A Circuit of Aegina - Attic Explorations - CycleBlaze

March 26, 2022

A Circuit of Aegina

The next day, the sun was still shining, it was still (or in fact: only just) the weekend, and my legs were still more or less functional.  So it seemed like a good day for a quick (in distance, if not in time...) circuit of Athens' closest island neighbour: Aegina.

Having made this decision, the first task was to get down to Piraeus -- only about 14 km away, and gently downhill all the way (pretty much), but a ride which, to date, I have a 0% success rate in completing without getting hopelessly lost somewhere en route.  To try to improve my chances a bit, I asked cycle.travel for help, and loaded their suggested route into the gps.  All was going well until just south of the Kerameikos, when the gps seemed to be telling me to go the wrong way down a one-way, four-lane road.  I stood, baffled, at the junction for a bit before realising what had happened: since I last came to Athens, the city has been building a few bike lanes.  Cycle.travel had cleverly located the bike path, tucked between the railway line and the main road, which goes (not quite all the way) to Piraeus.  And I, less cleverly, was standing right in it, without realising it.  (Like I said: 0% success rate...)

Anyway, once the penny had finally dropped, I set off again and enjoyed about 5km of the most unexpectedly dutch-style riding I've ever experienced in Greece.

Dutch-style cycle path, Athenian-style!
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Slightly more expectedly, the path petered out on the edges of Piraeus, but it wasn't too hard from there to wiggle through mostly quiet roads (and over a short but extremely steep hill) to get to the harbour.

The ride to Piraeus. The long, south-westerly, straight-ish stretch (from about km 5 to km 9) is the segregated cycle path: highly recommended!
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At the port, I sorted out a ticket and joined the general, genial mayhem around the ferry.  (To be fair, I added to it a bit myself, by not hearing, and then not initially understanding, the instructions on where to stash my bike.)  Safely aboard in good time, I got a sunny spot out on the deck, and enjoyed a bit of recovery from my early morning exertions.

On arriving at Aegina, my first mission was to acquire some sunscreen -- always surprisingly hard to do in Greece outside the main tourist season (or maybe not a surprise: what sort of crazy pale-skinned person needs sunscreen in March...?), and a task accomplished only after a couple of circuits of the town, and inspections of the highest and dustiest pharmacy shelves.

Then, at last, it was time to get going, starting with a beautiful few kilometres along the -- not flat, but at least not impossibly hilly -- coast road, heading clockwise around the island.

Blue skies, blue seas on the north coast road. The land in the distance is the west coast of Attica.
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But my first objective, inevitably, was at the top of a hill.  Not a massive hill, to be fair (not even 200 metres), but still enough to cause my new (impossibly rare, impossibly expensive...) sunscreen to start to drip into my eyes.

Today's first objective: the Temple of Aphaia, up on the ridge.
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It's worth the climb and the sweat, though: a really wonderful site.  Even better: the little cafe next door has come through the pandemic intact, and is able to dispense essential drinks and biscuits to overheated cyclists.

Temple of Aphaia, Aegina. It's a little bit busy today --reasonably enough, on a sunny holiday weekend -- but not impossibly so.
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The small museum on the site is open today too, so I have a quick look round that (though almost everything from this temple is now in Munich -- such is (or was) the way of things...).  And then it's back on the bike, for a glorious descent back down to sea level, and to the village of Agia Marina.

It's just before 1 pm when I get here -- a bit early for lunch, but I know that there are some more big climbs on the way.  And it's a long time since breakfast. And there's an empty table, right by the sea.  Long story short: I stopped for lunch.

Lunch in Agia Marina. Not pictured: 95% of the cat population of the village, sitting under the table in (vain) hope of snaffling some leftovers.
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Fortified by (excellent) anchovies, I continue my circuit. The road sticks more or less to the coast for a bit, climbing over a spur before dropping back down to the tiny village of Portes (I note, for future reference, that there are a couple of good-seeming tavernas here too...)

First post-lunch climb, looking down the east coast of the island. The views are the reward, I keep telling myself.
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Then there's no more coast road, and it's time to turn inland for the last and most serious climb of the day.  It seems to have got steeper and longer since the last time I was here -- strange how that happens -- but it's still a lot of fun (maybe that thing they call 'type 2 fun'?): reasonably steady, on reasonably good tarmac, with almost no traffic and -- of course -- cracking views.

Second post-lunch climb. The road snakes up from the coast; and the views, now, are mostly to the north, and back over towards Attica.
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Looking the other way: more hills.
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No need to go to the Cyclades to see windmills!
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Eventually, I get to the top, where there's a little bit of almost-plateau (including, allegedly, a sanctuary of Zeus, though I've never managed to locate anything other than the Brown Sign proclaiming its existence...).  The views change again: now out to the west, and to the Peloponnese.

The view from the top: the small islands in the foreground are Moni and Angistri; behind those is the Methana peninsula; behind that is the Argolid.
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Then it's time for one last brilliant descent, down through the pistachio groves and back into Aegina Town.  I have enough time before the ferry to visit the main Aegina museum (which has not only the finds from this island, but also a bit of Athenian material -- moved here in the early nineteenth century when Aegina was, very briefly, the capital of the new Greek state), and to stop for a plate of honey-soaked loukoumades.  Both of these things are excellent: a fine end to a fine day's riding.

Aegina Town from Kolona: a settlement site from prehistoric times onwards, and now the location of the (very good) museum.
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Today's ride: 59 km (37 miles)
Total: 242 km (150 miles)

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