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Aegina, Greece

A Day In Aegina

Aegina Church There is nothing like a day trip to one of the nearby Saronic islands to help a father bond with his eight-year-old daughter after a year of computer work and grade school have kept us separated. Andrea had a meeting with a lawyer to go over the property rights to the land she might or might not inherit. To Amarandi and I this seemed like it would be boring. She wanted to go to Poros where we had spent a week the previous summer but because it was early April and there was still a chill in the air, I assured her that the swimming pool at the Saga hotel would be closed, since I knew that was the only reason she wanted to go there. It was my idea to go to Aegina which was closer. We fed Andrea her coffee to get her going and put her in a taxi while we walked from the Hotel Attalos the 2 blocks to the Monastiraki metro station and got on the train to Pireaus.

Aegina Ferry BoatWe arrived at the harbor and after crossing the pedestrian bridge that separates the Pireaus metro station from the ferryboats, we got on a ferry to the main town in Aegina that was leaving in just a few minutes. We went through the lounge which was full of cigarette smoke and the noise of video games and made our way to the top deck where it was sunny and warm. I was still a little tired and I wished I had bought my sleeping bag to spread out on the deck so I could take a little snooze on the way, but I had to be satisfied with sitting in a chair and watching the ferry pass by the cruise ships in the harbor and then the tankers and freighters anchored outside the harbor. Amarandi pulled out her book and happily read until we were close enough to see the houses on Aegina and the scenery became more interesting to her. Aegina is only about an hour and fifteen minutes from Pireaus on a regular ferry and half that on a flying dolphin hydrofoil so there is hardly enough time to get bored on the boat.

Aegina, Greece The port of Aegina is a busy one with ferries, flying dolphins, cruise ships, catamarans and fishing boats sailing in and out, depositing people, cars and fish. We had picked a perfect day to visit. The sun was shining and the town was buzzing with people enjoying the day in the cafes, restaurants and ouzeries. Aegina is known for their small ouzeries and fish mezedes and there are a number of these places on the waterfront and on the back streets, easily recognizable by the small grills and the octopus cooking on them. Athenians come here to escape the city, drink ouzo, eat seafood and watch the fishing boats. When we arrive, the first thing Amarandi sees is the line of horse-drawn carriages and I can't think of a good enough reason to not take a little spin around the port and get a feel for the place. It enables me to get my bearings and it is great fun for Amarandi who sits in front with the driver. who points out the churches and the pistachio farms, the trees still leafless. We follow the coast and then circle back getting off where we started.

ancient ruins of Aegina and temple of Apollo with Aegina town in the background As you face the village and walk to your left there is a row of seafood restaurants along the waterfront, all with signs saying the special of the day is sea-urchin salad and each with a grill loaded with octopus. We continue to walk past the first beach and the small boatyard towards the area known as Koloni, named for the lone column that remains from the ancient temple of Apollo that stood on this site on a small hill overlooking the port. Aegina was a major power in the classical Greek times and for a period Athens main competitor. There is a small museum on the site that we went through in about 4 minutes, though someone with a deeper interest in antiquities than my daughter and I might be able to spend a longer time examining the ancient pottery that has been found in the area. The archaeological site itself is fairly impressive and the view from the temple of the ferries coming and going from the port makes it a good spot to visit even if you have no interest in ancient Aegina.

Aegina town beach But it was from here that Amarandi spotted the beautiful beach on the far side and could not help but notice that there were indeed people swimming, and once she had made up her mind there was no way I could deter her. I tried telling her that these people were a local chapter of the Polar Bear Club and this early spring swim was a painful rite of passage and that they were most likely suffering severely. But this did not convince her and so we trudged back into town to find a shop that sold bathing suits and towels since we were completely unprepared. After walking all the way through the back streets of the town and stopping in several shops with no success, we ended up on the opposite side near the cathedral. I took the opportunity of calling Andrea on my Greece-Travel Phone with the hopes that she could convince Amarandi that swimming was a foolhardy idea or even just putting her foot down and not permitting me to let her go swimming, enabling me to remain the 'good guy' for awhile. But when we told her our plan she thought that was a great idea, since she was in Athens and it was a couple degrees hotter there and she probably wished she could jump in the sea too.

