Saronic Gulf Greek Islands - Holidays & Hotels
The Greek Saronic Gulf Islands are a popular weekend and summer retreat for Athenians fleeing the smog-filled streets of their traffic congested capital. These are the closest islands to Athens - Aegina is only 35 minutes by hydrofoil from the mainland port of Piraeus - and consequently they attract hordes of Greek visitors along with foreign tour groups and independent island-hoppers who don't have time to venture further afield. The archipelago is named after the mythical King Saron of Argos who is said to have drowned while pursuing a deer that fled into the gulf to escape the royal huntsman's arrows.
Aegina's proximity to Piraeus makes it one of the most visited of all the Greek islands, popular with day trippers and home to many Athenians who commute to the capital each day. Its biggest visitor attraction is the impressive 5th century BC Temple of Aphaia which pre-dates the Parthenon and is one of the best-preserved ancient temples in the whole of Greece. The island's interior is a paradise for hikers with its low mountains concealing wooded valleys, olive groves and endless orchards of pistachios which are the island's biggest export. Aegina Town, on the island's west coast, is a working harbour with some grand old buildings and a very "Greek" feel to it (it's almost a suburb of Athens these days except it's a great deal more attractive than the urban sprawl on the outskirts of the capital). The main east coast resort of Agia Marina is a different world of package holiday hotels and a frantic beach scene of Brit bars, copious watersports and burning foreign bodies.
The island of Poros lies to the south of Aegina, hugging the Peloponnesian coastline which is only a five-minute boat hop away. Poros is actually two islands connected by a road bridge - the tiny volcanic island of Sferia, dominated by attractive, tourist-orientated Poros Town, and the larger island of Kalavria with its interior smothered with pine trees and beaches packed with Greek and foreign tourists. The island is an ideal base for exploring the many fascinating places of interest to be found at the eastern end of the Peloponnese.
Hydra has the great attraction of being an entirely traffic-free island - even bicycles are banned here so the only way to get about is on foot, on a donkey or in a water taxi. The island boasts one of the most stunningly beautiful harbours in Greece, with imposing 17th and 18th century mansions stacked on the rocky hillsides overlooking the waterfront. Hydra has been a favourite haven for writers, artists and Bohemian types since the 1960s. The back streets of the main town and the unspoilt interior are still a delight for those seeking a respite from the tourist development and madding crowds that now characterise many of the other Greek islands.
Spetses is the southernmost of the Saronic Gulf Islands and has the best beaches. The coastline is peppered with picturesque pine-fringed coves that makes this a popular destination for British package holidaymakers. It's not as traffic-free as Hydra as mopeds and motorbikes are allowed but only residents are permitted to bring in cars and their use in the main town is prohibited.