Of all the little islands in the Saronic gulf, this one is kept off the tourist map as an Athenian’s little secret; a small island just 35 kilometers from Piraeus, covered easily with a 40-minute Flying Dolphin (hydrofoil) ride or a 75-minute trip with a ferry. Such a short trip means it is “no big deal” for Athenians to get there, while the island itself is so beautiful that it had the Huffington Post declare it “the most beautiful Greek island that you haven’t heard of”. Being so near the Greek capital, it is ideal for a day-trip but, at the same time, it is an interesting place where you can easily spend a couple of weeks.
Aegina is like a survival kit; it includes everything your vacation needs, in small doses; the splendid 5th-century Temple of Aphaia and the magical Paleohora ruins, feature among its ancient sites; a diverse mix of beautiful beaches to cool down – from sandy bays with beach bars, sunbeds and umbrellas, to rocky ones that call for a straight dive from a cliff; a small collection of villages to visit (Agia Marina, Perdika, Souvala, Vagia), all in cycling distance between them. In terms of activities, a plethora of sailing, walking, hiking, cycling, clubbing, shopping, wining & dining opportunities is available, giving you many options for every different day.
Most of the beaches worth visiting are scattered along the routes from Aegina to Perdika and from Aegina to Souvala, so, there lies an exploration opportunity. Even on foot! The north and west coasts are fairly flat, well-populated, and easily accessible; the southeast is more rugged and wild, with smaller mountain- and port-villages.
Aside of its port, which gets very busy following the disembarkation of each ferry-load, Aegina has the seductive, easy-going character of a typical Greek island off the tourist grid. Weekending Athenians and laid-back locals give it the air of a nice Athens suburb, with good restaurants and a relaxed pace of life.
Its most famous sight is the ancient Temple of Aphaia; a wonderful ancient Greek temple, that merits a day’s visit in its own right. Dating from 500 BC, the temple is dedicated to goddess Athena; it predates the Parthenon in Athens’ Acropolis and is located near the small town of Agia Marina on the side east of the island. The list of other sights is quite long, including Paleachora’s Byzantine ruins and the museum and archeological site at Kolona, to name some. The site of Kolona hosted the ancient Greek Temple of Apollo, which was built in the 6th century BC, but only one pillar is left from the temple; the Orthodox Christian church of Agios Nectarios is one of the biggest churches in Balkans.
This small island is rich in history. After all, back in the classical era of Greek history it competed with mighty Athens for domination of the Aegean Sea thanks to its fleet! Aegina also served as the first Capital of the newly-founded Greek state right after the revolution (1826-1827). On this small place the first European democracy of the then Ottoman-ruled Balkans was established. Ioannis Kapodistrias was the appointed Governor, and he immediately began building the nation’s first three educational institutions; an orphanage for the hundreds of kids that lost their parents in the war against Turkey; a school for them; and a “Central School”, to train 700 teachers who would subsequently educate the country’s youth. The newly found state’s beginnings are evident on many of the neoclassical buildings still standing, often next to traditional houses.
The diversity of building styles, covering many eras, make for an interesting architectural tour, especially if you add the “modern” 1960’s vacation homes by famous Greek architects, like Pikionis. The island’s relaxing atmosphere and proximity to the capital have convinced many artists to move permanently here, along with many upper-class Athenians that wanted to evade the densely urban character of Athens.
The absolute must-try food is pistachios, for which the island is especially proud. They practically are the island’s most famous protected designation of origin (P.D.O.) product; these hard-shelled pistachios have a distinctive taste acquired from the extra-dry climate and the volcanic ground of the island, and are famous around the world. Not to miss is also Moni, the little island which is located just off the shore from Perdika and which can be reached by boat on a daily basis.
For more information about Aegina, please visit the website We Love Aegina!