Fodor's Assistant Editor Amy Wang recently sailed the Aegean Sea aboard a yacht, getting a taste of Santorini, Ios, Naxos, Paros, Mykonos, Delos, Syros, and Kythnos islands.
Why the Greek Isles?
For anyone who has ever glanced at a "Greek Isles" calendar and concluded that such beauty must be the result of Photoshop, I'm here to say that's not the case. Sandy beaches baked by a brilliant sun, mysterious and charming alleyways winding onto hidden squares, humbling archaeological ruins, whitewashed homes draped with bougainvillea -- all of it is very real and astonishing. Also, September is a good time to go. The weather is gorgeous, the water is still warm, and most shops are open. And best of all, the high-season summer crowds are mostly gone.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
On our return to Piraeus, the captain anchored off Cape Sounion to let a few of us take turns "walking the plank" so we could dive off the ship's railing! That never would have happened had we been traveling by cruise liner or ferry. There's nothing like taking a 30-foot plunge into the Aegean and then swimming in the open seas with the 2,500-year-old Temple of Poseidon looming on a cliff in the distance. It was surreal and thrilling.
What was overrated?
The donkey ride up the cliffside steps to Fira, Santorini. It seemed like a charming experience at first, but you can't help but feel sorry for the animals, who are fond of two things: the cliff's outermost edges and out-trotting each other. For the same price (3.50 euro), the cable car is a much faster and less heartbreaking/heartstopping way up and down the mountainside. Or for free you can hike the same trail the donkeys use, if you've got exceptional land legs and a weak sense of smell. By the way, if you do take the cable car, note that even during shoulder season there can be a 45-minute wait for a ride back down.
What was the best thing you ate or drank?
Everything. The true, natural flavors of any of the most basic foods -- a tomato, an olive, the catch of the day, a handful of plump grapes, a piece of honeydew melon -- will blow you away.
What advice do you have for someone going to the Cyclades?
First, bring a GOOD pair of shoes! In addition to all the sun and sand, be prepared for hiking about rocky ruins, cobblestone steps, slippery marble, and the possibility of rainy weather.
Second, while there is certainly no wrong way to see the islands, sailing on such a small yacht (ours was Vikings Cruises' m/s H&B) made a world of difference. What we lacked in amenities, we gained in atmosphere. But no matter how you're traveling, try to be flexible, adventurous, and relaxed. Ferry schedules vary in the off seasons, and our own itinerary changed twice to accommodate sailing conditions. Allow yourself to get a bit lost in the villages and to have a lot of down time. The Greeks can spend all day lingering at their local taverna!