Each year this programme presents an award to the coasts and marinas which meet strict criteria as regards the cleanness of the sea and the coast, good organisation and safety as well as the protection of the coastal environment in general. More specifically, the criteria for the award of the “Blue Flag” are the following:

1. Cleanness of the sea and the coast
– Quality of swimming water verified by measurement of water samples;
– Absence of industrial sewage discharge on the coast;
– Treatment of urban sewage as required by the relevant EU directive;
– Adequate number of litter bins which must be emptied at regular intervals;
– Periodical cleaning of the beach from litter, cigarette stubs etc.

2. Organisation of the coast and safety of the visitors
– Continuous information of the public regarding the quality of swimming water;
– Immediate information if the water has become unsafe for swimmers;
– Plans to deal with a pollution accident and to immediately inform the public;
– Adequate number of sanitary facilities with controlled sewerage;
– Trained lifeguards or direct access to telephone, lifesaving equipment and First Aid;
– Safe passage to the coast and special care for people with disabilities;
– No driving (vehicles and motorcycles) is allowed on the beach;
– Free camping is forbidden; and
– Pets have to be supervised on the beach.

3. Protection of nature and environmental education
– Printed information and publicly displayed instructions regarding behaviour on the coast;
– Activities actively promoting the protection of the natural coastal environment.

Grand Beach Lagonissi

It opened in 2002 and immediately became the talk of the town. The development followed the famously high standards of the Helios Resorts chain (Elounda Beach, Nafplia Palace, etc.), which owns the Grand Resort hotel complex.

The “raw material” was, in any case, good – a picturesque bay with crystal clear waters – but those in charge did not leave it at that: they brought in additional sand, literally covered the beach with beach umbrellas in a variety of colours (red, yellow, blue and white) to avoid any monotonous uniformity, put down wooden pathways – so your beach shoes don’t get dusty – and built a wonderful bar on a wooden pier jutting out into the sea. The second pier is expected to be completed this year (it was scheduled for last two years, but will finally be opened to the public this season).

What is unusual about this new 1300 m2 pier is that it will have a swimming pool – yes, that’s right, you’ll be able to swim in a swimming pool out in the sea! The general feeling is that of being on a cruise ship – that’s how well organised everything is.

From the menus attached to the beach umbrellas so that you can order from your recliner without interrupting your sunbathing – to the services provided by the organised spa on the beach, everything suggests a resort rather than a simple organised beach.

And if having a massage at the beach or eating ciabatta with prosciutto without even having to go and fetch it seem a little over the top, let us point out that the package contains some more Grand Beach Lagonissisolid amenities. For instance, the luxurious changing rooms with hot water showers mean that if you have a business appointment after your swim you can leave dressed to the nines, as if you have just left your bathroom at home.

And the sea? Well, it’s the real star. The water is superb, the bottom is sandy, and if you head out parallel to the rocky promontory you’ll get the feeling you’re on an island in Aegean. While swimming you may come across a small cave – a perfect hideaway for couples in love. However, we have to admit that on weekends, when it’s crowded, the water isn’t always perfectly clear.

The prices are high, but what the heck, these epic productions have to be paid for somehow. Besides the admission charge, you must also allow for the cost of parking. At least they’ve bothered to provide parking facilities, because there are some organised beaches where you must also factor in the additional cost of a parking ticket…

Asteria Sea Side

Other beaches have redeveloped, but this one has undergone a total transformation. The well-known Glyfada beach had been deserted since the mid ’80s until it was decided two years ago to turn it into the new summer hot spot.

Your first glance, as you come through the white (Caribbean style) wooden gate, assures you that the venture has been a total success.

Asteria Sea Side is the classiest organised beach in Attica. White recliners, white umbrellas, elegant low buildings, changing rooms straight from Miami Beach. Naturally, there is no need for a scrum at the bar to get a drink – waiters scurry to and from the sandy beach (which, by the way, was not always sandy: many tons of white sand were brought in to create its new image, and sand was added to the seabed as well). There are, of course, hot showers, and they have also have lockers for your valuables so you can swim unconcerned.

