The Saronic Gulf and the centre of the Aegean Sea – the Cyclades – contain some of the most stunning islands in the whole of Greece. History was made here and you find a multitude of fascinating ancient sites while leisurely sailing from island to island. Dramatic volcanic landscapes dotted by hilltop towns with the typical Cycladic white-washed houses and windmills, crystal-clear waters, authentic cuisine and atmosphere make a yacht charter here so unique and enjoyable. Let us tell you a bit more about this rich cruising ground in detail.
Why is the Aegean Sea such a sought-after charter destination?
The Saronic Gulf is the link between the Ionian and the Aegean Sea. It is a part of the Aegean Sea and lies at the eastern side of the Corinthian Gulf, which is a 100 km long stretch of water. It contains the eastern entrance and exit point of the Corinth Canal, the city and port of Athens and the main islands Aegina, Salamis, Poros as well as many smaller ones. There are some amazing ancient sites like Delphi, Corinth, Mycenae and hundreds more. A very convenient starting point for an Aegean yacht charter is Athens with its big airport and the big marina of Kalamaki that offers a multitude of charter boats. It is situated due south of Athens. From there you can directly head to the Saronic Gulf with its interesting coastline and islands. The ideal yacht charter base for the Cyclades is Lavrion, about 37 km south-west from Athens airport.
The Cyclades contain the islands of Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Eschati, iOS, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Syros, Tinos, and Thira or Santorini plus many more smaller ones. It simply is a vast sailing ground with endless highlights to discover. Distances between the islands are much bigger than in some of the other Mediterranean archipelagos, so it is well suited for the experienced sailor.
The beauty of the islands is legendary. Delos is one of the most important ancient Greek sites. Then there is the volcanic island of Milos. Or Santorini with its huge crater and super-steep cliff that constitutes one of the most famous natural attractions in the world.
The largest airports are Santorini and Mykonos, which offer many charter flights in summer from most European bigger cities. Paros, Naxos, Syros and Milos also have airports with domestic flights. The ferry links between the islands amongst each other and with the mainland are brilliant, so it´s no problem to get to anywhere.
As everywhere around Greece, you will find lovely authentic taverns with great local food and fresh fish, charming ports and blue/white painted villages as well as romantic thatch-roofed windmills. The backdrop are impressive serene landscapes, including volcanic rocky coastlines. There are almost no tides but the sometimes occurring Meltemi winds require good sailing skills.
Some relevant info for Aegean sailboat charter:
Location: Mediterranean Sea east of the Peloponnese; south of Athens; north of Crete
Main Charter Bases: Kalamaki (just outside Athens); Lavrion (37 km south-east of Athens); Paros
Main airports: Athens, Mykonos, Santorini
Country code: +30
Climate: Mild, Mediterranean
Which main charter destinations are there in the Saronic Gulf and the Cyclades?
The Saronic Gulf is mostly very protected as there is very little chance of the Meltemi blowing and it is therefore a good cruising ground for family sailing holidays.
One of the classic sailing routes in the Saronic Gulf leads from Athens along the coast to Cap Sounion. On the western shore of the mainly mountainous coastline of the Peloponnese there is famous Epidaurus. The Methana peninsula is an ancient volcano about 6 NM north-west of Poros Island. Poros is separate from the Peloponnese only by a 300 m wide channel. It has a lovely port and main town built on a hill with a characteristic bell tower looming above it.
Salamis, the largest island in the Saronic Gulf with a rocky coastline of 104 km, is situated only 2 km off the coast of Piraeus, Athens. It´s famous for its important part in many sea battles and offers some very nice fine sandy beaches. Check out the lively port of Paloukia in the North-East of the island or Peristeria in the South – a small town with a yacht harbour and clean beaches. Then there is the big bay of the main town, Salamina.
You can take the charter yacht to Aegina, the so-called ´pistachio island´ due to its large cultivation of the crop. It is an extinct volcano with rugged coastline and contains the ports of Perdika and Aegina Town with nice taverns and souvenir shops.