Aegina PortWe walked back along the dock, all the while Amarandi keeping her eyes open for a shop that might sell bathing suits and me trying to distract her by showing her things of interest. We stopped at the boats that sell vegetables and Amarandi wanted to go on board but was reluctant to walk up the gangplank. So was I but not because I was afraid, but because I suddenly realized that the sun had been shining on my head for a couple hours and I needed a hat badly. Chances are that the same place that sold the bathing suits would also sell hats, so I joined Amarandi in the search. Finally on one of the pedestrian market streets we found the store with postcards, t-shirts and they said bathing suits. Amarandi went with the girl to try some on while I tried on the only pair in the store that would possibly fit me since it really was too early for people to be buying bathing suits and their supplies were low. I also bought a baseball cap that said 'Hellas' on it that Andrea made me give away as soon as she saw it because it made me look like a tourist. (She said I could wear it in the states if I wanted to.) I also had to buy a large towel to dry off with after we came out of the freezing Aegean and of course a gym bag to carry the wet bathing suits and towels back to Athens. Amarandi found a bathing suit she liked and we paid the bill. This little swim was costing us $75.

Port of Aegina We made our way back along the quay and through the trees to the beach only to find that the Polar Bear Club had gone home to take hot showers and restore their circulation. Amarandi took off her pants to reveal that she had put her bathing suit on over her underwear. I had to explain that this was not the clear-thinking I had been trying to impart to her when I took the vow of parenthood. Why didn't she remove the underwear when she was in the dressing room? She did not know the answer to this question but it gave me the opportunity to teach her the technique of changing clothes while wrapped in a towel, which all Greek women are adept at. She mastered it quickly and ran into the sea up to her ankles before stopping and standing there waiting for me to make the next move. I stepped in and it felt OK, as water two inches deep that has been warmed by the sun all day would. But when I dived into the deeper water I had a near heart attack and it was all I could do to stay in the sea until I felt I had gotten my seventy-five dollars worth that I had spent on the equipment that had enabled me to take this swim.

Aegina restaurant I got out of the water after about a minute and a half and Amarandi followed. At $75 a minute our swim had cost us more than a ride on the Space shuttle. But at least we were cool and refreshed and ready for the next adventure of the day which was lunch. We found the first seaside taverna that had more Greeks than empty seats and foreigners and sat down. Amarandi wanted the Sea-urchin salad, imagining that it would be served the way I used to feed it to her when I dived down into the sea to catch them and cut them open on the rocks, feeding her the sweet eggs on the tip of my knife. But when I told her that this was most likely going to be some concoction where the eggs actually only make up a small percentage of the entire package, she lost interest. I encouraged her to experiment and if she didn't like it she would not have to eat it and she agreed, but when the waiter came they were out of it. I wondered if they really ever had it or was it a scheme to get us and other sea-urchin lovers into their restaurant. How many of the restaurants were in on it? Were there really sea-urchins available? Who dived into the freezing sea to collect them? We ordered the usual grilled Octopus, fried squid, a horiatiki salata even though the tomatoes were not really in season and a plate of marides, the small fried fish that Amarandi eats the noses and tails off and leaves me the rest. I also had a small plate of marinated anchovies which were delicious and though I was tempted to have an ouzo with them since they go so well together, I decided that I would be a responsible father and not drink during lunch with my daughter.

Agia marina, Aegina After lunch we checked the boat schedules. There did not seem to be a problem getting back to Piraeus. There were boats or flying dolphins at least every hour. Amarandi wanted to take the flying dolphin or the catamaran that stops in Aegina on it's trip to and from Piraeus and the small island of Angistri. But I had a better idea. We took an old beat-up taxi across the island to the beach village of Agia Marina where there was another boat leaving in 5 minutes to Piraeus. The interior of the island was largely agricultural and mountainous with a couple villages along the way and the temple of Hephestus crowning a hill near Aegina town. When we got to Agia Marina we barely had time to take a couple pictures, watch some ducks mating and then get on the boat. As we left the island we passed the hotels of Agia Marina, sitting on rocks on the sea and then rounded the bend where we saw a beach approachable only from the sea which reminded me of the famous Lalaria beach in Skiathos. I realized that Agia Marina would be a great place to stay if you wanted to see Athens and not stay in the city. The high-speed takes less than a half hour to Pireaus and even the slower boat only takes an hour. There are a number of tavernas, a decent beach and what looked like great swimming off the rocks too.

