Saronic Gulf Islands (7 to 22 September 2023)

We love the Greek islands, and especially Hydra, so we thought it fitting to come back here to commiserate  celebrate our 30 years together.  Hooray for us!

If you’ve seen our previous posts on Hydra, the Dodecanese Islands and the Cyclades, you will know that our love of Greek islands comes down to boat harbours, fish lunches and Greek cats.  This swing through was no exception.  We might as well have called this post ‘15 days of calamari and cats’.


No, not Paros.  That’s in the Cyclades.

Poros is a much smaller island, just off the coast of the Peloponnese Peninsula.  So close, you can drive from Athens to the tiny town opposite in two hours and catch a car ferry across.  If you don’t have a car, it’s much easier to get the high speed catamaran from Piraeus port.  You are there in under 90 minutes.

Poros is a gem.  Its proximity to Athens makes it a popular place for summer weekend getaways, but somehow it’s really calm and peaceful.  From the harbour front, homes are stacked up the slopes.  They aren’t the dazzling sugar cubes of Santorini but are lovely nonetheless.

The port is sheltered and it’s on a natural trajectory for boats passing through the Saronic Gulf so there were lots of seriously expensive yachts anchored up.

There are at least nine attractive little beaches around the island.  Some are serviced by a free bus which runs along one part of the coast.  Others are accessible only by boat.  Otherwise, the island is tree-covered.  Poros town is all there is.  The beautiful waterfront is lined with shops and restaurants with great fish and seafood, excellently positioned for watching the passing parade of yachts.

A maze of traditional lanes snakes back from the harbour and up the hill.

At the highest point of town, the island’s landmark is the old clock tower.

Hidden away up the slopes are some great traditional taverns.  This one, under a 200 year old plane tree, was our favourite.

Poros is only 250 metres across the water from the mainland town of Galatos.  Water taxis cross back and forth continuously so it’s easy to pop over for a stroll along the waterfront where several sleepy taverns and cafes can be found.

As well as a good view back to Poros.

Technically speaking, Poros is made up of two islands joined by a small bridge.  From town, we took a short walk over the bridge and around the shore, where we found yet another lovely taverna, this time with a deck over the water.  We didn’t pick it just because it was named Aspros Gatos (White Cat).  Really, we didn’t.  Our fish lunch was excellent.

Of course, there were lots of real cats, too.  It wouldn’t be a Greek island without cats.

Five days seemed too short.  We loved Poros!


From Poros we caught the ferry to Spetses.  It was a very different, but still very ‘Greek’ island.

Visibly more affluent than Poros, there are some grand old houses dating from the 18th and early 19th century when Spetses had a thriving ship building industry as well as being a major fishing port.

Spetses’ most famous resident was the indomitable Laskarina Bouboulina.  Born in 1771 in an Istanbul prison, she was a twice widowed mother of seven by the age of 40.  But in an era when it was virtually unheard of for women even to control their own finances, she built a merchant shipping empire from her second husband’s estate.

Spetses was the first part of Greece to rebel against the Ottoman occupation.  Bouboulina hoisted the revolutionary flag from the mast of her most impressive craft, a 33 metre corvette with 18 cannons, and led her own ships and a squadron of the Spetses fleet into the war.  She spent almost her entire fortune supporting the revolution by supplying weapons, paying soldiers and providing aid to the families of those fighting.

Back in Spetses after the war, a drama worthy of Shakespeare unfolded.  One of Bouboulina’s sons and the daughter of a wealthy local family fell in love.  But the Bouboulina coffers were empty and the girl’s family weren’t going to let her marry a pauper.  The couple took shelter in the Bouboulina home, intending to elope.  A delegation from the other family arrived, demanding the girl. Bouboulina refused, tensions escalated and a member of the other family shot her in the head.  A brutal end.  But she’s now lauded as one of Greece’s great war heroes.

The family home is a museum.

And there’s a statue of Bouboulina on the waterfront.

There’s a small pedestrianised precinct parallel to the waterfront with a bit more glitz than Poros.  Upscale shops selling flouncy frocks, jewellery, art and expensive trinkets are interspersed with more traditional cafes and taverns.

And a cute little nail salon attended by this colour co-ordinated sweetie.

The town beach is clean, calm, convenient and refreshing.

And there’s a pretty little boat harbour around the point.

For a super-touristy experience you can take a horse and buggy ride.  Kitschy, but it seemed popular.

No private cars are permitted on Spetses.  That should be good, but unfortunately it means everyone, and we mean everyone has a motor bike.  Apart from in the small pedestrianised shopping precinct, everywhere you go people are zipping around on motor bikes.  No one walks anywhere.  Unless something changes, in a few generations, Spetsiots will be born without legs.

The noise is irksome.  We escaped to the beach.  Spetses is ringed with beaches, many of which are crammed with lounge beds under umbrellas attended by waiters from the bars behind.

Not our style.  We happily traded off those comfy but crowded strips of sun beds for a piece of pebbly serenity whose only ‘deficit’ seemed to be that you had to walk to get there.  We came here a couple of times and always it was almost deserted.  Like we said, no one walks here!

We went to the outdoor cinema to see the newly released My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.  The audience comprised ourselves and about a dozen octagenarian locals.  The movie is fairly dreadful, but hey, when in Greece….

A local volunteer organisation looks after the island’s cats by establishing cat colonies with a ‘cat hotel’ and ‘cat restaurant’.  The colonies draw otherwise roaming cats into little communities where they are fed, neutered and have their medical needs monitored.  It reduces fighting, helps control numbers and provides a better quality of life for the felines.

And what cute cats they are.

If only they banned those noisy motorbikes.


It’s our third visit to Hydra and what can we say that we haven’t said in previous posts?  It’s simply beautiful.

It’s still blessedly free of any motorised transport other than a few utility vehicles for garbage collection and services.  Everything is transported by donkeys.

The port bustles with activity from dawn to dusk.  These photos are from the balcony of our room at the gorgeous Hotel Sophia right on the port.

As dawn breaks, the cats supervise unloading the cargo boats.

And when the fishing boats come in, they line up for their supplies.  Where do they keep their coin purse?

We did some beautiful coastal walks.

There’s some new art installations to be seen.

It seems like the islanders spent Covid upgrading the inland walking trails.  They are much better marked than when we were here in 2018.  We hiked to the top of Mount Eros, Hydra’s highest point, with 360 degree views over the sea and surrounding islands.

Then continued east along the spine of the island and back around the coast.  16km in total and we saw only a handful of people.  It was the same when we hiked west on a track which took us high above town and out past several monasteries and more views of the sea.

This modest little chapel looked like it had a shrine for the cats outside!

Quite a few of the back streets of town have also had a makeover.  It seems like many are being converted to apartments and small hotels.  But it still seems calm.  As long as the island stays vehicle-free, we can’t see it losing its charm.

We made a tiny detour to pay our respects at Leonard Cohen’s house again.  After all, it was his birthday.  It was tricky to find in 2018 but not anymore.  The house is still unmarked, but the street is now named after him and there’s only two houses in the street.

On the cliff walk, a grumpy cat was guarding the memorial bench dedicated to Cohen.

We ate often and well at the Douskas Tavern, where Cohen used to drink with his friends back in the early 1960s.  We loved it last time, and if anything the food is even better now.  Pleased to report, nothing has changed.

And nor have the cats.  Ever vigilant, ever alert, protecting homes, shops and businesses.

Like we said, it wouldn’t be a Greek island without cats.


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1 Comment

  1. Chris Cameron
    September 29, 2023 / 7:08 am

    Such hard work being a Greek kitty cat 😀

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