There are six possible bases for your Cyclades cruise. Two of these are on the mainland, roughly equi-distant from Athens airport; Kalamaki (also known as Alimos) and Lavrion.
Of the four bases in the islands, Mykonos and Santorini have direct flights from the UK, Paros is also reachable by plane via Athens, and Syros currently (2014) has no flights on Saturdays, though they do run from Athens on other days. There is a good ferry service from Athens to all these islands but note that ferries may be delayed or cancelled when winds are strong.
- Athens Kalamaki (Alimos)
Kalamaki Marina is home to countless charter companies and is easily reached from Athens Airport, less than 20 miles (30km) away. It is also handy for the centre of Athens, 5 miles (8km) to the north. There’s even a beach next door.
That’s the good news. On the other hand, although it has improved greatly since the days when you had to step carefully to avoid the junkies’ discarded syringes, the marina has a run down air, being very much functional rather than glamorous.
The restaurant and bar on site are expensive. There are cafes on the beach but they tend to close once the crowds go home. However, central Athens is only a short ride away. The main coast road outside the marina has bus and tram stops which run in to the centre. Here you’ll find a great choice of restaurants in areas such as Plaka. And of course there are all the usual shopping facilities you’d expect of a city centre.
The city itself is of course blessed with a wealth of history and even if you’re not big on old ruins, you really should try to spend some time seeing the sights whilst you’re there, even if it means checking in to a hotel for a night or two.
Kalamaki serves two cruising areas; the Saronic and the Cyclades. Geographically, it’s not the best starting point for either when you could start in Poros, at the centre of the Saronic, Athens Lavrion which is closer to the Cyclades, or Syros or Paros, both in the middle of the Cyclades.
However, Kalamaki has two great advantages; its proximity to the Airport and the excellent transport links mean you can board your yacht half an hour after leaving the terminal, much quicker than you could reach any of the above bases (except Lavrion which is a similar distance from the Airport).
And the sheer number of yachts available exceeds any other base in Greece, albeit that I don’t rate the quality of some operators too highly. Let me know if you’re looking for the cheapest option, otherwise I will only offer you bareboat charters from the better operators – it doesn’t cost much more.
- Directions to Athens Kalamaki Marina
From Athens Airport you have two options:
- By taxi – the rank is right outside the Arrivals Hall at the left hand end (as you walk out of the terminal). The journey normally takes 25 minutes though can be longer in rush hour. Price is around 35€ during the day but between midnight and 5am can be almost half as much again. (You can find current fares on the Athens Airport Taxi website). Taxis will only take 4 people though you may only get three in with your luggage.
- By express bus – the X96 bus to Piraeus stops outside the marina en route. It departs from just outside the Arrivals Hall at the right hand end (as you walk out of the terminal). Departures are every 15-20 minutes during the day, around every 30-40 minutes at night. The journey usually takes about an half an hour. The price is 3.20€ (2015). Tickets can be bought at the kiosk next to the stop or from the driver and then need to be validated by inserting in to one of the machines on board. Ask the driver to tell you when to get off as the stops are infrequent so you won’t want to miss it.
- Mooring: Athens Kalamaki
The marina is not easy to see from the sea, but as you approach look out for the vast number of masts. Keep clear of the reef about a mile south east of the entrance which extends from Ay Kosmas.
Many of the berths are allocated to the charter companies so unless your company has berths here, you may want to call up the marina (VHF ch 71 or 16) for guidance. Mooring (lazy) lines are laid in the marina so don’t use your anchor unless directed to.
- Lavrion / Lavrio
Lavrion is a hive of activity for yachties in the summer with several charter bases operating their yachts from the shelter of the well thought out harbour and adjacent Olympic Marina. Once a dusty mining town, (silver has been mined here since prehistoric times), Lavrion was transformed when it was selected to host cruise ships associated with the 2004 Olympic Games. It is hard to believe that Lavrion was once in such a state of disrepair that it doubled as a film set for a war torn Sarajevo when today the waterfront sports a large range of tavenas and bars rather than piles of ore and dirty drilling equipment! This upswing in fortunes continues as Lavrion settles into being a very pleasant hub for ferries to and from the Cyclades.
