After the excitement of the holidays, just when you think winter is setting in, nature in Greece gives a beautiful gift. A little foretaste of spring – balmy, sun-kissed days made for an unexpected al-fresco lunch, a hint of sweetness in the breeze – pays Greece a visit.
These are called the ‘Alkionides’. We know them as ‘halcyon days’. Even though, technically, halcyon’s primary meaning is a period of calm weather during the winter, we have to think of halcyon days as something idyllic. They are a period when everything is beautiful, and everything goes right.
First days of the Alkionides: The Story Behind Them
Like most things beautiful in Greece, the Alkionides days have a story behind them, an origin in Mythology. And like most things in Mythology, the story is touchingly bittersweet. Alkione (Halcyon) was the daughter of Aeolos, the God of the Winds. But her husband was a mortal – Ceyx – the King of Trahina. When he was lost at sea in a storm, Alkione escaped her grief by throwing herself into the sea.
The gods were merciful. Deeply touched by the depth of her sadness, they reunited the couple. They made Alkione a kingfisher – a beautiful colorful bird. They brought Ceyx back as a kingfisher too. The kingfisher lays its eggs in winter, and Alkione nested on the beach, near the place where she first leapt into the sea to be reunited with her husband. Aeolus, Alkione’s father, calmed the winds for her and gave her good weather, to lay her eggs in peace.
Greeks embrace the gift of the Alkionides days. This welcome reprieve from winter is also an ideal time for a mini-break. It’s the perfect combination of balmy weather and quiet of winter.
You have an opportunity to have the sun-kissed islands very nearly to yourself. If you have not yet been to the islands of the Argosaronic gulf, a warm mid-winter break is a perfect time to explore them.
Since these islands are so close to Athens, they are extremely popular in the high season. In winter, their true character shines brightest. These lovely islands- Poros, Aegina, Hydra, and Spetses, are easily reached. They have their own distinctive personalities. And since they are so easy to get to, you can even explore more than one.
Explore the islands of the Argosaronic gulf
Fans of Henry Miller will already know Poros. He describes the beauty of the harbor in lavish detail in The Colossus of Maroussi. The main town is full of traditional character. Explore it as you climb to the clock tower of 1927, a popular sight on the island that offers sweeping views of the gulf and the island itself. Poros is magnificently lush and green. Love bay – a beach surrounded by pine forests – is a perfect, and popular, place from which to set sail for further exploring by sea.
Aegina is so popular in summer it is almost an extension of the greater Athens area. It is lovely! Like Poros, the town is full of character. Aegina has a splendid temple – the 5th century Doric temple to the mother goddess Aphaia which is in excellent condition. Aegina is also known for a superb agricultural product – fat, fragrant pistachio nuts. The ones here are so good in fact that the Greek word for pistachio is “peanut of Aegina.”
For those interested in the history of modern Greece, a visit to Hydra is a must. This proud island and its fleet were instrumental in the liberation of Greece in 1821. In the modern day, this is a destination for art cognoscenti – the Desde foundation has set up shop in a slaughterhouse where cutting edge international exhibitions are staged.
But neither of these charms outshine the beauty of the island itself. Hydra is worth visiting only for the particularly charming harbor, the elegant 19th century architecture, and the pristine natural beauty. The atmosphere of the island is utterly timeless, thanks to the fact that there are no cars or motorcycles on the island! Donkeys and water taxis take their place.
Lastly, for all-out glamor, there’s no place like Spetses. Traditionally catering to the elite, the splendid island is rich in cosmopolitan appeal. Expect plenty of gourmet dining, gorgeous bars and cafes, and indulgent shopping. The setting is enchanting – natural beauty, elegant architecture, and as in Hydra, no cars. But here, the preferred mode of transportation is a horse-drawn carriage.
The Alkionides days are a wonderful occasion to soak up some pre-season sun on one, or several, of these top Greek destinations, while enjoying an off-season glimpse of authentic charm.
Have you ever visited any of the Argosaronic Islands? What is your idea of the perfect Island get-away?