Suzie found the company on the internet. She has come over from Australia and has been travelling around the UK with her husband. Now her husband has returned to Oz, and Suzie and I are to meet up in Piraeus, so she can fulfil her lifelong dream of visiting the Greek Islands.
The Yacht Getaways website promisess us an active and exciting adventure as we island hop around the breathtakingly beautiful Cyclades Islands. It is an ideal itinerary for Suzie’s limited time, and we can’t wait.
However, being ladies of a “certain age”, we have a few concerns about how we will cope with life on board a catamaran, and as we often talk on the phone, we discuss no end of potentially embarrassing scenarios, fuelling each other’s insecurities and fears, as we go.
Urgh! Life wasn’t always about toilets, insecurities and agility!
I arrive in Piraeus after a pleasant thirteen hour overnight ferry journey from Rhodes with Blue Star Ferries. Suzie has booked us accommodation at Phidias Piraeus Hotel, and they organise a courtesy pickup from the port.
The hotel is bright and modern, with contemporary décor and our room has a private balcony. We are just staying overnight, and by the time Suzie arrives, having had a long day of traveling from Edinburgh, we only have time to take the short walk to the marina. We dine at Kali Pita, as recommended by the hotel staff, and experience friendly service and delicious souvlaki, while we catch up on our adventure stories.
The following morning we catch another Blue Star Ferry to Paros, which will take around four hours. We have a pleasant trip, spending the time chatting with a group of lovely young Greek ladies, who are going on a weekend break together to Antiparos.
Paros Town, also known as Parikia is the main town of Paros, and we arrive at the iconic Greek Island scene of brilliant whitewashed buildings, and blue-domed churches, against a rugged rocky backdrop.
It doesn’t take us long to find our Yacht Getaways meeting point, with their flag flying boldly to attract our attention, and although official check-in isn’t for another three hours, we are welcomed warmly by the crew.
Sven introduces himself as our skipper; tall and slender, with thick sandy red hair pulled back in a ponytail, he beams an enormous Nordic smile down at us through his beard, while his eyes reveal a glint of mischief. Jo, a petite New Zealander, is our cheerful hostess, and as she is close to our age, we naturally gravitate towards her.
We drop off our luggage and are soon exploring Parikia, and it’s Byzantine Museum while we pick up drink and snack supplies for our trip. By the time we finish a light lunch, it is time to check in and “walk the plank” to board “Ananas,” our home for the next week.
The plank is indeed just a plank, and we both begin to hyperventilate, chuntering under our breath to one another, while we await our turn to board. However, Sven and Jo are there with helping hands and reassuring words as we gingerly step across.
Sure enough, Suzie and I are the only two middle-aged women in a group of eight, the others are all young and beautiful couples, but are immediately warm, friendly and inclusive as we introduce ourselves. We soon learn that we are in the company of accomplished professionals, including a dentist couple from Sweden, a US Forces pilot couple, and a passionately dedicated junior school teacher and her IT Expert partner.
Jo welcomes us with hors-d’oeuvres and bubbly, while Sven gives us a safety talk and, taking us, a couple at a time, shows us to our cabins, where he demonstrates how to “work” our toilets.
Already relieved to know that we can walk the plank and will be sailing with friendly cruise companions, our next delight is to find that while the cabin is cramped, there is enough space at each side of our bed for us to get in and out without climbing over each other. The bed also has two single mattresses, each with its own bedding, so we effectively have separate beds, which will make sharing so much easier. And even better, we have a private bathroom!
Neither of us has sailed in this manner before, so learning that there is a process involved in using the toilet, takes us both by surprise. It is a slightly complicated process of switch flicking and vigorous handle pumping while counting, and we mustn’t put toilet paper down there!
Nonetheless, now that most of our fears are alleviated, we quickly return to the deck to enjoy our first sailing experience, as Sven takes the wheel and Jo lifts the anchor, and we embark on our Cyclades Island hopping adventure. First stop, Antiparos.
Is it only me, or do other people think about eating antipasto when they read the name Antiparos?