Conveniently placed for day trips to Sounion and Athens, Lavrion is only a 45 minute drive from Athens airport and an hourly bus (4€ per person 2015) means reaching your chosen yacht is a doddle. Stock up here for your voyage ahead as provisioning is good and there are plenty of fresh fish and vegetables on offer. An excellent farmers market operates on a Thursday. Its port provides ferry services to the islands as well as serving as a yacht charter and skippered cruise base.
In the harbour of Lavrion yachts are directed to several quays located in the northwest basin. Shelter here is good especially in the strong northerlies that can whip down the channel between Evia and the mainland. Some berths have laid lines and power and water are available.
South of Lavrion at Olympic Marina facilities are what you would expect; lazy lines, power, water and shower/toilet blocks. The marina is large and well run but can seem a bit desolate early and late season. There are enough amenities here to eat, drink and be merry but the options are limited so you might want to drop into Lavrion to stock up especially if you are planning on a lot of self-catering. It is also worth noting that Olympic Marina is rather pricey due to its proximity to Athens.
Lavrion’s fortunes stem from the silver mines, about 3 miles out of town at Ag. Konstantinos. The first mines date back to around 3000BC and although much activity had ceased by 500BC, some mining continued until 1982. Ancient mine shafts and silver washing pits are still visible. You’ll need to take a cab to get there and it’s not yet well set up for visitors but worth a look.
From Lavrion there are several excellent day trips available.
Athens is only a short bus ride away and the stunning temple to Posidon at Cape Sounion is even closer. This ancient Greek Temple of Poseidon, looking out across the Cyclades from the southern tip of the Attica peninsula is very atmospheric and some of the pillars are still standing. Poet Byron’s name can be found carved on a stone. Like sailors of old perhaps the crew may feel the need to make an offering to the god of the sea for safe passage during your voyage ahead or give thanks for having survived! Cape Sounion is also indelibly linked with the story of Theseus and Aegeus the King of Athens. Theseus, the king’s son, was sent to battle the Minotaur in Crete and ordered to hoist a white sail on his return if he was still alive and had been successful. Unfortunately Theseus forgot to drop his black sail and raise the white one so despite his son’s triumphant vanquishing of the bull-headed monster, King Aegeus leapt to his death from the cliffs at Cape Sounion in grief. The Aegean Sea takes its name from this poignant story.
Near Lavrion is the oldest and largest amphitheatre in Greece. The archaeological site of Thoriko lies a short distance to the north of Lavrion. The amphitheatre is over 3000 years old but the site has been home to humans for at least a thousand years before that with some Neolithic artefacts being recovered here. There various layers of occupation that have been excavated; most of which are associated with the mining activities that were carried out in the area. The site is free and always open.
Lavrion is also known for its interesting geology. During the winter months collectors patrol the beaches in search of a plethora of unique crystals that wash up in the storms. For anyone interested in rocks, minerals and crystals try a trip to the mines and Mineralogical Museum. There is also a very large and interesting hole in the ground nearby that has fascinated and confounded rock hounds for centuries. Just ask a local for directions or visit the tourist information office.
So though the town itself may appear fairly unremarkable at first, it’s not a bad place to start or end your cruise.
- Directions to Lavrion
Lavrion is about 25 miles (35 kilometres) south east of Athens Airport. There are two charter bases in Lavrion; the harbour, immediately south of the town, and the marina, about a mile further south – check which your charter company uses. There are two ways to get there:
- By taxi – the rank is right outside the arrivals hall. Taxis will take up to 4 people maximum but if you have a lot of luggage may only take 3. The fare is around 55€ (£40, in 2015). The trip takes 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic.
- By bus – or to be more accurate two! Head for the KTEL bus stop outside the arrivals hall on the far side of the road (not the Express bus stop on the terminal side, used by the buses to Pireaus and Athens centre). The first bus will take you to Markopoulo and departures are every hour on the half hour from 06.30 to 20.30 with a final bus at 22.00 from the airport. Buses from Markopoulo to Lavrion are more frequent. Both buses use the same bus stop in Markopoulo. The bus will drop you in the centre of Lavrion from where it’s about a 10 minute walk to the harbour. The marina is 1 mile further an up over a steep hill – I’d get a taxi! The bus fare is about 4€.
As usual transfers can also be booked on line, and most charter companies will arrange them for you if you wish.
Details coming soon