings, the squares with mosaics, the trendy cafes and the boutiques.
When the Greek revolution in 1821, local transport ships were transformed into military ships and helped liberate the country. Having become one of the first Greek islands to attract waves of tourists, Spetses offers the visitor beautiful beachespicturesque, interesting bays archaeological finds and various tourist facilities. It should be noted that traffic is limited but not prohibited and that you can move around the island with horses, mules, donkeys, and boats. The capital contains many of the things to see, such as the local museum, and a short distance away is the monastery of Agios Nikolaos, patron saint of sailors; worth the visit but remember to wear long pants and sleeved shirts.
Eat fresh fish while listening to music
Much more informal is the style in the restaurants along the seafront where you can eat freshly caught fish while listening to traditional music. For those who love history and folklore know that in September there is a very heartfelt festival, that of Panaghia Armatawhich recalls the defeat of the Turks by the Greeks during the battle of Argolis in 1822.
The beaches of Spetses, as well as elsewhere, in the Saronic islands, vary according to the area: to the north they are more rocky while to the south there is sand. Among the most beautiful are the golden beach of Paraskevi and that of Agia Marina: it is located a few kilometers from the port and is recognizable by the expanse of trees and a small chapel. Around there are taverns and clubs and there are also some points of archaeological excavations. Agioi Anargiri it is on the southwest coast and is one of the largest and most developed beaches on the island. The deep waters are ideal for water sports and there are various tavernas.
To get to the island of Spetses take the catamaran from Piraeus which takes over two hours to arrive. There are also ferries but the journey time can double.
The Saronic islands: the little Agistri
Finally, to conclude our little trip to the Saronic islands there Agistri, a small island of suns 12 square km and a thousand inhabitants. It is very pleasant but a little quieter than its more famous cousins even if the waves of Athenians looking for relaxation and sea. The beaches are very beautiful and the villages are also full of charm. Megalochori it is the capital and the port and from here the fast boats leave: you can walk among the old stone houses in the narrow alleys where the taverns overlook.
Skala instead it is the main port and here are concentrated hotels and rooms for rent and there is a comfortable and often crowded beach. And if you want to look at the sea from above, go to Metochi: it is located on the slopes of a hill between Skala and Megalochori and enjoys a beautiful view. Agistri can be reached by boat from Piraeus with a journey of about two hours by ferry. There are also links with Aegina and the journey takes only 15 minutes.