98km (53 nautical miles) SW of Piraeus; 3km (2 nautical miles) from Ermioni

Here's one real plus for visitors to Spetses: Cars are not allowed to circulate freely in Spetses town. This would make for admirable tranquillity if motorcycles were not increasingly endemic. Now, a closer look at the island.

Despite a series of dreadful forest fires, Spetses's pine groves still make this the greenest of the Saronic Gulf islands. Even in antiquity, this island was called Pityoussa (Pine-Tree Island). Over the centuries, many of Spetses's pine trees became the masts and hulls of the island's successive fleets of fishing, commercial, and military vessels. In time, Spetses was almost as deforested as its rocky neighbor Hydra is to this day.

In the early 20th century, local philanthropist Sotiris Anargyros bought up more than half the island and replanted barren slopes with pine trees. Anargyros also built himself one of the island's most ostentatious mansions, flanked by palm trees, which you can see off Spetses's main harbor, the Dapia. Amargyros also built the harborfront Hotel Poseidon to jump-start upper-class tourism. Then he built Anargyros College (modeled on England's famous Eton College) to give the island a first-class prep school; John Knowles taught here in the early 1950s and set his cult novel The Magus on Spetses.

Today, Spetses's pine groves and architecture are its greatest treasures: The island has an unusual number of handsome archontika built in the 19th and 20th centuries by wealthy residents, many of them shipping magnates, some now owned by their descendants or by well-heeled Athenians. Many Spetses homes have lush gardens and pebble mosaic courtyards; if you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of some when garden gates are ajar. Like Andros, another island beloved of wealthy Athenians, Spetses communicates a sense that there's a world of privilege that exists undisturbed by the rough and tumble of tourism, which—let's not mince words—means you and me.

Spetses Town (aka Kastelli) meanders along the harbor and inland in a lazy fashion, with most of its neoclassical mansions partly hidden from envious eyes by high walls and greenery. Much of the town’s street life takes place on the main square, the Dapia, the name also given to the harbor where the ferries and hydrofoils arrive. The handsome black-and-white pebble mosaic on Dapia commemorates the moment during the War of Independence when the first flag, with the motto “Freedom or Death,” was raised. Spetses played an important part in the fight for freedom, routing the Turks in the Straits of Spetses on September 8, 1822.

Fortunately for attentive visitors, a number of Spetses's dignified villas have been converted into appealing small hotels, mostly based at Ayia Marina.