Latest Breaking News & Hot Updates Around USA OR All Over World

Where mass tourism is unknown: Discover the delights of the Greek island of Spetses

0

Church bells ring. I open the shutters and shield my eyes from the diamond light dancing on the Saronic Gulf.

Chatter rises from the porch below, where the Poseidonion’s breakfast guests chuckle as a superyacht tries to dock, with little success.

Spetses impresses on its nine square kilometers: authenticity, charm, natural beauty and relaxed sophistication.

Magical: Spetses Island offers “authenticity, charm, natural beauty and relaxed sophistication,” says Teresa Levonian Cole

Spetses remains a favorite escape for fashionable Athenians - as it was in 1914, when Sotirios Anargyros, inspired by the grandes dames of the Cote d'Azur, built the Poseidonion Grand Hotel (above) as a luxury hunting lodge

Spetses remains a favorite escape for fashionable Athenians – as it was in 1914, when Sotirios Anargyros, inspired by the grandes dames of the Cote d’Azur, built the Poseidonion Grand Hotel (above) as a luxury hunting lodge

Despite its proximity to the mainland – it’s only a two-hour drive from Piraeus by hydrofoil, or a three-hour drive from Athens and a jump across the sea by water taxi – mass tourism here is unknown.

Nicknamed Spezia (Spice) during Venetian rule due to its location on an important trade route, Spetses remains a favorite escape for fashionable Athenians – as it was in 1914, when Sotirios Anargyros, inspired by the grandes dames of the Cote d’Azur, built it Poseidonion Grand Hotel as a luxury hunting lodge.

And it was Anargyros, a wealthy tobacco merchant, who saved the island from over-development.

Spetses was known in ancient times as Pityoussa [pine-clad]but was deforested in the 20th century because of the important shipbuilding industry,” said Petros Petrakopoulos, president of the Anargyros Foundation.

“So he bought 45 percent of the island and planted 100,000 Aleppo pines, stipulating that nothing could ever be built on the land.”

With the proceeds from the hotel, Anargyros then founded an elite school modeled on Eton.

The island was nicknamed Spezia (Spice) during the Venetian rule because of its location on an important trade route

The island was nicknamed Spezia (Spice) during the Venetian rule because of its location on an important trade route

In the absence of private cars in the capital, horsepower on Spetses means the traditional four-legged variety

In the absence of private cars in the capital, horsepower on Spetses means the traditional four-legged variety

Spetses is just two hours from Piraeus, Athens, by hydrofoil, or three hours from Athens and a jump over the sea by water taxi

Spetses is just two hours from Piraeus, Athens, by hydrofoil, or three hours from Athens and a jump over the sea by water taxi

The writer John Fowles taught here in the 1950s and, inspired by his experiences, wrote The Magus, a cult novel set on a magical island he calls Phraxos.

“Phraxos was beautiful,” says his protagonist. ‘There was no other adjective; it wasn’t just beautiful, picturesque, charming – it was simple and effortlessly beautiful. It was breathtaking.’

The walks through the forests of Spetses are indeed breathtaking. In the late afternoon the sun is low and the pines and sage are most fragrant, while at the top you can only hear birdsong.

A water taxi will take you to some of the island’s more famous beaches: Agia Paraskevi and Agioi Anargyri, for a lunch of meze and ouzo in the shade of the taverna, then Zogeria, famous for its beautiful waters.

We pass small churches, the beach and rows of old cannons, once aimed at the pirates that ravaged these shores. The warehouse has since found a new lease of life as the trendy bar-restaurant Mourayo

This is the beach where The Lost Daughter was filmed during the pandemic, providing the island with much-needed income and blissful isolation for cast and crew, including Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Peter Sarsgaard.

No less fun is the main city itself. In the absence of private cars, horsepower here means the traditional four-legged variety.

In a carriage pulled by a handsome horse with blinders on, we walk it along the coast. People linger in cafes and watch the world go by while sipping delicious almond cookies.

We pass small churches, the beach and rows of old cannons, once aimed at the pirates that ravaged these shores. The warehouse has since found a new lease of life as a trendy bar-restaurant Mourayo.

In the deep cove of the harbor, the 18th-century whitewashed mansions of sea captains, adorned with beautiful bougainvillea, tower on steep steps. Overlooking the scene is the fortified Monastery of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, where Spetses’ flag ‘Freedom or Death’ was hoisted in 1821 as a call to arms against the Ottomans.

In the historic shipyards, Pantelis perched on the rampart of a traditional fishing boat, swinging a hammer rhythmically. All around are skeletons of other caiques, sawdust and the wonderful smell of pine and African teak. Pantelis climbs down, offers a calloused hand and leads me to a primitive workshop, where the most modern equipment is a single gas ring to make coffee.

Zogeria is the beach where The Lost Daughter was filmed during the pandemic, providing

Zogeria is the beach where The Lost Daughter was filmed during the pandemic, providing “much needed income for the island and blissful isolation for cast and crew,” including Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Peter Sarsgaard.

Water taxis will take you to some of the island's more famous beaches, including Agia Paraskevi pictured

Water taxis will take you to some of the island’s more famous beaches, including Agia Paraskevi pictured

A photo of the fortified monastery of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, where the Spetses 'Freedom or Death' flag was hoisted in 1821 as a call to arms against the Ottomans

A photo of the fortified monastery of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, where the Spetses flag ‘Freedom or Death’ was hoisted in 1821 as a call to arms against the Ottomans

Mass tourism is unknown in Spetses, Teresa says.  Pictured above is an aerial view of the Monastery of Saint Nicholas

Mass tourism is unknown in Spetses, Teresa says. Pictured above is an aerial view of the Monastery of Saint Nicholas

This is the area where 18th-century merchant ships, the source of the island’s wealth, were built and later converted into battleships.

Pantelis, who learned the trade from his father, has been a ship’s carpenter for 25 years. Of the seven yards still operating here, his is one of only two still building boats from scratch.

He says: ‘Nowadays fishing boats are made of plastic, so we only get one new commission a year. This will take the two of us eight months to build.’

Renting one of these caiques from Captain Tzimanis (‘de Wit’) turns out to be a highlight. A day of blazing sun, cooling breezes and glorious laziness is spent exploring deserted coves, swimming in turquoise waters and picnicking on freshly harvested sea urchins and limpets.

By the time we get back, I’ll be hungry again. The old port, full of seafood restaurants, comes alive at night.

I dine in a quieter part of town with twenty-seven-year-old artist Leda Papaconstantinou. On a terrace above the sea, with a bottle of crispy Assyrtiko and plates of ceviche, king prawns and a delicious salt-baked grouper, I ask why she chose to live on Spetses.

On reflection, it was a rather stupid question.

TRAVEL FACTS

Kirker Vacations (kirkerholidays.com) offers five nights B&B at the Poseidonion Grand Hotel, including Aegean Airlines flights and hydrofoil, from £1,098 pp. See visitgreece.gr.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.