Arriving at the busy port of Aegina town following a 45-minute refreshing boat ride from the port of Piraeus may convince you that the island is almost a suburb of Athens. This is a commonly believed myth and you’ll only need to wander down a few cobbled streets and lonely alleyways to realize that you may have judged this nature lovers’ haven too soon.

Venture on further out of the town and you’ll discover the true charms of the island. Sparkling waters of the Saronic Gulf act as the perfect backdrop for archaic ruins and quaint villages where you’ll savour authentic dishes made from fresh local produce. Emerald valleys punctuated with wildflowers and crumbling ruins of an entire village deserted centuries ago provide explorers with endless opportunities for experiencing the tranquil beauty of the island on foot, bicycle or even horseback.

Thrill seekers can climb 532 meters up Aegina’s highest peak to be rewarded with a sublime view over the island and the entire Saronic Gulf. True adrenaline junkies can hop on a paraglider with an experienced guide and sail over pine-covered hills and pistachio groves. If you want to feel the wind in your hair back on earth, Aegina’s organized beaches are great for windsurfing.There are also a number of remote beaches that still remain secluded even during the height of summer and are perfect for swimming and sunning. Whether you’re exploring the pine woods of the north, the dramatic rocky coastline of the east, the southern fishing villages or the western olive and pistachio groves, you will find natural beauty in every corner of this island.

Aegina’s history is as full of ups and downs as its terrain. Excavations have uncovered remains of an ancient settlement dating as far back as 3500 BCE at the site of Kolona which lies just northwest of the port. The island was continuously inhabited throughout the Bronze Age and various artifacts reveal that Minoan, Mycenean and Dorian influences were present. During the Archaic Age, Aegina became a powerful shipping center and attained substantial power due to its proximity both to the city-state of Epidarus in the Peloponnese and Athens. This advantage ultimately led to the island’s shaky relations with Athens which saw it as a rival to her own naval capabilities.During the Peloponnesian War in the fifth century BC, Aegina aligned with rival Sparta, sealing its fate at the hands of the Athenians. In 431BCE the native Aeginetans were forced off the island and sent into the Peloponnese while Athens claimed it as her own.

Eventually it was conquered and ruled successively by the Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, and Ottoman empires until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821.Αegina played an important role in the Greek Revolution and served as the first capital of liberated Greece from 1826 – 1827. Though its duration was short, Aegina’s contribution to the Greek Independence effort attributed to the island becoming a center of culture and prestige once again.Today Aegina is best known for being the country’s top pistachio cultivator. While the island’s current claim to fame may pale in the limelight of its past glory, invaders still arrive in boatloads to claim their territory, though this time in the form of weekending Athenians and foreign tourists.

As you come into Aegina’s harbor, you are greeted by the small whitewashed chapel of Agios Nikolaos and the hustle and bustle of people getting on and off ships. The friendly commotion dies down a bit after you cross the main road of Leoforos Dimokratias (Democracy Avenue). While the port area may seem overwhelming there are some worthwhile cafes and patisseries serving delectable sweets along the waterfront. The town is built amphitheatrically and aside from Salamina, it’s the largest settlement of the Saronic Gulf. Stroll along its cobbled streets and you’ll encounter beautiful pale-coloured neoclassical houses with balconies full of flowers. Children run and play in the squares while locals pop their heads in and out of shops greeting friends as they go about their business of the day. Despite the loveliness of the town, you’ll probably go unnoticed as you explore the area. This is not to say that the islanders will ignore you, as Aeginian hospitality remains plentiful even though visitors almost outnumber natives in August.

Aside from the beautiful architecture and pistachios offered on just about every street corner, other attractions include the Venetian style Markello’s Tower as well as the former residences of notable Greek leaders and artists that once made Aegina their home. Among them are Greece’s first Prime Minister Ioannis Kapodistriou, leaders of the Greek revolution such as Theodoros Kolokotroni, Spyridon Trikoupis, and Konstantinos Kanaris, as well as the country’s most well-known author Nikos Kazantzakis. You also have the opportunity to tour the Government House which acted as the headquarters of the newly independent Greek State as well as the Eunardios School of teaching and the former orphanage.

However if you truly want to get away from it all, just follow the coastal road north for one kilometre until you reach the archaeological site of Kolona. Though there isn’t much to see at the site itself, its setting above the turquoise water outlined by green shrubbery is refreshing after the hubbub of the port. Continuing eastward you’ll arrive at Kipseli, Aegina’s most populated town after the port. A majority of the island’s pistachio production takes place here and the groves provide a unique opportunity to see the star of the island up close and personal.

