Published in Travel Guides
The Old Harbour
Why visit Spetses? Because of its wonderful mansions built in the 18th c many of which have been beautifully restored. Because of the thick pinewoods that cover a good part of the island and the picturesque Paliolimani, the old harbour, filled nowadays with elegant yachts.
Spetses is the island for a fun long-weekend away from the stress of city life. It is amply endowed with pleasant places to stay and have a meal, while its night life is renowned in Greek circles. Being so close to Athens, it has long been a favourite holiday spot for residents of the capital, many of whom have second homes there.
Spetses, as well as Costa and Porto Heli on the mainland across the way attracts lots of Greek VIPs. The back side of the island and the coast opposite have many good beaches and “private” coves, and there are restaurants, bars and nightclubs for every taste.
Ancient Pityoussa (pine covered) was first inhabited in the Early Helladic era (2300 BC), as various scattered remains have shown. Relics of the Mycenaean, Classical, Roman and Byzantine periods have also been found, though the island was ravaged by the Saracens in the 9th c. During the Frankish occupation, Spetses was under Venetian rule and later passed to the Ottoman Turks.
In the 18th c., many of the islanders entered the wheat trade and their expertise in shipping soon evolved into a strong, powerful and important merchant fleet. In those days, Spetsiot ships ploughed the waves from the Mediterranean and Black seas to the Baltic and even the Americas.
Despite the relative autonomy they enjoyed under the Turks, the Spetsiots took part in the abortive Orloff uprising in the Peloponnese in the 1770s and suffered serious reprisals as a consequence. Those who had been exiled to Kythira fought on until they were granted amnesty and permitted to return.
Spetses is most famous for the role it played in the War of Independence, when together with Hydra and Psara, it supplied a major part of the Greek fleet. In recognition of its role, Capodistrias, the first governor of Greece, rewarded the island with two representatives in the fledgling parliament.
After the War of Independence, the centre of trade moved to Syros and later to Piraeus, and Spetses fell into a decline until the early 20th c., when it gradually became a favourite summer resort for Athenians, and by the 70s a very popular destination among tourists.
Spetses has 4,070 inhabitants. More than half the island is covered with pine trees that grow down to the water’s edge. Even the areas that were burned in the fires of a decade or so ago are recovering. The town itself has landmark status and the use of cars is severely restricted on the island.
This natural harbour was purely residential until a few decades ago. Now, along with the mansions lining the waterfront, there are many restaurants, tavernas, bars and nightclubs. In the inner harbour (Baltiza), traditional caiques are still made, looking somewhat incongruous amongst the scores of sailing and motor yachts seeking a mooring on summer weekends and throughout August.
This is the island’s hub, where the boats dock and everyone meets to plan their day. The word means fortified place and its high walls still have cannons protruding from them. It is literally lined with cafes, which are full from early morning to late at night, with visitors young and old.
Tel. 00302298072416, 00302298072077
This 300 year old mansion belonged to Bouboulina, the legendary admiral/heroine of the War of Independence (1821). Today it has been converted into a non-profit-making museum containing her furniture and personal possessions. There are guided tours in English several times a day (see poster in Dapia and near the museum); they are an amusing and informative introduction to the island’s most brilliant period.
The fortress like mansion that belonged to Hatziyiannis Mexis, another Revolutionary hero, has two museums as of September 1998. The upper floor is devoted to exhibits from the War of Independence, folklore and a few ancient finds, while the ground floor houses Greece’s first permanent exhibition devoted to underwater archaeology.
Another of Sotirios Anargyro's contribution to the island. The hotel was first opened in 1914 and has has been a landmark on the Spetses skyline for a century with its exceptional architecture echoing hotels of Cote d’Azur style.
Furthermore it represented the cosmopolitan face of the island and soon became one of its famous landmarks and, what is more, rapidly became a favourite destination for high society, royalty and the wealthy Athenians.
A 17th c. church with its lovely, pebble-mosaic courtyard and serene interior is the most beautiful in Spetses. Legend has it that Napoleon’s brother once lived secluded within this former monastery.
At the back of Dapia, built at the turn of the century by the island’s greatest benefactor.
