SailSterling Essential Greece
“There are two kinds of people. Greeks, and everyone else who wishes they were Greek.” We’d like to say that could be attributed to some ancient and wise philosopher, but actually it’s a line from the 2002 film My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Still, you’ll probably agree with the sentiment after a week or two sailing among some of the most beautiful islands on earth. Days filled with deservedly-lazy, indulgent mornings, lunch at a small taverna that you can only get to by boat, afternoons spent sunbathing on a serene, golden beach then long, laughter-filled evenings with water gently lapping around you.
Of course, people have been sailing these waters for thousands of years and often the best discoveries are those that feel timeless. Sailing into a small harbour that hasn’t changed for decades. Landing on a small beach on a gorgeously warm day that makes you forget what year it is, let alone what day of the week – and goodness knows, we could probably all do with that after 2020. And watching the sun set with a glass of ouzo in hand, saying ya mas (cheers) to another perfect day. It’s all possible on a sailing holiday in Greece.
A survey conducted a few years ago found out that Greeks supposedly have the most hanky panky of any nation, with 87 per cent of the adult population practicing for a little Adonis or Alexa at least once a week.
Food and culture highlights
Greek food is rightly famous the world over. But in many ways, it’s hard to know where to begin if you ask yourself “what is Greek cuisine?” You might start by imagining going ashore for a breakfast of thick homemade yoghurt generously dolloped with honey from a local farm, freshly-baked bread and a steaming pot of coffee. At lunchtime, something classic to start such as bowls of juicy olives, taramasalata and tzatziki followed perhaps by moussaka, octopus or calamari. In the evening, delicious grilled lamb or just-caught fish alongside a salad dressed with the freshest virgin olive oil and helped down by a bottle or two of wine from a local vineyard.
Greece is widely regarded as being the very cradle of western democracy and culture. Economically, things may have been tough for Greece over the last decade but the indelible impression you’ll come away with is of incredible hospitality and the welcoming of strangers as friends. It’s just part of what draws so many people back here time and time again.
Greeks tend to eat very late, often after 10pm. So, if it’s been a hot day and you feel like relaxing before heading out, there’s no need to rush, especially if you want your table neighbours to be more Thessaloniki than Thetford.
Weather and climate (when to visit)
Greece bakes in summer – if you like your holidays hot then, in Rhodes for example, you can expect the mercury to rise well over 30 degrees centigrade from June to September. Even in May and October things are pleasantly balmy, and November still averages a respectable 20 degrees centigrade. As is typical in this part of the Mediterranean in winter and early spring, there’s much more of a mix of sunshine and showers. In both December and January, for example, nearly half the month sees days with some rain. It’s not just the weather that closes in over winter…on many islands the tourist infrastructure pretty much shuts up shop then too.
The Cyclades lie southeast of the Greek mainland and are made up of islands that have been well-known to international visitors arriving by yacht for many years: Ios, Naxos, Paros, Mykonos and Santorini, alongside others that may not be as “famous” but are still well worth exploring.
Think of a check list of all that you want from a Greek sailing holiday and you’ll find it in the Cyclades – turquoise waters, whitewashed villages, tavernas, gently-sloping beaches…they’re all here.
If you want your yachting holiday to have some buzz when it comes to nightlife you’ll certainly find it here if you go looking, with clubs and bars on some of the livelier islands open till the wee small hours. But if you want some time in more tranquil settings you can head off to the likes of Kythnos, Serifos, Kimolos or Anafi to escape the busier spots.
And that’s the beauty of the Cyclades…a bit of mix and match…perhaps a few days partying with the beautiful people on Mykonos then setting sail for your own tranquil idyll where the only noise is the breeze, laughter, a windmill turning on a hillside and the sound of clinking glasses.
The Saronic Gulf – or Gulf of Aegina as it’s also known – is formed between the peninsulas of Attica and Argolis and is part of the Aegean Sea, with the city of Athens situated on its right-hand side.
Some people call it an “authentic” slice of Greece because the area is popular with domestic visitors. There are many sheltered harbours where you can come ashore to enjoy warm local hospitality.
Islands such as Poros, Hydra and Spetses are justifiably popular, not least with Athenians looking to escape the busy capital. And who can blame them – Hydra’s main town and harbour, with its imposing stone mansions, is a national monument with cars, and even bicycles, banned.
There are many beaches and coves backed by rippling hills which are idyllic spots at which to drop anchor and dive into the shimmering water. May and October are ideal months to be here with an excellent combination of calm sailing conditions and fewer visitors.
Winter rains make this archipelago, to the west of the mainland, lush and verdant compared the more water-starved islands of the east, so they’re a good contrast if you’ve sailed in Greece before but fancy somewhere familiar yet different. Winds tend to be gentler too so they’re somewhere to consider if you’re new to yachting. But you can still be assured of turquoise waters in which to dive at the end of an enjoyable day at sea.
Corfu and Cephalonia are perhaps the two best known, but Lefkadha, Ithaca and Zakynthos have their charms and their fans, and all are well geared up for sailing with good facilities.
Venetians and French have both had a ruling hand over the islands in the past, and Britain made them a protectorate in the 19th century before handing them back to Greece in 1864. You’ll still hear the thwack of leather on willow on Corfu in summer as the island is the headquarters of the Hellenic Cricket Federation. We think nothing beats a game on the beach when you can celebrate hitting a six into the sea with a frosty Mythos beer.
These islands are Greece’s most south-easterly, butting up against the coast of Turkey in many places. They’re a sublime backdrop for sailing with picture postcard harbours and inky-clear waters. Rhodes and Kos are the two most well-known, but other smaller islands are certainly well worth exploring.
History has passed through these seas for thousands of years, from Phoenician traders to Crusaders on the way to the Holy Lands, not to mention Ottomans, British and others. St John is even said to have written the biblical Book of Revelation on Patmos.
On volcanic Nisyros, you can come ashore to explore the otherworldly craters in the centre of the island before rehydrating with a refreshing frappé coffee down by the water’s edge. The small, tranquil island of Tilos has lava sands, limestone mountains and almost see-through waters surrounding it, but what it doesn’t have is crowds. And Symi’s small but picturesque town is the perfect place to come ashore, replenish stocks and while away an afternoon exploring its narrow lanes and finding a taverna outside in which to watch the world go by with a glass of wine and a stack of postcards waiting to be filled.
The Sporades lie off the eastern flank of the Greek mainland. The three main northern islands – Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos – tick all the boxes for a perfect sailing holiday with translucent waters and fabulous beaches, and if you venture inland you’ll find them hillier and lusher than many of their cousins further south, with quaint villages and monasteries to explore. Skyros feels different with fewer international visitors, but is every bit as welcoming and tends to fly – or should that be sail? – more under the radar.
"Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued"
Stringent cleaning procedures are already in-place across all boats globally for the well-being of our crew and guests. These will be further enhanced to meet government guidelines in the UK and Italy which are in place in July 2021 in relation to the COVID pandemic. These will include temperature checks prior to boarding; hand-sanitising stations in public areas; additional deep cleans of public areas including decks; social distancing if required. With each catamaran’s capacity at a maximum of 10 people including skipper and chef, if required in August, guests would remain in catamaran bubbles during visits to vineyards and other on-shore activities.