AEGINA island Greece lies in the Argo Saronic bay off the Greek mainland and can even be seen from hills near the centre of Athens.
Suburban doesn't describe too many Greek islands but Aegina, nearer to Athens' centre than some of the city's northern suburbs, pretty well fits the bill.
Many of the 12,000 people who live on Aegina commute to the capital to work. Aegina is also a popular weekend retreat and a favoured retirement island for many well-heeled Greeks. Visitors on Greek Islands holidays find Aegina ideal for visiting the historic sites on the Greece mainland
Aegina is popular with tour operators thanks to easy transfers from Athens airports. Many sightseeing excursions to the mainland with Athens just a few minutes away by ferry and bus.
The main resorts can get swamped by day trip visitors at times. There can be so many at weekends that Aegina suffers suburban problems of parking and nighttime traffic noise.
Aegina is roughly triangular shaped island, about eight miles by six. To the north and west of are fertile coastal plains, noted for their crops of pistachios, almonds and figs.
Aegina islanders who don't commute to Athens either work in the tourism industry or they grow pistachios, olives and citrus.
To the east and south are hills that rise to the conical Mount Oros (also called Zeus, Profitis Illias) and a long and rocky ridge that runs across Aegina with fertile valleys on either side.
There are several important historical sights on Aegina including the The 5th century BC Doric temple of Aphaia, the ruins of a village at Paliohora and the remarkable church of Agia Nektariou.
As one of the closest islands to the Greek capital of Athens, Aegina has a well-developed tourist infrastructure geared mainly to the Greek weekenders who descend on the island in droves. Most visitors head for the busy north coast beach resort of Agia Marina or to one of a clutch of small beaches that are found strung out along the east coast. Other than these few resorts, Aegina beaches are in short supply and the island has more to offer in the way of interesting sights and good walks.
Although a busy port, the main town of AEGINA TOWN also looks a bit like a movie set. The crescent shaped harbour is backed by neoclassical houses - some painted in bright colours - with tavernas, coffee shops and cafes trailing along the water's edge.
The waterfront indeed is where everything gravitates - unfortunately including most of the traffic. Dozens of bars and clubs emphasize that this is a party island, yet narrow streets and quiet corners ensure Aegina Town hasn't lost all its charm.
Small cafes abound and the island-grown pistachios are sold everywhere, though most notably and not particularly cheaply, at the growers' cooperative by the harbour gates. Boats moored to the Aegina Town quay also sell fresh fruit, nuts and raisins as well as other delights. Apart from the usual tourist boutiques, there are also many shops specialising in local hand-made pottery.
Tables are put out on the promenade at night and tasseled horses pull the tourist traps (so well named) along the main promenade. A rather austere and much photographed chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas, sits alone at the water's edge looking a trifle out of place. The proximity of Aegina Town to Athens has made it a favourite with holiday home developers. Rich Greeks have thrown up many downright ugly retirement homes that give some parts of the town a flat, suburban air.
Nevertheless there is much to see in Aegina Town . The Greek Orthodox cathedral of Agios Demetrios is where the first government of modern Greece was sworn in and the old Government House is now a good library. North of the town at Cape Kolono is a fluted 23-ft high column looking rather lost and decrepit, the last remnant of a temple built in the 5th or 6th century BC to Apollo. Recent excavations in have uncovered a theatre and a stadium, though the jumble of ruins and rubble is rather perplexing. There is a small, sandy beach here called Avra or Kolono beach with sunbeds and tavernas.
The Aegina Town Archaeological Museum, the first museum of its kind in Greece, houses some significant island finds, although the best was shipped to Athens many years ago. There are three open-air cinemas in Aegina Town during the summer with shows at 9pm and 11pm.
MARATHONAS is what passes for a traditional Greek fishing village in these modern tourist days and it can be found about 4km south of Aegina Town, almost half-way to the resort at Perdika.
Marathonas is a pretty village of just 250 or so permanent inhabitants and it has a relaxed atmosphere with houses climbing up on the steep hillside behind the resort. A hillside walk brings rewards of spectacular views out to sea. The hills behind Marathonas also offer opportunities for extensive hill walking and even mountain climbing.
There are two beaches near Marathonas; one is pleasantly sandy and the other not so good. There are plenty of tavernas along this part of the coast, all hoping to catch some of the passing trade out of the main town. Near Marathonas is the imposing monastery of Panagia Chrysoliodis, which dates from the 16th century.
The coast road south from Aegina Town to Perdika is dotted with tavernas opposite sandy coves and backed by pistachio groves and eucalyptus trees, notably at AEGINITISSA and PROFITIS ILIAS until you reach the resort of FAROS.
The Faros resort is most noted for some beautiful neoclassical buildings and also popular for a less than classical giant water park - basically a big pool, a couple of decent water chutes and scores of sunbeds.
