Situated in the heart of the Argosaronic gulf and just a stone’s throw from Athens, Spetses is where international tourists and Greeks alike, escape to for a taste of the island life, minus the Aegean sea voyage. With its rich naval history and its illustrious waterside manors, this ‘island of spices’–as it was referred to under Venetian rule–lives up to its notoriously upscale reputation.
Upon arrival, you are welcomed by the red water taxis, horse buggies and pebble-lined streets that have come to characterise Spetses. The aroma of amigdalota (almond and blossom water cakes), and other sugar-laced sweets and treats usually permeate the air, depending on the time of day. An oval-shaped lap along the sea road is lined with scenic pine trees, beach coves and mountainous forest, and can be completed in 22.2 km. A bus service and caique boats can get you to most key points, however, hiring a scooter or e-bicycle will give you the freedom to come and go without clock-watching. Please note cars are not allowed.
As the town centre and main port of arrival, Dapia functions as a central point of navigation. Its high sea wall, visibly noticeable as a first-time visitor, is adorned by real cannons that served numerous battles in the island’s history. The stone-built facade now houses an assortment of touristy cafes and restaurants, but it’s Roussos that’s considered the foundation of morning coffee and people-watching. Start your day here and don’t be put off by the picture menu; the omelettes are decent, as is the coffee and the service.
A few minutes walk inland from the port of Dapia, the Bouboulina Museum is a worthy, if not necessary attraction on the island. Run by the descendants of Laskarina Bouboulina themselves, the museum tells the story of the first female Admiral in Greek naval history and documents her participation in the war of independence through its collection of weapons, antiques, embroidery etc. It also serves as a modern-day cultural centre, with its summer festival hosting events such as music concerts, book launches, exhibitions, etc.
Come sundown in Dapia, head to Stabolis Kafeneion for ouzo (or tsipouro) and a few mouthfuls of meze. The taramosalata is luscious and be sure to ask for ‘The Stabolis’; a small plate of gruyere cheese and olives (not officially on the menu). Combine this with a stroll through the cobbled lanes to peruse the boutiques and gift shops, before ending on a childhood favourite soft-serve ice cream from Il Posto.
If a sit-down dinner in the town centre is what you’re looking for, one admirable contender is Agios restaurant, located at the heels of Agios Antonios church. As a family business, it could have remained on the path most familiar but since the head chef daughter of the owners took it over, it has evolved to become a lighter, more colourful version of the traditional taverna it once was.
Appetisers like the grilled talagani cheese with lemon jam or the potato ‘nest’ with egg and smoked Karditsa pork are fun and attractive, while the Agios special pork schnitzel–or even the classics like moussaka or rooster with makarounes–bring an air of nostalgia that ensures for those who remember it as it was, there’s always a seat at the table. However, it’s the quality of ingredients, attention to detail and friendly service that keep diners coming back.
For evening drinks, Spetsa Bar signifies pre-dinner, post-dinner and everything in between. Visiting Spetses without attending this institution is somewhat considered sacrilege. With 70’s vibes at its heart, this bantam, quirky bar owned by Mr. Kostas is for getting lost in old photos, music posters (among other, Spetses-related memorabilia pinned to the fabric-lined walls) and conversations with expats, part-time locals and curious passers-by. The margarita is a cult favourite!
Moving south-east from Dapia, the waterside manors and mansions formerly owned by shipowners and naval fleet officers, now considered hallmarks of the island, pave the sea road towards the Old Harbour. Agios Nikolaos church, built in 1805, is an unmistakable monument with its tall bell tower, and absolutely worth visiting to light a candle, if not to marvel at the marble.
Sleepy in the daytime barring a few seagulls, the Old Harbour is considered the hub of evening entertainment and until the early hours. Truthfully, nightlife on the island has seen a steady decline since the booming 90’s, with most bars and nightclubs being replaced by restaurants or re-appearing with a new moniker and not much else, year on year.
