What a difference a week makes. With the end of summer officially drawing closer, the seasonal Meltemi wind may well be on its way out for the year. Our first few weeks in the Cyclades were sailing strong northerly winds, rolling seas and holding on tight in gusty anchorages. The last handful of days could not sit in greater contrast. We do love to sail but also felt blessed to finally experience the gem-like Cycladic Islands in all their magic, shimmering glory. We’ve been motoring only short distances between the more densely situated group of islands that include Antiparos, Paros, Naxos and the Little Cyclades. The conditions have brought zero ocean swell, glassed out seas and the option to anchor in whichever emerald green bay appealed, with little regard for the weather or wind that has blown lightly from every different direction, rather than the dominant northerly.
Nevertheless, we’ve been on the go regularly, keen to visit as many islands as time allowed, while still taking the time to explore old towns and historic sites. As well as to swim, sunbathe and swill beers alongside the locals who were also squeezing every last drop out of their summer vacations. The chill summertime vibe was running deep. And what was the best thing about a Greek summer? Guaranteed sunshine every single day of the week. Apart from a sudden afternoon lightning storm off Corfu Island when we arrived to Greece two months prior, we had not seen a single drop of rain since. Even clouds were a rare sight. The trade off was barren, dry islands – but in exchange for that endless sunshine, I’ll take it!
The Cyclades’ iconic whitewash cubism architecture was striking and one of the most enjoyable elements of a visit to the region. Whilst we generally ended up moored off a sunny beach or quayside in a busy commercial port, we’d almost always seek out a visit – by bus, hike or scooter – to the main town ‘chora’ or old town ‘kastro’. Plati Yialos beach on Sifnos was a buzzing though relaxed resort area with lazing bronzed Greeks and Italians, sedated by the sun. A wander around the narrow lanes of the old kastro on Sifnos was a pleasant way to waste away another afternoon – gazing upon a dramatic church surrounded by crashing waves, devouring frappes and crepes with mountain vistas and scratching the chins of snoozing cats.
Antiparos or ‘little/next to Paros’ was an absolute delight, reminding us of stylish Fiscardo port on Kefalonia Island in the Ionians. If one were plotting a Greek island-hopping itinerary, I’d highly recommend Antiparos as a quaint, attractive destination to waste away a few days. Psaraliki Beach could easily fill an afternoon of swimming, sunbathing and reading (as we did). Then snoozing under the beach’s shady tamarisk trees once your skin began to sizzle. Next head to Sunset Deseo Bar for sunset drinks with a cool crowd and afterwards back to the main stroll for people watching and cocktails under the breezy bougainvillea. Refreshingly there was barely a breath of English to be heard amongst the Greek, Italian and the odd German holidaymakers.
Lately we’ve regretted not having taken up the sport of kiteboarding, as the waters around Antiparos offered perfect wind conditions and a flat turquoise runway. Never before had we seen so many kiteboarders together in one place, with no less than 50 kites in the air simultaneously in the stretch of ocean between Paros and Antiparos Islands. Unfortunately I don’t have any daytime photos to share – as too much time was squandered lazing at the beach – just some scenes on dusk and full moon from our rock wall mooring with lines ashore.
When expecting guests, a spin-off benefit was the motivation to give the boat exterior and interior a deep clean and finally tackle certain projects that had taken a back seat on the list of priorities. That task was re-varnishing the sun-bleached teak on the back deck, table, sugar scoop steps and passarole (gangway). The guys tackled it over a number of days, including deserting ship for extended afternoons at a time to allow the back deck to dry between different coats. The teak was looking shmicko!
Upon dismantling the teak dining table on the aft deck, which included an extendable centerpiece insert we’d never used, we found ourselves a new mini teak table that was a perfect fit for the bow lounge area. Admittedly we’ve since had a few issues with the newly varnished sugar scoop steps which when wet can become dangerously slippery. Both Mike and I have gone down like a sack of potatoes on separate occasions. Thus we are currently devising a plan to add something under the next coat that will provide some added traction – as mum or dad making the same slip may involve more than just a few cursed words.
When we didn’t think it could get any better, each new island, town or bay we’ve encountered over the past week has been a surprise and brought a new favourite – could the Cyclades really get any better?! Paros Town on Paros Island, only a short distance from Antiparos, provided a peaceful sheltered anchorage. Stepping a few streets back from the bustling ferry port unveiled a delightful labyrinth of narrow cobblestone alleys filled with boutiques, cafes, restaurants and characterful bars. Arguably the best burger we’d eaten was from Paros’ famous Nick’s burger joint. Burgers the size of your head, dripping BBQ sauce and onion rings stuffed inside. Worth seeking out should you ever make your way there.