Continuing further north you’ll pass the two seaside resorts of Vathi and Souvala. Both are relatively low key and backed by numerous trees and greenery. The sea ranges from pale blue to light green and cobalt and the shallow waters make both villages ideal for families with small children. Souvala also has its own small port with connections to Piraeus. Additionally, hot springs reputed to treat several ailments are located just east of the village at Therma. If you continue in this direction you’ll arrive in Vagia, another quiet resort with an excellent sandy beach. After Vagia the road curves southwest into the settlement of Mesagros, an area which throughout history was famed for its pottery and has carried on the tradition up until today and Pottery workshops are found all over the area. The region also cultivates grapes and produces small amounts of wine, mainly for local consumption.

Further westward just off the road back to Aegina town is the superlative basilica of Agios Nectarios. The tall bell-towers and several round domes encircled with windows will certainly strike awe in each visitor. The church is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the southern Balkans and Nectarios is the island’s patron saint.

One of Aegina’s most intriguing sites lies just north of the small settlement of Kondos. Paliohora means “old village” and its crumbling ruins certainly live up to its name. The abandoned complex of stony buildings contains former houses as well as a Venetian castle and several churches, some of which date back to the 12th century. This enchanting place is best explored on foot and meandering down its paths evokes a sense of mystery and romance. Time stands still here and merely wandering through the area will quiet the mind of even the most preoccupied traveller.

Another awe-inspiring site is the divine Temple of Aphaia. This 5th century Doric sanctuary lies 2 kilometers east of the town of Mesagros and is one of Greece’s best preserved temples. Its elevated position over the Saronic Gulf make this site mandatory on any visitor’s itinerary.

Just south of the temple lies Aegina’s key package resort of Agia Marina. The sea is a beautiful shade of aqua here, though the beach (and the town in general) can get quite busy in July and August. Activities such as windsurfing and canoeing are available with many of the seaside shops renting equipment. If you’re looking for somewhere a bit more low key, head north of the pier to the rocky coast. You can jump into the turquoise water from these smooth rock formations and easily climb back out again to sunbathe along the rocks. In the high season you’ll have company but it’s a refuge of quiet compared to the somewhat frantic scene of Agia Marina.

The coastal road snakes southward through dramatic landscapes comprised of seaside cliffs to the east and distant mountain tops of the west. The village of Killindros and the small hamlet of Portes perched on top of a hill tumbling into the sea lie sleepily on either side of the road as it persists southward before turning sharply and passing the village of Anitseio. In the distance lies Mt. Ellanio, Aegina’s highest point and home to ruins dedicated to Zeus. At the summit lies the church of Profitis Ilias and reaching it is well worth the work for the immaculate views over the entire island and Saronic Gulf.

The main road continues through the heart of Aegina to the traditional mountain village of Paxia Rachi. Frequently skipped by most travelers, you can have this slice of authentic Greece all to yourself most days and exploring the cobbled labyrinths which snake around stone houses adorned with colourful flowers. A little ways beyond lies the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital (EKPAZ) which serves as the temporary (and unfortunately sometimes permanent home of endangered, injured or mistreated wild animals. Impressively, over 4,000 animals are rehabilitated every year making the centre the largest of its kind in all of Southern Europe. Entrance is free, though donations are kindly accepted and greatly needed.

The main road takes you back to the outskirts of Aegina Town where you’ll turn on to the western coastal road which leads to the large bay of Marathonas. Along the bay there are several organized beaches offering a wide variety of marine activities including canoeing, windsurfing and scuba diving. There are also several remote beaches which remain tranquil even during the busy summer months. There are You may also enjoy the several seaside tavernas complete with succulent octopus hanging out to dry and refreshing ouzo waiting to be enjoyed in front of the dazzling sunset.

Farther south is the coastal settlement Aeginitissa which boasts an excellent beach and a laid back vibe. Travel approximately one more kilometer south and you’ll arrive in the pretty fishing village of Perdika. Traditional houses, seafood tavernas and coffee shops are just a few of the simplistic charms in store for its visitors. Although it is one of Aegina’s most popular destinations, it retains its authentic character. Perdika is also home to some of the island’s best accommodation as well as activities such as horseback riding and scuba diving. A small port with boat connections to and from the uninhabited isle of Moni is another advantage. You shouldn’t miss the opportunity to swim at Moni’s pristine beach complete with golden sand and sparkling cerulean waters. The island is also great for hiking and you may catch a glimpse of the elusive Kri-Kri a species of goat indigenous to Greece.

