Overview of Sailing Greece with G Adventures
Greece has over 6,000 sunny islands, and the best way to see several of them on one vacation is on a cruise. Ferries run all over the Greek isles, but you still have to secure a hotel at each destination and pack/unpack when you move from place to place. Cruise ships sail around Greece year-round, with dozens of them visiting multiple Greek islands during the summer season. Although a traditional motorized cruise ship is a good way to see the Greek isles, a small sailboat is another option for anyone who wants a more flexible, casual type of cruise vacation to fascinating ports that larger vessels cannot access.
The photo at the top of this page shows one of the joys of traveling on a small sailboat. Our Captain anchored the boat in a quiet harbor off the uninhabited island of Rinia, and we had a lovely cookout and picnic ashore for dinner. This photo was taken after the sun had set. You can't do that on a large ship or with a larger group. The weather was perfect, and the dark sky seemed to be filled with gazillions of stars since no ambient light spoiled the view.
Organized tour and cruise company G Adventures has small sailboat cruises in Greece and other parts of the world. I sailed Turkey with G Adventures on an 8-passenger catamaran in 2014 and the Greek isles from Athens to Mykonos on an 8-passenger sloop the Baltra in 2015. Both of these adventures were delightful. I met some interesting travelers (you can get to know people very well when on a tiny sailboat with them for a week), learned a little about sailing, and visited places in both countries that many only dream about. The wind and the interests of those onboard primarily drove our daily schedule, but both the Turkey and Greece voyages had a good mix of different things to do and see in the ports of call, and the opportunity to experience the unforgettable sensation of zipping across the Mediterranean using only the wind.
The next 9 pages of this article provides details of our day-to-day activities on the Baltra while sailing from Athens to Mykonos on G Adventures' week-long "Sailing Greece" itineraries. Our adventure began in Athens.
Page 2 >> Embarkation in Athens >>
Athens - Embarkation
Athens is an exciting city to visit, especially for those of us who love ancient history and different cultures. I've been to Athens several times, but always just for a day from a cruise ship docked in Piraeus. This time I had an overnight in Athens at a basic hotel in a great location near the City Hall and Central Market, which gave me the chance to walk around Athens on my own, see the city at night, and to spend several hours in the National Archaeological Museum.
Anyone who is mesmerized by Greece's ancient history should visit the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Although it's not as modern or aesthetically beautiful as the Acropolis Museum, it has the best collection of ancient Greek art anywhere. Traveling around Greece to places like Delos, Mycenae, Sounion, Crete, and Santorini, I've often visited archaeological sites with signs noting that certain artifacts were on exhibit in the National Archaeological Museum. Seeing exhibits from these places and associating them with my travel memory was more meaningful than just seeing the exhibits without this relationship. Now I'm glad that I had spent time seeing the original sites before visiting the National Archaeological Museum.
Meeting my G Adventures Shipmates
I left the Museum about 4 pm, walked back to the hotel, and got a taxi to the Dia Noche cafe at the Alimos Marina where our group was meeting at 5 pm. This marina is south of downtown on the way to the airport, whereas the cruise ship port of Piraeus is west of downtown Athens. One woman, Louise from Australia, was already at the cafe. Soon the rest of the group arrived--a young newlywed couple from Kansas City, a nurse from Vancouver, and a mother and daughter who had had already been traveling in Europe for over six weeks on their own. Jose Filho was our Captain. and he arrived promptly at 5 pm. He's from Brazil and goes by Junior. It was great fun to have such a multi-nation, multi-continent group.
We got settled in on the boat, which is a Harmony 52 monohull sloop and is much narrower and rolls more than the catamaran I was on with G Adventures in Turkey. The boat is called the Baltra, which is an island in the Galapagos. Junior wasn't sure why the boat carried that name, but it's easy to remember. The sailboat has four passenger cabins, one Captain's cabin, and three bathrooms. The baths and cabins are smaller than on the catamaran, but the common indoor area (galley and saloon) is larger. .