And then, right in the middle of this elegant tranquillity, there is a super water park in the sea, with imaginative inflatable constructions, providing the best possible proof that children are very welcome at Asteria Sea Side.

There is also a private area on the beach, with its own entrance, around the Balux all-day beach bar. The action here centres around the bar’s swimming pool (settle in on one of the superb wooden canopied colonial beds) from morning till late into the night.

Asteras Vouliagmenis Beach

Asteras has always been one of the best of the organised beaches, with a strong cosmopolitan flavour. The beautiful water, the fine sand, the floating diving platform and – let’s admit it – the status of the adjacent Asteras hotel have always made it a favourite, even when its admission charge was three times that of other beaches.

However, it is not alone at the top anymore, as the Attica coastline now has beaches with much more advanced services – a fact that does not seem to be discouraging this beach’s die-hard fans from gathering here.

Large groups of 30somethings cluster around the lone recliner they’ve been able to seize, the more athletically minded (sometimes including genuine sports stars) play racquets and beach volley for hours in the specially designated area next to the ruins of the ancient Temple of Apollo.

From mid-May until September shows its autumnal face, the beach is always busy, and on weekends it’s really too crowded for comfort. Fortunately there’s a notice board outside the entrance that tells you if there are any umbrellas free. Up until last year the managers of the beach looked upon their competition with a relaxed self-assurance.

The changes that they made were minor, perhaps a few more umbrellas and recliners (unfortunately, the plastic kind without an adjustable back). This year, however, with the Asteras being radically renovated, the historic beach will display its new face.

Attiki Akti Vouliagmenis Beach

Vouliagmeni’s erstwhile down-scale beach, once the cheapest on the coast, is no longer either cheap or down-scale. What’s more, it is the only organised beach where all the furniture (recliners, umbrellas) is made of wood and very stylish – although be sure to bring a thick beach towel with you, because stylish doesn’t necessarily translate into comfortable.

The sea here is awesome: deep waters, cold and clear. This beach and the organised Asteras beach (on the opposite side of the promontory) are complementary: when it is windy on one side, on the other it is dead calm. The main buildings near the entrance have had a simple facelift, but awaiting us on the far side of the beach is the super Okeanida self-service restaurant, decorated in style. This beach is a favourite with 20somethings, who overcome the financial barrier of the euro 5 charge for a recliner by taking just one (or at the most two) to be shared by the whole gang.

Although there are special areas set aside for sports behind the line of umbrellas, most people insist on playing on the wet sand at the edge of the sea, inevitably annoying those who simply want to lie back and enjoy the view of small sailing boats flitting back and forth across the bay. What saves the day is simply the fact that the beach is so big that in the end there’s room for everyone.

Generally, although its new look isn’t overly impressive, it wins on points: tasteful wooden furniture, bamboo rubbish bins, clay ashtrays, even the superbly muscled lifeguard on duty in his special tower, combine to create a very positive picture.

This big beach, with its deep and clear waters, is a favorite with 20somethings. It is complementary to the Asteras beach on the opposite side of the promontory. When it is windy on one side, it is dead calm on the other. There is a special area for sports behind the umbrellas.

Varkiza Beach

Our expectations were raised last two years, when this classic beach was taken over by the Daskalantonakis group (Grecotel). And, indeed, the new management announced an ambitious plan. The new facilities will include, among other things, waterslides, beach bars, a traditional ouzeri, a seafood restaurant, a brasserie, snack bars, an ice-cream corner, a beach wear store, a cinema and special areas for receptions. The object is to create a “beach park” that will provide entertainment for all ages.