Hydra, which is geographically not part of the Saronic Gulf but one of the Saronic Islands, is a lovely place popular with artists. Moor up in the protected port of its main town Hydra or the quiet unspoilt port of Ermioni with a beautiful steep hilly backdrop.
When sailing to Spetses, you can anchor in the bay or moor up directly in the main town on the north-eastern tip of the island.
Cruising the Cyclades Kea is one of the first islands you encounter. It is a typical Cycladic island with a beautiful old town and situated 12 NM south-east of Cape Sounion.
Kythnos, just to the South, has a very indented coastline great for anchoring or mooring in the beautiful bays or ports, for instance Stefanos bay on the east side or protected Loutra port in the North East. Try the local cheese, which is a famous specialty. The main marina to use on a yacht rental is Merikha on the west side.
Seriphos has a wonderful entry into a long bay surrounded by high-rising hills. The port at the end is Livadhi. Go up to the Chora, where you have an absolutely spectacular view.
Sifnos lies a 9 NM sailing trip south of Serifos. Kamares on the north-west side is a well-protected port at the end of a large bay.
When on a boat charter in the Cyclades, you should pass by the island of Milos. It is an old volcano that forms a huge caldera surrounded by pumice cliffs. The port of Adhamas in the north part of the crater is one of the best-protected harbours in the Mediterranean.
Finally Santorini: Entering the humongous caldera from the North-West and approaching the steep cliffs is a highlight for every sailor.
From Santorini you can steer the sailing yacht via iOS to Amorgos, a bare rocky island that has retained very much of its authentic character and doesn´t have that much tourism.
Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades Archipelago. Only about 4 NM west of Naxos lies Paros, and adjacent to it, Antiparos. There are many protected bays and inlets. The channel between Paros and Antiparos is good for anchoring as well as the protected bays of the main town, Parikia, and the popular fishing port of Naoussa.
At the coast off the ancient site of Delos yachts are only allowed to anchor until 3 pm, which is when the exhibition grounds close. Fourni Bay a little to the South, or the southern bay of neighbour islet Reneia are options to set anchor overnight.
A main attraction of every Aegean yacht charter is Mykonos. There are enough bays on the south side to look for shelter from the northerly Meltemi.
Syros, Tinos and Andros are 3 more of the bigger Cycladic islands and there are numerous smaller ones on top of that, providing the yacht charterer with endless options for sailing routes.
What are the prevailing weather systems for a yacht charter around the Aegean Islands?
The northerly Meltemi wind can reach force 7, sometimes 8, in July and August. It can occur quite unpredictably as well as blow for 5 days on end, so in that case good sailing skills are required. It may not take place at all, though, and there have been summers without Meltemi entirely. Best suited for family sailing holidays is the well-protected Saronic Gulf.
Summary of the weather conditions for sailing a yacht charter in the Aegean with the example of Santorini:
Months with highest average temperature: July/August, 26°
Months with lowest average temperature: January/February, 12°
Month with highest average precipitation: December, 167 mm
Months with lowest average precipitation: July/August, 0 mm
Month with the highest daily sunshine hours: July, 14 hours
Month with the lowest daily sunshine hours: December, 6 hours
Average wind speed in summer: 3 – 7 Bft.
Month with highest average water temperature: August, 25°
Month with lowest average water temperature: January, 16°
Main season: May – October
How much is Aegean yacht rental and what are the different charter types?
You can rent a 12 m sailboat, for instance, from about 1,400 € a week. Prices rise according to size, model and equipment of the yacht. Due to the strong winds, there aren´t really any flotilla charters. You can do bareboat or skippered charter, and choose between catamaran charter and sailboat or motor yacht hire. You could go for a day charter or opt for luxury boat hire that comes with a lot of extras and a crew according to your specific needs.
What else is there to do besides sailing on a boat hire in the Cyclades and the Saronic Gulf?