Northeastern Paros Island was the setting for what must be one of the prettiest fishing villages in all of Greece. Naousa has justifiably become a highlight daytrip outing for visitors from Paros Town, though still functions as a productive fishing port. Octopuses hung from every rafter, tenderising in the midday sun in preparation for serving at the many under-the-stars tavernas that lined the baby harbour. Our first visit to Naousa was a scooter exploration day of Paros Island (when I proudly rode my own scooter solo for the first time). We next returned with the boat and anchored across in the neighbouring bay of Ormos Ay Ioannou.
Perhaps aided by the gorgeous calm weather, the bay was easily one of our favourite anchorages in the Cyclades. Should the fiercest Meltemi choose to blow again, we were told it was also the best protected anchorage in the region due to the slim line of high rock encircling the bay, and dozens of yachts could be found huddled there in such conditions. Fortunately it was tranquil the few nights we spent there and the only rocking was from swell off the passing watersports boats.
Below is a pictorial taste of Naousa – currently our new fav gem in the Cyclades.
During our first few weeks in the Cyclades we didn’t spot many super yachts, likely due to uncomfortable, howling Meltemi winds and associated rough seas. Though with magic sparkling sea conditions – there were plenty of big daddies about and we shared Ioannou Bay with several multi-squillion dollar yachts and their toys, where crew often outnumbered guests. Whilst definitely not the largest we’d seen, our favourite was our closest neighbour Ice Angel – she was one sexy boat. Unfortunately I didn’t Google her details until I was penning this blog post. Turned out the yacht belonged to Steven Spielberg – we were in the presence of film royalty and didn’t even know it.
Whilst Ice Angel was likely kept for the sole use of Spielberg and his friends, most of these opulent charter yachts rent for around 200,000 euro per week and that does NOT include food or drinks. Imagine forking out quarter of a million for a one week holiday that does not include an open bar!
It was also in this bay that dad broke a 30-year drought; to prove he still knew how to single ski and age was no barrier for our ol’ Navy vet who cheerfully claimed this was the healthiest he’s felt in years.
Next door to Paros, Naxos Island was the largest, most mountainous and fertile island in all the Cyclades. A hire car drive into the landlocked rocky mountains provided a change from the endless blue horizons that have become a consistent part of our lives this year.
We had anchored under the ruins of Apollo’s temple: God of music, light, sun, truth and healing (he was versatile); and conveniently alongside the Naxos ferry wharf where we were to collect our much-anticipated guests. Jay and Deanne (D) were our very dear friends from Whistler, Canada. Mike and Jay were childhood best mates and after school had moved to Whistler together in 1998. We were also honoured to have them both with us at our Fiji wedding last year – Jay as best man. We were beyond thrilled to be sharing part of our adventure with them and delighted they had arrived in the midst of the loveliest weather we’d experienced all month. Including glassed out bays and mild winds sufficient enough for some gentle sailing to ease them in.
Given we’d loved the area so much, we cruised the short distance back across to Paros Island, specifically Naoussa, to give Jay and D a sweet introduction to Greek life and scenery. We anchored again in Ioannou Bay for the afternoon before mooring in Naoussa marina – back alongside Aussie friends the Maunders family on Dominos to wish Viv a happy 60th birthday. Some bar hopping and boozy drinks followed and all in all a fun night (including one in the party falling in the drink)!
We are now lazily making our way around the sparsely populated island group collectively known as the Little Cyclades. A place that time forgot and has somehow managed to avoid the impact of tourism development. These are the places we are especially thankful to visit on our own boat as getting around to the remote bays and beaches as an independent traveller would be particularly time consuming or otherwise impossible.
The tranquility here has been mesmerising. A recent late night swim discovered there had been phosphorescence all along – like underwater green dancing fireflies stirred up by our swimming and treading of water. And a blacked-out new moon night produced some of the most vivid starry skies and galaxies I can ever remember viewing. I think it’s safe to say our guests are already completely and utterly relaxed after a hectic summer of work in Whistler.
Next stop – Mike and my one-time summer party stomping ground of Ios. Interested to see our interpretation of the place more than a decade on. Watch out!