First Evening on the Baltra
After getting settled in, we hailed two taxis on the busy street outside the marina and went back into Athens for dinner. We ate in the Psyrri district, which is about a 5 minute walk from the hotel where I had stayed overnight. Psyrri is just north of Monastiraki, one of the most popular dining areas in the city because of its great views of the Acropolis. Psyrri is a recovering area and looks better at night. We sat outside, had a nice dinner, and got to know each other better. I had fish and some type of green similar to spinach as an accompaniment. My dinner was one of the more expensive ones--fish, vegetable, bottled water, wine, and bread with olive oil/vinegar--20 euros. Prices were much better in Athens than I expected.
Back to the boat by 11 pm and in bed not long after. We were sailing the next day for Aegina Island, which is one of the closest islands to the mainland.
First Morning on the Baltra
Our first morning on the Baltra sailboat, I got up about 8 am and went and took a shower in the marina facilities ashore since the tiny one on the sailboat didn't appeal to me. Plus, I needed a walk since we'd be on the boat for a few hours before our first stop. Big mistake--no hot water. Thought I would freeze, but I pretended it was a Nordic bath and at least I was clean (as my mom would say).
After I returned to the boat, we all chipped in for the kitty and walked to a nearby grocery store to stock up on groceries for a few days. The ship had a minor problem with one of the toilets the week before, and a repair guy arrived early (about 9 am) to fix it. Junior had planned for us to sail about 10 am, but it was 11 before we got away for Aegina Island.
Page 3 >> A Day on Aegina Island >>
Aegina Island - Temples, Churches, and the World's Pistachios
We sailed towards Agia Marina on the island of Aegina (also spelled Egina or Aigina), about 13 miles away. The first coins ever minted in the world were done in Aegina in 700 BC. These coins were accepted as currency throughout the Greek-speaking world. The island had been inhabited for over 4000 years and was once very wealthy as a trading stopover on ships sailing between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. This wealth made Athens jealous, so the Athenians conquered the island in 456 BC. Guess jealously was a good enough reason for Athens. The wealth of the island later declined due to pirates who attacked ships and the alternating Turkish and Venetian rule. Although Aegina's fortunes changed, Aegina town (the largest settlement on the island) was the first capital of modern Greece for a short period in 1828.
Today the island is a suburb of Athens (commuters take a ferry), but is much quieter. Aegina is best known in this century for its great pistachio nuts.
An Afternoon and Evening on Aegina Island
Since the wind wasn't favorable, we used the engine to cross from the marina near Athens to the island. Junior anchored off Agia Marina on the eastern side of the island for a lunch stop. Some of the group went swimming in the 72-degree water, but I passed. Being outside was quite pleasant with the breeze, so the water was not as inviting as it had been in Turkey. All who got in claimed they got used to it in in about 2 minutes, but they certainly all hollered when they jumped in.
While anchored, Junior made us a nice pasta salad with penne pasta, canned tuna, olives, onions, olive oil, mayonnaise, and some spices. Delicious lunch. I had skipped breakfast because I wasn't hungry due to jet lag, but was starved at lunch.
After lunch and swimming, we motored towards Aegina town where we had a perfect docking spot right in front of a gelato shop. Junior backed the boat in (we helped with the lines and the bumpers/fenders), and we were tied up and had the always-dreaded gang plank out by about 4 pm. We decided to meet for "happy hour" on the boat about 7:30 or so and then would go to dinner at an outdoor taverna afterwards. Greeks have coffee for breakfast (LOTS of coffee), eat lunch about 3 pm. and then have dinner at 9-ish. Reminds me a little of the other laid-back Mediterranean countries like Spain.
Guess what the first thing we all did after we walked the plank off the boat? Made a beeline for the gelato shop! However, our Captain said that true Greeks went to a different gelato shop, so we skipped the Italian one and went to the Greek one just a short distance away. Tasted the same to me--both are delicious, but the Greek gelato shop had things labeled in Greek and Italian.