This, however, meant that all the old facilities had to be torn down and everything completely redeveloped from scratch. The result is that the work has taken a long time and the opening ceremony has been postponed until the summer of 2004, when the beach will be able to show off its new look. The stamp of the new management was already obvious even last summer, when the beach was operating with just the bare essentials (snack bar, recliners and showers).

The sand was “fine-screened” and spotlessly clean. Discreet security guards monitored the action on the Varkiza Beachbeach, politely hinting excessively enthusiastic racquet players away from the sand in front of the umbrellas (there is a special pitch at a distance from the recliners, so no one is bothered).

Given that this is basically a family beach, this polite maintenance of order allows absolutely everyone to enjoy their day at the beach. The water is crystal clear, but very shallow, and the seabed is naturally sandy. You can walk and walk and the water will still only reach your waist.

But in the end it is worth the effort, because by the time it does become deeper you will be far away from the families that congregate in the shallows. Then you will really enjoy your swim, plus the prospect of the resort town of Varkiza (it’s prettier from the sea) and the sight of the windsurfers, who traditionally gather here.

Agios Kosmas Beach

Microscopic, not especially pretty, and divided by a cape into two smaller bays. But it does have two basic advantages: it is close to Athens and it is well looked after. The installations (completely renovated two years ago) consist of low brick buildings with green wooden trim. The self-service bar has a pretty pergola, where you can enjoy your coffee. On the right, there is an expanse of lawn for those who don’t like to lie on the sand.

The beach itself is cleaned daily, as is the sea. And, of course when the summer heat becomes stifling and the crowds surge in, a notice board at the entrance tells you how full the beach is. If you come this far, it is worth combining your swim with a spin at the adjacent go-cart centre (not part of the beach facilities but it is right next door and one of the best in Attica), or, if you have children, a visit to the small inflatable trampoline park just past the beach.

Voula Beach A

The trendy sign in bright pop colours and the poster by the ticket booth advertising various music events are your first indications that Voula Beach A’ is a beach with brio: cheerful, busy and young. And, thank God, it has what it takes to sustain this role. Its huge expanse (more than 2 hectares) and broad sands make it more like a fun park than just another beach.

Although families do come, this is a primarily a beach for teenagers. They start with a game that involves dousing each other with water on the grass lawn above the beach until the guard tells them to stop, and then move down to the beach and continue with racquets (watch out for flying balls!). Then come the water slides, and finally over to the beach bar, where they all wait in line for sandwiches, crisps, cheese pies, ice cream.

The sea here is not the best: the water is shallow and becomes murky with the slightest wave; but the landscape is pretty, with a picturesque little rocky island in the background. And the facilities are really excellent, surprisingly so for such a heavily used beach. The lawns and flowerbeds are newly planted and well looked after.

There are plenty of recliners and beach umbrellas, and the showers and beach cabanas, while not new, are clean. The best thing of all, however, is the beach shop.

Apart from necessities like sunscreens, there are also beautiful pareos, clever T-shirts and ethnic handbags. Soccer fans are likely to head straight for Attica, one of the best-organised mini soccer centres in the region.

The other uncontested hot spot is the Palmie beach bar (on the far left). Its sun decks offer a feeling of privacy, and its new decor (part Caribbean, part African) is pure summer.

Voula Beach B

On the edge of the seaside town of Kavouri, the second organised beach in Voula won us over last year with its calm clear waters. This year, we found its new facilities intriguing. Picking our way through construction sites, we discovered a number of interesting things – for instance, they are building beautiful beach cabanas that will be let as small cottages for the summer.

Another plus point is the ample parking inside the facilities, free of charge. As far as we could tell, most people don’t realise that the beach is once again open. Thus, when Voula Beach A’ is crawling with people, Voula Beach B’ is relatively quiet.

The sea is nice, although the most impressive feature of the beach is also its one defect: the concrete breakwaters that rise out of the sea like surreal islands are by far the best place for sunbathing, but create a somewhat unpleasant sensation, since the seabed around them is muddy. You can, of course, always swim at the other end of the beach.