Words and photos by Maarten Janssen
20% of the total land mass of the beautiful country of Greece is made up of over 3000 islands and islets. Over 15,000 kilometres of beautiful coastline, it’s almost as if the country were made for sailing.
Crystal, azure waters, a Mediterranean climate, food to die for and world renowned rich history at every corner, Greece makes for an enchanting getaway. Wondrous mythology and Greek romance intertwined in every ageing ruin, in every sun bleached terrace, in every step on the hot, dusty roads; it’s not difficult to forget you’re still in the 21st century.
Her age old enchantment comes in many forms, and the country certainly has seemingly boundless sights and activities to offer her many visitors. The incredible islands differ in climate, wind and sailing conditions, sailing ability required, as well as culture, food and popularity - truly providing a wealth of choice befitting of any taste.
We started our 4 day charter on board the beautiful Aurora in Nafplion, the first capital of the Modern Greek state, considered as one of the most picturesque and aristocratic towns of Greece as we know it today. One of the most captivating attractions is the 18th century Venetian fortress, Palamidi, nestled on the crest of a 216 metre hill. Although there is now a road providing access to visitors, the original 999 steps leading up are still very much in use by the more romantic - or rather, active - of visitors.
There isn’t a Greek island that cannot be reached from Nafplion, though the beautiful isle of Spetses lies only a short and extremely pleasurable journey away, ideal after a day of travel and short sightseeing around the attractive port.
Spetses is an island that brags a long historical naval tradition. Most significantly, it is noted for its contribution to the Greek Revolution of 1821, in the successful fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Aside from its traditional, colourful history, Spetses hosts an extremely picturesque old harbour, making it a delight to visit from the very onset.
Dápia is the tourist and commercial centre of the island, but still retains true tradition and character you would expect of classical Greece, most demonstrably seen in the no-car zone of the entire island. In fact, one of the highlights of a visit to Spetses is a trip around the island on a romantic horse drawn carriage. On the way, take in the grand, beautifully restored mansions of the old aristocrats and the narrow, cobbled streets. June is a great month to visit and experience the Classic Yacht Race, where 1930s J Class and vintage vessels compete.
The beaches of the island are nothing less than what would expect, though several of the most popular tend to become overcrowded in high season, particularly Vréllos. Although a paradisiacal setting, surrounded by dense forest and a relaxing walking route to the highest point of the island, its popularity is its downfall in July and August. If you’re looking for a touch of super exclusivity, head by boat to Xylokériza, a secluded spot just 8 kilometres distance from Dápia or Ayla Marina, which provides beach bars and water sports galore.
If Spetses didn’t offer enough exclusivity for you, head to Hydra. Just like her neighbouring islands, Hydra has no motorised transport, a refreshing change from the ever busy cities inland. Teamed with rocky hillsides and a beautiful natural harbour, the island provides a true escape from the aggravations of the modern world.
The setting of 1957 movie Boy on a Dolphin starring 50s bombshell, Sofia Loren, Hydra really is one of Greece’s most magnificent islands. Be sure to taste the spectacular local speciality, amygdalota. Combine the sweet, almond cake with an espresso or a glass of champagne whilst taking in the gorgeous views. The harbour can, again, like most other islands on one the world’s most popular yachting itineraries, get very busy during the summer months. The deep, delightful waters, however, compensate for this.
Try Mandraki beach at Kamini and Vlychos to dip back into tranquillity. Finish with a night in the lively Pirate Bar, a chic bar and restaurant during the day with an exciting atmosphere that carries on way into the night.
Perhaps feeling a bit worse for wear from the sights and scenes of Hydra the night before, what better way to recuperate than moving onwards to Poros, often described as the island of peace and romance. Overgrown pine trees swamp the island, even reaching as far as the rugged shores and beautiful beaches. The scenery is breath-taking, making Poros an easy place to simply stroll around.
From Poros head to Aegina, a hilly island where the coast falls steeply down into the sea. Despite being just 31 km from the country’s capital and the premiere playground for wealthy Athenians, Aegina is surprisingly completely unspoilt. Predominantly mountainous, the island offers numerous gorgeous walking routes, serving as a fabulous alternative to the chic bars, restaurants and beaches that heavily dominate the island route.
Also one of Greece’s old capital cities, Aegina Town is the bustling main capital. The harbour is lined with a few charming cafes and restaurants with beautiful views to enjoy over coffee or a delightful traditional Greek lunch. Worth a visit on the historical side is the extremely well preserved Temple of Aphaia, a 500 BC temple dedicated to the goddess Aphaia, a local deity to the island associated with fertility and the agricultural cycle.
Although a typical Greek island in many ways with beautiful beaches, a relaxed atmosphere and a perfect stop on any Mediterranean sailing itinerary, Aegina is most famous for its pistachio nuts, said to be the best in the world. To celebrate, mid to late September sees the annual Fistiki Fest, a beautiful, quirky festival celebrating all things pistachio. Music, dance, art and theatre accompanies high quality, local pistachio products. Well worth the visit, the dedicated “Gastronomic Corner” is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the divine tastes of the Aegina pistachio next to the sea.
And finally, the last stop on the ideal Greek itinerary is Athens. Of the countless must-do’s in Athens is a visit to the Parthenon, which has stood atop of the Acropolis for over 2,500 years. A walk around the famous historic triangle is also a must, from Plaka, Thission to Psyri, where the famous old neighbourhoods reveal the coexistence of different eras. This contrast of history with luxurious department stores and small intimate shops, exclusive restaurants and traditional taverns all contribute to the excitement and attraction of Athens.
Providing the perfect end to a spectacular getaway is Varoulko, widely acknowledged as the finest seafood restaurant in the city. Throughout the summer months, visitors flock here to enjoy chef-owner Lefteris Lazarou’s Michelin-starred food on the gorgeous roof terrace. Finish the evening at Baba au Rum, an excellent bar for top quality, original cocktails. Situated south of the parliament square, cocktails are taken seriously here and served with great background music.
During my four days on board, superyacht Aurora provided the perfect setting for a wonderful holiday. Launched in 2011, she is a highly personalised superyacht providing a unique amount of interior space for a vessel of her category. Captain Yiannis Stamiris and his highly professional crew of 5 were welcoming and fun-loving, and made us feel right at home. Service was impeccable, food was delicious, and the scenery was ever changing.
The yacht is available for charter with Aris Drivas Yachting, and her charter rates range from €42,000 to €49,000 per week, depending on the season.