THE GLORY OF GREECE
by Risa Wyatt
White houses glint in the afternoon sun, the facades harlequined by shadow and light. A beach curves around a sea so brilliant, it looks like blue lightning. Legendary abode of Aphrodite and Helen of Troy, Apollo and Alexander the Great — and contemporary venue for opulent boutiques and hot dance clubs.
This is Greece, one of the oldest — and one of the most startlingly modern — of nations. Undulating over 10,000 miles of coastline, Greece also embraces more than 2,500 islands, of which only 150 are inhabited.
The best way to travel through the Greek islands: by charter yacht, which doubles as both a luxurious “floating motel” and a “mode of transport.” Although owning a yacht remains within the top-tier budgets of moguls such as Donald Trump and Ted Turner, chartering a yacht gives ordinary travelers a millionaire’s vacation at an affordable price. Often a charter is less expensive than staying at a resort hotel. In Greece, for example, a 31-foot bareboat sailing vessel that can accommodate two to four passengers can cost less than $2,000 per week. Instead of being confined to a cruise ship itinerary, people can customize their visit to suit their specific interests, from shopping to scuba diving.
Yacht charters are easy to book, thanks to experienced brokers who represent many different vessels. Most brokers have personally inspected the boats they handle and can suggest the yacht that best suits each guest’s needs and budget. Even if people are not experienced sailors themselves, they can hire a crewed yacht with a skipper and cook, or take a cabin on a group sailing tour.
Your own boat — but with the comfort and confidence of sailing with other boats. That’s what people enjoy on a flotilla cruise, in which a group of vessels follow a lead boat. In Greece, Poseidon International offers regularly scheduled flotilla sails through the Aegean Sea. On their two-week “Archaeological Adventure Cruises and Flotillas” program, charterers join with other sailors and a professional lead boat with captain/guide, engineer/mechanic and host. While cruising aboard their own boat with their own group, flotilla sailors also can take advantage of sailing and docking assistance and enjoy daily hikes to the ruins as well as the camaraderie of other sailors. Qualified sailors can charter yachts ranging in size from 31 to 60 feet; nonsailors can take a cabin on one of the 65-foot lead boats.
As Steven Parry, charter director of Poseidon International, explains, “We do not recommend that casual sailors ‘bareboat’ on their first cruise in Greece. The Greek islands are not an easy place to sail, with small, tricky harbors and stern-to ‘Med mooring.’ There are some very long crossings as well as different customs and protocols at each island. Our flotillas have become a popular way to sail privately through the Aegean with the security of having inside knowledge of the region — as well as enjoying a little race each day.”
Covering 360 miles round-trip, the “Archaeological Adventure Cruises and Flotillas” itinerary takes in the most important archaeological, mythological and historical islands in the Saronic Gulf and central Aegean Sea including Milos, Santorini and Mykonos.
Parry himself guides several of the two-week cruises. A 40-year-old Royal Yachting Association–certified skipper registered with the British Department of Transport, Captain Parry is also a member of the Canadian Power Squadron, a graduate of the J-World Sailing School and a certified PADI Divemaster. He trained in archaeology with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and attended the University of Texas A&M Masters Level course in marine archaeology. The “Archaeological Adventure Cruises and Flotillas” program is based on his experience in the region.
The Greek islands spread over five different seas: the Argo-Saronic Gulfs (south of Athens), the Central Aegean (including Mykonos and Santorini), the Dodecanese (the 12-plus islands off Turkey), the Sporades (in the north-central Aegean) and the Ionian Sea (between Corfu and Zakinthos — east of Italy). Here are some highlights for a seafaring itinerary.
Mykonos (The Cyclades) . Windmills silhouetted against a cloudless sky. Alleyways zagging between whitewashed houses and tiny chapels. Powder-fine beaches. All the images that surge to mind when you say “Greece” come to life in Mykonos, the unquestionable pleasure capital of the islands. Where else could you find over a dozen different beaches catering to all predilections, nude or clad, backpacker or jet set? From Mykonos, it’s an easy day trip by kaiki (ferry) to Delos, sacred to the ancient Greeks as the birthplace of Apollo.