After a gelato cone, we split up to explore or shop. I got back to the ship about 7 pm and the others showed up soon afterwards. I think we all bought one or more bags of "the world's best" (according to all the shops) pistachios to go along with our happy hour. I'll have to admit the pistachios, olives, and local cheese tasted delicious with a glass of wine while sitting on the back of our boat and watching the land-based tourists stroll by. The harbor towns in these remote (i.e. not many North American tourists and no cruise ships) Greek island towns remind me a lot of the Turkish towns I was in last summer. Docked sailboats line the promenade, and the overflow boats anchor in the harbor.
After happy hour, we walked to Tsias, a seaside cafe on the promenade, and had another delicious meal--bread, wine, Greek salad, pork souvlaki (grilled kebabs) and French fries -- 20 euros. We all had several glasses of wine and a shot of ouzo, but the total liquor bill for 8 people was 12 euros. Cheap, delicious meals--eaten outdoors along the harbor. What a grand life.
Of course, we couldn't drink too much because we had to walk the plank to get home. In bed before midnight. Went to sleep with music from a disco on the promenade and the slightly rocking boat.
A Morning on Aegina Island
The next morning on Aegina island, four of us went up to the island's most famous attraction--the Temple of Aphaia. This is a well-preserved archaeological site on a high hill on the other side of the island. The taxi ride across the island was 16 euros each way in total. The current temple on the site was built about 490 BC and sits on a high hill overlooking the Agia Marina resort. This Doric temple is one of the best preserved in Greece, and the site had a temple of worship as early as the 13th century BC. I thought it was dedicated to the goddess Athena, but it's not. Aphaia was one of the goddesses associated with Athena. We loved the drive across the island and the views from the temple. I was particularly delighted to see plenty of pistachio trees, supporting what we had heard in town where they all claimed to be selling local products.
Our taxi waited on us and we were back on the ship by about 10:30 am and sailed at 11 for Sounion, the southernmost point on the Greek mainland. It's also the site of the Temple of Poseidon that I had previously visited on day tours from Athens. We put up all the sails and it was fantastic -- quiet and zipping along the coast of Greece. I think we all enjoyed the afternoon and had sandwiches enroute. The Cape is quite high, and we could see the Temple of Poseidon long before we anchored in the harbor.
Page 4 >> Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon >>
Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon
We arrived at Sounion about 5 pm, and four of us rode the dinghy ashore and hiked up the hill to the temple. The other three shipmates hung out at the beach. On the way up the hill, we noticed a flock of chukar partridges enjoying the view. We toured the ancient temple, made some photos, and then had a drink at the outdoor cafe. My three companions had a fancy coffee for 4.20 euros, but I'm cheap and don't drink coffee, so I had wine for 3 euros.
After our relaxing drink and checking out the magnificent views from the Cape, we hiked back down and met the rest of the group for dinner at a seaside taverna on the edge of the harbor. I had grilled shrimp, a Greek salad, bread, tzatziki sauce, and wine.
Of course, boarding the tiny dinghy was interesting going both ways, even without the wine..
Back on the boat, we sat around the table and solved all of the world problems, one of the joys of traveling with an international group. In bed by 11 pm with my book. It was a calm, clear night in the harbor, and the Baltra gently rocked me to sleep.
Cape Sounion to Makronisi
The next morning some of my shipmates went for a quick swim in the Cape Sounion harbor before we pulled in the anchor and started to move to the island of Kythnos, which was our first Greek island in the Cyclades. We mostly traveled with both the sails out, which is amazingly quiet, with only the sounds of the wind and sea. Made all of us sleepy! We sailed most of the day, only stopping for a swim and lunch break at Vathi Avlaki Bay on the island of Makronisi.
Junior dropped the anchor in this lovely bay, and we stayed for about 2-3 hours, taking time to swim, nap, or read. Very quiet day. Some of the group went into the nice beach, but I just lounged around in the shade on the boat.