Touring Aegina and enjoying its various landscapes proves that this island is much more than day trippers and pistachios. Deserted cities, ancient temples and neoclassical buildings whisper echoes of the past into your ears while its array of outdoor activities scream adventure. Whether you’re looking for peace and quiet or endless excitement, Aegina never disappoints.

Written exclusively for ecotourism-greece by Sarah McGee

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Location - Aegina Island

Aiakeion Patisserie, Aegina Town

It is located right on the waterfront and offering several creative spins featuring the nut including Fistikato made with pistachio paste, caramel and whole pistachios as well as Fistikini including powdered sugar, chopped pistachios and pomegranate juice. Also available are pistachio ‘spoon sweets’ and pistachio liqueur.

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Kolona

Despite its close proximity to the port, you’ll feel worlds apart at this pleasant organized beach below the archaeological site of Kolona. The green trees which line the coast and the mesmerizing shades of the blue sea offer the perfect setting for those who prefer to stay close to the town.

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Perdika

The fishing village of Perdika is a popular resort with a rocky beach which is accessed by a series of rocky steps and backed by trees. There are several seafood tavernas and cafes along the waterfront and the beach is organized with umbrellas and trees. Perdika is located 9 kilometers south of Aegina Town.

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Aegina is an excellent destination for bird watchers who can encounter several different species throughout the year. Some areas known for avian inhabitants include Mt. Ellanio (Hellanios), the mountain refuge of Paxia Rachi and the area outside the village of Kontos. Catch a glimpse of Rock Partridges, Sardinian and Sub-alpine Warblers, Northern Wheateaters and even White Storks.

The crystalline waters of Aegina's tranquil bays provide unique settings to enjoy kayaking. Rental is available in several seaside shops along the beaches of Marathonas and Agia Marina.

Bicycle enthusiasts rejoice! Aegina is ideal for cycling and its variety of landscapes offer routes suited for every level. The coastal roads of the West, North and East are beautiful, with the Eastern side being more challenging due to the many ups and downs. Aegina has a great road system and the main road from the port inland towards Agia Marina is another picturesque route.

The roads of the South Central region are the most difficult on the island and are best ridden on a mountain bike. An easy route is the picturesque coastal road of the west which leads from Aegina Town to Perdika and passes through the seaside settlements of Marathonas and Aeginitissa. Riding this route at dusk is a magical experience as the sunset along the coast is truly incredible.

It probably comes as no surprise that pistachios figure into many dishes native to the island. Aegina Pistachios are so unique that the island's producers secured an EU Mandate granting the sole right of labeling nuts from the island 'Aegina Pistachios'. Mouthwatering pastries and sweets made with the nut won't be found as delicious as they are in Aegina anywhere else. Several patisseries around the harbor serve sweets made with the nut and they should not be missed. One that stands out is Aikeion with all its pistachio sweets.

Aegina is home to another unique delicacy which most of the natives don't even know about. It's a type of fish known as Katsoula and due to fact that it only lives in certain conditions (which Aegina seems to posses) the fish is rarely found outside the island's waters. The few anglers who do know where to find it keep it a well guarded secret but ask around at the docks and you may be lucky enough to savor this fish that many claim as the most succulent in Greece.

Another fishy celebrity of Aegina is the Grey Mullet. This fish is transformed into Lykourinos, a delicious salted fish which of which only the Mullets that have lived in sunny shallow waters are qualified for and the shallow waters surrounding Aegina are home to it.

Seafood in general is of high quality on the island, and a large number of dining establishments on Aegina are fish tavernas. Though fish isn't the only dish on the menu, as you'll frequently pass octopus drying in the sun as often as you'll catch a whiff of delicious freshly fried squid (calamari).

Aiakeion Patisserie, Aegina Town

It is located right on the waterfront and offering several creative spins featuring the nut including Fistikato made with pistachio paste, caramel and whole pistachios as well as Fistikini including powdered sugar, chopped pistachios and pomegranate juice. Also available are pistachio ‘spoon sweets’ and pistachio liqueur.

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Aegina's variety of landscapes and mild climate make the island a hiker's haven all year round. Whether you're in the mood for a leisurely stroll or a challenging climb, Aegina has paths for everyone. The northern part of the island has a lot of vegetation and offers journeys through woods and tree groves. The eastern coast is covered in green hills and striking sea views. These hills turn into mountains and cliffs as you enter the southern portion of the island. This is certainly the most difficult region of Aegina to traverse, making the Western plains and flat, coastal routes welcome relief.