Santorini (The Cyclades) . Here, myth and reality come together. About 1500 b.c., a volcanic eruption blasted the island to pieces, creating sheer black cliffs and inundating a vast caldera (crater) with blue sea at the island’s heart. Some say the eruption initiated the legend of the Lost Continent of Atlantis.
Today, Santorini (also known as Thira) presents one of the most powerful landscapes in Greece with long black beaches and hilltop towns where houses interlock like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. It’s tradition to ride a donkey up to the town of Fira, the capital. (Travelers can also walk up the 587 steps or take a cable car).
Milos (The Cyclades) . A volcanic island, Milos is a favorite of sailors because of Kleftiko — a series of bays surrounded by cliffs riddled with swim-through sea caves that were once used for shelter by pirates and Crusaders. The town of Tripiti is known for an ancient Greek amphitheater — original home of the Venus of Milos statue.
Hydra (Argo-Saronic Islands) . A refuge for artists since the sixties, Hydra draws a celebrity clientele ranging from actors to royalty. Art galleries, fine restaurants, handicrafts boutiques and jewelry stores occupy 18th-century buildings set along winding cobblestoned streets. There are no motorized vehicles on the island — donkeys carry everything from groceries to tourists. The isle also offers excellent scuba diving.
Rhodes (The Dodecanese) . Located at the eastern reaches of the Greek archipelago just seven miles from the Turkish coast, Rhodes is one of the most popular Greek islands for visitors. In ancient times, the island was renowned for the Colossus of Rhodes, a 100-foot-plus statue of Apollo that guarded the city harbor. The Colossus, alas, is gone. But visitors can eye traces of the city’s ancient glory in the remains of the third-century b.c. Temple of Venus. From the 14th to the 16th centuries, Rhodes emerged as an important bastion for the Crusaders, who constructed the ramparts and fortresses which surround the old city. Rhodes is also known for wonderful beaches, including Faliraki and Afandou on the east coast.
Wherever travelers journey, they will discover philoxenia — the vibrant warmth with which Greeks welcome all strangers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Poseidon Charters/Poseidon International represents 350 yachts out of 15 bases in Greece, Turkey and Croatia. In addition, it charters both crewed and bareboat yachts in Asia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. The Archaeological Adventure Cruises in Greece are available either as flotilla bareboat sails or for passengers who take a cabin aboard the 65-foot lead boats, which accommodate nine passengers. For details: Tel: 888-372-7245 or 450-923-7770; Website:www.poseidoninternational.com.
SAILING IN GREECE — Travel Tips
Here’s everything you need to know about booking this luxurious, yet reasonably priced, holiday at sea.
• Crewed Yachts. A fully crewed yacht is like a floating villa, with a captain, chef and stewards to tend to passenger needs. The crew also acts as sightseeing guides at the ports of call, chauffeurs (ferrying passengers in dinghies), gourmet cooks and instructors (for windsurfing, snorkeling and waterskiing, as well as sailing).
• Bareboat charters. “Bareboat” means that the charterers sail the vessel themselves. The boats are not bare — they come equipped with sailing gear and navigational charts, as well as sheets, linens and cooking utensils. Charter companies require guests to fill out a resumé listing their previous sailing experience (size and kind of boat, type of sailing, etc.). A check-out may be required before departure.
• Kinds of boats. If it floats, you can charter it — from 30-foot sailboats to motor yachts that measure over 200 feet from stem to stern. Motor yachts are a best bet for people who want to cover a lot of distance; sailing yachts offer the sensation of being one with the wind and sea. Layout is impor-tant. If two couples are sharing a charter, the best choice is a boat with two large master cabins of fairly equal size.
• Costs and reservations. Rates vary according to the luxuriousness of the yacht, its sailing abilities and the time of year (low season rates often run 25% less than high season). The rate is all-inclusive, covering use of all amenities and water-sports equipment on board, plus meals and liquor on crewed charters. The only thing extra will be crew tips (about 10% to 15% of the charter rate), and (sometimes) fuel.