After lunch, we pulled in the anchor and sailed towards Kythnos Island.
Page 5 >> The Healing Waters of Loutra on Kythnos Island >>
The Healing Waters of Loutra on Kythnos Island
About 2:30, we drew in the anchor and sailed towards Kythnos. We docked at the small town of Loutra, which is famous for its thermal spa/hot springs. Kythnos doesn't receive a lot of visitors, and the people were so friendly and welcoming to us. The island has red clay that is good for pottery/ceramics and also roofing, so many roofs featured red tiles. Most buildings in Loutra were also the characteristic white with blue doors and shutters, although a few had green.
We all walked down to where one of the hot springs emptied into the harbor. I stuck my feet in and it was unbelievably hot. A few folks went out a ways to where the hot springs had mixed with the cool seas and found it quite soothing. The minerals in the spring water are supposedly good for all sorts of ailments.
I found a restaurant with Internet and enjoyed a very cold beer and bottle of ice water. Met the rest of the group back at the boat at 8 pm and we went to the same lovely restaurant on the harbor and sat outside for dinner. The eight of us ate and drank way too much, but all felt fine the next morning. I had a Greek salad and split a 2 1/2 pound freshly caught scorpion fish with three of the other women (we picked it from a selection of fresh fish). The giant grilled fish was 101 euros in total (about 25 per person) and included french fries, rice, bread, and grilled mixed vegetables. One of the best fish I've had in a long time. We started off with shots of a grappa-like drink and ended the meal with ouzo poured over ice so that it changed from clear to milky white. My share of the fish, wine, bread, appetizers, desserts, and miscellaneous libations was 40 euros. For a 2.5 hour memorable meal, it was a great deal.
It was almost midnight by the time we got back to the boat and I got a shower and in the bed. We sailed to the island of Syros the next day.
Morning on Kythnos
After getting a walk around Kythnos for an hour or so and taking photos of the cute whitewashed village and the source of the "healing water" spring, i headed back to the boat to get ready to sail.
Page 6 >> Grammata Bay on the Island of Syros >>
Graffiti in Grammata Bay on the Island of Syros
We had 22 miles to sail from Loutra across to Syros Island, and it took us a little over 3 hours, arriving in Grammata Bay about 2:30pm. The winds were perfect, and we often reached about 9 knots with the sails up and motor off. Occasionally the speed dropped down to about 4 knots, but it was kind of fun for our speed to be at the mercy of the sea.
Junior started the motor as we approached the Grammata Bay archaeological site, where we anchored and ate lunch. We took the dinghy to check out the flat rocks where sailors have traditionally scratched their names and date of visit. Sadly, a few years ago, someone cut away and stole the oldest rocks dating back to Hellenistic times, along with some from the 1800's. Now, the oldest engraving we saw (mostly like graffiti) was 1949--not so long ago. Most of the rocks were sharp and difficult to maneuver. However the bay was gorgeous, and we loved seeing a billy goat and his harem (including some babies) on the island.
Soon it was time to move to our largest city (other than Athens) on this voyage--Ermoupolis.
Page 7 >> Ermoupolis - Capital of the Cyclades on Syros >>
Ermoupolis - Capital of the Cyclades on Syros
Junior took the Baltra out of Grammata Bay and we sailed around Syros to the biggest town on the island and in the Cyclades, Ermoupolis or Ermoupoli. This is also the capital of the region. In the 19th century, Ermoupolis (named after Hermes, the god of commerce) was Greece's largest port city. However, it significantly declined in importance after the invention of the diesel engine for ships.
We arrived in Ermoupolis in the late afternoon and "parked" in a prime spot along the promenade. We agreed to meet at the main square, which was only a few blocks inland, at 8 pm for dinner. I grabbed my camera, computer, and phone and went off to find an ATM (we all needed cash since we had been paying cash for our meals) and see a little of the town. Several took advantage of the many shops to buy some souvenirs.
