My Greek Odyssey

Greece is a country tailor-made for island hopping in style.

Greece is a country tailor-made for island hopping in style.

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Having travelled to many destinations across the globe, I have dealt with my fair share of dubious backpacker’s guest houses, sweltering buses and cramped hotel pools. It was for this precise reason that I decided 2013 was to be the year for a more luxurious, relaxing holiday.

Rather luckily for me, a very good friend of mine happens to own a luxury yacht that is usually moored at the port of Athens. Needless to say, when he invited me to tag along with a group of friends on a ten day cruise around the Cyclades Islands, I jumped at the chance.

Ancient and Modern

After flying into Athens, my friend Alexandros transported eight of us to his apartment in the lovely suburb of Kolonaki for a couple of nights before we set off. After lounging by his pool for a day and taking in some of the magnificent sights in the ancient city, we set sail on Alex’s luxury yacht into the Aegean Sea. The route he had mapped out for us wound steadily south through the Cyclades archipelago, with stops planned at Alex’s favourite tourist islands: Mykonos, Paros and Santorini, before finishing up in Crete for our flights back to the UK.

First on the agenda was Mykonos. After a day of gliding over the tranquil, sparkling waters of the Aegean past craggy cliffs dotted with olive tree groves, I would have been happy to continue cruising forever. However, the golden beaches I could just glimpse from my vantage point on deck lured me onto what turned out to be one of the most glitzy destinations I had ever come across in Greece.

Even though this island has become a tourist hotspot, it still retains its authentic Grecian charm, particularly as the tourist season had not yet reached its peak. After an afternoon of navigating the maze of Mykonos Town’s labyrinthine streets, Alex rounded us up and took us to one of the island’s more secluded beaches for an afternoon of R&R. Mykonos’ evening scene did not disappoint either, and after a few fruity cocktails and shots of Raki, we headed back to the yacht for a contented sleep.

Setting a course

Waking with sore heads, none of us were particularly drawn to the idea of sailing onto the next island on Alex’s agenda, Paros. However, once we were fed and recovered from our Raki exploits, he persuaded us it was best to head back into the sparkling seas of the Aegean towards the next charming isle.

Paros is all about rolling hills and olive groves. Also a major ferry hub in the eastern Cyclades the island is also famous for its white marble, which was used to carve the legendary Venus de Milo sculpture. Our expert crew steered us into the main port of Parikia before we travelled by land to Nausa on the island’s northern coast. Still a busy fishing harbour, we indulged in some of the freshly caught seafood in a local restaurant served alongside generous helpings of tangy Tzatziki and crunchy, toasted pitta.

We stayed on Paros for two days, which also gave me the chance to pick up some souvenirs at the enchanting east coast town of Piso Livadi. On our last night , we indulged in yet more magnificent Greek food at a small taverna in one of the island’s tiny mountain villages, going a little easier on the Raki this time in anticipation of the next day’s voyage.

Volcanic paradise

With an early start that included a stupendous sunrise for this elf us that made it out of bed, we were soon sailing further south past the island of Ios, and on to our next destination – Cyclades in Santorini. According to Alex, the island is known for being somewhat pricey compared to its sisters, so it helped immensely to be accompanied to restaurants and bars by someone who knew exactly what they were doing, and wouldn’t allow us to get ripped off.

Aside from the splendid restaurants and pearly beaches, I found Santorini to be an absolute natural wonder. A volcanic island, it boasts an impressive 16km coastline of multicoloured cliffs that tower up to 300m in height and it is also home to a crater left by one of the most colossal eruptions in recorded history.

Two days in Santorini flashed by in a blur of rugged cliffs, crisp Greek salads and peaceful beaches, and all too soon it was time to move on to our final stop, Crete. The last leg of our yacht journey was much longer than any we had made so far, but it was certainly no hardship to glide across the border of the Aegean Sea into the Crete Sea. After the tranquillity of life on a luxurious yacht, however, the crowds already touching down for their package holidays on Greece’s largest island were a shock to the system, and Alex noted that we should avoid notorious 18-30s haunts like Malia.

Cushioned return

The last three days of our holiday were to be spent in a private villa, tucked away in the mountains away from the island’s coast. Having marvelled at the natural wonders of the Aegean and its craggy islands for the last seven days, I decided to to forgo more lazy days in the comfort of the villa and instead take the opportunity to indulge in my love of history by visiting some of Crete’s historical hotspots. I hired a moped for two days and traversed the island by myself to visit the remarkable ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos and the Rethymno Fortress. My personal historical highlight, however, was a trip to the Byzantine monasteries and the legendary cave that is said to the birthplace of Zeus, King of the Gods.

As I boarded the plane that would take me back to the cold, wet weather of the UK, I knew I would miss the sun and sparkle that my luxurious vacation aboard Alexandros’ yacht had treated me to. It was at this point that I made a pact with myself to keep my friend close, and embark on another Greek odyssey as soon as his generous nature allowed.

Stats for satisfaction

  • If possible, do your island hopping in late spring (end of April/ beginning of May) or late summer (September). That way you can avoid visiting islands that are already swamped with tourists.
  • If it is possible for you to travel outside the months of July and August, the climate is also more bearable for people not used to dealing with the intense heat of the Mediterranean sun. The sun is strongest in July and August, but the sun in May is still warm enough to travel home with a sun-kissed glow rather than red-raw lobster skin.
  • If you have more time to cruise, spend 15 days island hopping, or perhaps even longer. While a 10-day tour of the Cyclades was amazing, it might have been nicer to spend a little more time on each of the islands we visited to get more of a sense of each one’s unique character.
  • There are over 200 islands in the Cyclades, so it is impossible to explore all of them. You are best planning a route before you leave, picking out select islands you want to visit. It is also worth bearing in mind that some islands are more kitted out for tourists than others if you plan on spending more than a couple of nights in one place.
  • Beware of the sea breeze. Whilst you are pleasantly cruising the seas on a luxury yacht, the refreshing sea breeze takes the edge off the heat of the sun. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you aren’t burning your skin. Lather on the sun cream every hour to make sure you are protected from the rays.
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