The ultimate day trip from Athens
A stone throw away from Athens, the island of Aegina makes for the perfect day trip for those wanting to escape the busyness of the mainland. I dragged my travel friend Nancy with on the 75 minute ferry ride across the Saronic Gulf to explore the land of the pistachio nuts.
The island is iconic in Greek history, and was once the capital of Greece in 1828 before Athens. According to the myth, the island took its name from a nymph, daughter of the river god Asopos, whom Zeus fell in love with and took with him to the island. There is evidence that the island was inhabited from as early as 3500 B.C.
The island is also famous for their year round harvesting of the round shape pistachio nuts. It started here in 1860, and expanded to other parts of Greece. Most of these fields are placed on the western side of the island, because this area is more fertile and less mountainous than other parts of the Island. The EU recognises Aegina as having the best pistachios in the world and are protected.
On first impression this scenic island appeared as a typical greek coastal village. Neo classical houses adorned the streets, horse drawn carts carried locals up and down the promenade and restaurants can be found alongside the harbour.
Even though the island is small, it boasts a great number of archeological sites, and natural beauties. The temple of Aphaia is known as the jewel of the island, and is the main tourist attraction. It forms an equilateral triangle with the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, the so-called “holy triangle” of the antiquity.
On the outskirts of the Aegina town, you can find the charming rustic villages of Kypseli, Agii and Vagia that today resemble a ghost town.
If you are looking at spending the night, I would really recommended spending it in the town of Agia Marina. This tourist hub of the island is set in a beautiful bay with good sandy beaches. Many modern hotels have been built here, and there's a good choice of tavernas, cafes and restaurants. My favourite was the Panorama Hotel perfectly situated on a private rocky beach. The family run business ensures you will be treated like a greek god and goddess. I could only imagine lounging on the deck chairs basking in the sun, then later jumping off a good few meters into the ocean for a cool off.
Nancy and I spent the day exploring the village. Its beautiful, and a few minutes walk between beaches. I always have a tendency to head out towards the more untouched places, and this time was no exception. Nancy was quickly begining to realise my facination for these sort after places that can only be found off the beaten track. I was surprised to see that many buildings were boarded shut, and newspapers covered the windows. We walked past a few abandoned cars, covered in a thick layer of dust, and got the impression that they hadn't been moved for a good couple of years. There were a good few streets with buildings that were once shops that had been completly abandoned. There was no sign of civilaization here, except for a few rats that scurried by. It sadned me that once a bustling villiage, could grind to an absolute hault.
I asked a few locals that I managed to find what was going on, and they told me, that the island was no longer generating money, and that their had been a decline in the number of tourists and locals visiting. Locals had moved off the island. I went during the peak of summer, and you would imagine that an island so close to athens, will be filled with I had a look through a few reviews on trip advisor and didnt come accross as many as one would assume..Prehaps, a few other more wel known isalnds in Greece have taken preference over this 87m2 gem. This locals a good source of information, owned a pistachio nut export business. Here we tried out a pistachio nut butter -similar to the peanaut butter we all know. I bought a few jars, and ate it all before I left the island.
Nancy and I stopped for lunch at the Ao An snack bar. I would love to give you directions on how to get there, but I really don't know how to back track our steps. We walked alot that day.
We spent sunset at the Aegina harbour, while waiitng for our boat to come in. The suns rays gently hit The church of Agios Nikolaos - a dome shaped that is considered the protector saint of sailormen. I glanced over at the 14th century whitewashed chapel of Agios Nikolaosand along the harbour and noticed a young women pushing an elderly lady in a wheel chair.
Other top sites to explore
Temple of Apollo Source
Temple of Ellanios Dia
Moni Agiou Nektariou Monastery
Moni Hrysoleontissas Monastery
Christos Capralos Museum