I meet a fellow Athenian who’s lived in the Greek capital for over 35 years, and yet she’s never been to the island of Aegina. “I hear it’s nice,” she said. I gulp and blink. If you’re standing on the Acropolis looking out to sea, Aegina resembles a smoky blue, slumbering whale of mythical proportions. There’s no mistaking the island’s powerful presence. Let me show you, in a mere day trip, why this Saronic Gulf giant is so much more than “nice”.
One hour away to
a different world
It’s a near empty ferry – me and the priests and a handful of passengers – slicing through the calm sea from the port as early morning sun kisses Piraeus rooftops. I switch off my mobile phone for the day. Ferries go every hour. The return service costs about €14. This inexpensive yet transformative trip – from urban jumble to timeless island – takes only 60 minutes. The Flying Dolphin takes 35 minutes, and costs double the price of a ferry. More people prefer the slow boat, but imagine that – just 35 minutes and you’re in another world.
Temple of Apollo
A caffe freddo and a cheese pie later, I’m here already and walking from the Aegina ferry terminal to the Temple of Apollo on the Hill of Kolona. Less than 1km away. No-one else is here, except the museum caretaker. It’s quiet and warm, almost soporific. OK, only one column still stands (hence the name of the hill), but it’s well worth a visit. Views across the Saronic Gulf are dizzyingly beautiful. Shades of azure, cerulean and white ribbons of faraway clouds. The temple was erected in the 4th Century BC, with several other temples also built on the site. The museum – opened in 1828 – has over 1,000 examples of ancient vases and a majestic marble sphinx. €3 entry fee. Ancient sites are closed on Mondays.
Swim, swim some more
Between the Hill of Kolona and the port is the small Kamagio Beach, blessed with some of the most glittering turquoise water I’ve ever swum in. The ocean sparkles even more in September and October (when I visit). The waste treatment plant for the island has been shifted to the other end of Aegina, and what was previously so-so water quality in Aegina town has turned into something so clear, I think it rivals Tahiti. It’s two minutes’ walk to al fresco dining on the waterfront.
There’s a hot water shower on Kamagio available near the beach cafe, for 50 euro cents. Aegina’s beaches aren’t generally Greece’s most glorious, however there are 20 small beaches to choose from. You’ll find a cove to suit your taste. With water quality like this, I’m as happy as a clam. Next to the beach, workers stripped to the waist are repairing fishing boats, their backs to the dazzling sea.
Sip cafenion life
My Greek coffee costs €1. For that price, I also get a glass of chilled water, a gracious smile from the waiter, and a view of the waterfront – blindingly vivid blue and white -on a flawless day. What’s not to love?
Explore back streets
The back streets of Aegina town contain many examples of fine neoclassical villas and traditional island architecture. It’s a lot more than souvenir shops. This is an island with its own robust life existing long before tourism. All the components of everyday existence are crammed into these narrow streets. Grocery stores and pharmacies, boutiques, tiny bars and tavernas, florists and curio shops, butchers and bakeries. Ouzeries serve local fare, not tourist food. Aegina is known as an artist’s island – ceramics, photography, painting and sculpture – and small galleries abound. Artworks are also randomly displayed in doorways, in people’s front yards and on the street.
Walk, bike, bus
I mostly walk around today, but also go by bus to Agia Marina over the other side of the island. Agia Marina is a family resort area with a wide pebbly beach. Takes about 40 minutes winding over the hills (the bus station is close to the ferry terminal) from Aegina town. Scenery on the way: Groves of gnarled olive trees, a red-tiled monastery, whitewashed houses with inky blue and deep green shutters, scarlet bourgainvilleas tumbling across stone walls. A ferry and Flying Dolphin service is direct to Piraeus from there. Buses will take you to all parts of the island, but be aware they don’t run every 5 minutes. Cars, quad bikes and scooters are available for hire. Taxis are cheap. It pays to ask, before you get into the cab, what the fare will be. You can also take a horse and buggy ride along the main street.
The one thing I dislike about Aegina and it’s also glaringly obvious to visitors: Stray dogs, and the many stray cats, so desperately sad and hungry they fight over oily tissue paper in rubbish bins. If you’re visiting, please feed the animals or contribute to animal welfare on the island. I buy several kilos of fresh sardines (only €4 per kg from this stall at the fish market on the waterfront) and feed every stray cat I can see. The plight of animals is a jarring contrast to Aegina’s beauty. Yup, I’m a nutty cat lady. And proud.
The Charity of Animal Protection has a sterilisation program for strays, but I would venture to say the problem is bigger than solutions available. Call Vivi Iakovidis on 22970 23257 to donate. Aegina has a dog shelter which also needs funds.
The Citizens Initiative for the Enforcement of Animal Welfare Law is worth a try. For more info write to email@example.com. Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες ή για να συμμετάσχετε ενεργά στην Κίνηση Πολιτών, επικοινωνήστε στο firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m too late back from another swim to get the return ferry to Piraeus. I buy a bag of pistachio nuts from a store (as you do) to munch on the Flying Dolphin instead. I’m dragging my feet up the gangplank. I really don’t want to leave.
My friend Paul Thomas (we worked together in the Athens coastal suburb of Glyfada) saw this post and comments:
“The great thing about taking off to these islands for a weekend… before mobiles and internet and when telephone connections to the islands were a joke… was… as the ferry pulled out of Piraeus you could take a swig of your Amstel and know the world could end but you wouldn’t know about it till Monday.”
It still kinda feels like that!
More travel tips for
an Aegina day trip
- Bus X96 will take you between 60 and 90 minutes from the airport to the port of Piraeus for the ferry and Flying Dolphin.
- There are three-islands-in-one-day tours, but I think you’ll get more from taking a full day.
- July and August, like most Greek islands, Aegina is busting at the seams. Although if you can find a hillside hideaway to stay in, it’s relatively peaceful. I recommend Aegina in the shoulder and off seasons.
- Yoga lessons during summer on the beaches of Vagia, Agia Marina, Marathonas Beach B, Souvala and Agii.
- Temple of Aphaia is 12km from Aegina town. The Temple of Apollo is only a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal.
- Archaeological Museum in Aegina town was the first museum in Greece, built in 1829. Excellent value.
- Pistachio Festival is held September 17-20 annually, to celebrate the nut which provides a valuable income. Food, wine, dancing, singing.
- Neighbouring tiny island of Agistri can easily be reached by ferry or Flying Dolphin services.
- Islet of Moni off the coast of Aegina is an animal sanctuary with good swimming. Day trips only.
- Late September to May, it’s good weather (mostly) for walking tours. Summer months too hot for lengthy walks.
*No images were Photoshopped or enhanced for the purpose of this post. Aegina’s beauty needs no embellishment.