10 Greek Islands by Catamaran: Starring Local Elders

10 Greek Islands by Catamaran: Starring Local Elders

1. Kythnos - Island of Thermal Springs 

The first stop for our crew of eight—all but two from Northern California. We docked at Loutra, a village on the north side of the island known for its thermal springs. Most of the villagers speak both Greek and French because a majority of tourists (a large economic driver) are from France. Kythnos was our first stop on the OCSC boating adventure.

The island is known for its natural thermal springs. The most famous of these springs is called Kakavos, and it is an alkaline spring rich in iron chloride. The minerals of the springs are often believed to soothe rickets, blood diseases, spinal and rheumatic pains, arthritis, neuroses, bulges of the spleen and liver, disorders of blood circulation and other skin ailments. 

I chatted with our charismatic waitress (who talked us into booking a table at her restaurant while we were strolling through town) about why she lives on the island of fewer than 1,000. She moved from Greece, claiming there are no economic opportunities for her and her husband to support their children in Greece. She described Athens as an anxiety-ridden pit (I felt this there as well). Growing up on Kythnos, her children now live in proximity to their grandparents. While the family isn't making as much money as they once did, they have less need, due to the lower cost of living. Her family's health and overall quality of life improved immensely upon moving. Next year she and her husband plan to open an ice cream shop on the other side of the island. 

2. Sifnos - Island Food & Drink

Our adventure in Sifnos was brief. Sifnos is known as the foodie island, though we did not have nearly enough time to explore and enjoy it. Its inhabitants famously produce aromatic orange-and-anise biscuits, grape-based brandies, and grow organic sage and oregano. They feast on chickpeas, clean produce, fresh sea urchins, octopus, and squid.

It seems culinary excellence has always been in their blood (although it doesn't hurt that so many fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices grow well in the mild Mediterranean climate). Chef Nikos Tselementes was born in the last decade of the 19th century on Sifnos, and became a world-renowned chef and a household name in Greece. He published a 500-page cooking manifesto in the early 1900s that sold some 100,000 copies in his lifetime. He was skilled in both traditional Greek cuisine and was also highly innovative, often creating new dishes from a fusion of Greek and French influences. His legacy lives on. I only wish we'd been here in the early 20th century to taste his moussaka. 

After an amazing photo op on the catamaran (see below), we opted for an early dinner on the beach. Afterward, we pulled anchors and sailed into the dusk through choppy waters to seek refuge from unexpected winds.

3. Antiparos - Island of Refuge 

Anchoring at night, we could barely tell the size of the boats we'd squeezed between. After such an adventure, we decided to take advantage of the sheltered harbor and take it easy for a day. We enjoyed the local food (not to mention the local internet connection). Here, I felt as though we really got to embrace Greek culture and relax. We even had an improv yoga sesh on the boat at sunset because...well, why not?

Antiparos' economy, like most of the Greek islands, is supported primarily by tourism. The Cave of Antiparos draws many visitors annually, particularly throughout the summer months. Macedonian generals were believed to have used the cave for refuge during the 4th century B.C. in their conspiracy efforts against Alexander the Great. Additionally, I learned that the island is home to a number of beautiful nudist beaches which attract nudists from all corners of the globe each year. While we didn't join in on the fun, we certainly appreciated the hospitality and authenticity of our experience with our clothes on.

4. Ios - Island of Libations

Ios is known for its clubs and rockstar appearances. While I took it easy, I did get to 4-wheel around the island and experiment with filming touristic virtual reality content. During the day, I also stopped in a neat shop where a 60-something woman and her husband packed an endless supply of trendy outfits into a 15x15 square.   

Archaeological excavations on Ios have revealed that beneath the earth on Skarkos hill lies an ancient city, complete with sewage systems, stone-paved floors, and sophisticated pottery. The city dates back to the Cycladic period, suggesting that people have inhabited the island since at lease around 2500 B.C. In 2008, Ios was awarded a coveted Prize for Cultural Heritage by the European Union for its archaeological efforts at Skarkos.

In the fading evening light, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a hillside hotel. I was suddenly awash in a sense of tranquility in the paradoxical balance of knowing that the beaches in the distance were bubbling with sun-tanned partygoers, but under our feet lay a silent, ancient city.

5. Santorini - Island of Cliffs

With a couple of crew mates, I abandoned our sail-less ship to take in a day of jib sailing on a flotilla-mate's vessel. September winds aren't as strong as they are in summer months, so the motor was still a necessity. Santorini was breathtaking, and experiencing the island from the water was a rare treat. Most pictures here were taken from the top of the cliffs. We were able to enjoy the beauty of the entire volcanic rock from below. 

