Circle of Summer: Exploring the quieter side of the Cyclades
by Zöe Dickens
The sun-drenched Cyclades remains a hub of superyacht activity, but Zöe Dickens still finds some quiet corners to explore on board 35.4 metre Can’t Remember
According to Ancient Greek mythology, the Cyclades were created when the water nymphs angered the god of the sea, Poseidon, so he transformed them into rocks. A spectacular seascape the size of Luxembourg was created, and its many islands have since lured famous poets, historians, romantics and, of course, superyachts.
The archipelago’s popularity is such that there is little “undiscovered” about this corner of Greece but, with each island boasting its own history, culture and traditions, you could cruise here for a lifetime and still experience something new every time you returned. Exploring this region by yacht also creates opportunities that are not afforded to the hordes of selfie stick wielding tourists that invade these islands during the summer months.
“Greece offers so many itineraries for all tastes – there is an island for everyone,” says Popy Kaia, charter director at Atalanta Golden Yachts. “The Cyclades, in particular, have everything from unpopulated paradises with secret bays and caves for diving, to cosmopolitan islands with first-class restaurants.”
This quieter side of the Cyclades is on show from the first spot where 35.4 metre Tecnomar Can’t Remember drops anchor – a sheltered bay off the rocky peaks of Dokos, an island with fewer than 50 inhabitants in all. If we weren’t travelling together with 49.5 metre Mondomarine O’Ceanos and 37.3 metre Heesen L’Equinox, then we would have had this bay completely to ourselves. As it is, the three yachts, which are all managed for charter by Atalanta Golden Yachts, quickly set about competing to produce the most water toys from their garages.
Tentatively – thanks to an incident a few years ago involving a toppled jet ski and a freezing Norwegian fjord – I accept a ride on one of Can’t Remember’s two PWCs. Unfortunately, my balance doesn’t seem to have improved and I fail to keep pace with my skilled driver’s twists and turns, and once again find myself plunging into the water. As soon as the initial shock passes – while not as bracing as the fjord, it is early May and the water has not quite reached 20 degrees – the clear turquoise waters and shoals of tiny fish darting beneath me are enough to help me forget the cold. Afterwards, I gratefully accept the offer of a heated towel, hot shower and warm glass of ouzo from stewardess Aleni as I climb back on board.
Dokos’s neighbour Hydra is less than five nautical miles away but its cobbled lanes and preserved architecture are a honeypot for tourists (stalls and store-fronts displaying traditional trinkets and souvenirs line the harbour). Captain George Parisis, however, is insistent that these should play a part in our trip. “We purposely leave the cabins sparsely decorated,” he says. “We like guests to go onshore and buy their own decorations so every day they wake up on board it feels more like home.” This personal touch has been so successful that a repeat charterer is having a jet full of last year’s souvenirs flown over from New York so when he steps on board it will be like he never left.
Aside from shopping, Captain Parisis also insists we go to the relative calm of Hydronetta for sundowners. Perched on the cliffside just beyond Hydra’s main port, this rustic bar and restaurant offers unbroken views across the Kolpos Idras channel. Gin and tonics are served with dishes of hummus and traditional soft breads topped with olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes. Piano music plays softly in the background as the sky fades to pink and the sun dips below the horizon.
Apart from sensational sunsets, culture is the main draw for this corner of the Mediterranean. It seems every secluded bay or tiny island we cruise to is home to a ruin of an ancient village, a famous church or is solely inhabited by a family of artisan Greek craftsmen. Captain Parisis is understandably proud of his itinerary. “What many people don’t realise is that a yacht’s competition is not another yacht, it’s a hotel,” he says. “It’s my job to make sure our guests experience things and go to places they never could on shore.”
To prove his point he times our arrival at Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site usually teeming with tourists, around the ferry schedule so that when we get there it is deserted. Believed by the Ancient Greeks to be the birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis, this speck of an island is where the Cyclades is thought to have derived its name: it lies at the heart of the Aegean Sea with the Cyclades (meaning “circular islands”) surrounding this sacred spot. Once a thriving merchant city that laid the foundation for the Ancient Greek empire – and gave the world its first offshore tax haven – today the entire island forms Europe’s largest museum, offering an insight into the lives of this ancient civilisation. It is rivalled only by Athens’ famous ruins.
As the sacred site of Apollo, the god of light, dying or giving birth on Delos was strictly forbidden. Instead the comings and goings of each generation were observed on the neighbouring island of Rineia. What Delos’s guides do not tell you is that the island is also home to some of the prettiest and quietest anchorages in the archipelago.
A mere 30 minutes after leaving Delos, our yachts are anchored in a small bay on its western side and all three crews pull together to create an impressive beach barbecue. Tables, chairs, umbrellas and china are transported via tender, a paddleboard becomes a makeshift buffet table and lamb cutlets and beef ribs are grilled on a rock just offshore in the calm shallow waters. Towards the end of the meal a guest swims out to a local fisherman, who has been disturbed by our revelry, holding a plate of food aloft to appease him. Later, a steward shows off his driving skills by steering a tender from yacht to shore with one hand – the other occupied by a tray of shot glasses and a bottle of mastica. The party comes to a close with an attempt to learn some Greek dance moves, which descends into chaos thanks to our inability to keep pace.
These quiet bays and anchorages may seem out of the way, but the local population is well aware of the opportunities to be found there. Each day an enterprising fisherman arrives with the best of that day’s catch in a cool box to be scrutinised by the chef Elizabeth and turned into tuna tartare, squid ink linguine or grilled lobster for that evening’s dinner. It’s the kind of thing that the fashionable farm-to-table restaurants of London and New York can only dream of. “It is moments like these that make the Cyclades a fantastic location for all types of charterers,” says Kaia. “Those who love simplicity and want to discover nature can go to the ruins, swim in the empty waters and have a barbecue on the beach but, if you’re looking for fun, you also have the option of going to Mykonos and Santorini.”
Of course, no trip to the Cyclades is complete without stopping off in Mykonos; its famous windmills and labyrinthine streets of whitewashed houses and designer stores need no introduction to the seasoned yacht owner. But those looking for a quieter and more sophisticated ambience should instead head to Paros. Much larger than Mykonos but with a lot less hype, Paros offers all the quaint buildings, blue-domed churches (the views from the Byzantine Panagia Ekatontapiliani church are breathtaking) and authentic Greek cuisine of its better-known counterpart without the mass of box-ticking tourists and hard-core clubbers.
With just a few short hours to enjoy Paros, I head straight for the maze of winding streets lined with smart boutiques. Local designers offer embroidered cotton kaftans and linen shirts while jewellers display a treasure trove of intricate pieces crafted on nearby islands. I duck into a tiny chapel to admire the ornate artwork before wandering along the harbour’s edge where restaurants are being kept busy by a steady stream of early season visitors. For me, however, dinner will be an intimate affair of langoustine and roast lamb on the aft deck. After all, the beauty of a superyacht is that no matter the island, your own private refuge is always available.
Can't Remember is available for charter with Atalanta Golden Yachts from €45,000 per week.
First published in the August 2018 edition of Boat International