The Islands Guide 2013

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The Greek islands

The Islands Guide 2013 Facebook Twitter

Travelling towards the Greek islands is an experience in itself. You arrive at Piraeus port with the train, panting and sweating with a large backpack pressing persistently against your spine. You walk at the nearby kiosk to buy a bottle of water and some savoury bites for the trip. The sun is burning hot and you see that the only thing separating you from your dream holiday is a busy, noisy two way street. On the opposite side of the street, is the quay where all the ferry boats dock. Yours is right there, its name written on the side. You cross the street in a rush and find yourself right outside your boat. The large metal hatchway is wide open, like a gapping mouth, devouring the small, fast-moving figures of the tourists. A young port official is blowing a whistle and gesturing wildly to the car drivers to move faster. Cars roll up the hatch and disappear into the belly of the beast. You check the time, take out your ticket and join the line of hopefuls wishing to escape the dreary city. You slowly make your way up the narrow stairways of the boat to reach the open deck, because that's where the best views are  and that's where you avoid the TV screens blasting Greek TV dramas. This is the important part: Your eyes scan the deck like a laser beam to find an appropriate shelter from the relentless sun and a potential spot to lay down for a nap, if needed. Needless to say, you avoid any groups of more than four teenagers who feel the need to share their music and intimate conversations with others. You zero in on a spot and make a run for it. Once seated, you inspect your mobile phone, drink some water and try to cool down. The deck of the boat is like a small United Nations with non-stop chatter echoing in half a dozen languages. At one corner, a couple of dogs are sniffing the small pools of water gathered from earlier maintenance work. There‚Äôs a lot of noise coming from below. Cars and trucks honk their horns; port police are shouting unintelligible orders. Suddenly, it seems there's a light wind blowing, cooling your forehead. The boat is moving. You 're off to the Greek islands.

As you watch the city disappear in the horizon, seagulls start circling the boat, hoping to secure a morsel of bread thrown by a sympathizing traveller. The small cafe at the back of the deck sells bucket loads of the ubiquitous frappe coffee and cappuccino freddo. A couple sitting next to the funnel are chewing oily pastry pies and two guys in front of them are taking pictures of each other with their mobiles.
Though popular islands like Mykonos, Paros, Naxos and Santorini are served with frequent flights and boat services, others require a good deal of patience and a high spirit, as you may find yourself cruising through the blue waters of the Aegean for 8 or 14 hours. If you ever wanted to catch up on your reading, this is the time. The uniqueness of the islands rests in their privileged location, their sheer variety, their trademark architecture with its blue-and-white paint and the unbeatable combination of dazzling sunlight, glinting blue sea and warm, golden sand.
Inhabited since antiquity, they offer a variety of sights ranging from ancient Greek and Roman ruins, to crumbling Venetian fortresses and darkened volcanoes. Some are designated for wild times; others are as quiet as an upscale city suburb; some have beaches that could feature in a sun block commercial and others take you back in time.
This is not an exhaustive guide of the Greek islands. With around 1,400 islands, 160-227 of which are said to be inhabited, a complete guide would look more like Encyclopaedia Britannica than this cute, portable magazine. The focus here is on the Cyclades, a wild mixture of light, stone and dryness, which constitutes the country's most visited region. There's also an entry from the Saronic Gulf, Aegina, one from the islands of North-eastern Aegean, Ikaria, and one from Sporades ‚ Skiathos.

