With its stunning scenery, mouth-watering food, fascinating history and wonderful weather, it’s not hard to see why Greece is one of the most popular destinations in the world in which to take a sailing holiday. One of the many benefits of choosing Greece as your next sailing destination is that there really is something for everyone; with thousands of islands to explore, all set between deep blue skies and crystal clear waters, you are bound to find your perfect setting.
Choosing an island range to explore by boat is undoubtedly the best way to uncover Greece’s many hidden gems, and it also allows you to avoid the hustle and bustle of popular tourist spots. There are six main island groups in Greece, but perhaps the best choice for a yacht charter is the Cyclades.
Image courtesy of Ocean Independence
Comprising of 220 islands in total, the fact that the Cyclades are all within easy reach of each other means that you can explore several of these remarkable isles in a relatively short space of time.
Below we have put together a brief Cyclades island guide to ensure your yachting holiday is plain sailing: each island offers something different in terms of culture and cooking, so follow our advice to ensure you enjoy the best that Greece has to offer.
The first thing to consider when planning a yachting holiday is when to go. The high season for the Cyclades is June and July, although good weather is usually guaranteed from May to September.
From the mainland and the port of Piraeus the islands are best explored in a circular route. Working in an anti-clockwise direction you can pass most of the main islands, and below we have picked a few of our favourites, where you’ll be able to take advantage of a wealth of cooking and culture!
Milos (78 nautical miles from Piraeus)
As the most westerly island, a visit to Milos will be practical as well as unforgettable. With 125 km of coastline just waiting to be explored, a yacht is the perfect way to discover this island, especially since most of its beaches are inaccessible from the road.
Adamas image courtesy of brookscl via Flickr
Milos possesses the biggest natural port in the Mediterranean, Adamas, which is also the only harbour on the island. Visiting yachts can moor stern-to the small yacht quay or along the outside arm of the visitor boat harbour, where there is space for several yachts on an anchor moor. Because of the size of the bay there can be a rather uncomfortable ground swell, but generally the harbour provides decent shelter.
Image courtesy of brookscl via Flickr
Milos is famous for being the home of the Venus de Milo statue, which was discovered in 1820 and taken from the island shortly after by the French: a copy is now housed in the Archaeological Museum in the capital, Plaka. Milos is also home to Greece’s only Christian catacombs which are definitely worth a visit. Dug from volcanic rock in the first century, the catacombs were the meeting place of the first Christians, and together with the catacombs in the Holy Land and Rome, they are considered the most significant in the world – so don’t forget your camera!
As you may expect from an island surrounded by miles of sparkling blue sea, Milos has an abundance of delicious fish and fresh seafood; local delicacies include octopus with fava beans and Milos shrimp. For its small size Milos boasts many fantastic restaurants in both its capital, Plaka, and Pollonia, a picturesque fishing village and resort, so you really will be spoilt for choice.
A restaurant with one of the best reputations on the island is Armura in pretty Pollonia, where fabulous views and complimentary watermelon shots make the perfect end to an excellent meal. Alternatively, Armenaki offers exceptional mezes and locally caught fish, and its superb location, just above the beach of Pollonia, offers diners great views of the neighbouring island of Kimolos.
Santorini (130 nautical miles from Piraeus)
Image courtesy of kevinpoh via Flickr
Santorini is considered the most breath-takingly beautiful of all the Cycladic isles, and as soon as you approach this island from the unique vantage point that a boat offers, you will see why. The submerged crater just off the main island is a permanent reminder of one of the most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in history; the legend of the lost city of Atlantis is said to have begun here.
The main harbour for Santorini is Skala Fira, although this quay is not ideal for yachts – the water is too deep to be able to anchor here so boats must be tied to buoys. It is advisable to moor at Santorini marina instead, where the price includes water, electricity, WCs and WiFi.
If you like to admire jaw-dropping views while you eat then you’ve definitely come to the right place: the vast majority of restaurants in Santorini offer sensational views of the sunken caldera and the dramatic sheer cliffs, and watching the sun go down while you eat is truly magical.
Famous for their wonderful mussels, Apiron in Fira is perfectly situated for a sunset dinner and is also sheltered from the often-strong wind. In the village of Pyrgos is the upmarket restaurant Selene, which is known for its exceptional sea urchin and artichoke salad and local wild capers.
Santorini is especially famous for its cherry tomatoes, which are likely to be the best you have ever tasted. Try tomato-kefides, a local dish of deep fried tomatoes with mint, herbs, butter, and onions. Cod with smoked paprika and local tomatoes is another delicious traditional dish worth trying too.
Image courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis via Flickr
If the spellbinding views aren’t enough to make you instantly fall in love with Santorini, then its culture certainly is. The capital Fira has a maze of narrow, cobbled streets to explore, and there are five wineries to visit here too – Santorini is famous for its distinct, potent wine. History buffs will also enjoy visiting Ancient Akrotiri, an early Minoan settlement which dates back to the 1600 BC.
Image courtesy of Danel Solabarietta via Flickr
The town of Oia, at the northern tip of the island, is probably one of the best places in the world to watch the sun go down. Brightly coloured houses burrow into the sheer rock face and offer views that really must be seen to be believed. Every evening throngs of tourists rush to the best viewing spots to get that all-important sunset photo, but it truly is worth braving the mad crowds.
Image courtesy of Random_fotos via Flickr
Naxos (103 nautical miles from Piraeus)
As the largest island in the Cyclades, Naxos’s green and fertile landscape also mean that it is one of the most beautiful. Approaching the island in your boat will give you a fantastic view of its rugged scenery, verdant valleys and sweeping golden beaches that stretch for miles along the shore.
Naxos port in Hora is located at the northwest side of the island, and you must drop anchor and go stern to the dock. Care should be taken when approaching due to the reef Vrakhos Frouros, which lies approximately 1.3 miles west southwest of the harbour. There are about 80 places within the yacht marina, further boat anchorages, and the price per night includes electricity and water.
mage courtesy of Valerie Everett via Flickr
Naxos exports plenty of fresh fish and meat, wine, olive oil, vegetables and fruit, but is especially famous for its cheese, and is responsible for 14% of Greece’s dairy production. Try saganaki, a traditional dish of fried local cheese which is delicious with both fish and vegetables.
The top eatery on the island is Axiotissa, which has original recipes, delicious locally sourced organic food and a great selection of Greek wines and beers. Giannis in Trageá is also worth a visit, and is famed for its comforting dishes of haricot beans in red sauce, spinach pie, and meat grills.
Naxos is absolutely packed full of fascinating history and architecture, with numerous medieval castles, Byzantine churches, ruins and statues throughout the island. The unfinished but spectacular Temple of Apollo lies on the islet of Palatia, which can be reached from a causeway by the port – the island has strong links to the god of light, Apollo, and the god of wine, Dionysus.
In Naxos’s capital Hora is the old town of Kastro, a delightful maze of cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and old Venetian buildings that you can spent hours in exploring. Nature lovers can take advantage of the beautiful and diverse landscape on the island, which includes sandy golden beaches, wild and fertile stretches of olive groves, and the dramatic and towering Mount Zeus.