After exploring for a while, I stopped at a harborside bar to use the Wifi and ordered a glass of white wine and a bottle of cold water. Since it was "happy hour", the waiter also brought a nice plate of mezze (snacks) like cheese, nuts, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and toasted bread. Yummy, and the whole thing (wine, water, and snacks) was 5.50 euros! One of my shipmates saw me in the bar and joined me for the pre-dinner snack before we walked to the City Hall on the main square to meet the group.
For the first time, we didn't eat dinner overlooking the water. We did sit in a charming restaurant, and the prices were very good. I didn't get my usual Greek salad since I had eaten a bunch of tomatoes and cucumbers at happy hour and really wasn't hungry. However I did get a kebab, which is ground meat mixed with spices and done on a grill--kind of like meatloaf on a stick. It came with fries, pita bread, and tzatziki sauce. Price 8 euros. We had bread, wine, and other libations and I got out for about 13 euros. Another fun dinner in Greece.
Back to the boat and to bed before 11. One of the other women and I walked to the "real" showers about a 1/2 block from where we had docked. The showers cost us 3 euros each, but I would have paid 10. First good (hot water and good water pressure) shower in almost a week.
Morning Hike up the Hill in Ermoupolis
Junior kept the boat at the dock in Ermoupolis on the island of Syros until about 10:30 am, which gave some of the others a chance to use the good showers I had used the night before.
Since we had a couple of hours to explore, I walked with a couple of shipmates up to Asastasis Church, a large Greek Orthodox church that overlooks the city and had great views of Ermoupolis--36 flights of stairs (360 feet) on my fitbit. Ermoupolis is a pretty town, and much bigger than elsewhere we visited. The walk back down was steep, but we enjoyed seeing lots of Greek cats and walking in a town that doesn't get many tourists.
Page 8 >> Rinia Island - Ancient Necropolis for Delos >>
Rinia Island - Ancient Necropolis for Delos
Sailing to Rinia Island
Junior wanted to get out of the Ermoupolis harbor before the big ferry came in that would delay us, so we pulled away at 10:30 am and motored out to a nearby island just outside the harbor. Some in the group wanted to take a swim, but it was way too windy. It was almost cold enough for me to put on a jacket just to sit outside in the cockpit of our sailboat.
No one wanted to swim in the very windy harbor, so we started across the channel dividing Syros and Rinia, The wind and three meter swells (10 feet) made the 17-mile crossing very interesting. The Cyclades are usually windy, and we certainly could vouch for that.
The Baltra sailed almost due east and the 25-knot wind was coming from the north, so we rocked and rolled. I put on my windbreaker jacket after a huge wave came into the cockpit and drenched me and one of my shipmates. Now I know why we always had to close the windows in our cabin when we were moving. We just used the sails and made it across in less than 2 hours--highest speed was 11 knots. Great fun, even with the ship heeling back and forth.
Afternoon and Evening on Rinia Island
Rinia is uninhabited, with only a few tiny cabins used by farmers who are allowed to keep livestock on the island. About 3 pm, we found a small vacant bay with a nice sandy beach and anchored the front and tied up the back to keep the boat straight for the night.
Some of my shipmates went swimming (Junior took them and their towels and shoes and stuff to the beach in the dinghy, although they could have swum in but not with their stuff). They stayed ashore most of the afternoon. I don't like to sit in the sun, so laid in the shade on the boat with my Kindle--very nice with a light breeze, since we were out of most of the wind.
About 5:30, we packed up all the beer and wine leftover and took the grill, charcoal, and couscous Junior had made for our dinner ashore. We also took the eight raw dorado fish he had purchased in Ermoupolis to grill.
It was a wonderful evening on the Rinia beach, and the fish were delicious. Each of us had our own grilled fish set atop the hot couscous, accompanied by wine and beer and a nice fire to end the day. (We all collected drift wood for the fire.)