If you take the road to Perdika, pass the petrol station and turn left after a large pink building you will find a dirt road that leads down to SARPA beach. Once a rather scruffy outpost, the beach at Faros has been cleaned and upgraded and there are now plenty of umbrellas, a volleyball area and a small cantina.
The pleasant fishing village of PERDIKA has lately been invaded by hotels, though it manages to cling on to some original Greek charm with its picturesque flower-bedecked side-streets and pleasant fish tavernas. Perdika's big problem is the surrounding countryside which, unlike the rest of the island, is a boring and barren moonscape.
Perdika resort itself is perched on a promontory with a large marina where luxury yachts join the small fishing boats. Shady tavernas sit above and behind on the high walls that line the utilitarian strip of battleship grey concrete that tries to pass for a promenade. Excursion boats leave regularly for the islet of Moni that lies just offshore and there are trips to Angistri island, which lies about about 4km to the west.
Just before Perdika, heading south, is a small beach called KLIMA or KLIDI. There is music and dancing on the beach with DJs from Athens. Klima is a popular bay for yachts. Turn left at first crossroads before you reach Perdika, turn right after 500m and follow the sign to Klima, with a left turn just before the beach.
The tiny sea port of PORTES lies on the east coast of Aegina and is reached overland from Aegina Town or along the coast road south from Agia Marina. Portes perches rather dramatically over the sea and has a long stony beach of little interest.
A little way inland from Portes is the Ekpaz Wildlife Sanctuary which has handled around 5,000 animals and birds since it was opened. Entry is free and you get guided tours between 10am to 7pm. The sanctuary also has a small souvenir shop where you can make a donation to aid the excellent work going on there.
AGIA MARINA is the busiest place on the island, utterly devoid of charm and must rank as one of the ugliest resorts in Greece. Busy, noisy and tacky with apartment blocks along the coast, Agia Marina about as attractive as an egg crate.
A pity, as the long, wide sandy beach is the island's biggest and, gently shelving, is ideal for children with every sort of tourist facility - including a bewildering array of watersports - readily available. One of the biggest problems at Agia Marina in the high summer is finding a spare sun bed.
Trees at the back of Agia Marina beach offer good shade and steep wooded slopes lead up to the temple of Aphiaia that perches on the sheltering hills above. On the other side of the harbour there are cliffs and shallow waters and the rocky coast to the north leads to several quiet, sheltered coves.
Resort life centres around the busy Agia Marina beach and the streets leading to it. Tavernas, bars,shops and cafes are plentiful and weekending Athenians often pack the marina out with their boats. Agia Marina is also the main dropping off point for those visiting the archaeological attraction at the nearby temple of Aphiaia.
To escape the tourist tat some head for the nearby village of Alones where there are some excellent tavernas, while others head north along the coast for the quieter coves. to be found there
A short walk south out of Agia Marina brings you to the picturesque inland village of ALONES nestling in a deep green valley, where there are a number of tavernas - the most notable being Kostas and Takis - that are a favourite for tourist Greek night out specials.
Horse-buggies wait to take the more soft-headed romantic diners back to from Alones to Agia Marina afterwards. Who could resist?
Also near Agia Marina is the mountain village of MESAGROS, much boosted by its proximity to the Temple of Aphea. Mesagros is well known for its flowers, many unique to the area, and for its ceramics. Also of interest is the house of Rodakis, a fine example of 1880s architecture in very good condition. At the end of May is the Mesagros village festival centred around the church of Agios Konstantinos.
VAYIA or VAGIA is a small port around 4km east of Souvala. Vayia has a small sand and shingle beach and a couple of old-style tavernas. Eastwards along a coastal path are isolated coves.
In the centre of the Vayia resort are another two tavernas and a cafe. It's fortunate in having missed out on the tourist explosion of the main resorts and has a relaxed air of a bygone age.
Nearby is the village of Agius, smothered in pines and noted for its water jug pottery and the church of the Apostle Crispus.
Up to the 1960s SOUVALA was a busier trading harbour than Aegina but the explosion in tourism left it trailing behind. Its workaday past is betrayed by some drab industrial buildings and a general utilitarian air but Souvala still has some charm and a small if unremarkable beach of coarse sand and shingle.
Today Souvala is mainly a holiday village for Greeks and crammed with flats and small houses, many of them second homes for rich Athenians - this being the nearest port to the mainland.
There's a good range of tavernas around Souvala harbour where the bright lights of Piraeus can be seen on a clear night. Souvala is also well known for its health spa which attracts sufferers of rheumatism and those with various skin disorders.
In the midst of the pistachio and olive groves in the north-west of the island is the attractive village of KIPSELI with its fine central platia and its traditional two-storey homes.
The name Kipseli means 'beehive' and local tales have it that the village was renamed after protests from local girls at the former village name of Halameni which meant 'ruined'.
Kipseli is at the heart of the most prosperous area of the island with extensive orchards and farms stretching over the green plain. Kipseli village is noted for its huge number of chapels, another reflection of the area's great wealth in times gone by.