On a yacht hire in the Saronic Gulf, visit Epidaurus on the Peloponnese, a large ancient sanctuary and centre of healing set in the forest. Its ruins contain a theatre with amazing acoustics, where a whisper on the stage is heard anywhere on the 54 tiers of seats, a stadium and much more. Also check out the museum illustrating what exactly happened at the sanctuary in antiquity.
If you rent a yacht in Lavrion, go down to Cape Sounion which is located only about 10 km due south. It is a temple for Poseidon in a beautiful setting on a steep cliff overlooking the sea.
Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta beginning of July makes for some exciting racing with some beautiful sailing yachts, Aegean classic schooners and lateens.
Kea main town, Ioulis, is very picturesque. It sits high on a plateau like most Greek island towns – they used to be built like that for protection from pirates. Moor up the sailboat and visit the medieval Venetian castle. And north-east of Kea town there is the famous carved lion from the 6th c. BCE. Check out the seaside resort of Vourkari where you encounter an ancient city with the oldest temple found in the whole of Greece (15th c. BCE). Kea is very popular with scuba divers as the water has great visibility and rich wildlife and there are good possibilities for cavern and wreck diving – one of the sister ships of the Titanic, the HMHS Britannic, sank there in 1916, amongst others.
If you have some time in-between sailing trips, attend one of the many traditional festivals in Sifnos – there is one held almost every month. With 360, the island has the highest amount of churches in all of the Cyclades. For instance, watch a typical Greek wedding at The Church of the Seven Martyrs in Kastro with its amazing setting above the sea. Or visit the beautifully architected capital of the island, Apollonia.
Milos offers spectacular volcanic landscapes including its huge caldera as well as the hot springs. For some sightseeing head to the remains of the medieval castle of Palaiokastro at the highest point.
Should the Meltemi blow a little too strong for sailing, take some time and visit the amazing archaeological site and museum at Santorini. Also admire the stark volcanic landscape – there are no trees, just craters and pumice cliffs. Go to Fira, which is a sea of whitewashed houses sitting high on top of the black rocks that are beautifully lit up at night. Watch the sunset over the crater from one of the many bars and restaurants. There is a cable car taking you up to the town or you can ride a donkey up the serpentine path. Try and savour the local wine, which is especially flavoured from the volcanic soil.
Amorgos was the backdrop for Luc Besson´s film The Big Blue and when you hire a motor- or sailing yacht in the Aegean Sea, you can go there yourself and soak up the amazing colour of the sea and the sky. Go up to the charming Chora of Amorgos sitting on top of the hill next to scattered windmills and a Venetian castle with a stunning view. Other beautiful villages are Tholaria and Langada and the towering monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa in the cliff side north-east of Chora is also well worth visiting,
You could explore some of the many ruins on Naxos or hire some windsurfing/kitesurfing equipment at one of the many schools there.
Take a quick break in-between sailing trips on your yacht charter and try out the buzzing and world-famous nightlife in Mykonos. For party, go to the Scandinavian Bar in the centre or the large Cavo Paradiso Club at Paradise Bay to the south. The next day relax at one of the gorgeous beaches, wander through the wonderful charming town with its funky shops and buy some artwork or souvenirs.
Delos was the centre of the cult of Apollo and, as such, a holy island. Splendid games were held there and a rich sanctuary with magnificent architecture was built. You can visit the vast ceremonial grounds and the remains of stunning temples and statues as well as the archaeological museum. So don´t miss out on the opportunity to walk these historically important mosaic floors when you´re doing a bareboat yacht charter in the Aegean Sea.
Have a look at one of the most beautiful churches in Greece – Panagia Ekatontapilyiani in Parikia on Paros, built around the 7/8th century by one of the architects of the Hagia Sofia. Or visit the nearby ´Butterfly Valley´, a park with tens of thousands of butterflies. Check out the picturesque old port of Naoussa on the north coast with its white-washed houses and squares that are lit up at night and create a wonderful atmosphere to sit outside and have dinner in one of the restaurants before continuing the sailing or motor yacht charter the next day.