Aegina Town – Kondos – Paleohora

One of the most unique routes is form Aegina to the fascinating site of Paleohora. It’s about seven kilometers and of low-medium difficulty. Along the way you’ll pass numerous churches and bypass the magnificent Agios Nectarios. Turn left at the village of Kondos the route begins an incline you move northward. You’ll finally arrive to a hillside dotted with old deserted churches and buildings. This is Palaiohora and it is a fascinating place to wander around and explore.

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Anitseou – Mt. Hellanios-Paxia Rachi

Another more challenging hike is through the precipitous south central region of the island. You can start your hike at the village of Anitseou and continue northwestern until you reach another road to your left. Turn here and go on until you see signs leading to the site of Ellanios (Hellanios) Zeus, a ruined temple to the god at the top of Mt. Ellanios (commonly referred to as Oros). The hike is approximately 4 kilometers, of medium difficulty and the views from the summit are phenomenal.

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Paxia Rachi – Kapotides – Marathonas

Another option from Paxia Rachi is to head directly westward towards the coast. The road zigzags and you have the choice of heading northwards towards the small settlement of Kapotides or bypass and and continue on towards the seaside resort of Marathonas. This route is easy and covers 2 – 2.5 kilometers depending on whether or not you make the trek to Kapotides.

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Paxia Rachi – Tsikides – Aegina

From Paxia Rachi you can exit the village heading northeast until you hit the main road again. Turn left here and you’ll pass the village of Tsikides and through plains and pistachio groves. Until you arrive in Aegina town. The route difficulty is easy-medium and covers approximately 7 kilometers.

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Aegina has been famous for its pottery since the Archaic age and its role as one of the Mediterranean's most significant trading centers ensured that the island's pottery was exported throughout the region. Even today the island is deeply involved with the craft and sculpted souvenirs fill many of Aegina's gift shops. The region of Mesagros is home to several pottery workshops.

The Aegina Workshop (Ergastiri tis Eginas) offers pottery lessons where participants of all ages can create their own works of art. The organization also provides tours of the island's pottery workshops.

Touring the island by boat is a spectacular way to explore Aegina. You can find several vessels moored along the harbor which offer a variety of tours, some of which circumnavigate the island while others make stops for swimming at amazing bays which are inaccessible by land. Other companies make day trips between Aegina and other islands of the Saronic Gulf, such as Poros, Hydra and Spetses.

Just outside the northern coastal town of Souvalas lie the thermal springs of Therma. The water here is reputed to cure various dermatological ailments and pain caused from Rheumatism.

Also available are the Eastern traditions of Reiki and Tai Chi. Reiki is a form of massage originating from Japan and involves the transfer of energy from one person to another via touch. Tai Chi is a form of Chinese martial art comprised of different movements and positions promoting health and self-defense. Both techniques are offered by the Aegina Workshop (Ergastiri tis Eginas) along with many other activities promoting health, art, and fun with an ecological background.

Aeginitissa

The small village of Aeginitissa on the the west coast is located 3 kilometers north of Perdika on the coastal road which leads to Aegina town. The beach is sandy and set in a lovely cove surrounded by trees. There are umbrellas and sun loungers available and the sunsets here are some of the best on the island.

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Agia Marina

The popular package resort of Agia Marina along the Eastern coast has a nice beach but during July and August you’re more likely to drown in the crowds on the beach than in the water. The beach does offer a variety of marine activities such as windsurfing, canoeing and paddle boating, however its best to avoid this beach outside the high season.

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Kolona

Despite its close proximity to the port, you’ll feel worlds apart at this pleasant organized beach below the archaeological site of Kolona. The green trees which line the coast and the mesmerizing shades of the blue sea offer the perfect setting for those who prefer to stay close to the town.

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Marathonas

The Bay of Marathonas is backed by greenery and has a few beaches along its coast ranging from sandy to very rocky. Some parts are organized and popular while others are more remote. Various marine activities such as kayaking are available here and the shops along the beach rent equipment.

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Moni Islet

This small island adjacent from Perdika has a beach more stunning than any of the beaches on Aegina. A small boat leaves from Perdika several times a day to ferry people back and forth. The beach is comprised of find blond sand and the waters around it range from emerald green to cobalt. Hiking is also enjoyed on the island.

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Perdika

The fishing village of Perdika is a popular resort with a rocky beach which is accessed by a series of rocky steps and backed by trees. There are several seafood tavernas and cafes along the waterfront and the beach is organized with umbrellas and trees. Perdika is located 9 kilometers south of Aegina Town.

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Portes

If you continue south on the coastal road from Agia Marina, you will soon arrive in the charming fishing village of Portes. Its small pebble beach along with the community itself is one of Aegina’s best kept secrets. For most of the year you can have it all to yourself and even in the summer you won’t be sharing it with many others. It isn’t organized so bring an umbrella and water.