A short sail from Paros, Antiparos is a great little place to ease into island hopping life, and we enjoy strolling along the harbourfront from the windmill to the church, before taking to the quaint cobbled streets, abundant with whitewashed tavernas and cafes, draped in vibrant colour from bougainvillaea and other beautiful blossoms. A tasty seafood meal enjoyed at Anargyros, a harbourside restaurant, finishes our first day perfectly.
Before departing Antiparos, our younger companions visit a nearby cave while Suzie and I practice swimming off the back of the catamaran in preparation for a snorkel stop later in the day.
After the others return, we set sail and soon arrive at Alimia Bay off Iraklia Island. We are here to snorkel over a submerged German WWII plane and anchor a distance away from the wreck. The others quickly and ably swim to the wreck and enjoy snorkeling and diving with no effort.
Needless to say, Suzie and I aren’t quite in their fitness league, but Sven ensures it is no less of an experience for us, and takes us by dinghy to a drop off point close to the wreck. It is a fascinating and memorable experience, as I snorkel my first wreck. Albeit I find it an eerie and somewhat moving experience, as all that is left is the skeleton of the plane’s framework, and I feel as if I am snorkeling over a grave site.
Having had an enjoyable afternoon, we arrive in Ios (meaning flower) by early evening, and take the bus up the steep hill to Chora town centre, another beautiful and colourful whitewashed town. From here we meander on foot up the winding streets and past several of the islands 365 churches towards its most significant church, Panagia Gremiotissa at the town’s highest point. The views over the island and the Aegean Sea are breath-taking, and we watch the sunset in contemplative silence. Afterwards, reluctantly tearing ourselves from the spectacular scenery, we make our way back down to the town centre, and are delighted when we happen upon a fabulous little rooftop restaurant, Sally’s Arhondiko. The views, food and friendly staff are all fantastic, making this the perfect finish to our day. I think Ios might be my favourite island.
Today, we stop to swim in a beautiful little bay with a cave to explore. We wile away the afternoon swimming, paddleboarding (well the young and fit paddleboard), snorkel and sunbathe on the catamaran netting. Each day Jo spoils us with an elaborate breakfast followed by a delicious and filling lunch. Both she and Sven are not only accomplished skippers but also first-grade chefs and occasionally swap roles, each one treating us to culinary delights. We are starting to become accustomed to these lazy days of eating, swimming and sunbathing on the deck while we motor or sail along, depending on the breeze, and I am slipping into pleasant inertia.
By early evening we sail into Naxos, yet another picturesque whitewashed harbour town with its prominent Portara on a nearby small peninsula. Portara is an enormous arch, the doorway to an unfinished temple, dedicated to Apollo. Like so many others, Suzie and I are drawn to the spectacular Portara and rush to get there before the sun sets. It is the perfect place to watch the sunset over the Aegean Sea. I like Naxos and would love to explore it some more.
Our en-route stop today is the island of Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of considerable significance and the most important of Greece’s mythological, historical and archaeological sites. Delos had already been a holy sanctuary for a thousand years before Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Therefore deemed to be a sacred place, mortals were not allowed to be born or die on the island, and heavily pregnant women and the dying were taken to the nearby island of Rhenea. Delos was also reputed to be Greece’s main trade centre during a large part of its extensive history. Suzie has studied Greek history and is especially excited about today’s excursion. It is a fascinating place, and the two hours we have to visit it is not long enough. However beautiful Mykonos awaits us.
Lonely Planet describes Mykonos as “the great glamour Island of Greece and happily flaunts its sizzling St-Tropez-meets-Ibiza style and party-hard reputation.”
Mykonos Town, also known as Hora is a thriving hustle bustle of tourists, but this doesn’t detract from its beautiful setting, its iconic windmills, a gorgeous labyrinth of cobbled whitewashed alleyways, and Venice style waterfront. I can appreciate why Mykonos is so popular, and although it is too busy for Suzie’s liking, this quickly becomes my favourite island so far.
We return to Delos Bay for a few hours of leisurely swimming. By now Suzie has claimed Ananas’s inflatable pineapple ring and happily bobs about in the crystal clear water, while I don mask and snorkel and chase a few fish. The others paddle board and snorkel-dive in earnest, picking up huge shells and other objects from the seabed.
