The Greek islands have a fine tradition of sailing holidays, with modern harbours and a helpful combination of good winds and sheltered waters to suit sailors of all experience levels. Go for quality over quantity to see the best of Greece and avoid the tourist hordes.
While mainland Greece is connected to continental Europe, the country boasts over 4,000 islands, making it an ideal destination for a sailing holiday. The islands form different clusters such as the Ionian, Cyclades, Sporades or Dodecanese, each with a distinct personality. To set a good balance of time spent sailing in combination with resting and time exploring ashore, choose a specific island group and base yourself around it rather than hopping from Ionian Sea to Aegean to Sea of Crete.
Many yacht charters are based at the northern end of the Ionian Islands, a group of seven major plus numerous minor islands on the North West side of the Greek mainland. The larger islands of Corfu and Lefkas make great bases for a yacht charter holiday and are convenient for further exploration of the area. The area’s earlier main industries of fishing and minor agriculture have given way to tourism, thanks to great beaches, coves, harbours and excellent weather. Venetian rule in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries along with Italian occupation during WWII has lent an Italian flavour to the Ionians, while major earthquake damage to the area in 1953 has seen an excellent rebuilding programme.
The second largest island in the Ionian group is in parts only three kilometres from Albania, forms Greece’s North West frontier and features a number of small satellite islands. Soaked in the mythology of ancient Greece and the site of martial conflict and foreign invasion throughout the ages, Corfu is a great location for history buffs. Controlled at different times by Venice and Britain before unifying with modern Greece in 1864, the island also suffered a number of trials and tribulations both during and between the two world wars. The main city is also named Corfu and in 2007 was granted UNESCO World Heritage status as a mark of its historical significance.
Today Corfu is a popular tourist destination, combining idyllic beaches with a beautifully varied landscape of mountains, olive groves and rugged coastline. Despite suffering devastating losses from WWII bombing, the island still features examples of Italianate and antique architecture, while its museums and libraries contain various articles of priceless significance. Corfu featured in the 1981 James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ as well as British naturalist Gerald Durrell’s famous books about his childhood on the island, displaying the locals’ fine tradition of hospitality to foreigners and visitors. As a modern tourist centre, the island boasts plenty of good quality bars and restaurants as well as lively nightlife.
The smaller island of Lefkas is connected to the Greek mainland by a long causeway and floating bridge. Like Corfu, the island has featured in a number of major ancient Greek myths but is more relaxed and peaceful than its neighbour. It is a great spot for beach bumming and windsurfing, set in a sheltered location and sporting gentle views of a number of other islands such as Skorpios and Meganissi as well as the mainland. If you visit Corfu for sightseeing and partying, Lefkas is where you come to wind down and relax.
Roger Meekins writes regularly on yacht charters and sailing holidays for a range of travel websites and blogs. He visits Greece every summer and has years of experience exploring the islands.