Contrasted by neo-classical architecture, grand buildings and tall pine trees, Spetses island was originally named Pityoussa (meaning pine-clad) and later labelled by Venetian rulers as Isola di Spezzie (the Island of Spices). Close enough to Athens, the beautiful beaches, nature and cosmopolitan night-time buzz of Spetses is favourited by local Greeks who flock there on weekends. Travel writer Gina Lionatos shares her top reasons to visit this idyllic island.
How do you get to Spetses?
Synonymous with European aristocrats, Greek tastemakers and shipping tycoons, the island of Spetses is an easy and scenic trip, under 2 hours by hydrofoil from the Athenian port of Piraeus.
Where do we stay?
For a welcoming, boutique experience that is centrally located, visit Mare Monte, a grand rock-built home that was built by one of Spetses original families in 1762. The Markou family have since restored the home into charming guest rooms and are the perfect hosts, creating a welcoming and comfortable environment. For a taste of luxury, look no further than at the iconic 100-year-old Poseidonion Grand Hotel.
Detail how you get around the island?
The main port of Spetses hums with the buzz of motorbikes and bustle of everyday life (cars are not allowed on the island, but motorbikes and bicycles are readily available for hire).
Summer in Greece is all about the water and beach bars. Where are your favourite places to swim?
When asked their favourite place to swim, the locals of Spetses all agreed – the beach of Agia Paraskevi is their best-kept secret. They weren’t wrong! Pack your water, towel and food supplies, because only a small church and a forest full of cicadas inhabit this unspoilt piece of paradise.
If sun-beds, music and water sports are what you’re after, head to Kaiki beach or Agia Marina, the two main organised beaches on the island. Buses and traditional Kaiki boats are available at the port to take you to some of the harder to access beaches on the island.
Your favourite dining and bar experiences?
Destino – for your morning Freddo or Frappe fix, where the smooth Ipanema coffee is matched by the relaxing sea breeze.
Poseidonion Grand Hotel– One can’t miss an evening drink at this iconic hotel. Visitors this Summer will be lucky enough to enjoy world-class cocktails in the hotel garden and a collaboration experience which often pops-up over summer.
The Port – is also lined with fish tavernas and idyllic spots for an afternoon drink.
Tarsanas – renowned on the island for their freshly caught fish, including a delightful version of the local specialty, Fish a la Spetsiota.
Bikini – at night, the Jet-Ski set head to Bikini for drinks.
La Luz – for a fill of Greek music.
Boutiques like Rath, On the Deck (hello dedicated Eres swimwear), and Isola di Spezie will leave you laden with sandals, luxury swimwear homewares and charming gifts. If you walk around the town of an evening you will be sure to walk away with beautiful ceramics, trinkets or unique Greek-made pieces.
What cultural landmarks or attractions are there?
Spetses became a significant naval power during the early 18th century (the flag of revolt was raised against Ottoman rule outside the church of Agios Nikolaos on 3 April 1821). To this day, the world’s first female admiral Laskarina Bouboulina is honoured on the island and her mansion is now a private museum. A visit to this museum is a truly enriching experience that will leave you feeling inspired by the powerhouse that was Bouboulina (tours run for 30 minutes in English and Greek).
The best vantage point for people-watching, taking it all in or a simple stroll?
The Palio Limani (Old Harbour) is only a 15-minute walk from the centre, but it will leave you feeling like you’ve stepped back in time. Grand homes in every shade of pastel and bold hues overlook the rock-built harbour, while large traditional-style yachts laze about on crystal blue waters. Here, the traditional Kaiki boats are housed, built and restored in traditional boat sheds. The Old Harbour has no shortage of places to enjoy the serenity.
Any insights one may need to know?
The Spetsiotes have created a full calendar of events on the island, so there’s never a bad time to visit. To see the harbour filled to the brim with super-yachts and European royalty, August is usually the best time to visit. June and July are ideal for enjoying the island with the 4,000 inhabitants and without huge tourist crowds. Sports enthusiasts will enjoy the Spetses Triathlon (April), Classic Yacht Regatta (June) and the Spetses Mini-Marathon (October). Alternatively, visit in September and catch the re-enactment of the naval battle of Spetses which culminates in the blasting of a replica Turkish ship and impressive fireworks display.
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