A relative newcomer that seems to be sticking around–and for good reason–is Bikini. By day, and on its ‘top-half’, Bikini serves the best brunch on the island–eggs most ways imaginable, colourful salads, sandwiches, fresh fruit smoothies and good coffee, alongside a fantastic sea-view and the renowned Spetses ‘karnagia’ seen in the distance. By night and on its ground level, it’s the place for a boogie regardless of age. It can get very busy, but you can always rely on the atmosphere to provide you with a good time and a few new friends.
Tarsanas is another restaurant you can rely on for quality of produce. Run by the Kaloskamis family, it’s a seafood spot that provides a somewhat elevated experience, alongside the comfort of classic, Greek flavours. The tables are dressed with crisp, white linens and its position just off the water’s edge is sublime. The kalamarada–tender strips of squid braised in tomato, garlic and basil–is a fantastic dish, as is the prawn and saffron spaghetti, with the pasta cooked so well that even the Italians would be happy. But it’s the hilopites that stand out here; egg pasta, hand-made locally by the nuns at Iera Moni Agion Panton, cooked in a clay pot alongside a medley of octopus, squid, mussels, crayfish and bay leaves. Leave the lid on for the sauce to thicken for a few minutes more once it’s at the table, as the cooks merely drop the pasta in just before serving.
For a more budget-friendly dinner, head to Nyxthimeron taverna. The keftedakia are plump and perfectly seasoned, while the bekri mezi–pork chunks, braised in red wine, tomato and warm spices–is a dish you will need extra bread for. Also, anything fried–namely, the hand-cut fries, the courgette fritters and the honey-soaked feta parcel.
Korgialenios and beyond
For all things swimming, snorkelling and beach naps, follow the sea road north-west from the Dapia, past the Poseidonion Grand Hotel.
Kaiki Beach Club is exactly that–a place where you can eat, drink, swim and relax in a sunlounger or cabana for the day, all in one place. Set on the beach under the gaze of the Anaragyrios Korgialenios School of Spetses (AKSS)–originally a boarding school founded in 1923, now housing the island’s High School–is admittedly, not the most picturesque of swimming spots. However, it has its merits, especially for families with young children who may need shade and access to restrooms. Or for those of us who like a Paloma cocktail post dip.
If you ask locals what their Sunday pastime is, and many will tell you it’s driving down the dirt track that leads to Zogeria for cumin-spiked soutzoukakia with hand-cut chips or mizithra-dredged spaghetti (or both– just ask!), smothered in Mrs. Loula’s tomato sauce. Don’t come here for light or al dente, and nor should you want to. The journey to the beach and its taverna is strewn with turquoise coves, thick, green forest and windy roads with a view of the mainland opposite. Once you reach the sign post for Zogeria, expect a bumpy ride to the bottom–or an adventure, depending how you see it. Alternatively, you can travel by caique which departs to and from the main port of Dapia daily during high season.
Agia Paraskevi, named after the chapel on the beach itself, is the next big bay along. Loved by both tourists and locals for its scenic charm, it’s considered a true gem. The waters are clean, deep and cool, and rarely are there big, obtrusive yachts taking up the vista, an issue on the island that the locals begrudgingly contend with. The pine trees provide shade, while the rustic beach bar serves coffee and refreshments. The small nudist beach on the far right by the terracotta-hued rocks is entirely optional.
- Bouboulina Museum – Discover the story of the first female admiral in Greek naval history and her involvement in the war of independence. Tours are self-guided and the summer festival is worth checking out for concerts and events.
- Iera Moni Agion Panton – Visitor hours are between 10.00-12.00 and 16.00-18.00 daily, although the Sunday morning service is best attended around 09.00–stick around for coffee and koulourakia around 10.00, and don’t forget to pick up a bag of dried hilopites pasta. The nuns also sell milk and yoghurt, produced on their farm on site.
- Anargyrios Korgialenios Open Air Amphitheatre – Best visited on the way to or from the beaches on the back side of the island, it’s situated high up in the forest and estimated to seat around 900.
- Spetsathlon – Spetses is home to the biggest triathlon race in Greece, with many participants travelling from all over the country to attend. There’s a variety of races and events available to choose from, in May and October, yearly.
