Beware. Sailing the Greek islands is not for everyone. Firstly the sea: can you deal with crystal clear blue waters, do you even like dolphins, or seals? Then the beaches: white sandy or pebbly red, gold or grey? Hidden coves or long and wide bays? You may have trouble choosing.
Architecture and history: between ancient theatres, catacombs, windmills, whitewashed houses and monasteries, it could all get a bit much. Geography: a richly shaped terrain, volcanos, caves and grottos, pine-tree covered hills, olive groves, vineyards, sandy bays and rugged mountains could create havoc in any but the most seasoned traveler. Also ask yourself: how many hours of sunshine can you really take?
So having decided that yes, sailing Greece really is for you, then the possibilities really are as endless as the Greek islands themselves, with some 6000 islands, of which some 227 are inhabited, up for grabs, so to speak. Grouped into seven main clusters, here below is a concise list of islands and some trip ideas.
Sailing the Greek islands: which ones to choose?
In the Saronic Gulf are the homonymous Saronic Islands, not far from Athens and therefore ideal for those having spent time in the capital and looking for a quick and easy get away into more marine pursuits. Pistachios lovers can indulge their cravings in Aegina, and the island counts also numerous archaeological sites, architectural landmarks and many attractive beaches.
In neighbouring Hydra its many natural harbours and bays give it a distinct marine culture, and make it a great destination for Greek sailing holidays. No motorised vehicles are allowed on the island (except rubbish trucks), and public transport is charmingly provided by donkey and water taxis.
Off the coast of Eubonea, the second largest Greek island attached to the mainland by a bridge and a popular destination for Athenians, are the Sporades, of which Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros, Allonisos are all part. The latter may appeal to those into more meditative pursuits and into being at one with nature. Turquoise waters, golden sand and trees for shade make Chrisi Milia a lovely spot for daydreaming. Many more secluded bays will also come to those who search.
A little further east and away from the mainland, in the central Aegean Sea, are the Cyclades. Mikonos’ chalk white cubic houses and windmills, its many beaches and mild and breezy summers make it a much loved destination by the European party scene. For those into something more introspective, a Cyclades gem is Milo: its spectacular lunar landscapes, whitewashed fishing villages, and numerous sandy beaches, with shades of white, grey, gold and red are a photographers dream and all too easy to get totally absorbed into.
Off the west coast of Turkey, in the north eastern Aegean Sea, are the North Aegean Islands, among them: Agios, Chios, Lesbos, Ikaria, Lemnos, Samos. Only one mile away from Anatolia in Turkey is Samos Island. The birthplace of Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Epicurus, the island was a very influential city-state in ancient times, and also renowned for its Muscat wine, which is still produced today. The Heraion of Samos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including the ancient Eupalinian aqueduct is worth a visit, and with its clear crystal waters and pebbly beaches Samos is also a great spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Sunglasses a must: some 3300 hours of sunshine annually make Samos one of the sunniest places in Europe.
In the southeast between Crete and Turkey, Rhodes, Arkoi, Kos, Hondro, Pitta, Symi and some 182 other islands make up the Dodecanese Islands, which means plenty to show for Greek cruises in this archipelago. Symi, not far away from mainland Turkey, is mountainous with an interior dotted with many small valleys. It features many isolated beaches that can only be reached with small boats, and smaller and uninhabited islets such as Nimos, Sesklio and Chondros, are also within easy reach from Symi giving it plenty more exploring opportunities.
In the Ionian Sea, west to the mainland near Albania and Italy are the Ionian Islands: Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaka, Cephalonia, Zante and quite a bit further south at the southern tip of the Peloponnese, Cythera.
The second biggest of this archipelago, Corfu was the site of countless sieges, battles and conquests and has numerous archaeological and architectural remnants to prove it. Its capital city, Corfu, is the only city in Greece to be enclosed by castles, its sometimes tortuous cobblestone streets are a maze of tightly packed buildings, typical of a city that had to grow within the boundaries of fortification walls. And with a mixed terrain of peaks, hills, limestone formations and plentiful beaches of all shapes and forms, the islands is a trekkers and a seafarers paradise alike, and lovers of rocks are sure to get their kick there too.
Yacht charter Greece: plenty to see, nothing to lose
With some 6000 islands sailing the Greek islands is no mean feat. It can be overwhelming to choose a route without feeling that we might be leaving something beautiful and interesting out. Truth is we would be leaving something beautiful and interesting out. But the good thing is that that is the case regardless of whichever islands we decide to visit.
So apart from perhaps time and therefore distance limitations it does not matter a great deal where one goes. Most islands will feature a combination of archaeological sites, architectural landmarks from different periods (e.g. Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman, French, British, Italian…) whitewashed and/or colourful human settlements, striking beaches, sandy, pebbled or rocky, and turquoise water, snorkeling and or scuba diving opportunities, an interesting geography and flora, and a Mediterranean weather. April to November are the peak months for Greek cruises and sailing holidays with plenty of sunshine, mild average temperature and very little rain throughout.
Delectable Greek cuisine variations are sure to be on offer on each island, influenced not just by the local ingredients available (such as grapes, olives, figs, citrus fruit, honey, nuts) but by diverse culinary traditions from the peoples which shaped those islands during their dotted history of conquests and civilisations.
Wherever your sail might take you, you may well be retracing the steps of some more or less familiar mythological characters. Their legends will be behind every cliff, atop every mountain and in the water of every rocky pool, permeating your every move and glance over the horizon. After all it is no wonder the Gods would have chosen such an area as their playground. So go on, sail the Greek islands and let the Gods whisper in your ear.
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