Santorini is an island in a circular archipelago, which formed an ancient volcanic caldera. The geography suggests the caldera is the remnants from a mighty volcanic eruption breaking into pieces a formerly singular island. Indeed, the Minoan Eruption (or Thera Eruption) occurred in what is now Santorini around 1600 B.C. This devastating eruption is likely how the caldera took its shape. This famed eruption is sometimes cited as the origin of Atlantis mythologies.

Today, Santorini is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, drawing crowds for its luxurious reputation, iconic white-and-blue architecture, and high cliffs, which offer breathtaking views of the shimmering Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. 

6. Folegandros - Island of Seasonal Artists

This is one of my favorite islands. You MUST leave the dock and venture into town. Artists reside here during the summer months and the streets are lively, bustling with lights and people late into the night. Yearlong residents often farm and raise livestock. 

Above the main town of Chora, a switchbacking footpath snakes up a steep hillock overlooking the sea. Atop the hill rests Panagia of Chora, an Orthodox church built in the early 1800s. Upon discovery of ancient inscriptions at Panagia of Chora, it is believed that the structure was built atop an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis.

7. Polyagos - Island of Potential 

The Billy Goat Skipper (captain of a flotilla-mate's catamaran) shared this special island with us. I think the secret beach we anchored at is a tip generator. It was incredible and secluded. The Billy Goat Skipper took a couple of us on a hike where he sprinted up the mountain shoeless (making apparent the origin of our Billy Goat Captain's nickname). 

Amazed at the apparent isolation and solitude of the island, I discovered that the name the island, "Polyagos" originates from the Greek term for "many goats," and is essentially barren save a large goat population and the occasional herder. It is the largest uninhabited island in Greece. Most of its mass is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. The island's large goat population share the island not with humans, but with the endangered Mediterranean monk seal, as well as species of viper and falcon that appear to be unique to the island.

How entertaining it was that our barefoot running captain shared a nickname with the island's only residents.

8. Milos - Island of Beauty

The southside is so beautiful that we had to have an SI rogue yogi photoshoot. PSA: the cliffs are fragile, so this was not our best idea. We snorkeled through clear waters to get a glimpse of the rocks below. There aren't a lot of fish, but we came across a few hot spots along the cliffs and in the tunnels where schools of fish glimmered in the water. A boat anchored next to us was topped with a crew of dozens of older singers who graced the cliffs with their chorus before setting off to their next destination. 

Milos is another relatively unpopulated island that does't capture as much touristic attention as some other isles. In history, it was a wealthy mineral island, today touting a mining museum, archaeological museum, and the ruins of a Roman Theatre. In 1870, a local farmer discovered the remnants of an ancient statue on Milos, which appeared to be the marble likeness of the goddess Aphrodite. Today, she is known globally as the Venus de Milo and is one of the legendary centerpieces of the Louvre Museum of Paris.

9. Hydra - Island of Horses and Donkeys

Another favorite! Probably because my favorite animal is a horse. We opted for a tour on Harriet's Hydra Horses and enjoyed a steep climb to a monastery. The nuns occupying the property were mid-siesta, as they complete their chores early in the day before it gets too hot. There was something magical about the island beyond this. Maybe is was the lack of cars. Maybe is was walking into town to see boats stacked atop boats. Maybe it was the people. My favorite meal in Greece was here as well. 

There was also a bit of excitement. During our second night on the island, the winds shifted. We had 4 catamarans tied to one another to make neighborly visits easier, but two of the boats' anchors came loose due to intense rocking. Two anchors and a few ropes can't support the pressure of four boats knocking around, so we freed the two loose vessels. Adorned in red light headlamps, pulling the neighboring boat with the total weight of our bodies to give enough rope to detach the boats, I secretly had a blast. Once it was over, no one was hurt, and the two loose boats were anchored just a twenty minute swim away. This adrenaline junkie had a giant grin on her face and a difficult time catching a few REMs before daylight. 

10. Poros - Island of Last Port

The last stop. How do trips come to an end so quickly? I was glad that we got additional time with new flotilla friends (mostly OCSC NorCal folks). We made the most of our final evening on the water watching a glorious sunset, dancing and listening to tunes. What an adventure! Thank you to Anthony at OCSC for the invite. Until next time! 

Ikaria: "The Island of Happiness" (and Longevity)

Ikaria: "The Island of Happiness" (and Longevity)

#EuroLongevityTour Request: Forbes 30 Under 30 September 15th Nomination Deadline

#EuroLongevityTour Request: Forbes 30 Under 30 September 15th Nomination Deadline