Perdika, AeginaThe island of Aegina is really surprising considering its proximity to Athens. The town is quite traditional and while tourism is in evidence it is still largely Greeks who come here for the day or even for their summer holidays. Most of the ouzeries and restaurants in the back streets have a Greek clientele and serve food that people like me love, but only the most adventurous tourists would be likely to try. There is a great covered fish market in town, a sort of junior version of the public market on Athinas Street in Athens and there are several small traditional restaurants that are in and around it. The fishing village of Perdika is another popular day visit place for Athenians and is full of nice fish tavernas with prices more geared to Athenians than to tourists since most Greeks have a pretty good idea about what fresh fish looks like and how much it should cost. Perdika is also a popular stop for people on sailboats and yachts and has a small but nice beach nearby.  

Beaches in Aegina

Aegina Town BeachThe beaches around the island are pretty good, not great. But it is all relative. If you have not been to the Greek islands before you may think the Aegina beaches are the most beautiful you have ever seen. In my opinion the best swimming is off the rocks beneath the pines on the outskirts of both Agia Marina and Aegina town. But someone from the island could probably tell you a dozen other places to swim that are even better. And if you stay awhile and you are tired of the beaches of Aegina you are just a 15 minute boat ride from the island of Angistri. I also have to mention that even though it is really not my kind of place, just 1 km out of the center of Aegina Town, is the Water Park, a kid's paradise and one I was thankful was not open when we were there or I would never have gotten Amarandi home. The water slides range from the "Kamikaze", for the more daring riders, to the gentler "Twister" for the not so daring ones. There are a couple bars by the pools for parents who need to overcome the stress of watching their child go down a 50 foot water slide a hundred and fifty times in a row. But if you want to pretend this place does not exist chances are your kids will be happy at one of the beaches, and if you go to the more popular ones, like the sandy beach at Agia Marina, the Aegina town beach, or anywhere with sun beds and umbrellas, your kids should be able to find plenty of other kids to play with provided you are there in the summer. See Aegina Beaches.

Hotels in Aegina

Hotels in Ag Marina, AeginaThere are a number of hotels in Aegina town and in Agia Marina if you want to spend more than a day in Aegina. In fact it is not a bad place to base yourself if you don't feel like staying in the city of Athens but still want to see the archaeological sites and museums. You can get from the port of Aegina and be standing on the Acropolis in an hour. In Agia Marina I recommend the Hotel Karyatides. The owner, Sophia, is not only a terrific hostess but a great source of information on the island. If you want to stay closer to the sea, well right on it actually I suggest the Hotel Panorama, which has its own private beach as does the Argo Hotel next door. Actually it is better than a beach. It is a rock platform with steps into the sea which makes the Aegean like your own private pool. Both hotels have their own restaurants right on the sea. For Aegina Town I suggest staying as close as you can to the port since that is where the fun is. The Hotel Rastoni is a 5-minute walk from the beach on an old pistachio farm right on the edge of town. It features colonial-style rooms with free Wi-Fi and balcony overlooking the Saronic Gulf or the lush gardens. Anyway there are lots of hotel choices on Booking.com's Agia Marina page and Booking.com's Aegina Page.

Restaurants and Nightlife

Aegina RestaurantsAegina is known for its nightlife and has several great restaurants and some live music clubs and a number of good bars. Kappos Etsi is owned by chef Dimitris Kappos and is located right behind the cafes in the port. Dimitris is from Aegina and when he graduated from Le Monde Culinary Arts School of Athens he returned to the island to open his restaurant. Combining traditional Greek dishes with his own culinary innovation and using only fresh natural ingredients, this is the type of restaurant you might find in the most cosmopolitan Greek island or European city. The Plaza serves seafood and meat dishes right on the sea between the port and the town beach. My suggestion is to try any of the restaurants close to the market on P. Irioti Street which is the next street up from the port.  You can take your pick of seafood restaurants in Perdika though Remezzo's seems to get high reviews from everyone. I had a meal at Saronis which was just fine. In Agia Marina try the popular Thymari, which has been open for almost 30 years and has attraction a legion of followers who come to the resort town every summer and eat there regularly. As for bars and cafes there are too many to even bother writing about. Just wander around until you fond one that has comfortable chairs and music you can bare. Panta Pei has live rembetika music on weekends as do several other places in Aegina town and unlike most islands there is some nightlife even in the off-season. In the summer there are discos and plenty of action at the beach bars.

