We recently explored the serene and beautiful Ionian, and now we switch our attention to Greece’s southern coast, towards Athens and the benign but challenging Aegean.
The Aegean takes its name from Greek mythology and the tale of Aegeus, who saw a (wrongly hoisted) black sail and flung himself into the sea, believing his son Theseus had been killed by the Cretan Minotaur. From the Peloponnese to the Cyclades, and from the windmills of Kea to the Temple of Aphaia, this is our guide the very best sights, anchorages, and harbour towns in the area.
Characterised by longer passages and stronger, more consistent winds than its Ionian sibling, the Aegean Sea is a great way for sailors to put their skills to the test in sumptuous surroundings. Laced with enthralling ancient history, voyages across the Saronic Gulf and wider Aegean manage to combine a heady mix of warmth and wind, punctuated by rugged beauty and whitewashed walls. Join the party at Mykonos, or stop off at Kea and Kithnos for a slice of peace and quiet, and to explore the local ruins of Karthea and the fine sand isthmus at Kolona.
The Saronic Gulf lies to the west of Athens, and at the eastern end of the Corinth Canal. It features the islands of Aegina and Poros, famed for their fantastic fresh grapes and olives, as well as the Peloponnese coast.
Set sail from our base in Zea and cruise out into the Saronic Gulf, bearing SW towards Aegina. Navigate past the tiny Lagousa and Lagousaki, hugging Aegina’s west coast as you make your way to the small, shambolic and charming Perdika. A peaceful, traditional fishing village, Perdika’s waterfront is littered with restaurants, whose quayside tables make it one of the best places to sample the catch of the day. Perdika is Greek for ‘partridge’, after the birds that used to blight the island’s crops.
As far away from Oxford Street as you could hope to get (off the water, at least). There are no cars on Hydra, and the best way to get around is by donkey. On approach, it appears as though history has passed Hydra by, and it is hard to believe that this small island boasts around 300 churches and chapels and six monasteries. Once saddle sore gets the better of you, dismount to a local tavern for a well-earned dinner. In the 1960s, Hydra was popular with the disillusioned and artistic, notably the late Leonard Cohen, who is said to have penned several songs here. Arrive early in the summer to bag a prime berth.
Spetses and Dokos
You can snorkel from Agio Anagyri beach to a hidden cave where the people of Spetses once hid from attacks by the Ottomans. This most secluded Saronic island is covered in pine trees and a host of secret coves and bays. Follow that excursion up with a sail to uninhabited Dokos and drop anchor for a spot of lunch in view of the ethereal church atop one of the island’s highest points.
Get back into the swing of things in the livelier surroundings of Poros Town and its busy nightlife scene around the south of the island. If you’re still in mind for the quieter sides of things, head to the north of the island.
The volcanic Methana peninsula offers incredible mountain views, top-draw seafood and a very peaceful place to stop overnight. Take a rejuvenating dip in the sulphurous pools. Go stern-to on the south quay, where there are good depths and good shelter from all winds.
The ancient town of Epidaurus is home to one of Greece’s unique wonders: the awe-inspiring ruins of the 14,000-seat Epidaurus amphitheatre, which dates back to the 4th Century BC. The acoustics have stood the test of time so well that audiences at the very top of the amphitheatre can hear the striking of a match on stage today as well as they could in 385 BC. It’s well worth the short trip inland to see it. Epidaurus town is also a lovely spot for lunch or dinner. The bottom is mud and generally good holding.
Anchor in the sheltered bay under Ák Sounion and wait for the meltemi to pass as you gaze up at the ancient temple of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. Legend has it that Lord Byron stopped here to carve his name upon a column, before writing a few lines about his visit:
"Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
Where nothing save the waves and I
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die."
As close as you can get to the classic romantic perception of Greece, the Cyclades are huddled, sun-scorched islands lapped by cobalt seas and dotted with cubist whitewashed houses. The sun blasts through clear blue skies overhead, while sand and rock makes for good holding underwater.
Walking along the craggy cliffs of this relaxed island idyll, you could be forgiven for thinking this gateway to the Cyclades housed nothing but quiet beaches and an abundance of oak trees. But dig a little deeper and you can find the remains of a bronze-age settlement, and a half-finished sculpture of a lion. There are six anchorages on the island, from the main port in the NW to the odd secluded bay with a single waterfront tavern, ideal for watching the sun set with a glass of something cool.
A mountainous, wildly beautiful island, Kithnos lies just over six miles south of Kea. It is relatively untouched by mass tourism, perhaps because of its rugged nature. Kithnos is famous for its food, particularly cheese, honey, wine and figs. Loutra, a lovely harbour town sheltered from all winds, is the island’s absolute must-see, home to a natural hot springs and the old Hydropathic Institute, built in 1858.
If you have time or fancy a longer sail, venture south to the lower Cyclades and stop off at Sifnos, known as the epicentre of Greek cuisine. Home to legendary chef Nikoloas Tselementes, the island pays homage to a simpler time, and its traditional clay pots lend local dishes a distinctive flavour.
That concludes our tour of Homer's 'wine dark sea'. Why not head to Athens and see it for yourself? Sunsail offer bareboat, flotilla, and skippered sailing holidays across the Aegean from our base in Athens Zea. Set sail alone, with a group or with a helping hand aboard and explore this enormous archipelago, often called the cradle of civilisation. Embrace the afternoon Meltemi winds from June to September if you are looking for some invigorating sailing, and weave around the vast expanse of islands, each with a charm uniquely its own.