- Hikes and trails – Despite its small size, the island has many hiking opportunities along its main ridgeline with key points along the way, such as: Ktima Chara, Sinantisi Kynigon and Profitis Ilias. In June 2022, the Greek Paths of Culture programme, in collaboration with the Municipality of Spetses and AKSS, launched a network of 19 different sign-posted routes, with a total distance of 65km. Download the app, Spetses Paths, for more info.
- Book a boat day – Mainly as a vessel to escape the August road rage, you can book a traditional kaiki boat to access hidden coves and beaches, with many locals offering full or half day experiences. If it’s glamour you’re after, you can also hire a rib boat or yacht.
- Shop local – Eating out every day isn’t for everyone. The local fishermen operate their stalls from the fish market not far from the port, every day from 07:00. You can also pick up fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and various deli items from the farmers market, from 08:00 until 12 noon, Wednesdays and Fridays, located inland.
- Kaiki Beach Club – Exactly as it sounds.
- Zogeria – It’s a bumpy ride if you’re driving, but worth it for taking a dip in the coves before the main beach and taverna.
- Agia Paraskevi beach– Natural and relatively unspoiled, a gem of the island.
- Agioi Anargyroi beach – A more commercialised version of the back beaches with watersports and neon-coloured sun loungers on display.
- Xylokeriza beach – A quiet, turquoise-coloured bay with sun loungers and a small shack serving the best pork skewers on the island.
- Klimis Hotel – Just 100m from the port and 20m from the sea, it’s centrally located in the heart of the cobbled shopping lanes. The adjoining traditional dessert shop is run by the same family–their galaktoboureko is beautifully rich and creamy.
- Orloff Resort – Luxurious but subtle, this 1865 mansion of the Nikolaos Orloff family is hidden behind a walled garden filled with olive trees and lavender. Located close to the Old Harbour, it’s a real treat.
- Sorina Studios – Boutique-style rooms, fresh, pretty and recently renovated. Located inland, it’s in a quiet location, and best for those with scooters or for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the town.
- Kastro Hotel – Just 300m from the port, it’s another great option for those who don’t want to stray too far but are looking for something more budget-friendly.
- Akrogialia – For late lunch or a sunset dinner, with toes dipped in the sand. The fried zucchini and grilled sardines are what they’re known for, and for good reason.
- Zogeria – For daytime beach eating, yiayia style. No light, no al dente, all soul.
- Agios – The only Dapia restaurant worth going to. The service is the best on the island and the quality and care of ingredients shows.
- Nyxthimeron – A budget-friendly taverna overlooking the Old Harbour. The owner is a character to say the least, while the bekri meze is his most valuable asset.
- Tarsanas – For an elevated experience that tastes like a traditional seafood taverna. Clay pot xilopites are somewhat unique, while any fish by the kilo will be high quality whatever the cooking method, although salt-baked is undeniably impressive.
- To Pachni – A meat-focused restaurant that many vegetarians will be happy at, located inland. The fava is like velvet, the aubergine dip is bold and silky, while the lamb chops by the kilo are charred until the fat is rendered just enough. Potatoes ‘yiahni’ are a locals favourite, while the tomatoes and horta greens are home-grown in the allotment next door.
- Kapelogiannis – For a few small plates of seafood with a view, in the Old Harbour. Prawn tartare, fried squid and marinated gavros are notable contenders, as is the fish orzo, and the fries–hand-cut thin, very hot and crispy, loaded with salt and oregano.
- Bikini – For brunch with a view upstairs, or an evening dancing (or not) into the early hours downstairs. Attracts a young crowd.
- Spetsa Bar – A 70’s-adorned, cult classic bar on the edge of the town, ideal for pre or post dinner, or anytime after it opens.
- Poseidonion Grand Hotel – For evening cocktails at the Palms bar or afternoon coffee on the terrace.
- Roussos – For morning coffee, people watching, departures or arrivals.
- Stabolis Kafeneion – For sundown ouzo or tsipouro and a few bites in between.