By Gina Lionatos
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 Pireaus.
The island was originally named Pityoussa (meaning pine-clad) and indeed one of the most striking characteristics of the island is the abundance of tall, grand pine trees that contrast against the neo-classical architecture and grand buildings demanded by Sea Captains and wealthy merchants in the 18th Century. Venetian rulers later changed the islands name to Isola di Spezzie (the Island of Spices) and rest assured, the island is as intoxicating as the name suggests.
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 main port of Spetses hums with the buzz of motorbikes and bustle of every day life (cars are not allowed on the island, but motorbikes and bicycles are readily available for hire). For your morning Freddo or Frappe fix, head to Destino, where the smooth Ipanema coffee is matched by the relaxing sea breeze. With no shortage of places to part with your euros, boutiques like Rath, On the Deck, and Isola di Spezie will leave you laden with sandals, homewares and charming gifts. The port is lined with fish tavernas and idyllic spots for an afternoon drink. One can't miss an evening drink at the iconic 100-year-old Poseidonion Grand hotel (visitors this Summer will be lucky enough to enjoy world-class cocktails in the hotel garden where Athens-based bar Gin Joint is holding a Summer pop-up).
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. Tarsanas is renowned on the island for their freshly caught fish, including a delightful version of the local specialty, Fish a la Spetsiota. At night, the Jet-Ski set head to Bikini for drinks and to La Luz for their fill of Greek music.
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.
Where to stay in Spetses?
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.
When to visit Spetses?
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.