When a friend said they fancied sailing around the Greek Islands for a week, I jumped at the chance to join. Rounding up another two couples, we had our party of eight wannabe sailors. None of our party had any experience in sailing; however Yacht Getaways, our chose catamaran charter company, organised both our Host (the lovely Georgie from Worcestershire) and our able Skipper (the ever-accommodating Alvaro from Argentina).
To ease us into our Greek adventure we decided to stay 3 nights in Mykonos before starting upon our journey, which meant we would firstly take the Fastjet catamaran – a 40-minute journey from Mykonos to the island of Paros where we would meet Georgie and Alvaro and, with much excitement, see our catamaran for the very first time.
Whilst our route was pre-planned, all sailors are at the mercy of the weather. And with high winds predicted in a few days’ time, Alvaro suggested a route which would mean a longer sail on our second day but shorter duration sailing on the windy days. Total novices, we just nodded with a relaxed ‘wherever the wind takes us’ attitude – I highly recommend you pack this when you embark on this kind of holiday!
Our 44-foot Fontaine Pajot catamaran named Helios 2 had 4 double cabins, each with compact en-suite. There’s limited storage space and it would be best described as functional; like similar vessels, it’s built for purpose, not luxury. A holiday like this is designed around being outdoors, not indoors, so the limited cabin space didn’t bother us – although some of the party had a little wobble when they discovered there was no chance of using hairdryers or straighteners! But by day 2 the ‘beach wave look’ was fully embraced!
We were well-fed and watered throughout the journey: breakfast and lunch was included, and Georgie accommodated all dietary requests with aplomb. When in port, last-minute trips to the bakery or supermarket for fresh croissants, watermelon and peppermint tea were all delivered with a smile! The delights dished up were nothing short of a miracle when you consider the kitchen space available.
And so, to our voyage, readying ourselves for departure from Paros port, the men quickly moved into action – wanting to throw their hat in to ring for the task of raising the anchor. Like children with a new toy, four of them stood around discussing a job that would ordinarily take one human being half the time, much to the amusement of us wives and our hosts! We set sail, with engines, just a short sail from Paros port to picturesque Naoussa on the North East coast of Paros, where we would drop anchor in a sheltered bay with time for a refreshing swim before a water taxi collected us to take everyone to the buzzing little town.
As we stepped ashore, we were greeted by the sights and sounds of hundreds of people dining, chatting, drinking, strolling – the atmosphere was joyous. The streets behind the port are filled with boutique shops selling everything from locally crafted goods, including exquisite jewellery, flavoursome olive oil and scented soaps, to designer clothing. After a few hours ashore we took our water taxi back to the catamaran, under a starlight sky, passing super yachts along the way. As opening evenings go, it was a big hit with everyone.
We set sail early the next morning to our second port of Ios. A destination with a long-held reputation as being a hippy style party isle back in the day when the only form of transport to the island was an infrequent ferry, the island is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece – still famed for its nightlife. Arriving early afternoon, everyone headed to the beach just a short walk from where we docked, and in the evening, we headed to the hidden town of Ios on top of the hill to watch the sunset over the bay. Chora, the main hilltop town, comes to life at night with plenty of bars and restaurants to keep everyone entertained. Opting for a dinner in the port, we headed back for a restful night’s sleep back onboard – after all, it’s exhausting doing nothing all day! There are reportedly 365 churches on the island of Ios; the chapel of Agia Irini (Saint Irene) a Byzantine church dating back to the 17th century sits on the headline entrance to the port of Ios, just a short walk from where we docked, and a couple of the group headed out to watch the sun rise over the bay from this stunning spot.
Our third day at sea found us heading to Alimia bay on the island of Irakleia for a few hours, where we were able to snorkel and view the wreck of the German two-seater single engine seaplane shot down in World War II by the British. The plane crashed in September 1943 following a short battle, with both crew members onboard rescued. In October 1982 the seaplane was spotted by local fishermen as the wreck caught up in their net. The fishermen dragged the plane to its current spot where it sits today, easily accessible for snorkellers and divers to get a good view of the wreckage, although over the years many parts have been removed so little remains other than the framework. Anchored in the bay after viewing the wreck, we swam to the tiny beach, which then justified our huge leisurely lunch back onboard: quinoa with halloumi, tzatziki, tomatoes, burrata, chicken souvlaki… the food kept coming, washed down with a lovely organic Greek rose wine.
