A fresh guide for vacationing on a motor or sailing yacht in Greece
As a backdrop to this article, lets first consider the geography of Greece and the somewhat daunting task of choosing which islands to visit and a reasonable itinerary that can cover the areas of interest in the allotted time. Say, one week, two weeks or even a month if you’re lucky enough.
There are about 1,500 islands in Greece of which slightly over 200 are inhabited; the islands cover an area of about 5,000 square miles, give or take a few. This gives you an idea of the magnitude of trying to cover “The Greek Islands” in one trip.
Let’s also consider the distances involved. You probably don’t want to spend all your time on board the boat. You need to be able to spend time ashore, time to explore historic points of interest and, especially, time to savor the local delicacies and beverages.
For example, it’s 260 Nautical Miles from Athens’s port of Piraeus to the Island of Rhodes. This means 10 or 24 solid hours on a motor yacht and 48 hours on a on a sailing vessel. Without stopping anywhere along the way. Its roughly the same distance and time from Piraeus to Corfu in the Ionian.
For example, it’s 260 Nautical Miles from Athens’s port of Piraeus to the Island of Rhodes. This means 10 or 24 solid hours on a motor yacht and 48 hours on a sailing vessel. Without stopping anywhere along the way.
So, the first words of wisdom are:
Don’t try to do it all on one trip. The greater the distance you travel on the yacht, the less time you’ll have to spend ashore doing the things you really wanted to do in the first place. Like visiting several islands, eating at the little local tavernas, dancing like Zorba, and exploring interesting stuff ashore. If you really want a lot of sailing time, try an Atlantic crossing……
Luckily for us non-Greeks, the Gods, in their infinite wisdom, split the Greek Islands into manageable groups. The Ionian, the Saronic Gulf Islands, The Cyclades, the Sporades, the Dodecanese, the East Aegean Group and the island of Crete.
Each group has it’s very special and unique attractions, geography, weather and various degrees of protection from the occasional strong winds that are prevalent during the summer months.
More words of wisdom:
Choose an island group that best fits your interests, your yachting experience and the time of year. Plan an itinerary that includes several islands in a group, the number of islands you visit on your charter will depend on the time you have available.
Let’s look at each group in more detail, the simple, safe ones are first.
- The Saronic Gulf Islands include Aegina, Poros, Hydra, Dokos and Spetses. This is a safe, all-weather group of islands. Their proximity to the mountainous Peloponnese mainland gives them protection from the July and August Meltemi winds and you can be assured of a smooth ride and some great food and great shore-side excursions.
Close to Piraeus, and close to Athens and its international airport, this is an ideal one week charter. It provides a taste of the real Greece because this is where the Greeks themselves go for their long weekends and vacations.
- The Dodecanese Group, close to the South-Eastern coast of Turkey, includes Rhodes, Symi, Kos, Kalymnos, Leros and Samos. This group is also protected from the Meltemi winds in July and August. The downside is having to take the 30-minute flight from Athens to Rhodes where you will typically start your charter.
The upside is that you may be able to stop off in the Turkish ports of Marmaris, Bodrum and Kusadasi on the mainland. This provides a definite change of diet and some wonderful shore-side excursions, including even a visit to Ephesus. Turkish Gulets are very popular charter yachts in this area. Their comfort and seaworthiness are remarkable.
- The Ionian. Includes Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaca and Zakinthos. On the west side of Greece and closer to Italy, the Ionian Islands have higher rainfall and therefore a lot “greener” than the other Greek Islands. Protected waters, and a unique culture and attitude. This is where Aristoteles Onassis had his private Island Skorpios and the island of Kefalonia where the movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” was filmed. The downside is getting there.
You can fly from Athens to Kefalonia – there are 5 flights a week on Olympic Airlines. Or you can take a bus or rental car to Lefkada which is a good 5-hour drive. OR you can fly from Athens to Corfu, but Corfu is quite a distance from the other islands and, on a boat, especially if it’s a sailing boat, the 60-mile sail to Lefkada chews up a whole day if you’re only there for a week.
- The Cyclades Group of Islands includes the famous, eternal and almost mythical and absolutely stunning islands of Mykonos and Santorini, but also a number of great little islands that are lesser known such as Andros, Kea, Kythnos, Paros and Naxos. The downside of visiting the Cyclades is that this group is in unprotected waters, right in the middle of the Aegean Sea and susceptible to the July and August Meltemi winds. If these are the ones you want to visit, timing is everything, arrange your yacht charter for late May, early June or Mid-September onwards.
- The North-Eastern Aegean Group of Lesvos, Limnos, Samothraki and Thasos. A little out of the way, best visited if you are on a motor yacht perhaps on your way to Kusadasi to visit Ephesus.
- The Sporades Group of islands that includes Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonnisos and Panagea. The famous movie “Mamma Mia” that celebrated the Swedish pop group ABBA was filmed in Skopelos. It is harder to find charter yachts in this area but a motor yacht charter from Athens can certainly include them in a well-planned itinerary.
- The Island of Crete is a standalone destination. The island is the largest in Greece and well worth a week moving around from anchorage to anchorage and port to port. Great for Archeology buffs and beach lovers.
Words of Wisdom:
You can see why it’s important to choose your Island group carefully, there are weather and time / distance constraints to be considered for the best yachting experience. If your mission in life is to visit Mykonos and Santorini and you want to do it in July or August, take the ferry from Piraeus. ……
There’s something for everyone in the Greek Islands. Your choices will be determined by your budget – chartering a yacht is not for the faint-hearted and the time of year is critical. Most yachts have different pricing structures and July and August are the most expensive. If you’re taking the kids along for the ride, there are date constraints due to school vacations and there are weather (wind) constraints during the peak months.
If you’re rich and single, charter a nice luxurious motor yacht for a month. We’ll help you find the perfect one. Just kidding. We have vessels for most budgets and everyone will have a great time.
Pick your islands carefully. May the wind be always behind you.