The Ionian islands off the
west coast of Greece are surprisingly lush and green (they have more rainfall
than England - happily, only in winter), the sailing conditions are generally
a gentle force 2 to 4 - not much wind. Ideal for the less experienced, or if you
just want to take it easy and it's great for kids - short distances between islands
so no time to get bored.
As everywhere in Greece, it's packed with culture and history, easy to find
if you look, from the Venetian city of Corfu to the legendary island of
Ithaca, to which Odysseus finally returned after his 11 years of wanderings. Like
many, these are the first Greek waters we ever sailed, so the area retains a special
something and rewards going back to, many times. For really enthusiastic sailors,
we have other ideas.
When you look at a map,
the Saronic & Argolic gulfs, just south of Athens, look too close to "civilisation" for comfort; too many crowds. Not necessarily. Aegina island is
clearly seen from the city, it's a two hour sail and we know a quiet little port
there with the best freshly caught seafood anywhere in Greece - and there's room
in the harbour for all of a dozen yachts, if you're friendly. Okay, secret's out,
it's called Perdica. The island is dominated by the temple of Aphaia, one of the
most important in antiquity (from where the view is wonderful). Many other remains
attest to its history, back to the mists of time around 3000 BC. Other gems of
the region include the islands of Poros, Hydra & Spetses, none more than 10
Sail up into the Argolic gulf and take the short trip to Mycenae or into the
small port of Epidavros (Saronic) for the nearby classical remains of the same
name. Spirits of ancient times are everywhere. Down the coast of the Pelloponese,
notable anchorages include Yerakas, with its fjord-like entrance hiding a shallow
lagoon with a Byzantine church keeping watch, and Monemvassia with its 'sugar-loaf'
mountain houses a mediaeval village and streets just wide enough for donkeys.
The wind in these gulfs is seldom fierce, but good sailing breezes of force 3
to 5 make for swift passages and, because of the nearby mainland's topography,
the sea is usually pretty flat - arguably the best kind of sailing. You'll never
see all of Greece, but this is a great place to start.
For many, the idea of classical
Greece means white houses, blue roofed churches, little old ladies in black and
the barren islands of the Cyclades (Greek for 'circle') in the middle of the Aegean.
Magical islands, so close your next port of call is always in view (you'll have
the best charts and pilots aboard, but basically this is easy, just look where
you're going). Easy to reach from Athens (but stop at the Temple of Poseidon at
Sounion first) and everything you've heard is true.
It also comes with a warning for sailors, it's called the Meltemi, the wind
that blows from the north in July & August, reaching force 6 to 7 often, force
8 and more often enough. To enjoy this area in summer you need to be an experienced
sailor, something of a sportsman, or be in a good skippered or crewed yacht. Outside
of this two-month period (though nothing is that predictable where the sea is
concerned) it's a different story and you can sail there in more relaxed fashion.
It's worth the journey. From the mosaics on the island of Delos (ancient, holy
place from Mycenaean times, you'll need a guide) to the windmills of Mykonos and
the crater of Santorini (also called Thira, whose volcano blew it apart a couple
of millennia ago and gave rise to the legend of Atlantis). Everywhere is a feast
for the eye.
The eastern Aegean islands
of the Dodecanese (the name sells them short, there are more than twelve) are
like rough hewn pearls of every shade against a dramatic backdrop that is the
land mass of Turkey. It's here that east meets west, before you actually step
into Asia, as these islands have been inhabited alternately by the Greeks and
Turks - among many others, notably the Knights of Malta who built the magnificent
and still completely intact old town of Rhodes in the 12th century
- and the culture of the islands reflects these two predominant influences strongly.
The climate can be surprisingly mild, so far south, the islands vary from barren
rock to cultivated green and the wind evolves from the Cycladic northerly, coming
from the east in the northern islands, backing west towards Rhodes at the southern
end of the chain, blowing an average force 4, maybe 5. Nothing to fear, here.
The seas are not too big, distances between islands not great and there are ports
of every kind, from bustling tourist centres like Kos to specks in the ocean like
Arki, east of Patmos, which has about 27 inhabitants, one taverna, and the clearest,
cleanest turquoise water it will ever be your pleasure to throw yourself into.
There are no ferries here, without your own boat you can't go. Simple.
It's not true that you can't go to Turkey in a Greek-flagged charter yacht,
as long as you don't mind the paperwork for clearing in and out. So if you
want to sail the Turkish
coast it's much better to start from there.