Well-fed and watered we then sailed to the island of Schinoussa and for the first time the party split; some opting to stay on board, trying out paddle-boarding and snorkelling (although surprisingly not a huge amount to see underwater), while others headed up to the tiny hilltop village in an attempt to ‘get some steps in’. The lovely village with stunning views to the bay was like stepping back in time. Schinoussa Island belongs to the ‘Small Cyclades’, one of the smallest islands in Greece, a mere 9 square kilometres with a reported year-round population of just 200 residents. It’s a photographer’s dream, with blue church top, vibrant flowerpots, and turquoise windows popping in colour against the whitewashed walls. Although barely a soul in sight, the local residents we stumbled upon greeted us with a friendly nod as they set up tables and chairs for that evening’s activities.
After a few days the group quickly fell into a relaxed routine. While in port, the early risers headed for a stroll or run before sunrise, whilst others found their spot on the top deck for morning coffee, and others took a refreshing dip. Then we’d take a leisurely breakfast together, and anchor up to set sail once again.
The strong winds did us a favour, as given the choice we decided to spend two nights in the port on the island of Koufonisia. Everyone agreed this was our favourite island throughout the trip. With more fishing boats per capita than anywhere else in Greece, it’s a gem of an isle. We hired electric bikes for the day – it’s almost impossible to get lost! Some of the group took the coastal path to Piso Beach and sat marvelling at the kite surfing fraternity taking flight along this windy stretch of coast. With an abundance of restaurants (try Tezt just up the hill from the port, the best tuna niçoise I’ve ever tasted) and shops for a tiny island, there was plenty to keep us occupied between taking dips in the azure waters.
From Koufanisi we made our way to Antiparos and hit the choppiest seas of the trip. But by now most had their sea legs – the few who braved the netting at the front of the boat soon retreated once drenched! We spotted a lone turtle (anyone looking for wildlife would be disappointed – this part of the Greece is barren, with little wildlife on/offshore. Other than the odd donkey, the turtle was our only sighting!) We docked in Antiparos in time for sunset and headed into the little harbour town for dinner at Klimitaria Taverna, a delightful setting with bougainvillea and fairy lights as a makeshift roof. Antiparos, with a population of circa of 1,200, is a Hollywood favourite – Tom Hanks owns a house there. The island’s proximity to Paros makes it a great side trip for anyone staying on Paros. The clientele on the island had a well-heeled look about them compared to laid back Koufanisi and the party vibes of Ios.
Our last sail was the return to Paros port where our trip began. We’d had 6 nights onboard and, in some ways, time had flown by, but on the other hand we felt like we’d been away for much longer – such was the relaxed nature of the trip.
Would I recommend? Most definitely! It’s a great way to explore multiple lesser-known islands easily. The age range of our group ranged from 52 to 61 years; you need a certain level of fitness to make the most out of the trip. Whether that’s negotiating the tender or manoeuvring around the catamaran, there are obvious hazards. But the most we suffered was a couple of head bumps!
Watching the sun rise over Paros whilst everyone was sleeping, surrounded by total silence, lost in my thoughts, will be a memory that lasts a lifetime. And there’s something about sailing into a new port or bay, knowing it’s home for the evening, that triggers memories of backpacking and exploration in my youth. We tasted amazing food both onshore and onboard (special note to our host Georgie, whose culinary skills knows no bounds!). We belly-laughed, ridiculed each other, helped each other, had deep and meaningful conversations and forged deeper friendships as a result of our time away.
Some handy hints to get the most of out such a trip:
- Pack light, then pack lighter still!
- Try to get a group/family together to ensure exclusivity on the boat. We all agreed it wouldn’t have been the same experience had we have been with people we didn’t know. Space is limited throughout the boat, so sunbathing and squeezing in to intimate spots with friends is easier than with strangers.
- Engage with the crew. They’re there to help, inform, and make your holiday go smoothly – our crew became part of our ‘team’.
- Think about your pre and post arrangements. On your final day you’ll likely be required to be off the boat by a certain time – ferries between the islands aren’t known for cancellation, but are at the mercy of the weather so you never know. As such, we decided to book an extra night in Mykonos after our voyage to ensure that we didn’t suffer any issues in catching our flight home the following day. We prebooked our ferries between Paros and Mykonos, but there’s limited flexibility in the tickets so you could find yourself with a few hours to spare either side before your booked ticket departure time – no hardship, particularly if you find a nice little spot for drinks, and they are aplenty around the ports!
- Having a traveller spirit certainly helps on this type of holiday. It’s neither a polished nor luxurious experience that some might expect, but throw yourself in to it and you’ll enjoy it all the more – we did!