Top things to do in Aegina: the lesser known Greek Island
February 4, 2019
by Tay Kinnear
Somewhere amongst the Saronic Islands of Greece lies one more-or-less untouched by tourism. Deserted boats lay on the side of the road, locals gather around fruit stalls beside the sea, and the sun blazes down on a small quad-bike rental store.
Welcome to Aegina where, outside of high season, the island remains tourist-free, with a plethora of secret beauties to explore.
Part of the Saronic Islands of Greece
“I imagined it tropical here,” Mary-Lou said to a car full of people in mid-June. “But it’s really just a desert surrounded by Mediterranean water.”
I stared at the road ahead, navigating potholes as I went and trying not to incite stress into the group of adult-adults that I was chauffeuring. As twenty-four, I was also an adult, just not an adult-adult.
Mary-Lou had flown from San Francisco to Athens earlier in the week, taking the Dolphin speed boat out to the island to meet us – and she had been expecting Hawaii. We were past the growing season, I told her – despite knowing olives were ripening all around us. But we knew what she meant as I took the coastline road that wound around the low dusty mountains further inland. The fauna was hard, dark green, and often prickly, whilst the sun glared off the stone paving.
For Sarah and I, this was our third year on the island; a place we came to each late-spring thanks to Sarah’s grandmother who had run away from England fifty years ago to live in the village of Aiga Marina, Aegina Island. Each time we came, the week we spent there had a different atmosphere, a different story to tell that changed us in some way, giving us the strength to return home somewhat renewed. Normally we came in April, when the weather was cool; this year we were blistering under the white hot sunshine.
Most people going to Greece have a number of cities or island on their radar that they know as the places to go. If you’re looking for somewhere less touristic, more secret and personal, come to Aegina.
The first thing one notices upon arrival is the feeling of having drifted into another time period. Not necessarily one that can be pinpointed, but more so just a feeling of no longer living in the modern society of fast-paced, high-growth organisation. There is something languid, laid-back, like maybe the rules don’t apply so much here. Especially when you leave the main port town of Aegina Town, which is touristic even in April, and move further around the island.
Agia Marina (Eye-ah Marina)
On the other side from Aegina Town, Agia Marina is one little high-street, made up of cafe-bars, little restaurants and shops selling Greek linen blouses. Come in April and the shops will be not yet be open, still waiting for the season to begin.
The main street follows the curve of the coast and at intervals offers a little pathway down to the beach – the largest stretch of beach on the island, and considerably peaceful and unpopulated even in high season. The slow slope of the sand means that often you can see early morning risers going for a jog through the water.
If you want the cheapest but most delicious lunch you will ever find, walk down the main street (it’s really not that long) and stop off at Pita Tom(Ag. Marina, 180 10) for a bite. If you hand over two euros fifty, you can have a HUGE halloumi wrap with a dressing of your choice. Plus wine is an extra two euros for a carafe. So you probably want to stop off for a good hour to enjoy the wine and food with friends for a total of less than five euros. You’re welcome.
The second year that Sarah and I came to the island, it was early April – so early that only one hotel was open and we were the only guests in it. On our first evening we stopped off at Kiriakakis Restaurant (Kuriakou Ralaru 186, Ag. Marina) with its blue and white checkered tablecloths on the very corner of the town, overlooking the Aegean Sea. Skinny cats wound their way round the table legs whilst the evening sun slipped under the terrace canopy. The quiet of the island, especially before the season begins, is peppered with cicadas and the soft spoken Greece being murmured between locals. The waves lap and the moon rises out of the water and the world stops turning, if only for a little while.
If there is one restaurant to try on the island it’s this one. The traditional Greek Fava with lemon juice squeezed over it and the grilled octopus tentacles with tzatziki are incredible and as yet I have not found anything to rival them.
Aegina Town and Getting Around
If you got early in the season the rental shop in Agia Marina won’t be open, so head back over to Aegina Port to rent a quad-bike for twenty-five euros a day. They ask only for your driving license and the money up front and then it’s yours to explore the island with. The island is small but large enough for an adventure, and public transport is somewhere near non-existent, so having your own rented ride – be it car, moped or quad – can really change the whole voyage.
Walking around the town, everyone will try to sell you pistachios – but the best place for those is elsewhere. The Temple of Aphaea is situated atop one of the peaks of the island, hidden amongst trees and winding, climbing roads. The beauty of these particular temple ruins is the view you will have the pleasure of seeing as you walk around them; the sea stretches out all around you down below, with little islands scattered amongst the deep blue. There is a sense of escape, of being miles away from anything with a bird’s eye view of everything.
And, whilst you’re there, stop by the shop opposite the temple entrance – the best pistachios, and all the pistachio-related foods (pistachio cream spread!), are sold here.
In the car, in our third year on the island, I drove us, Sarah’s mother, Mary-Lou from California, and her friend towards Perdika town harbuor. The windows were wound down to the bottom but even still, the air flowing through the car was warm and did not quench our thirst for cool relief. So when we arrived, everyone pulled off their clothes down to their bathing suits and waded into the harbour water.
Sarah and I left the others to slowly walk further out, reaching some of the boats tied up in the shallow waters. As we went deeper, the water coming up to our chests, the water cooled and we relaxed into the ocean.
This area is wonderful for sight-seeing, the harbour situated at a point so close to another island you feel you could touch it. Beware, however, of black sea urchins (black spiky things) amongst the rocks at the very edge of the shoreline – definitely not the best thing to step on.
Lovely little restaurants sit up on a long terrace that runs above and along the coastline, allowing a perfect location for drinking wine and watching locals take out and bring in their sailing boats. Octopi hang over railings outside the restaurants, cats lounge about in open doorways.
With three low mountains, hidden beaches scattered around the coastline and acres of untouched wilderness, Aegina is an incredible place to explore, relax and come back to time and time again.