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Plan Your Saronic Gulf Islands Vacation

Only have a few days in Greece but need to taste island life? One of the Saronic isles offers the perfect solution. Called the "offshore islands" by day-tripping Athenians, they are treasured for their proximity to the burly city. Just south of hectic Piraeus, Aegina still feels like another world. Heading southward you'll find chic and cosmopolitan Hydra, a fitting stage for one of Sophia Loren's first forays into Hollywood. Finally, there is splendid Spetses, anchored off mainland Kosta—a playground prized by carefree vacationing Greeks.

The Saronic gulf islands, whose ancient city-states rivaled Athens, are now virtually a part of the capital. Aegina, one of the most-visited islands in Greece because of its proximity to the capital, is 30 minutes from Piraeus by hydrofoil, while Spetses, the most "remote" and the greenest of the Saronic islands, is 120 minutes away. South of the Argolid, the peninsula that divides the Saronic gulf from the gulf of Argolis, rests Hydra, poor in beaches but rich in charm.

Aegina’s pretty country villas have drawn shipping executives, who often commute daily from the island to their offices in Piraeus. Here pine forests mix with groves of pistachio trees, a product for which Aegina is justly famous. Hydra and Spetses are farther south and both ban automobiles. Hydra’s stately mansions, restaurants, and boutiques cater to the sophisticated traveler and art lover. Spetses has both broad forests and regal, neoclassical buildings. Rather than being spoiled by tourism, all four islands have managed to preserve their laid-back attitude, well suited to the hedonistic lifestyle of weekend pleasure-seekers arriving by yacht and hydrofoil.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Handsome Hydra The place for the jet-setter who appreciates walking more than showing off new wheels, Hydra offers both tranquility and sociability—a bustling main town and abundant walking trails. What’s here (stone houses set above a welcoming harbor) and what’s not (cars) provide a relaxing retreat.
  2. Ship-Shape Spetses A fine jumping-off point for the Peloponnesian shore, cosmopolitan Spetses is famed for its Spetsiot seafaring tradition—not surprisingly, the Old Town harbor is car-free and picture-perfect.
  3. Ancient Aegina Not far from this vast island’s medieval Paliachora—with nearly 20 churches—is the Temple of Aphaia, one of Greece’s best-preserved Archaic sites. Aegina’s isle is the closest Saronic island to Athens’s port of Piraeus.
  4. Pistachio Perfection You can already taste them—salty, sweet, mellow—and the best pistachio nuts anywhere may come from Aegina.

When To Go

When to Go

The weather on the islands tends to be the same as in Athens, though the heat can feel more intense on the arid peaks of Aegina and Hydra. The...

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