Postcard of the Week: Greek Islands
Greece has around 6,000 individual islands, each surrounded by the clear, warm water of the Mediterranean Sea and each enjoying pretty much guaranteed sunshine all summer long. While Greece boasts hundreds of ancient ruins and archaeological sites, the true beauty of the region is best seen aboard a boat, and each island’s hub centres around the marina, with elegant restaurants, cocktail bars and upmarket shops. On the less popular islands there is little worth seeing for more than a day, so island hopping, watersports and gin palace-spotting become the main activities.
This summer I was lucky enough to explore some of the Greek Islands for myself, as my mother chartered and skippered a 39ft yacht as part of a Sunsail flotilla. We picked the Saronic Islands a few hours west of Athens and at Epidavros marina the five of us (mother, sister and two boyfriends) eagerly boarded out floating accommodation for the next week and got settled in to our yachts’ three berths, buying supplies from a local supermarket and cracking open the gin and tonics. My mother has completed the RYA Day Skipper qualification and my sister’s boyfriend is a Yachtmaster, so we were going it alone without a skipper! Along with five or six other yachts in our flotilla we were under the command of a gorgeous, young French master skipper responsible for setting the route each day, a female British host responsible for organising our mooring arrangements and evening’s activities in each harbour or bay we put down anchor in at night, and a British engineer responsible for repairs and rescuing us from sailing crises every now and again. They accompanied us on a yacht of their own. While we spent the majority of the week fending for ourselves on our own yacht, called Carradale Glen, all the sailors regrouped each night to eat in a restaurant onshore or share a barbeque on the beach.
As the Mediterranean Sea is non-tidal, we were spared the trickiest part of sailing (in my opinion at least) which is calculating tidal ranges and plotting the day’s route to coincide with high water, and making sure the tide doesn’t fall too far overnight while we’re sleeping oblivious in our beds! Despite that, we still had one or two minor causes for concern! The most alarming one was an incident one morning when we tried to motor away from a pier we’d spent the night at. It was very shallow water and the keel was perilously close to the seabed. While trying to enter deeper water, and thus make it to safety, our keel got stuck in the sand/rocks below and refused to budge. No matter how much my mother revved the engine, it was stuck, occasionally jerkily jumping forward before falling back. The mechanic came to our rescue in his tender (a small inflatable rubber boat) and just as he approached us the yacht jerked itself free of the seabed and the yacht surged forwards, surprising us all and meaning our own tender when crashing into said mechanic, almost capsizing him! A bit dramatic, but we all survived in the end!
A highlight of the sailing was the ability to pick a secluded bay at random and anchor there for a picnic lunch. Travelling by yacht allows you to visit places and islands inaccessible by any other means, so each day we hunted around to find a private bay for a lovely refreshing swim, before devouring a lunch of Greek salads, fresh bread, feta cheese and charcuterie each day under the shade of our cockpit.
Then each evening we took one final dive from the bow of the yacht before showering off the salt water and sun cream and dolling ourselves up for dinner that evening onshore. One evening our restaurant turned into a party later in the evening and we found ourselves dancing to traditional Greek music alongside little old men from the village. Another night we moored in the tiny harbour of Hydra, where our sailing yachts were far outnumbered by the gin palaces and Sunseekers of the rich of the rich. We dined al fresco in a fabulous cliff-top restaurant called The Sunset, just as the sun did set, throwing beautiful colours into the sky around us as we looked out over the surrounding islands. It was absolutely magical, and the old town of Hydra’s harbour is just stunning. It’s a favourite of the wealthy superyacht clique so you’ll find high-end jewellers and stylish bars among the tiny cobbled alleyways of the island’s original inhabitants.
Other islands we visited included Poros and Aegina and on our penultimate night the whole flotilla all dropped anchor in a deserted bay and rafted our yachts together in a line, before rowing ashore to a beach beside some stone ruins for a barbeque organised by the Sunsail team. Each yacht was challenged to a cocktail competition, which of course given the considerable collection of different alcohols the Carradale Glen crew had stocked up on over the previous week was no problem for us! (My mother is honestly incapable of walking onto a plane without a bottle or two of duty free, and each of us has different tastes). After much deliberation as to the winning formula required and the Ouzo-or-no-Ouzo debate (if you’ve tried the Greek aniseed spirit Ouzo, you’ll know why this is a crucial decision!), we rowed our magical concoction to shore and anxiously presented it to the judging panel… And after a rigorous selection process, the Carradale Glen cocktail was eventually pronounced the winner!
On our very last night back at our starting point in Epidavros, at dinner with the rest of the flotilla, an awards ceremony was held to toast our week’s sailing and to our hilarity my mother graciously accepted the prize of “Most Improved Crew”. Given our wobbly start at the beginning of the week (hardly seasoned skippers here!), we had come on leaps and bounds in our sailing and had made it back in one piece!
Sailing around the Saronic Islands was a brilliant way to see lots of the scenery and to get away from it all, while being active too. But I did experience less of the islands and Greek culture itself, so I imagine the ideal Greek holiday would be a combination of two things: sailing and also staying on an island, perhaps in a luxurious private villa. And there are so many other Greek Islands out there to visit, beyond the Saronic Islands. For example, I’ve never been to Santorini or Mykonos, both of which I’m dying to explore! I’m entering a competition with The Luxe Nomad to visit one of those islands so, keep your fingers crossed for me.