The second largest of the Greek islands after Crete, ÉVVIA (Euboea) – separated only by a narrow gulf from central Greece – often feels more like an extension of the mainland than an entity in its own right. At Halkídha, the old drawbridge spans a mere 40m channel where Évvia was mythically split from Attica and Thessaly by a blow from Poseidon’s trident. Easy access from Athens means that in summer Évvia can seem merely a beach annexe for Athens and the mainland towns across the Gulf.
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Nevertheless, Évvia is an island, often a very beautiful one, and in many ways its problems – long distances to cover, poor communications, few concessions to tourism – are also its greatest attractions, ensuring that it has remained out of the mainstream of tourism. Exceptionally fertile, Évvia has always been a quietly prosperous place that would manage pretty well even without visitors. The classical name, Euboea, means “rich in cattle”, and throughout history it has been much coveted. Today agriculture still thrives, with plenty of local goat and lamb on the menu, along with highly rated local retsina.
Évvia divides naturally into three sections, with just a single road connecting the northern and southern parts to the centre. The south is mountainous, barren and rocky; highlights are low-key Kárystos and hiking the nearby mountains and gorges. The centre, with the sprawling island capital at Halkídha, is green, wealthy and busy with both industry and agriculture, but for visitors mainly a gateway, with the bridges at Halkídha and onward transport to Skýros from the easterly port of Kými. In the north, grain fields, olive groves and pine forest are surrounded by the bulk of the island’s resorts, most dominated by Greek holiday homes.
So narrow that you sometimes spot the sea on both sides, mountainous southern Évvia is often barren, bleak and windswept. The single road from the north is winding and tortuous – most people who come here arrive by ferry, and though Greeks have holiday homes in numerous coastal spots there’s really just one attractive resort, at Kárystos.
Heading south by road you’ll pass what maps mark as Lake Dhýstos; these days it has been largely reclaimed as farmland, and there’s barely any water. Atop conical Kastrí hill on the east shore are sparse fifth-century BC ruins of ancient Dystos and a medieval citadel. At STÝRA, 35km from Lépoura, three dhrakóspita (“dragon houses”) are signposted and reachable by track. So named because only dragons were thought capable of installing the enormous masonry blocks, their origins and purpose remain obscure. The shore annexe of NÉA STÝRA, 3.5km downhill, is a dull, Greek-frequented resort, worth knowing about only for its handy ferry connection to Ayía Marína. Much the same is true of MARMÁRI, 20km south, except here the link is with Rafína. Both have plenty of food and accommodation should you be stuck waiting for a bus or ferry.
Leaving Halkídha to the north, the main road snakes steeply over a forested ridge, with spectacular views back over the city and the narrow strait, and then down through the Dhervéni Gorge, gateway to Évvia’s northwest.
Northern Évvia’s north and west coasts are home to most of the island’s resorts – none, however, that is particularly attractive or sees many foreign visitors. On the whole they consist of long, exposed pebble beaches, backed by scrappy hamlets of second homes and small hotels. Heading clockwise from Loutrá Edhipsoú, you come first to AYIÓKAMBOS, with regular ferry connections to Glýfa on the mainland. OREÍ and NÉOS PÝRGOS, next up, pretty much merge together into a single resort; the former with good restaurants around its harbour, the latter quieter, but with only a tiny beach. PÉFKI is another small, pleasant resort with extensive beaches either side. At Psaropoúli, steeply below the town of VASILIKÁ, there’s a vast, barely developed bay of grey sand and pebbles. PARALÍA AYÍA ÁNNA, by contrast, is a substantial resort on a couple of kilometres of brownish sand, with showers and loungers at the resort end, and plenty of empty space beyond. Finally, at the tiny hamlet of KRÝA VRÝSSI, there’s a lovely brown-sand beach with the ruins of ancient Kirinthos at its southern end.