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Apart from the N Sporades, frequented by charter yachts and flotillas, this area, including the passage inside Evia, is a quiet cruising ground. Some restaurants and cafés only open for the peak season, July and August, when the population of Thessalonika comes out to play on the beaches. N Greece otherwise sees mainly local boats cruising around the three peninsulas of Khalkidiki, plus a few foreign flag yachts in transit to and from Turkey or the Dodecanese. These seem bent on avoiding the stronger winds of the S Aegean, although the meltemi blows strongly through the spaced out islands of the East Sporades.
The sailing season is shorter than further south, since thunderstorms interfere with spring and autumn, chopping a couple of weeks off each end. Attractions of the area are limited compared to the Cyclades, but it has a quiet charm, and some interesting and lively big towns.
From SW to NE:
Evia island stretches nearly 100nm along the north east facing coast, east of Athens. It connects to the mainland at Khalkis by a sliding bridge, and south of this there is a suspension bridge. The east coast of Evia is inhospitable when the meltemi blows. The channel between Evia and the mainland is then convenient for making a passage north for vessels with an air draft of less than 36 metres, set by a road bridge at Khalkis. The route offers flat water, though the meltemi does create some strong gusts. There are plenty of harbours in the channel, but otherwise the journey has no special merits. Strong tidal streams run through the narrows at Khalkis. Lesser streams run along the north coast of Evia (up to 2.5kts off Orei, where the tidal range is up to 60cm).
updatedOropos/Khalkoutsi. Oropos is a small ferry port connecting with Eretria on Evia. Just NW of it is Khalkoutsi harbour. All provide convenient pauses en route NW. Three shore hards on the mainland are suitable for wintering, all using wheeled sleds, only usable in light weather. One lies 2km east of Khalkoutsi (no further details), and two are direct neighbours 1nm NE of Khalkoutsi: "Boatclub" and Evoiko Sea Centre . Both are well recommended family run yards with good security (locked up overnight).Shore facilities are adequate; Boat Club's loo is cleaner! Repair services are bought in, and need supervision. Convenient access to Athens (bus). Trains every 2 hours Oinofyta (10km SW) to Athens airport.
Khalkis. A sliding bridge blocks the narrows at Khalkis, opening only at night during the brief period of slack water; see this bridge transit briefing site. Timing must be confirmed with the bridge operators. Port authority is just SE of the bridge. There are adequate waiting quays both sides. The enclosed bay south of the bridge provides a good anchorage and yacht club pontoons. The outermost pontoon appears to be available for visitors, with tailed lines, water and electricity (ring 22210 63121). Train service to Athens airport every 2 hours. Half hourly buses to Athens Loisios bus terminal; connect by Xpress bus to airport.
newNeos Pyrgos - Orei. Neos Pyrgos is a small harbour, mainly used by local boats. 1nm NW is Orei, a well sheltered harbour, end on mooring to your own anchor, water and electricity, low charges. Between the two is Dimstef Marine Services (ring + 30 6974 322887), a yard suitable for haul out over winter, the slip exposed to the north. Wheeled sleds are used, and boats stored on metal cradles in an enclosed compound guarded by dogs. Toilets, showers, water, electricity, and a nearby hotel. Three buses a day from Athens Loisios via Khalkis to Istaia, or via Arkitsa, then ferry to Loutra Edipsou. Taxi onwards . . .
Volos. At the north channel, facing Evia, is Volos, a working town set within a large enclosed bay. It has a seasonal airfield, and is a base for charter vessels and flotillas exploring the N Sporades. Volos is also port of entry and a ferry terminal for the Sporades. In the SE corner of Volos Bay (Vathoudi Bay) there's a boatyard which has been used for lay-up ashore and some moorings. The peninsula SE of Volos is picturesque with some lovely old villages, worth a tour with a day's car hire.
Metéora. From Volos, consider hiring a car for the 140km trip to Metéora, staying overnight. Metéora is iconic Greece, stunning rock pinnacles with monasteries teetering atop.
This tight little cluster of islands is a rewarding cruising ground which can occupy up to a couple of weeks cruising. It is popular with charter companies. Winds are usually a force or two lighter than the vigorous meltemi of the Cyclades, but still fairly brisk in summer, often reaching F6. But the islands provide a lee of flat water, and a wide range of different experiences.The major islands are:
Skiathos has sandy beaches and an international airfield, and is highly commercialised. The beaches are covered with sun beds and brollies in season, and backed with lively bars, 'pubs' and fast food joints. The night life is brisk. A place for young crews, maybe.
Skopelos is also busy, but has survived the onslaught of tourism with far more grace. It has two very pretty villages, Skopelos (Hora) and Glossa. Skopelos harbour is thick with restaurants and bars; but for the best food, as usual, it pays to explore a little inland where there are some truly excellent places. Seek out Perivoli, at the east end of town, for international gourmet standards.
Alonnisos, further east, is only busy in July and August, when mainly Greek holidaymakers arrive. Their favourite eating haunts are up in the old town, the Hora, a two mile stiff walk above the main port, Patitiri. The south coast of Alonnisos has a number of bays with beaches. The offlying almost uninhabited island of Peristeri has several anchorages, as does Pelagos to the north.
The Sporades National Park lies beyond Alonnisos. It is an archipelago of smaller islands, many designated as a wild life preserve to protect a tiny population endangered monk seals. Visits to Piperi are forbidden, as is fishing around the island. If you visit other islands, please keep well clear of any caves - the seals are very shy and will desert their young if disturbed.
