The 'Naviga 1', a classic gulet yacht. A. F.
Yacht charters: SCICSailing offers weekly and fortnightly sailing cruises: Greek Dodecanese islands, and the Turkish Riviera. Prices from €926.00 to €1043.00 per person, inclusive of meals, refreshments and alcoholic drinks, for a week (no single supplement). Exclusive yacht charter also available, including meals and drinks. www.scicsailing.eu
Flights: Turkish Airlines operates flights from Malaga to Bodrum, via Istanbul. www.turkishairlines.com/
Entering the sheltered island harbour of Symi is a memorable experience. The historic Venetian-style architecture of pastel-coloured houses that surround the bay are a romantic snapshot of an era long gone in most of the Mediterranean.
Part of the Dodecanese archipelago, the Greek island of Symi is close to the Turkish coast and is one of the hundreds of islands found in the legendary Aegean Sea. Its cultural and political history, embracing the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and more recently the Italians, is as colourful as the sight of the neoclassical houses that greet visiting yachts.
It was the end of our fifth day exploring the islands on an elegant private cruise aboard Naviga 1, a classic gulet yacht. Sailing the Greek islands is nothing new; yet if your idea of enjoying sailing is more cocktails on deck rather than ‘all-hands-on-deck’, then a larger, fully-crewed private yacht like this one might just be the thing.
Our vessel, ‘Naviga 1’ is part of the SCIC sailing fleet of authentic Bodrum gulets. She has a combination of seven double or twin, air-conditioned cabins, each with a private, ensuite shower. She is certainly a comfortable and relaxing home for a week exploring the less visited of the Greek islands.
Remarkably a crew of just four keep things shipshape. In addition to the friendly and humorous captain, the three additional sailors not only crew the yacht but also look after the pampered guests. One is the chef who prepares fresh, healthy and creative Mediterranean dishes for each meal; the other the steward, always on hard to serve a chilled glass of wine or prepare a gin and tonic with a fresh twist of lemon; whilst the third sailor takes care of housekeeping.
As we arrive in Symi, lounging on the aft deck following an afternoon swimming in the crystalline waters of a nearby cove, the crew energetically work together to lower anchor, and secure our mooring. Then the table is set for cocktails, a daily pre-dinner ritual. It’s an intimate atmosphere that is not only ideal for private family holidays, and get-aways with friends but also for solo travellers who might want to join a group for a relaxed and fun escape.
The itinerary combines island hopping with time to relax on board. Each day the crew sail for a portion of the cruise. So when the warm wind obliges, the motor is cut and the white sails hoisted, pulling our elegant schooner gracefully through the water. On the way to the island of Kos, a pod of Risso’s dolphins suddenly appears in the yacht’s wake, acrobatically darting and diving amongst the surf, becoming ever more exuberant as we laugh, shout, and reach for our cameras. That’s the beauty of taking to the waters in a privately-crewed yacht - one has magical experiences that are out of reach of the oversized, fixed-itinerary cruise liners.
Being aboard a 24-metre boat also allows you exceptional access to islands and bays well off the tourist trail, and as a small group the itinerary can be refined or tweaked to suit the weather, or your whims. Each morning, after a breakfast of fruit, crusty bread, and freshly prepared eggs, the captain rings the bell in the wheel house, announcing the daily briefing. With his navigation charts laid out across the outside dining table, this is the regular invitation for guests to help plan the day’s cruising ahead.
Using his expert knowledge of the Greek islands and the Turkish Datça Peninsula, the captain is able to suggest hidden anchorages and peaceful bays, often only accessible by yacht; perfect for alfresco lunches, swimming, snorkelling or kayaking.
One evening the crew prepare an enchanting beach picnic, on a protected beach. A Greek-style meze is careful laid out on small tables surrounded by cushions and rugs, whilst aboard the captain barbecues chicken skewers and steaks which are swiftly ferried to us on the yacht’s tender. The subtle glow of the hurricane lanterns and tea lights allows the full moon and stars to bathe the small cove in light, our view from the pebbly beach back out across to the yacht perfectly framed by the bay’s steep, craggy edges and scented pine trees.
On the island excursions one discovers equally unspoilt scenery. As we tuck into breakfast on day three, accompanied by either rich, eastern Mediterranean coffee or amber tea, served in iconic Turkish tulip glasses, we approach the verdant, volcanic island of Nisyros. Favoured for its healing sulphurous waters, the island still has an active caldera, venting steam and gas.
Tilos is similarly unspoilt and peaceful, and a notable bird sanctuary for rare and migratory species. At one of the island’s highest points, hanging to the edge of a precipitous mountain is an ancient monastery. A Greek Orthodox monk, dressed in black, with a full, white beard, greets us with a broad smile, whilst a few cats roll over in the sun and then rub themselves against our ankles.
The small chapel is breathtaking in its detail; historic frescos decorate the walls, and the floor is an intricate combination of river pebbles, stone and terracotta. The artisan design spills out into the tiny, yet elaborate courtyard of black and white river stones, typical of the Dodecanese art of ‘Hokhláki’ pebble mosaics.
By week’s end, the list of memorable, magical experiences is a long one, but for me watching the visual delight of Symi harbour unfold before us, from the teak deck of our schooner, as the warm Mediterranean sun began to slip down below the horizon, is truly unforgettable.