Spetses (or “Spice”, as the Venetians decided to name it back in the 15th Century), is one of a few island gems sitting pretty in the Argo-saronic Gulf, just west of the enchanting island of Hydra.
Here on Spetses, with an overwhelming fragrance of jasmine and pine, you are guaranteed to experience “la dolce vita”. Known for the important role it played in the 1821 War of Independence, it was here on Spetses that the revolution flag was first raised.
Long-regarded as a playground for the Athenian elite (many of whom have their summer houses here), and popular with the yachting crowd, the island also became famous thanks to the romancing of Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy back in the day. Not only is the island home to a picturesque harbour, lined with bougainvillea-clad 18th century mansions, it is full of natural beauty as well, with secluded beaches, pine-clad hills, ancient churches and historical museums scattered all over.
But the best bit? It is only a 2-hour fast ferry ride away from Athens and the mainland, making it very easy to get to. Given cars are forbidden (unless you are a resident), the best way to get around is by scooter or electric bike. The 5000 or so permanent residents generally do the same, bar the odd horse-drawn carriage as well.
With a perimeter of just 16km, this little island is packed with a whole lot of wonder and delight, and makes for a perfect summer weekend (or longer) getaway.
Where to stay?
For such a small island, there are some wonderful accommodation options on offer. We found these three to be particularly good…
The Poseidonion Grand Hotel
If you are wanting to go all out, look no further than the grand-dame herself, The Poseidonion Grand Hotel – home of Spetses glamour for more than 100 years. With its beautiful seafront location, overlooking the island’s lively piazza and out over water to the Peloponnese coast, this is old-world grandeur at its finest. The Poseidonion is an architectural delight – full of beautiful marble, decorative archways and lovely mosaic-tiled floors. Staff are friendly and service is sharp and efficient.
Take your pick from one of two swimming pools, a treatment at the day spa, or perhaps a sundowner in their lovely garden terrace bar. For the best room, we recommend choosing the Cupola Suite (for lots of space and its beautiful terrace), or the Pool Suite (for your own private plunge pool and garden), both have gorgeous views over the sea. When staying at the Poseidonion, you will be joining the links of Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Bobby Kennedy who all stayed there in the ’60s.
For something more ‘middle of the road’
Perfectly priced, this lovely apartment-style hotel offers a quiet accommodation option only minutes from the centre of town. Zoe’s has a lovely pool and a great breakfast each morning. You’ll get complimentary wine and cookies on arrival. Zoe’s Club cannot be faulted.
For something more budget-friendly
Twin House Spetses
With clean, simple rooms and a beautiful bougainvillea-filled garden, Twin House Spetses is a quiet, calm place to stay right near the centre of town. The best bit though is its super warm and hospitable owner, Eftychia. A kind local woman, Eftychia bakes delicious homemade pies for breakfast each morning, together with other local Greek morning favourites. The hospitality she offers is friendly, generous and super helpful (Eftychia even offered for me to use her bike for the duration of my stay). Very close to where the ferry arrives into, this is a great and affordable option.
Where to eat?
For the best gyros in town, head to Souvlucky. This local favourite, right on the water, is renowned for its amazing meat and delicious pita. We recommend ordering the ‘traditional giant’.
Orloff restaurant, also in the Old Harbour, is housed in an 18th century classical building and offers a chic taverna-style dining option on a lovely white stone terrace overlooking the water. They also set up a few candlelit-tables along the pier. Come here for all your very favourite and most authentic Greek dishes.
Ombra is all-white and very Italian. Great pizza and pasta, and a beautiful terrace from where you can look over the harbour. Request a table closest to the edge for the best view.
Vanilia Patisserie is a wonderful local patisserie in the centre of town, just behind the church of Agios Antonios. Try one of the island’s famous amigdalota almond sweets here.
You could also try dining at one of the many beach club restaurants. We like Kaiki Beach Club restaurant which is a little more fancy and has a cute bar next door with a great atmosphere. Or Zogeria beach, for its cute laid-back beach taverna.
Where to drink?
Nuovo 1800. This was our favourite spot for a sundowner. Just a short stroll around the water from the harbour, Nuovo 1800 has a beautiful terrace and lovely Italian food as well. Bikini is another great place for a drink, known for their delicious cocktails and dj beats.
For old-world glam, head to the Poseidonion’s “On The Verandah” for a sundowner in the hotel’s beautiful garden overlooking the water.
Vrelos beach is another great option for an afternoon drink with some good tunes, right on the beach.
For such a small island, there are so many stunning, sun-drenched beaches and little turquoise coves scattered all over, all easily reached by a single road that forms a loop around the island.
With the luscious and verdant pine-clad hills as the backdrop, these beaches are incredibly picturesque and all worth exploring.
Kaiki beach is one of the closest to town (if you are headed west), and is also known as ‘College Beach’, given its close proximity to the Anargyrios College. You might also hear it being called ‘Scholes’. One of the larger beaches, they have plenty of day beds and umbrellas and lots of watersports on offer. There is also a great bar and restaurant as well.
Ligoneri beach is beautifully peaceful and is made up of both sandy and rocks. Paradeisos is a gorgeous, and very tiny beach, that is reached by parking your bike on the side of the road and then walking down a little goat track to the bottom. It is calm and beautiful.
Zogeriá is a favourite amongst locals, mainly due to the fact that it is only reachable by taxi boat, hence making the setting even more magical with its backdrop of pines and olive trees. The water here is crystal clear and the beach is both sand and pebbles. Yachts like to stop in here, and there is a cute little taverna on the beach. Tsakona is also a stunning little cove, worth a stop.
Agii Anargyri is one of the biggest beaches on the southwest of the island, where you swim into a large cave (Berkiri’s Cave) where it is alleged that local Spetsiots took refuge during one of the Ottoman raids in 1770. The cave can be found at the western part of the beach, and inside (once your eyes adjust to the dark), you can find a sandy floor and stalactites.
Closest to town is Agia Marina (on the southeast of the island) where you will find a sandy beach and rather fancy beach club. You can also swim in any of the town beaches – the little sliver of beach just below the monastery Agios Nikolaos is popular amongst locals.
What else to do?
Visit the Agios Nikolaos monastery, located on the edge of the Old Port. Built back in 1805, it is rumoured that Napoleon’s brother once slept here. Check out the beautiful black and white mosaic-filled courtyard and white-marble bell tower.
Also worth a visit is the Bouboulina museum, the former home of Laskarina Bouboulina, one of the most famous Spetsiots so far – Bouboulina played a big role in the 1821 War of Independence and is the only female in Greek history to achieve the rank of admiral. The architecture here is delightful.
The Hatzigiannis- Mexis museum, housed in a beautiful 18th century mansion, is also worth a visit if you are interested in browsing relics and letters written in wartime during the 1821 War of Independence.
This article was proudly produced by Georgia Hopkins.