Back to the boat about 9 pm, we all decided to skip showers even though we smelled like smoke. Another nice day, and in bed by 10 pm.
Page 9 >> Delos, the Sacred Island >>
Delos - Sacred Island at the Center of the Cyclades
Where we had anchored at Rinia on Friday night was only about 15 minutes from the island of Delos (by motor), so we were up and at the famous archaeological site when it opened. Delos is one of the most important islands in Greece and is a World Heritage Site.
This island is celebrated as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and Greeks and others visited and lived on the island 3000 years ago. About the 7th century (or so) BC, the island was turned into a religious retreat to honor the Greek gods, and all the citizens and graves were moved to Rinia (the next door island). Ancient Greeks considered Delos the center of the universe, and the rest of the Cyclades island group do "cycle" around it.
Delos remained a popular pilgrimage site for a few hundred years before the Romans took over and made it into a commercial center in the 2nd century BC. All who visit Mykonos should visit Delos, but they need to take a guide book or go on a guided tour since there aren't many signs that explain what you are seeing.
We walked around Delos with two guide books so we could understand what we were seeing. The commercial and residential district was a good place to start, and during Roman times over 30,000 lived and worked on Delos. The mosaics and headless statues were especially memorable. The remains of the ancient theater are easily identifiable, and we hiked up to the top of the theater to get a good look at the ruins of the city below. We decided not to take the time to go up to the top of Mount Kynthos, the highest point on Delos.
Leaving the commercial and residential area, we explored the area of the religious buildings and monuments. Many of these were destroyed, but the Greek government has signage explaining how the area once looked. After seeing the Terrace of the Naxian Lions, the Sacred Lake, and the museum, we took a break in the small cafe and souvenir shop.
Our self-guided tour took us over 3 hours to see most everything. When we agreed we had all seen enough ruins and museum, we called Junior (he gave us the boat cell phone), and he picked us up about 12:30 to sail the short distance to Mykonos.
Page 10 >> Mykonos and Home >>
Mykonos - Isle of Fun and Disembarkation from the Baltra
Although it was very windy, it only took us about an hour to motor from the sacred island of Delos to the party island of Mykonos. Quite a distinct difference, but the two islands cover most of the many things to do and see in the Greek isles. We had an afternoon and evening in Mykonos before flying out the next morning. Mykonos is one of the most popular, but also one of the most expensive islands in Greece.
The harbor was very busy, but we finally found a parking spot for the Baltra sailboat in the new port and were off the boat by 2 pm. Some of our group wanted to do laundry and took their dirty clothes across the street to a convenient laundry/shower/cafe/Wifi. To save time, I took a taxi (3 euros each) with two other guests, and we wandered around for a while and enjoyed window shopping and an expensive 8 euro drink in the Little Venice area near the windmills. The most exciting part of our afternoon was seeing Petros, the pink pelican who is the mascot of Mykonos. He waddled through the bar we were sitting in, and it was a little bit of a surprise, especially since we hadn't gotten our drinks yet!
We split up to do some exploring on our own, and as always, I loved just strolling around this small town. The atmosphere is fun, and I always see something different. I took the 4 pm, two euro water taxi back to the new port. It runs on the hour from town to the "new" port and on the 1/2 hour back, but the ride is only about 10 minutes.
I got back to the boat and took a much-needed shower (at the cafe/shower/WiFi/laundry place) and did some packing before returning across the street to this multi-tasking facility to charge up all my electronics and drink a cold beer before meeting the rest of the group for dinner. The draft beer without a view was two euros, much better than the eight euros for one with a view in town!
We rode the city bus into town (very cheap) and watched the sunset at the viewing spot near the windmills. Our group savored yet another delicious dinner, and went to a fun club afterwards for a while, but this evening had a touch of sadness. The next day we would all travel to different places, but we had shared a memorable G Adventures sailing vacation in Greece.
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