Just a short sail from Athens, past the grand temple of Poseidon, are the Saronic islands and the Peloponnese coast. This spirited location feels free, punctuated by charming towns and secluded coves
The Aegean Sea is endowed with islands—Greece has more than any other country in the Mediterranean. Deciding which islands to visit during your sailing itinerary is not easy, with each region home to a unique maze of land and water and providing endless sailing opportunities. The word "archipelago" was the original Greek name for this sea. It translates as the main sea, and this was indeed the center of the world for one of the history’s great seafaring civilizations. In modern usage, we refer to island groupings as "archipelagos," but this is the original and proper, capital "A" Archipelago, and the standard by which others should be judged.
Setting sail from Athens, an exploration of the Saronic Islands takes you south along the east coast of the Peloponnese peninsula that includes Hydra, Dokos, and Spetses, which sit just past the Saronic Gulf. Sailors can visit Salamis, Aegina, Poros, and some mainland destinations such as Epidauros at their leisure. Hydra, a sleepy island that is home to a single town with no automobiles, is a highlight of this itinerary and often the turnaround point for sailors doing a round trip from Athens. The Saronic Islands, with their tucked away anchorages and seaside villages, are a tranquil getaway and a perfect adventure for sailors departing the busy urban life in Athens and seeking adventure.
The history of these islands is immense, and to sail among them is to partake in a living reenactment of how people have ventured out into the world since ancient times. When the waves stand up tall and a rain squall blacks out the sky you feel the respect for the sea that sailors throughout time have felt. Then, when the sun shines bright and a fresh breeze fills your sails, you feel the love for the archipelago that inspired poets and soldiers alike.
A truly remarkable thing about sailing south from Athens into the Saronic Islands and beyond is the layers of literature that you transverse under sail: Homer was here; Plato made this passage, and Henry Miller sailed here as well. As featured in Sailing The Seas, Dayyan Armstrong and Ross Beane guide readers through the island of Aegina and Poros.
The island of Aegina sits centered in the Saronic Gulf. Home to enjoyable, easygoing towns with protected harbors, it is often the first port of call during a Saronic Islands itinerary. The main port has a proper seawall in an unusual arrangement, with the harbor for large boats closer to town than the small-boat harbor. Sailors deciding to spend an evening moored along the quay will enjoy the laid-back attitude of the locals, wandering past vendors who sell fresh and local produce off wooden boats that have been modified into farm stands. Shops onshore feature a plethora of products made with pistachios that grow on the island. Take a walk off your sailboat and wander the streets, where you’ll be welcomed by beautiful neoclassical buildings in bright colors, picturesque cafés, and restaurants offering fresh fish caught by the island’s many fishermen.
Across the island to the east, summiting the prominent peak, you will find the Temple of Aphaia—an impressive ruin in an impressive location. Taxi there to enjoy the sunset and astonishing view without the crowds of the acropolis. Aegina, being an island, has escaped most of the package-tour hordes that are so prevalent around Athens, and this a spectacular temple is a significant one.
Before the rise of Athenian naval supremacy in the 6th-century BC, Aegina was the thalassocracy (naval empire) to beat. The wealthy merchants and political rulers of this island had the biggest fleet and the best trade of the whole pre-Hellenic Greek world until the Athenians ultimately triumphed through direct military action against Aegina.
South of the port lies the seaside town of Perdika, which is a very popular overnight anchorage. The town is small with several charming tavernas offering classic Greek island foods like grilled whole fish and halloumi cheese served with local honey and crushed pistachios. One nautical mile from Perdika is the uninhabited island of Moni. A quick sail to the island offers a quiet respite from populated Aegina. The south-facing cliff has a small deep cove that is wonderful for swimming into sea caves. Snorkel into the one with the narrow-tall entrance and you can follow it to a dimly lit stone beach inside the cavern. Sunlight coming in through the mouth of the sea cave bounces off the water and provides a spectacular light show on the rocks overhead. On the north side of Moni is a beachy cove with one sleepy restaurant. Dinghy ashore and hike to the summit for sweeping views in all directions.
Separated from the Peloponnesus peninsula by a narrow channel, residents of Poros have easy access to mainland amenities, but Poros doesn’t sacrifice its island charm.
The main town on Poros is located on the southwest coast. The harbor runs along with the town and has two separate points of entry depending on the side from which you approach. Buildings border the waterfront and boat anchor stern-to the seawall throughout the entirety of the town. Once all the sailors come into port from the morning voyage, boats begin to squeeze next to one another. Fenders are out and the town starts to appear painted by the masts that tower over the buildings. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés to explore. You'll see sailors stroll the seawall and find a table at which to settle.
Poros is also home to numerous sheltered coves, providing anchorages well-suited to an afternoon or an overnight stay. Neorio, Elies, Russian Bay, and Bistiou Cove are inlets home to stunningly clear waters with lush cypress trees—for sailors interested in a quiet night away from the port. Be sure to check the weather forecast when deciding where to anchor for the night, as even the more protected southern coves can get rolly in a strong westerly breeze.
This story was originally featured in Sailing The Seas and written by Dayyan Armstrong and Ross Beane. Find out more about their Athenian journey and voyage across the world’s most idyllic Ocean getaways.