Rugged Retreats – Exploring the Wild Side of Greek Islands by Ferry

Rugged Retreats equip men through the door of adventure to awaken their true identity in Christ and become the man God’s created them to be.

Riding the wine-dark seas between Greece’s many islands inspires fantasies of being Odysseus or Zorba the Greek. Yet such an island-hopping odyssey can be more doable than it sounds.

1. Hydra

The Saronic Gulf islands lie closest to Athens and are prone to weekend day-trippers, but there are many islands that are a world away. One such is gloriously car-free Hydra, a place of pine-scented coves and warm creviced rocks surrounded by crystal water. Once a hub of Greek shipping, the island still retains many neoclassical mansions built by sea captains.

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2. Spetses

Spetses was one of the first Greek islands to raise the flag of revolution in 1821 and it retains a cosmopolitan air, reflected in smart cafes and boutique hotels. It was also the home of war heroine Laskarina Bouboulina, whose life-sized statue stands proudly at the main dock. The island’s rich history is chronicled at the Museum (+30 22980 72994), housed in a mansion that belonged to one of Spetses’ early lords.

The best way to see the island is on foot, especially during the day, when its cobble streets are filled with fragrant jasmine and bougainvillaea. Start at the port of Dapia and stroll past the mighty Poseidonion Grand Hotel, which was built in 1914 by Sotirios Anargyros, who was inspired by the Negresco and Carlton hotels in Venice and Cannes.

Then walk to the well-kept captains’ mansions below the old harbor, visit the old port and its neoclassical church and gaze at the courtyard of the Agios Nikolaos Monastery, which features a Spetses trademark — mosaic paving made from black and white pebbles. You can also admire the former Harrow-style boarding school, which edified generations of Spetses youngsters from 1927 to 1983.

3. Evia

With the azure sea, mountain paths for hiking, exotic islets, petrified forests and thermal springs Evia (pronounced eH-vee-ah) holds the entire universe within its shores. The northern part of the island is an ideal retreat for nature lovers and hikers. It is here that you can find pine forests full of drooping firs, secluded beaches and old monasteries such as Galataki and Osios David.

Central Evia is where Chalcis and Eretria thrived during the Ionian Greek revolution, while in the south a number of medieval fortifications have survived. There are also a number of drakospita (dragon houses) in the southern area, which are some of the oldest structures dedicated to worship dating back to the Neolithic era.

The most popular beach town in the north is Pefki, where you can find tavernas and a couple of resort hotels at reasonable prices such as the 4-star Thalatta Seaside Hotel and Club Agia Anna Summer Resort. There are also a handful of nice villas and apartments for rent.

If you have some time to spare, head down the road to Rovies and Limni which spread around a natural harbor. They have a distinct island character and you can see that they have been settled by both Greeks and Turks. You can even find some villages where the locals speak an Albanian dialect. The awe-inspiring Cavo Doro Cape at the southeast tip of the island is another highlight.

4. Leros

Leros is one of the most underrated Greek islands. It has beautiful beaches, quaint fishing villages, and enough bars, cafes and restaurants to keep you stimulated. It also has a wild side that is hard to find anywhere else in the Dodecanese.

While the island gets a lot of tourists on package tours from Patmos, Lipsi and Kalymnos it manages to stay largely untouched by mass tourism. The pristine white-sand beach of Agia Kioura is a great place to relax away from the crowds but if you want to see more of the natural beauty then head south and visit the unspoiled, crystal clear beach at Vromolithos.

On the north of the island is a medieval castle that overlooks the sweeping landscape and picturesque villages. A visit here is a must for any lover of architecture, especially medieval. It is also home to the church of Panagia which is a place of pilgrimage.

The Bellenis Tower is another must-see attraction. Its unique design combines neogothic and Italian eclecticism and is an architectural masterpiece. The town of Alinda is worth exploring too. Here you will find the folklore museum and the Belleni Tower which hosts a collection of costumes as well as religious artifacts. You can also see the impressive Tunnel War Museum that has all sorts of military vehicles, equipment and relics from the island’s troubled past.