So near to the mainland and yet so far, Aegina offers a surprisingly unspoilt escape. Aegina, a small and charming island in the Saronic Gulf, will give you a taste of all the other Greek islands. Though only an hour from Athens by ferry, this place feels worlds away from the bustling capital.. Its long summers and mild winters make it a year-long holiday destination. You’ll find antiquities and traditional tavernas, a port town with a 19th-century atmosphere, beaches forswimming practically all year round, deserted Byzantine chapels, pine-clad hills, acres of pistachio orchards and mounds of freshly roasted pistachios. Visit Perdika and you could be in a Cycladic village; or the Temple of Aphaia and you’ll discover one of Greece’s most memorable sanctuaries.
What to do in Aegina
A retro ride around Aegina’s town
First explore the old town. But before you set off, don’t forget to buy a bag of those pistachios. If you’re feeling romantic or just a little laid-back, you can take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage and be transported instantly back to the 19th century. Close to Athens, in the heart of the Saronic Gulf, you’ll enjoy picture-perfect imagery. You’ll pass the dazzling white chapel of Agios Nikolas, brightly painted fishing caiques, some of which double as floating greengrocers, and the fish market with almost as many tavernas as stalls. Make sure you come back here to sample the seafood with a glass of ouzo.
Here and there stand imposing neoclassical buildings and monuments, vestiges from the early post-independence days when Ioannis Kapodistrias, the country’s first governor, made Aegina its capital. Venture into the side streets and you’ll find cafes in shaded courtyards, galleries, and shops selling hand-painted ceramics, clothes and various knick-knacks.
The power of Ancient Greece
On your trip to Aegina, you’ll come across the well-preserved columns of the Temple of Aphaia, an ancient temple predating the Parthenon. Rising up out of a pine forest above the bay of Agia Marina, the peaceful setting invites you to sit down for a while, feel the ancient energy of Greece and ponder the mysterious triangle connecting this temple, Sounion’s temple of Poseidon to the east and the Parthenon, a symbol of the mighty embrace of Athens perhaps.
Paleahora: A stroll through mediaeval Aegina
For a glimpse of a more recent era, a stroll along the steep hillside of Paleohora will take you back to Byzantine Aegina. This was the island’s capital, where the islanders moved to be out of sight of the cut-throat pirates who scoured the Aegean for victims. All that is left are the remnants of its many 38 stone chapels. As you explore them, you’ll find yourself scrambling to the top of the hill to see the twin chapel of Saints George and Demetrius where the medieval fortress once stood. The hike is especially delightful in spring when wild flowers carpet the slope.
Agios Nektarios: a place of pilgrimage
Orthodox Christians from all over flock to the 20th- century church of Agios Nektarios to honour Greece’s first modern saint, whose embalmed body is considered to have miraculous powers.
The Monastery of Agios Nektarios
Orthodox pilgrims have been coming here for years, to worship at the holy monastery of Agios Nektarios, said to have been a miracle worker.
A trip to Perdika
No island should be explored solely by land. Charter a yacht or a speedboat at Kalamaki and you can sail into the little fishing port of Perdika in no time. You may only be in the Saronic Gulf, but you’ll think you’ve reached the Cyclades; whitewashed houses, flower-lined steps, fish tavernas on stilts just like in the postcards. You can even enjoy a second island at the same time, since little Moni, with its emerald waters, lies a mere 10 minutes offshore.