Skyros is distant from the rest of the islands, and only recently discovered by visitors. It's best described as quirky, living in its own time warp. It strongly rewards those who have the patience to stay awhile and absorb local culture. Wild ponies still roam, and one or two of the older villagers still wear 'Zorba the Greek' costumes - a sort of antidote to the air force base in the north, the naval base in the south, and the 'new age' Skyros centre (very chic) in the middle.
Macedonia and Thrace are seldom visited by yachts. The climate is more extreme, with winter frosts (prepare your boat if laying up!) more humid summers, and less predictable winds than the other areas. Massive mountains to the west include Olympia, home of the gods. A century ago much of this area was Turkish, which probably explains why food and restaurant service are so much better here. The towns also have more 'buzz', but perhaps you have to speak a little Greek to appreciate that.
Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, is a lively city with a better ‘take’ on food compared with the rest of Greece. It's a port of entry. The port itself is very messy, but there's a busy, full service marina at Aretsou, just outside the main bay, with a hospitable yacht club a short distance towards the town. Those who have over wintered here praise the city and its vibrant all year round life, but criticise the winter frosts.
Khalkidiki to the east has some very fine beaches and anchorages around the Kassandra and Sinthiona peninsulas. These are holiday playgrounds for Thessaloniki, busy in July and August, with additional foreign tourists flying in from the international airport. A cruise around the peninsula of Akti takes in towering Mount Athos and its famous monasteries clinging to the cliffs.
Porto Carras, on the west coast of Sinthionia, is a rather grand hotel development. The associated marina is advertised as full service, but aside from the inflated charges, doesn't come up to spec. There is not enough custom to keep the chandlery well stocked, and in winter the place seems rather dead. The Carras vineyards nearby (high class wines!) may compensate
Kavala is another lively port city, and a port of entry. new At Nea Paramos, SW of Kavala town, there's a good dry dock (fluent American spoken) at Manitas Marine suitable for leaving a boat over winter (watch those frosts, though). See Jun 2016 update about pontoons for yachts in "comments" below (visible if you're logged in)
Porto Lagos has excellent shelter and a fine selection of mosquitoes if it's calm at nght. Tsoukas marine in the SW corner offers a range of engineering services, a yard for wintering and some moorings off the quay.
The summer meltemi blows quite strongly through the spaced out islands that make up the E Sporades. Which makes for fine sailing, if a bit rolly, when you're heading south. Working north, Samos/Ikaria are easily reached; they are effectively part of the Dodecanese cruising area. To reach the other islands, coast hopping north along the Turkish cost is appropriate. Or travel in spring or autumn when the winds are less persistent. The main islands (Thassos, Samothraki, Limnos, Lesvos, and Khios) are 40 to 50nm from each other. Each is quite large, and completely different from the others. There are enough interesting ports, pretty harbours, quiet anchorages and friendly people to make each island worth a visit while you’re sailing through. The northernmost islands are only lightly touched by tourism, and on these, many seasonal restaurants may be closed outside July and August.
Thassos is a popular resort island for visitors from the Balkan states; food here is cheap and cheerful. On the north of the island, seek out the classic sites (the agora and the acropolis) close to the Ancient Port in Thassos town. On the south of the island, don't miss Alyki, a well preserved old hamlet with good, if rather crowded, beaches
Samothraki has few visitors, and the only suitable port, Kamariotissia, is yacht friendly. It's worth taking a bus or taxi to visit the ruins of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, about three miles NE, near the coast. Travel back through Hora, an attractive town.
Limnos has mainly Greek visitors in peak season, and a few thousand Greek soldiers and airmen protecting the island from Turkish invasion. Its strong points are a number of pleasant anchorages around the SW corner of the island (with the shore sides slowly being developed), and fine wines. The port of entry, Myrina, has a lot of character, with a nice mix of old mansions and small stone houses, all overlooked by a grand (flood-lit) castle. Moudros has very well sheltered berthing for yachts.
Lesvos. There was a rush of tourism to Lesvos around the 1990s, probably because it has an airfield which accepts large passenger jets. The port of entry, Mytilini, is interesting, but scruffy and slightly seedy. A well sheltered marina is suitable for wintering afloat; crane lift out is expensive for wintering ashore. Plomarion, to the south, is a more pleasant port, though subject to surge in strong northerlies. Molivos (Mythimna) on the north coast was often described as the prettiest village on the island, but now seems to have lost its heart to tourism. The anchorage in Sigri is peace and quiet. Inland is different, because quite large agricultural areas are inaccessible to motor transport, which leaves a lot of the island relying on donkeys to gather the harvests.
Khios is busy place, the town full of life. With 30,000 population, it supports a small university and a really lively market area. The effect of tourism is minimal, so prices are reasonable compared to neighbouring islands. Add to that several surrounding islets, plenty of anchorages for a day sails and this is a good spot to visit. There is an unmanaged marina just north of town, with a quite scary entrance guarded by a rocky reef.
Nisos Oinoussa, a group of tiny islands off the N corner of Khios, have some anchorages and the very well sheltered harbour at Mandraki, a quirky place. Moor end on to the quaysides.
Samos and Ikaria are dealt with as part of the Dodecanese, even though they aren't. They're a natural extension of a Dodecanese cruise area.
Reviewed September 2016