Greece flotilla holidays – an introduction
If you like a mixture of small town and village harbours with a range of facilities ashore, then a Greece flotilla holiday is for you. Greece is the home of flotilla sailing and where many people experience their first flotilla holiday.
The Ionian is renown as a beginners area. The Saronic offers equally easy flotillas though there are options for the more experienced too. Both of these areas offer a number of different flotilla routes.
The Dodecanese offers the most challenging runs, with the Northern Sporades being less difficult, though still harder than most novices would want, especially in high season. The choice of routes in these two areas is more limited, and there are fewer yachts available to augment fleets so don’t delay booking.
The Dodecanese is probably the least visited of the main sailing areas and if you can cope with the sailing conditions, (up to F4-6 with choppy seas) it’s the pinnacle of Greece flotilla holidays.
The Dodecanese flotillas run from Kos but once away from this bustling tourist centre you enter a different world. The intervening islands may be less known than those in the Cyclades, but they’re no less beautiful.
Better still the islands are largely inaccessible except by sea so tourist numbers are low. You will still find plenty of restaurants but is wonderfully uncommercialised and the locals are more friendly than elsewhere.
Even in high season, it’s not too busy so there’s no rush to get in of an evening. This is fortunate as flotillas in the Dodecanese involve some longer sails than you would usually find on a flotilla.
As many passages are between islands, opportunities for lunch stops are fewer than usual too – these are flotillas for those who enjoy the sailing, not just arriving in port.
The proximity of the Turkish coast opens another opportunity – you can do not just an international flotilla but an intercontinental flotilla! It’s all part of the itinerary and the Lead Crew will assist with formalities as you sail from Greece in to Turkey and back again.
Ionian flotillas can be divided in to those sailing the northern part, usually starting from Corfu and those covering the southern part, usually starting from Lefkas, though there are a couple of Flotilla’s that sail between these two. Corfu has its own airport whilst Preveza airport is a short hop from Lefkas.
Conditions are generally mild – plenty of sunshine and light winds. Once in a while strong winds come through but these are usually predictable and flotillas usually sit them out in harbour; they don’t last long.
A more frequent problem can be a lack of wind – I once spent a fortnight in the area without a single days sailing. The winds are generally better in the southern part.
The Ionian contains dozens of beautiful stops, from traditional fishing villages to small tourist towns. Many were severely affected by the 1953 earthquake but have been rebuilt in traditional style.
The enduring popularity of the area means harbours can be busy, especially in high season, and in some places even early arrivals may not get a space on the quay. The Flotilla Lead Crew will find you somewhere to moor but may ask you to get in mid afternoon (just when the wind gets going).
If you don’t like having to clamber over other yachts to get ashore, or prefer to stay out sailing later, I would suggest you consider a Saronic flotilla instead, where sailing conditions are similar but it’s a lot less busy. But if you can bear the crowds, or are able to go outside the peak period, the Ionian is a charming area and probably best done with a flotilla, so you can leave the worrying about mooring space to the Lead Crew.
The Saronic is less well known than the Ionian and as a result there are fewer Flotillas there. I suggest you visit soon before the word gets out, as it’s a superb area. To me, a Saronic flotilla is a better choice for novices than the Ionian, and there are options for the more experienced.
Saronic flotillas offer a mix of coastal sailing and island hopping, though since the “mainland” is in fact the large island that is the Peloponnese, technically, it’s all islands! The wind bends around the heavily indented coast making for some interesting sailing.
The best flotilla in the Saronic is a little harder to get to than the Ionian though the area has the advantage of scheduled rather than charter flights in to Athens airport – there’s even a choice of airlines!
From Athens airport, there you’ve two options – you can take a flotilla from Athens with a short transfer but a long first and last days sail, or a longer transfer to the island of Poros to join a Saronic flotilla there.
The Saronic and adjacent Argolic Gulfs are much less busy than the Ionian, and much more Greek, being primarily a Greek holiday destination.
As you go further south, even the “local” tourists get thin on the ground though there’s plenty to see, from Roman remains and medieval castles to one of the country’s most popular nightclubs, hidden in a small village!
With less competition for mooring spaces your Lead Crew will rarely ask you to come in early. The only place you’re likely to have to raft up and climb over other yachts to the shore is at the must see port of Hydra
For those with previous experience, the Peloponnese flotilla, which runs down the east side to Monemvasia then up to the top of the Argolic Gulf offers the chance to get even further off the beaten track and is highly recommended.
Sporades Flotillas are ideal for those with previous experience who want a bit more wind than novices.
The prevailing northerly winds make for some exciting sailing especially as you pass between the islands. With relatively few yachts based in the area, it’s not hard to find space to moor at the whitewashed villages that are your destination.
The northern Sporades are fairly small so flotillas do a week around the islands then a week exploring the Pelion and Volos Gulfs to the west.
There is in fact enough to keep you occupied for a fortnight around the islands if you’re happy to anchor some of the time, making a Flotilla in the Sporades a good choice for those wanting a week on Flotilla then a week bareboating.
You can start your flotilla from Skiathos, (hence some call these Skiathos flotillas rather than Sporades flotillas) with the airport just 5 minute drive from the quayside. It’s mostly charter flights though scheduled internal flights are available from Athens.
The Sporades is a beautiful area as anyone who has seem the film Mamma Mia will vouch. However, it’s no newcomer to tourism and although it’s all very tastefully done it doesn’t feel like Greece in the way that the Saronic and Dodecanese do.
However, the great thing about sailing is you can escape the crowds. So as you head towards the eastern end of the islands and air of peacefulness descends.
Note that unlike most flotillas which start at the weekend, Sporades flotillas start on Friday, for the simple reason that it’s the day most UK flights run.