Things to See in Aegina

Temple of ApheaeBe sure to visit the Temple of Aphaia located on top of a mountain on the way to Agia Marina. Besides having a spectacular view and one of the most interesting little cafes below it, the temple is a very well preserved example of the Doric style and is the most important archaeological site in the Saronic islands and one of the most important in Greece. It was built in 480 BC when Aegina was at the height of its power and from it you can see the mainland from Athens all the way to Cape Sounion. You can get there by bus or taxi from Aegina town. The site is open every day except Monday. Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8:00 - 18.30. Be sure to check out the furniture in the cafe too, made from ancient columns and stones from the temple.

Paliohora Aegina Another place of interest are the ruins of Paliohora east of Aegina town. This was the capital of the island from the 9th til the 18th century when villages were located inland to be safe from pirates. Aegina was one of the unlucky towns because it was destroyed once by the pirate Barbarossa in 1537 and all the inhabitants were taken away as slaves. All that remains are a number of small churches in various states of restoration but it is an amazing place and well worth the visit. You can also stop at the Monastery of Agiou Nektarou with the enormous new church built recently. The monastery has the remains of Anastasios Kefalas, a hermit monk who died in 1920 and was the first orthodox saint of the 20th Century, canonized in 1961.

Aegina Pistachios

The island of Aegina is famous for its pistachios which some people believe are the best in the world. You can decide for yourself. They are sold in small shops and booths in town including at the Aegina Pistachio Cooperative stand right on the dock next to where you buy your tickets for the ferry boat. In fact I would suggest buying yourself a couple bags at least because you will eat one on the boat and then you will wish you had more to bring back home with you so you can show your friends how good pistachios can be. Or you can pick up the family-size bag.

Aegina is also known as the place where Nikos Kazantzakis wrote Zorba the Greek and any Zorba-file should make a journey to the island for that reason alone. Taxis and buses can take you all over the island.

Before you go be sure to drop a donation into the box for
FAZA: The Friends of the Strays of Aegina and Angistri.This organization feeds all the stray dogs and cats and they have a little stand on the dock where not only can you donate your stray Euros but the stray dogs of the island can feed themselves.

Helpful Aegina Information

Aegina ferry and Flying DolphinFor bookings and information on hotels, car rentals and ferry tickets contact Fantasy Travel in Athens. Boats go back and forth all day long to Aegina Town and you don't need tickets in advance if you don't have a car. Just go to Pireaus in the morning and catch the first boat leaving. If you have a car you may want to book in advance if you plan on going there on a Friday afternoon and coming back on a Sunday evening. The first boat leaves Pireaus at 7am and the last at 18:30. The last boat leaves Aegina at 7 or 8pm. The trip takes an hour. The Flying Dolphin takes 40 minutes and is a lot less comfortable so go with for the ferry. Anyway an hour ferry trip is just about perfect and the waters here are usually calm.

Aegina TownIn Aegina town the most highly regarded hotels by travelers are the Hotel Rastoni, the Electra Pension and the Fistikies Holiday Apartments, all within walking distance of beaches, shops and the waterfront. If you want to be able to walk out the door and jump right into the sea then stay at the Hotel Klonos or the Danae Hotel right next door. The resort village of Agia Marina is less than half an hour from Pireaus by Flying Dolphin but the boat only goes in the summer. That means you can stay there and be on the Acropolis in an hour. Check out the Hotel Karyatides and the Rachel Hotel which are both highly rated by travelers or Hotel Panorama, which is right on the sea as is the Argo Hotel. For more hotels in Aegina also check Booking.com's Aegina Pages. One of the best ways to see Aegina is to stay in Agistri at the popular Agistri Club Hotel.

Aegina is also included in the one-day Saronic Cruise that goes almost every day of the year. Or you can combine Aegina with the islands of Angistri, Poros, Hydra and Spetses as well as Nafplion and The Argolis. You can book these islands through Fantasy Travel or by using my Create-an-Itinerary form

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