Sven is particularly excited about visiting Syros. Although we have adequate showers on the catamaran, the crew’s facilities are basic, so the harbour-side showers are a luxury that Sven is looking forward to, and his favourite vegetable market is also here.
The famous Meltemi winds of the Aegean are unusually calm for the time of year, and we are more often traveling under motor than sail. However, today is a perfect sailing day, and Suzie takes the helm.
Our afternoon swimming stop is in a beautiful little bay with only a couple of tumbledown shacks on its almost deserted beach.
Later, as we sail into the harbour of Syros, we are captivated by the picturesque town of Ermoupoli, with its colourful houses, a contrast to the usual whitewashed scenes, cascading downwards from its hilltop church. Built in the 1820’s Emoupoli’s neo-classical mansions, wide streets, harbourside cafes and seating areas gives it the feeling of being in a mainland European city.
At some island harbours, we drop anchor, which means Sven has to ferry us to and from the shore in Ananas’s inflatable dinghy. It can be a little challenging for Suzie and me to get in and out of, but we are becoming more proficient each time. However, tonight we have a mooring directly next to a café’s outside seating area, and it amuses us that we have to pick our way between the tables and chairs each time we come and go from Ananas.
I like Syros and want to come back. Could this be my favourite island so far?
Today we experience black tourism when we sail close to the island of Gyaros. It is recorded as far back as Roman times, as an island of exile, and remained as such right up until 1974. The island is desolate, and the crumbling buildings are eerie. In one publication it is named “The Forgotten Aegean Island Of The Devil.” It’s eeriness makes the hair on the back of Suzie’s and my neck tingle.
On a lighter note, the story goes that Apollo tied the sacred island of Delos to Gyaros and Mykonos to stop it from wandering across the Aegean.
Later we enjoy another pretty swimming stop, and drift on the Aegean a while to watch the dramatic effect of the sunset through the gathering clouds; as we sit in silence, the only sound is the lapping of the waves against the catamaran and the occasional clinking of the sail lines against the mast.
Kea is our last island stop, and we anchor in the pretty bay of the fishing village of Vourkari and go ashore to enjoy a group dinner at I Strofi tou Mimi. It is the most enchanting waterside setting I have experienced in a long time, albeit Suzie and I feel it is overpriced for the quality of food. Nonetheless, we have a lovely evening all together as we reflect on our wonderful week; our days filled with great company and conversations, lots of humour and laughter, and loads of adventure and fun, not to mention breathtaking scenery. There is a sense of contentment and camaraderie, and we all agree we will be sorry to end the lovely week together, sailing around the Cyclades Islands aboard Yacht Getaway’s Ananas.
It is hard to believe that this is our last day of sailing the Aegean Sea, but the fun isn’t over yet! Before leaving the pretty island of Kea, we stop a while at Koundouraki beach which offers a range of water sports. The others go off to play while Suzie and I take a dip off the boat and relax on the catamaran netting.
Our last night on Ananas is at its final mooring in Lavrion. It has been a wonderful week of fun, laughter, sun, sea, beautiful scenery and adventure. Suzie and I haven’t been quite as agile or confident as our younger companions, but nothing has been beyond us. (Ok, I admit we didn’t attempt the paddleboarding!) Sven and Jo have taken great care of us all, but they have been especially attentive to Suzie and me, ensuring we have enjoyed every part of the week just as much as the others.
We spend our last evening by taking a taxi to visit the site of the Temple of Poseidon, one of the significant monuments of the Golden Age of Athens. It is quite a spectacular site perched high on the headland of Cape Sounion, with magnificent views of the Aegean. We arrive just before sunset and join throngs of other people to enjoy breath-taking scenes as the sun begins to set. It is the night of the lunar eclipse, and as the sun finally disappears below the horizon, the blood moon begins to rise. We couldn’t have picked a better scene for our last night of our Cyclades Island Hopping Adventure.
In the meantime, Suzie and my adventures are not over yet…tomorrow we head to Athens.
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Photographs in this post are a combination of both Suzie’s and mine, with a special thanks to Jo from yacht Getways for allowing me to use her amazing photo of the “Blood Moon” over Lavrion.
I have not received any sponsorship from Yacht Getaways to write this post and it is a true account of my experiences.