Distance from Athens: 25+ miles
Due to their proximity to Athens, these islands were one of Greece’s first island vacation spots, and they remain popular today. These islands have the advantage of being protected by the Greek mainland; sailing conditions even in strong winds are generally calmer because seas don’t build to the extent that they do in the unprotected Cyclades (see below).
Sea temperatures are generally warmer than in the Cyclades, and though the beaches don’t rival those in the Cyclades, there are plenty of excellent places to swim.
With a short (five- to seven-day) time frame, these islands are an excellent choice. Island highlights of a Saronics cruise generally include: bustling Poros, the closest of all the Greek islands to the mainland; Hydra, steeped in history and one of the most beautiful harbors in Greece, with cobbled streets, donkeys (there are no cars on the island – donkeys are used for transport of all kinds!), and whitewashed bougainvillea-draped houses; Spetses, with its own upscale charm; and Aegina, Greece’s first capital and the island where the first Greek coin was minted in 650 B.C, is the site of the Doric Temple of Aphaia. This shrine, built for the goddess of wisdom and light, is one of the most well-preserved ruins on any Greek island.
A Saronics cruise often also includes stops on the Peloponnese west coast and mainland– the tiny villages of Ermioni and Leonidion; perhaps the beautiful city of Napflion, the second capital of Greece and crowned by the towering Palamidi Fort. With more time, it’s possible to include on this itinerary the hamlet of Yerakas – a village nestled between mountains and entered via Greece’s only fjord, and Monemvassia, the restored Byzantine town perched on a peak that’s often called “The Gibraltar of the Aegean” – little known to foreign tourists but possibly rivaling Santorini for its vistas and romance.
Distance from Athens: 45+ miles
These islands are often the first choice among charterers. Situated in the center of the Aegean, the islands are quintessentially Greek: bright-white stucco churches, windmills, and houses perch on hillsides like scattered sugar cubes beneath clear, blue skies.
The islands are known for their excellent beaches, but the water here tends to be cooler than in the Saronics. Archaeological sites abound.
For those arriving by yacht, the distances between islands here should be considered: The Cyclades are farther apart (and farther from Athens) than the Saronic Islands, leaving less time for sightseeing ashore and requiring more time underway, with less time for lunch-and-swimming stops. The second consideration is wind. Because the islands are in the Aegean’s center, they lie unprotected by the mountainous mainland, and when the meltémi – strong, seasonal north wind of Force 5 to 6, sometimes as high as Force 8 or 9 – kicks up, it can mean rough weather at best, or lost sailing days due to Port-Authority-imposed sailing bans at worst. The meltemi is at its peak in late July and August, though it can blow sporadically in late June and early September.
That said, the Cyclades are everyone’s dream of the Greek Islands, and with their number and diversity, there’s something here to realize anyone’s dream.
The Ionian Islands
Distance from Athens: 120+ miles
These islands, stretching along the west-northwest coast of the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland, lie 200 miles from Athens, and a charter here (when starting from an Athens base) requires at least 10 days as well as an expensive transit of the Corinth Canal, which the charterer is required to pay. The Ionian islands sometimes called Greece’s Caribbean: Lush, green islands rise out of an aquamarine sea, and the architecture has a Venetian influence, with red-tile-roofed homes and buildings painted in a colorful array of pastel hues. Good beaches abound; water and air temperatures are milder than in other islands, and winds are generally lighter. Snorkeling here is some of the best in Greece.
The Dodecanese Islands
Distance from Athens: 150+ miles
So named because there are 12 of them – dódeka in Greek – this island chain stretches along the east coast of Turkey in the eastern Aegean, and lies 250 miles from Athens. Like the Ionian isles, this far-flung destination requires time – in this case, two weeks, to reach and explore when starting from Athens. From Patmos in the north to Rhodes in the south, charterers will find not only distinctive scenery and architecture, but plenty of other attractions, including the site where St. John is said to have written The Apocalypse on Patmos; the slumbering volcano on Nissiros, the Knights of the Castle of St. John, the Temple of Hera, and the fortified artists’ colony of Lindos – itself an archaeological site -- on Rhodes; and the ancient shrine to the healing god Asklepeios and Hippocrates’ plane tree on Kos, to name a few. From piney forests in the north to palm trees in the south, the atmosphere is as varied as the terrain. Classic white stucco on some islands contrasts with Venetian-and-Turkish influenced architecture on others; and there are bustling hubs with plenty of shopping and nightlife as well as secluded anchorages with beautiful beaches.
Charterers wishing to cruise here should consider meeting the boat in one of the northernmost Dodecanese islands such as Patmos and working south, perhaps ending the cruise at Rhodes, is a good option. The islands, like the Saronics, are protected, here by the Turkish mainland; winds are generally steady but not overpowering, and the climate is mild.
If you have just one week to explore the Greek Islands, you’ll need to choose one island group, usually either the Saronic Islands or the Cyclades. With 10 to 14 days, seeing a bit of both island groups – or selecting a more far-flung island location - is possible. Whatever island group you choose, the best approach to a Greek Islands charter is to set a loose itinerary and keep an open mind. Our crews know the islands inside and out, and will be able to suggest spectacular places not found or featured in any islands guidebook.
While charterers may not have 10 years to roam the seas as did Odysseus, the credo “let the winds take us where they may” is an excellent one to follow when sailing these spectacular islands.