The buildings and campus also endowed by Anargyros, where novelist John Fowles taught the sons of Greeks and wrote The Magus in his spare time.
The church of Agia Triada at the highest point in town.
Large caiques make the “round the island” tour, stopping for swims at various coves and at the large organized beach of Agii Anargyri Prophhitis Ilias. The best known caique captain is Big George.
Walk up to the ridge of the hill through the pinewoods, from Vrellos on the coast, skirting ravines until you reach the church of Prophitis Ilias. From there, you’ll have a 360 degree view of the sea and the Peloponnese and you’ll have it all to Prophitis Ilias.
On the second Saturday in September, the locals reenact the historic naval battle against the Turks of 1822. The spectacle is preceded by folk dancing and speeches and finished off with fireworks. The event attracts crowds and so many yachts are anchored offshore that it’s as good as a boat show.
A summer holiday spot across Spetses built around a large protected bay that fills up with sailing yachts. The mild climate, fine beaches and easy access from Athens has led to the building of many (some spectacular) second homes in the area. There are many hotels, tavernas and bars to choose from.
The island has relatively good beaches, but the best are sprinkled around the indented shores of Porto Heli area, which are less frequented than those in Spetses. In many cases, trees line the water's edge, providing much - needed shade, and the water is invariably clean.
The island’s best. Pebbles, sand and pines for shade. Though lacking umbrellas and facilities, it has a canteen and attracts both caique passengers and the Chriscraft set. The “Magus’ house” still occupies the hill above the beach.
A pretty little cove west of town, with pebbles, sand and pine trees.
The most organized beach on Spetses, the biggest and the most popular. Many caiques come here and it is also served by the island’s bus. Water sports are offered and there are tavernas. Beyond the far end, is the Bekiri cave, where Spetsiots hid from the Turks; get a mask and swim in.
No tavernas or umbrellas. A very pretty, unspoiled beach and not too crowded, either.
Patronized by the young and the British. Not far from town, it has a bar and restaurant where music plays day and night. Reached by caique or a 1/2 hr walk.
This may seem a bit too far to go, but it’s unquestionably the best beach in the area. A small promontory cuts the large stretch of sand in two and there is an islet offshore floating in turquoise waters. A splendid setting, few people and totally unspoilt.
A lacy coastline punctuated by numerous small coves. Little bays with sand and pebbles in lovely natural surroundings. Take your pick according to the weather, the number of people and your mood.
A narrow but marvellous sandy beach with shallow water. Ideal for children. The turquoise reflections make it seem like a south sea paradise. Bring your own umbrella and picnic.
By Ferry Boat or catamaran or hydrofoil from Piraeus (Zea and Akti Tzelepi in the main port) Tel. 00302104226000, 00302104511310-7
One reason Spetses is so popular with Athenians is because it’s just a 3 hr drive away. Take the national road to the Corinth Canal and from there get on the road towards Epidaurus and follow the signs to Kranidi, Porto Heli and Kosta, where you can either pick up a sea taxi, ferry or caique to take you across. Even by slow boat, the distance is a matter of minutes.
Spetses connected with Aigina, Ydra, Poros, Methana Tel. 00302298072245
Spetses has a few taxis, two buses, a fleet of caiques, sea taxis (speedboats), bicycles and motorbikes for hire and even horse-drawn carriages, if you don’t feel like walking. Caiques in Dapia do regular beach runs every day in season and the sea taxis are available round the clock. There are so many motorbikes buzzing around Spetses that in summer the local authorities try to limit the hours they are allowed on the coast road and inside the town limits. Check the rules with the rental agency.
From March to November. In August, Spetses is packed, be warned.
Fish a la Spetsiota (baked in the oven with tomatoes and onions) is renowned all over Greece, and so are the almond paste sweets called amygdalota, which are sold in Dapia.
For useful safety information and licensed water sports centers please visit Safe Water Sports
Spetses Town Hall 00302298072225, 00302298074517
Spetses Police 00302298073100
Spetses Health Center 00302298072472
Spetses Port Authority 00302298072245
Spetses Sea Taxis 00302298072072
Spetses Horse Carriages 00302298073171