A daytrip to Aegina in winter

aegina day tripThe heavy snow in Athens and throughout Greece made headlines this February in one of the most rare winter in Athens with a heavy snow fall that kept only 2 days unfortunately. The temperature on Monday and Tuesday (18th and 19th) was between -5 and -1 centigrade in Athens, but on Wednesday we woke up to glorious blue skies and the streets bathed in golden sunshine. With a sudden change in temperature, soaring to a delicious 17 degrees, it seemed the perfect day to do the Athenian thing and take a day trip to Aegina.

Only 30 km away from Piraeus, the 40 minute hydrofoil trip at 22 euros return and leaving every half-hour was money well spent.
The only problem with hydrofoils however, is that there is very little outer deck and, if you want to enjoy the trip, and watch the scenery whilst having a smoke the only place to do this is the small open deck at the back of the craft. Nevertheless, the boat was practically empty and we were the only two who wanted to stand outside and enjoy the amazing views created by the crystal clean atmosphere that gave a visibility of dozens of miles.

As the boat was leaving the Port of Piraeus you could see the whole Attica Basin and the still snowy peaks of Parinitha, Penteli and Hymetus mountains. Within 10-15 minutes of departure we were passing over the west coast of Salamina, where fleets of cargo and container ships lay in anchorage near and around the coast of Salamina waiting their turn to unload or load their goods from the commercial Port of Piraeus in Keratsini and Ikonio. After only a further 5 minutes Salamina is left behind and, in the distance to the south, Aegina can already be seen across the glittering blue Saronic Gulf.

Our approach from the north side of the island gave us enchanting vistas of the numerous villas that have been built on Aegina in the last 20 years. These properties are owned mostly by Athenians as summer houses but also many people from Europe have seen Aegina as the perfect place for a summer residence as well. Just before the hydrofoil turns south towards the port of Aegina we speed past the newly built, huge marina with all kinds of yachts and crafts moored up for the winter months.

Finally, there shines Aegina town, the first capital of Unified Greece. Perhaps it is because of this that Aegina Town still maintains an aura of ‘aristocratic sophistication’ with its wide promenade lined with cafes, its typical neoclassical buildings and attractive 19th century villas, and its elegant ponies and old-fashioned carriages lined up waiting to take you around the town. There is also a beautiful church and, the prettiest of all, the tiny church of Saint Nicholas which stands at the entrance to the port. This tiny church is our first stop after the hydrofoil docks and we enter into its beautifully painted interior to light candles for our loved ones.

Strolling on a carriage

carriage-aeginaI made my first visit to Aegina when I was only 6 years old, and have visited it many times since, but I had never before taken a ride in a pony and carriage. This trip however, the first thing I did, after lighting candles at St. Nicholas church, was to take a 30 minute carriage ride – not to see the attractions as advertised but mostly to enjoy 30 minutes of carriage riding through the beautiful streets of Aegina and out amongst the pistachio trees and pines. Though it was February, the almond trees were in full blossom and the landscape was alive with the whispering of the coming of springtime..

It was already 2pm when Dimitris our carriage driver brought us back to the main promenade. We then took a stroll through the pedestrianised streets of the town with its numerous shops of all kinds. Aegina has this amazing advantage of being an island with all that is most charming about all Greek islands, and also is a highly developed suburb of Athens in matters of shopping, eating out and night life. Music bars, night clubs, cinemas, fashion boutiques are all here. It is something that is rarely found anywhere else – a combination of an idyllic island with all the bonuses of a big city suburb.

apollo aeginaThere is also plenty of history to be found on the island. Very close to the port of Aegina is the ancient Apollo Temple, the remains of which are a few metres away from Avra beach. here too is the museum that has ancient relics from that time as well as exhibits and information of how Aegina came to have the first printing press, museum, library and Mint of modern Greece.

Also there still stands the beautiful Markelos Tower which was built in the 19th century by Spyros Markelos a member of the Greek Parliament and one of the local leaders during the Greek war of Independence, the tower was the headquarters of the Greek government from 1826-1827 and from 1828-1829 was used for offices of the Greek cabinet as well as other buildings founded by Ioannis Kapodistrias the first Governor of Greece.

Aegina in public culture

Here, too you can find many beautiful neoclassical villas, one of which was used in the 1960s film, ‘Holidays in Aegina’ starring a very young Aliki Vougiouklaki and Andreas Barkoulis. Indeed, this film as well as all the other attractions of the island have made Aegina one of the most popular holiday resorts for Greeks in Athens and Piraeus.

I asked Dimitris, the carriage driver, if the Aegina people live and work on the island or whether many of its population commute over to the mainland for their daily work. He told me that almost 90% of the population live and work on the island, employed as pistachio farmers, fishermen, retail workers or in the tourist business.

Real estate also is flourishing all over the island. Unfortunately for us, the prices of the beautiful apartments and villas are only affordable to those with large amounts of money!

Eating at Skotadis Kafe restaurant in Aegina

aegina-cafeAfter our stroll we stopped for lunch in one of the most well-known places in Aegina the Skotadis Kafe restaurant. Dream of the best Greek mezes and you will find it here! Kalamaris, merides, shrimps, octopus, grilled biftekia (Greek hamburgers), chops and keftedes (meat balls), mixed salads of broccoli, courgettes and horta, skordalia and tirokafteri – all there to enjoy with a karafaki of ouzo or a kilo of red wine or Retsina. We feasted like kings and finally waddled off to buy some souvenirs to remind us of our wonderful winter’s day trip to this beautiful sunny island.

Weighed down now by not only our sumptuous lunch but also a large clay Stamna pot (typical of the region) a half a kilo of home grown pistachio nuts, jars of honey stuffed full of pistachio nuts and bags of the marshmallow-like Greek sweet, Vanilla, made of mastic and sugar we rested at a nearby café, drinking coffee and eating the traditional ipovrihio – ‘submarine’ (a wonderfully smooth and chewy concoction of mastic, vanilla, pistachio and sugar which clings in a sweet, gooey clump to the spoon immersed in a glass of water) until the hydrofoil came in to take us back to Piraeus.

See the Aegina map and enjoy as well our pictures of Aegina from this unforgettable day trip.