Getting to and from the islands

There are three main ports which serve the islands included in this guide; Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio.
Piraeus serves: Aegina, Amorgos (both ports; Egiali and Katapola), Anafi, Donousa, Folegandros, Fourni, Ikaria (both ports; Agios Kirikos and Evdilos), Ios, Iraklia, Kimolos, Koufonisi, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Schinousa.
Piraeus is Greece's biggest port and is separated in different gates marked with the letter E and numbered from 1-12, depending on your destination: E1 (Akti Vasssiliadi) departures to the Dodecanese islands: Rhodes, Patmos, Kalimnos, Kos, Leros, Karpathos, Tilos, Kassos. E2 (Akti Hetiona) departures to Crete, Dodecanese Islands, Chios, Mytilini (Lesvos). E3 (Agios Dionysios and Akti Kondyli) departures to Crete. E4 only for exit of vehicles. E5 entrance for pedestrians. E6 (Akti Kallimasiotti Argosaronikos) departures to Western Cyclades: Sifnos, Kythnos, Milos, Kimolos, Sikinos. This gate is for pedestrians only, with direct access from the metro station via a bridge.
E7 (Karaiskaki square, Akti Tzelepi) departures to Eastern Cyclades: Syros, Paros, Tinos, Mykonos, Naxos, Amorgos, Santorini and Ios. E8 departures to the Saronic Islands: Aegina, Poros, Methana, Hydra and Spetses. E9 (Akti Miaouli) departures to Western Cyclades. E10 only for exit of vehicles. E11 & E12: Cruise terminal A & B
Rafina serves: Amorgos (Katapola only), Ios, Koufonisi, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini.
Lavrio serves: Kimolos, Milos and Paros.

Companies for ferry boat, fast boat and catamaran tickets: Blue Star Ferries (Tel: +30 210 8919 800), Hellenic Seaways (Tel: +30 210 4199 000, agency in Piraeus, Tel: +30 210 4121830), Aegean Speed Lines  (agency in Piraeus, Tel: +30 210 4125200), Sea Jets (agency in Piraeus Tel: 210-4190233), Nova Ferries (Tel: +30 210 4126181, agency in Piraeus, Tel: +30 210 4126528).
A very useful website is Book Ferries, where you can book tickets for all the Greek islands as well as Italy and Albania, but also offers the latest news in services (possible strikes, changes in routes), weather conditions and even has a Google map showing live marine traffic in the Aegean.
For live information on arrivals and departures from all three ports, call Piraeus's information line at 14541 and wait for the prompt to switch to English. After that, you will be put through to a telephone operator (service is charged).
For air tickets: There are three daily flights to/from Athens with Aegean Airlines and three to/from Athens with Olympic Air. Check the airline's websites as more return flights are added on Sundays.
For live information on arrivals and departures check Athens International Airport's website
Weather forecasts: Check the National Meteorological Service and click on the English button at the top right.

Cruise in style

Island hopping is the standard way of visiting the islands and most people opt for the ferry option, but there’s a more stylish, convenient and easy way to travel around the Aegean and explore secluded caves and beaches. Aegeotissa Yachts is a family run company specialising in cruises around the Aegean with traditional wooden yachts. The company owns three boats; Aegeotissa I, Aegeotissa II and Corsaro del Santa Maura. The first two are a 34- and a 40-metre-long yacht respectively, which can accommodate 20-24 passengers in separate cabins, equipped with air condition and their own toilet. Aegeotissa I travels to all the islands (Cyclades, Sporades, Dodecanese and Ionian) and can be hired for 7 or 14 days. Aegiotissa II covers all the Greek islands as well as the coast of Turkey and the Peloponnese. The Corsaro is the newest in the small fleet and was built as a replica of 17th century pirate ships, causing many heads to turn when it appears at a harbour. Its itinerary focuses on the Ionian Islands and specifically to places where pirates used to travel and hide.
The yachts (Aegiotissa I &II) cover one island per day. The day starts with breakfast on one of the decks and swimming at a secluded beach until the afternoon. This is followed by lunch on the boat and then passengers are shipped to the island on a dinghy boat to spend the rest of the day there. The atmosphere on the boat is relaxed and friendly, guests have the opportunity to lie on a sun lounger on one of the decks, eat at the dining room or have a drink at the bar. For more information on specific departure dates, cruises, cabin charters and prices, you can email Stephanie Areli at [email protected], or call at +30 26450 23983. They also have a website but at the time of writing it was only in Greek. Their Facebook page is here.



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