Life’s a Beach: The Saronic Gulf Islands
It’s officially beach season in Greece. Or the southern bit, at any rate. From Halkidiki all the way down to Crete, the summer rays are making their first forays into the land of olives and feta. We welcome it. With open arms and squinting faces.
If you’re in Athens that usually means finding the nearest beach. And while that isn’t necessarily an issue (the greater Attica region has more than you can shake a selfie stick at), it does mean having to navigate through the traffic, battling the gps in full heat, often with unknown results. There may be many, but boy, you’d give an arm and a leg for a tour guide. The whole experience could potentially eat into your day. And you certainly don’t want that.
Instead, you could forego the city beaches and opt for a nearby island chain. Saaaay, the Saronic Gulf islands?
At no more than 2 hours away on boat and a price of admission that wouldn’t surpass your entire beach expenditure (gas, loungers, food), these islands are mana from heaven. And judging by the amount of Athenians and locals that frequent them, they almost certainly are.
The Saronic Gulf islands are comprised of Aegina, Poros, Hydra, Agistri and Spetses with a few other smaller uninhabited islets scattered around for good measure.
Spetses is by all accounts the Athenian elite’s favourite hangout. Owing to the large maritime tradition of the island as a seafaring one, the marina is dotted with spectacular neo-classical old merchant’s houses and opulent structures. The legendary female admiral Bouboulina used the island as a springboard from which to attack Ottoman ships, and every September the burning of a wooden boat signals the beginning of the Armata-the festival that pays homage to the rebel fighter.
Nearby Hydra seems to be the international crowd’s favourite. With nothing else but donkeys to get you round this car-free island its little wonder this place has attracted bohemians and free thinkers. Illustrious celebrities such as Leonard Cohen, Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Anthny Quinn, Elizabeth Taylor as well as Tom Hanks are some of the island’s well known guests. The allure of the island lies in its laid back ambience and no frills pretenses.
Poros is home to a large nautical base and is thusly an all-round year island destination with spectacular beaches and basic infrastructure that only adds to its appeal. It is an acquired taste.
And then theres Aegina and its old money clique. (Varoufakis has a house there, so you know the crowd is eclectic). A little like Spetses in that regard, Aegina is a rich Athenian’s haunt. The island boasts some terrific ruins, the temple of Aphaia being the most important.
Agistri, the lesser known of these islands has great beaches like Skala and Aponissos and is ideal for weekend getaways or even one day excursions for families. Even though it doesn’t register too high on people’s radar, the mere fact it doesn’t should excite you. Less tourists is always a good thing.
The Saronic Gulf islands are what dreams are made of. In the middle of the summer heat, they are just what you need.