Adventures on the Aegean islands
This message comes to you from Athens, en route back to Sydney.
It’s to reassure any concerned readers – if there are any – that despite my initial misgivings, I didn’t drown, fall off a mountain or get terminal food poisoning, and I’ve completed an extraordinary two-week sailing trip which entailed visiting something like 18 Aegean islands (I still haven’t clarified and corrected my rather patchy diary), with several more visits and probably at least 22 moorings or anchorages. Sometimes we just dropped anchor off a pretty beach and swam ashore to explore. Sheer magic.I’m thoroughly loving authentic, traditional Greek food. Who could have thought eggplant could be so delicious served so many ways?
The work, I soon discovered, is not in the sailing, which is relatively easy, but in the parking – mooring and anchoring, and then getting ashore. The latter entailed running the gauntlet of our dinghy’s outboard motor, which only occasionally worked, meaning a fair bit of rowing was done.
The boat was a 57.5-foot Hanse, German-built, and remarkably enjoyable to sail for a big boat: stable and manageable. The start and end of the trip was on the island of Kos, a 35-minute flight from Athens. The boat was rented from Istion, based at the Kos marina.
Three of us were from The Real Review team. Lars Herold proved an outstanding skipper, careful but also adventurous, tremendously knowledgeable and skilled, and had done his homework superbly. Knew the important details about each place we visited, despite not having visited most of them before.
We got the yacht sailing at up to 10 knots, and the periods of light winds necessitating motoring were happily very few. At the same time, our timing was early enough to avoid the dreaded Meltemi, a hot wind that blows hard day and night between the Cyclades and the Dodecanese islands and can make life very uncomfortable in mid-summer. I was relieved that the temperatures were mild nearly all the time: it can be very hot.
We spent half our time on the Cyclades side of the Aegean (the Greek side) and half on the Dodecanese side (closer to Turkey, still Greek-owned but with Italian/Venetian influenced buildings rather than the ubiquitous white-and-blue Greek island colours).
We ate in a number of wonderful, simple tavernas, but also ate well onboard, thanks to Terence Ling’s superb cooking. I had responsibility for the wine, which was a bludge but don’t tell anyone. The Greek whites were very good, the reds OK but less inspiring. We drank slightly more Greek wine versus other countries.
Three people including me had birthdays on board which meant a few slap-up meals and special vino. A 2010 Louis Roederer Rosé, mature Viña Tondonia and Viña Gravonia from Lopez de Heredia in Rioja, a Bründlmayer Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling, a Robert Weil Kabinett Riesling.
I’m thoroughly loving authentic, traditional Greek food. Who could have thought eggplant could be so delicious served so many ways? Not to mention the fish and seafood. And tomatoes. And cheeses. Simple, healthy, uncomplicated and delicious food. I caught a few fish off the boat, embarrassingly small but we ate them anyway.
We had a crew of six: five doing the full fortnight and two who had one week each, switching at Santorini – which was an adventure in itself as Santorini doesn’t have a proper port for yachts. Plucking a passenger and his luggage from a stone wall with a rubber dinghy bouncing on choppy water with a dodgy outboard is an experience.
Highlights? Halki, Symi, Folegandros, Nysyros, Anafi, Santorini of course, Patmos and the wild, uninhabited Alimia. Each island had some goats, so we frequently awoke at anchor in the mornings with the only sounds being the tinkle of water on the hull, the occasional groan of the anchor chain, and the distant bleating of goats and clanking of the lead goat’s cowbell. (We ate a few, too.)
Moments of blissful peace interspersed with the excitement of fast and splashy sailing.
I took enough photographs to fill an album.
We swam every day off the back of the boat, snorkelled on a sunken WW2 German aeroplane wreck, investigated old churches and monasteries on lofty hilltops and ruins of abandoned settlements, climbed a very high hill on an uninhabited island to visit a ruined fortress from the time of the Knights Templars, walked around inside the crater of an active volcano on Nysyros (the hydrogen sulphide stink was barely tolerable) and sometimes anchored in sheltered coves which we had all to ourselves. It was an experience like no other I’ve had.
Cheers to The Real Review team. We do wine, food… and sailing.
Best Greek wines tasted
- Hatzidakis Skitali Assyrtiko 2016
- Strofilia Estate Malagousia 2017
- Ktima Gerovassiliou Aeykoz Oinoz 2016 (malagousia & assyrtiko)
- Ktima Biblia Chora White 2017 (sauvignon blanc & assyrtiko)