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Souvala

Swimming in Souvala is done via its rocky beach, backed by tavernas and cafes along the waterfront. The beach is organized with umbrellas and lounge chairs and is popular with Greek tourists in the summer. Just a kilometre east of town are thermal springs at Therma. They are believed to help with various health problems such as rheumatism and dermatological problems.

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Vagia

Continuing eastward along the coastal road brings you to the small resort of Vagia. It’s a calm and pleasant village with an excellent sandy beach (arguably one of the island’s best) and there are chairs and umbrellas available in a section of the beach. However if you venture on, you’ll probably find a patch all to yourself.

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The turquoise waters surrounding the island offer swimming to suit everyone's tastes. The sea is shallow at most of the beaches making it ideal for families with small children.

Aiakeion Patisserie, Aegina Town

It is located right on the waterfront and offering several creative spins featuring the nut including Fistikato made with pistachio paste, caramel and whole pistachios as well as Fistikini including powdered sugar, chopped pistachios and pomegranate juice. Also available are pistachio ‘spoon sweets’ and pistachio liqueur.

Find Out More

Kolona

Despite its close proximity to the port, you’ll feel worlds apart at this pleasant organized beach below the archaeological site of Kolona. The green trees which line the coast and the mesmerizing shades of the blue sea offer the perfect setting for those who prefer to stay close to the town.

Find Out More

Perdika

The fishing village of Perdika is a popular resort with a rocky beach which is accessed by a series of rocky steps and backed by trees. There are several seafood tavernas and cafes along the waterfront and the beach is organized with umbrellas and trees. Perdika is located 9 kilometers south of Aegina Town.

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Windsurfing is possible in many of the bays around the island including Marathonas and Agia Marina. There are shops along the beaches at both locations which rent out equipment. Artemis Studios in Agia Marina has a variety of marine activity equipment to rent.

Temple of Aphaia

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Archaeological Museum, Kolona

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Kolona

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Temple of Aphaia

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Temple of Apollo

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Temple of Zeus

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Despite the fact that Aegina was invaded and occupied by the Frankish and Venetian empires, the island has no surviving castles aside from the ruins of a Venetian castle high on the hill of Paleohora. Though little remains, the area itself certainly deserves a visit as it is one of the most unique landscapes of Aegina.

Like a majority of other Greek islands, Aegina is home to hundreds of churches spread throughout its landscape. However, no other island can boast one of the largest Orthodox churches in the southern Balkans as well as a site as captivating as the the deserted village of Palaiohora containing several churches, some of which date back to the 12th century.

Agios Nectarios

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Church of Faneromeni

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Church of Profitis Ilias

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Monastery of the Virgin Mary Xrisoleontissa

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Churches of Palaiohora

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Cathedral

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Eunardios School of Teaching

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Government House

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Orphanage

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Tower of Markello

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Archaeological Museum, Kolona

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Christos Kapralos Museum, Kolona

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Folklore Museum, Aegina Town

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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All over the Aeginian landscape you'll find beautiful flowers and trees. The island is best known for its pistachios but olive and almond trees are also found frequently around the island. Pine trees are also abundant on the island, particularly in the north. Another aspect of Aegina's landscape are the beautiful flowers that spring up in its valleys and hills such as the Grape Hyacinth and the Purple Orchid.

Pistachio production is the island chief agricultural pursuit and its producers have secured an EU mandate forbidding the use of the term 'Aegina Pistachio' to designate nuts from other origins. Harvest time is from late August through September and coincides with the island's honorary celebration of the nut, Fistiki Fest.

Temple of Aphaia

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Archaeological Museum, Kolona

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Aegina's forests and mountains are home to several types of land mammals including foxes, hares, and badgers. Additionally it's one of the few areas in Greece which contains a marine environment that sustains a rarely found fish known as Katsoula. It's one of the most delicious fish in the Mediterranean and for this reason its whereabouts are a closely guarded secret.

Photo: Roberto Pillon

 

Hellenic Wildlife Hospital (EKPAZ)

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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The Northeast village of Mesagros is involved in grape cultivation which produces small quantities of wine each year for local consumption. Though there are no specific vineyards, ask around Mesagros and you will be sure to find a few bottles from someone's harvest.

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Hotel Aegina 2 *

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Vagia 2 *

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Hotel Aegina 2 *

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Vagia 2 *

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Hotel Aegina 2 *

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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Vagia 2 *

Athens & Nearby Islands / Aegina Island
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