In last month’s column, I covered the amazing mix of cultures that have called the Dalmatian Coast home over the centuries. Croatia cruising is like a smorgasbord of intertwined centuries, and the islands are a movie set. A little farther south, though, you’ve also got Greece, which has an even longer history and a what seems to be a monopoly on fabulously preserved ancient temples, amphitheaters and statues. Indeed, Greece makes Croatia look almost young by comparison. It also has multiple island groups to explore so that you can return over and over again and not see the same things twice.
My latest trip to Greece was with Navigare Yachting (navigare-yachting.com), a charter behemoth with six locations in Europe alone. Our intended destination was the Cyclades island group south of Athens. On the itinerary for our Jeanneau 519 was Mykonos, because if you want quintessential Greece, you can’t miss this quirky island.
Mykonos is a crazy mix of small island charm blended with glitzy restaurants and bars with the odd celebrity behind large sunglasses. It takes about a half day to learn to navigate the hilly, whitewashed narrow streets. Once you find yourself at the same leather-sandal kiosk for the fourth time, though, you get the hang of it. The streets were presumably created this way on purpose, providing a maze to confuse attacking hordes trying to take the island. I guess they weren’t counting on drunken tourists stumbling around centuries later.
On the horizon from Mykonos is the island of Delos—the antithesis to its neighbor. Although you can sail to Delos on your charter boat, anchoring is a challenge, so it’s best to leave the boat in Mykonos (as we did during a raging wind called a meltemi) and make the short trip by ferry, which will deposit you right at the entrance to the archeological site that makes up much of the island.
Delos is the mythological birthplace of twins Apollo and Artemis and was an important religious center between 900 and 100 BC. Today, you stroll the avenues with ancient relics lying, literally, strewn about. Statues, columns and uncovered mosaics are everywhere in this largest of historic excavations in the Mediterranean. If this stuff was on U.S. soil we’d have it all in hermetically sealed bags, which only makes the laissez-faire presentation here that much more amazing. The somewhat open-air museum there is worth a look as well.
If you can get away from the various walking tours, visit the temples in the hills above and just imagine Odysseus’s ship sailing on the horizon. The Terrace of Lions also overlooks a spot where there was once a lake that supplied the island’s citizens with fresh water. The lake was drained in 1925 to cut down on the mosquitos that snacked on visiting archeologists. It’s simultaneously funny and appalling how humans adjust their environment to suit their needs—history be damned.
Bottom line: if you’re an antiquities buff, you can easily spend the major part of a day on Delos before returning to Mykonos, where you may find yourself experiencing a bit of culture shock: although the re-adjustment can be eased with the help of a little grappa in a taverna.
Beyond that, one of the curious and extremely cool things about Greek islands is that although the residents may look like extras on a Hollywood back lot, they’re just real people going about their real lives as they fish, bake bread and shop for the day’s groceries. You couldn’t ask for more camera-friendly subjects and none of these scenes are contrived tourist attractions. As fate would have it, we ended up being pinned in Mykonos harbor for two days by a 40-knot Meltemi that brought fine dust to everything—including our food. However, visiting Delos made it worthwhile and that’s all a part of being blown around by the winds of history.
May to early July is great but you may get some wind so batten down the hatches. August is nuts, with a massive influx of Northern Europeans, but September can be lovely. AirBnB and Uber work well here. Our Uber driver even served as a translator and helped us find the ferry to Aegina after the charter.
Don’t over-provision at the start of a Greek charter. Restaurants are excellent and reasonable and you can pick up groceries at any island any day except Sunday.
Photos by of Zuzana Prochazka