When it comes to stunning coastlines and idyllic islands, nowhere does it quite like Greece. Its islands are a paradise of aquamarine waters sparkling in the scorching sun, faded fishing boats bobbing in indigo harbours, and whitewashed sugar-cube villages stacked beside crumbling ancient sites. Add to that its stunning Mediterranean coastlines and it’s easy to see why Greece is such a popular holiday destination.
But while travellers flock to the famed islands of Crete, Corfu, Santorini and Mykonos, some of Greece’s most beautiful coastlines lie just a stone’s throw from its vibrant and easily reachable capital, Athens. Less than ten miles south of the Acropolis stretches the stunning Attica Peninsula – also known as the Athenian Riviera and the gateway to the Saronic Islands.
The new riviera
Jutting out into crystalline waters, the Attica Peninsula boasts almost 40 miles of sun-drenched bays, hidden coves and rocky caves, framed by unspoilt beaches. Winding from Piraeus to the tip of Cape Sounion, this stunning coastline offers vibrant ports, twinkling tavernas and serene waters perfect for snorkelling, windsurfing and sailing.
A longtime favourite with the Athenian jetset but still blissfully undiscovered by hordes of tourists, the area appeals to watersports lovers, sun-worshippers, foodies and shopaholics, and in recent years the seaside area between Neo Faliro and Paleo Faliro has been transformed into a cultural hub of museums, marinas and leisure parks.
Visitors looking for excitement should head to the glitzy area of Vouliagmeni, with its luxurious resort hotels and the healing mineral waters of Vouliagmeni Lake, while lively Glyfada offers great shopping and world-class dining. For those in search of sailing, nautical clubs and sailing schools with experienced trainers dot the coastline, giving visitors the freedom to explore secret coves and embark on an odyssey of their very own.
Islands of paradise
From the sun-kissed coastline of the Athenian Riviera, paradise-seekers needn’t travel far to discover the delights of the Greek islands. Dotted in the nearby green-blue waters lie Hydra, Poros, Spetses and Aegina – the peaceful and idyllic Saronics. Easily reached by ferry from the mainland, each of these glorious islands has its own unique feel, history and culture.
The first capital of the Greek state following the end of Ottoman rule, Aegina is now a mystical land of Byzantine ruins and ancient temples, with colourful food markets and thriving portside cafes.
Further south, and seemingly shielded from the eyes of the world, lies Poros, with its soft white beaches and rugged green forests packed with lemons and oranges. The busy harbour, built in the shape of an amphitheatre, transports visitors to a time gone by, with its cosy cafes, cobbled streets and vertiginous terracotta-hued houses tumbling down towards the sparkling sea.
The same feeling of peaceful isolation is found on Hydra, a romantic island of buzzing squares, once-grand mansions, monasteries and a rich maritime history.
You won’t find any vehicles on Hydra, so the only way to explore is on foot or by mule. With its picturesque harbour packed with gleaming white yachts and cubed stone houses, it’s not hard to see why the island has been such a favourite of the international glitterati, hosting the likes of Mick Jagger, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Jackie Collins and Leonard Cohen.
Down in the deep south of the Saronic Gulf, nestled alongside the fabled Peloponnese, lies Spetses, equally filled with fascinating nautical history and picture-perfect landscapes. The affluence here is tangible, with the cannon-fringed promenade home to stylish boutiques and smart cafes, and the port boasting grand piazzas and neoclassical buildings.
Once the epicentre of the Greek War of Independence, Spetses hosts an annual victory celebration featuring two weeks of exhibitions and performances, climaxing with the dramatisation of an epic naval battle. In a sea of colours and smoke, real ships engage in nautical combat and a dazzling firework display lights up the starry Saronic skies.
From Spetses it’s just a two-hour ferry trip back to the shores of Attica, and then a hop back to the Acropolis itself – making both the Athenian Riviera and the Saronic Islands one of the most beautiful and accessible Greek escapes under the Aegean sun.