On any given Friday afternoon, after finishing the week’s tasks, many an Athenian will head to the port of Piraeus to catch a boat to start their weekend in Aegina.
A mere 45 minutes by hydrofoil from the port, Aegina is a small island which operated as the first capital of the newly formed Greek state after the country won independence from Ottoman rule in 1821.
Today Aegina is more famous for its PDO pistachios, the ancient temple of Aphaia and the horse-drawn carts that amble along the port next to the traditional fishing boats: just a few of the charms of this Saronic island that make it a wonderful getaway from the Greek capital. Close enough for a day or weekend trip, it also has plenty of delights to reward even longer stays. Below are just a few of the main reasons to put a trip to Aegina on any Athens itinerary:
The Street Food and Museums
If you arrive in Aegina early in the morning, you will see the local fishermen returning from the sea and cleaning and mending their nets in the harbor. Among the fishing boats two will stand out: rather than offering the day’s catch these have been converted into floating grocery shops offering fresh fruit and vegetables and are among one of the most photographed sights on the island.
Purchase some cherries or grapes to nibble on the road and start your excursion. You can walk to the archaeological site of Kolona where you can see the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo and then continue to the Christos Kapralos Museum where you can see works by the renowned Greek artist dating from 1963 to his death in 1993.
If the day is too hot for walking, don’t hail a cab – opt instead for a horse-drawn cart. Several wait by the harbor offering rides to tourists. The driver will also likely act as your tour guide, his enthusiasm more than making up for any patchy English.
Picnicking in an ancient olive grove
Watch the sun go down through the trees of the ancient olive grove on the slopes of Mount Oros – the island’s highest peak – where the view is incredible. The grove is located in a valley and features ancient olive trees whose trunks are living sculptures shaped by nature.
Despite the site having been used by none other than Hermes for a fashion campaign, it remains off most visitors’ radars and you can enjoy it almost entirely for yourself for a picnic or perhaps a spot of yoga.
A road trip through the pines
Along the coast, the route to Aghia Marina – an area that was full of tourists in the 70s and 80s – today has a retro nostalgia and is covered in pine trees.
Go as far as the ancient Temple of Aphaia which is exceptionally well preserved. Ancient myths would have it that is was dedicated to Vritomartis, the daughter of Zeus and Karmis who, in order to escape from king Minoas and a fisherman who had fallen in love with her, hid in a forest on the island protected by Artemis and with help from the goddess became invisible (aphanti in Greek – hence the name Aphaia).
When the atmosphere is clear, the Acropolis in Athens and the temple of Poseidon in Sounio are both visible from the hilltop.
Beaches for all
On the road to the fishing village of Perdika you will find the most well-known, organized beaches.
Marathonas A is a sandy stretch that is great for families. At shaded tables delicious mezes are served that are liable to keep you there until very late in the day. At Marathonas B the average age drops significantly. Here you will find sunbeds and many beachgoers working on their tans while playing beach racquets.
Aeginitissa is a similarly cosmopolitan affair with loud music, hammocks, a dedicated area for racquets and pistachio flavored mojitos. If you have the time for the half-hour drive along the coast, the two beaches of Kleidi (aka Klima) and Sarpa located after Perdika feature crystal blue-green waters despite the fact that they can also get quite busy.
Ouzo at the cafes
“Did you see us in the French Gala?” Michalis Moiras asks me as he serves me a Greek coffee in his traditional café in the port which first opened its doors in 1952. Julie Gayet, the famous French actress and the partner of former French President Francois Hollande recently came to Aegina for a fantastic photoshoot that accompanied an interview published in the March issue of the magazine.
Among the spots featured were the town hall, the charming seaside village of Perdika and the café run by the Moiras brothers. In the picture from the latter Gayet appears flanked by two patrons as if she is a figment of their imaginations. “She was beautiful and very gracious. When she was leaving she kissed the two gentlemen who took part in the photoshoot and drank some pistachio liquer,” Michalis tells me.
You will see some of the Gala photos framed on the walls of the café together with portraits of the other personalities – famous and not – who regularly pass by for a glass of ouzo and to share their daily troubles (with the conversation often ending in fits of laughter).