Visiting the Greek islands
Greece is not a country of seamless five star luxury or smooth, silent service as one finds in the Far East – and the islands are close to Nature , both in the good sense, (i.e. sea, birds, starry skies, full moon over calm water, donkeys, fishes jumping at dawn, vines, tomatoes, figs, bare-feet, breezes, and weather-beaten farmers) and in the less good sense, (i.e. mosquitos, barking dogs, heat, wind, crowing cockerels, flies, storms, power-cuts and cancelled ferries, and the fact that the weather-beaten farmer is also the only one who can get in touch with the plumber who is his son-in-law who is out fishing.) We do present the best houses there are, but the lifestyle in summer on a Greek island, except perhaps on Mykonos, is not St Tropez. To compensate for that, the sea, the light, the atmosphere, the beauty are we think, incomparable at least in Europe, and the relaxed friendliness of the Greeks captivates more people than the slight air of chaos and improvisation annoys. State of the art telecommunications, well-run infrastructure and a high functioning bureaucracy are not Greece’s claims to fame, although living in less than perfect order does mean that Greeks are inventive, spontaneous, and full of common sense and quick-fix abilities.
If you want to see Greece but feel insecure about throwing yourself into the realities of the country, then a yacht is often the solution. You can remain reasonably cocooned, although you are still of course a plaything of the gods when it comes to weather, which is all as it should be and part of the grand old Homeric tradition. Greece is on a very human scale – you can talk philosophy to a taxi-driver, sip coffee with old fishermen, it is a country to relax and let your hair down, and feel the stress of urban life and social pressures dissolve, and possibly, let the spirits of Greece’s past slip into your mind.
August is high season and very busy on most islands – beaches are crowded, the bays are full of yachts, and towns and villages buzz till late at night. Music from discos, yachts and bars carries amazingly well over water, so for peace and quiet, choose either to come at a different month, or choose to go off the beaten track.
No beach on the Mediterranean is private except for hotel beaches. When a beach is described as “private”, it means that the property has direct access to the beach, that access by road is difficult, and that few people go there. Some areas of a beach are in practice private because the house has been allowed to adapt/furnish it, so people to tend to stay away, but this is not a legal requirement.
Access to any beach by boat is a universal right, so beachfront + August + privacy are not a realistic combination!
Houses on beaches are divine in calm, hot weather, but in windy weather, be prepared for spray and dust! Beachfront houses tend to be simpler in style and furnishings more casual, partly because the lifestyle is barefoot and wet-bikinis, and people don’t want to worry about sandy feet or salt water on the deckchair mattresses.
Combining a villa stay with a boat is wonderful – you can see more of the island or islands that you are on, find deserted beaches and coves, or even just get from one island villa to another. The sea is after all what Greece is all about…
Cruising is a fantastic way of seeing more than one island while staying in safe luxury. It can be a bit isolating if you want to meet the locals and get a feel for Greece. Please see our Yacht section for details, and Island Portraits for more ideas.
There are two basic weather patterns in the islands in summer:
1. Calm and hot, possibly more humid, with less reliable weather in Autumn and Spring:
The Ionian islands, the Sporades, the Saronic Gulf islands, Pelion and Mitzella.
2. Windy, dryer and cooler, with calmer and more reliable weather in autumn and spring:
The Cyclades, the Dodecanese. The windiest islands are the Cyclades in late July/August, though the Meltemi, the famous north wind that rages down the islands can blow 120 days a year, and comes in 3 strengths:
Kapelata – blows hats off
Kareklata – blows chairs over
Trapezata – blows tables over.
The Cycladic islanders call the Meltemi “the island doctor” as it keeps the islands cool and fresh.
A good area for misunderstanding between Europeans and Americans; Child- friendly in Europe tends to mean a house where children can’t do too much damage, while for U.S. guests, child-friendly means a house adapted to avoid as many accidents to the child as possible.
Greeks adore their children and spoil them rotten, feed them till they are fit to burst, try and run their lives, marriages etc, and when children are little, they supervise them at all times. Like most Europeans, they do however assume that bigger ones are intelligent beings with a wish to survive. They do not consider minor drops from terraces, direct access to the sea, sharp edged furniture, steep staircases, open fire-places or unfenced swimming pools a particular hazard, don’t change their houses around in any particular way to accommodate children, and take a generally robust view about things that Americans could find alarming.
If you are particularly concerned about safety, please advise us and mention your specific concerns, so that we can try to minimise distress to both guest and owner!
July through August, especially August. Santorini high season is till late September.
Advantages: Well, the weather is pretty well guaranteed to be good!
For those who love the life, colour and buzz of summer, this is the best time to go, to people spot, to enjoy all the shops, bars, tavernas etc that come to life in summer, and close off season.
Disadvantages: Crowds are inevitable and islands like Mykonos, Corfu, Santorini, Paros and Spetses are really very full – beaches and restaurants are crowded, you must reserve rental cars, flights etc well ahead.
Advantages: The quality of life improves – Food is better, people have more time for you, beaches are quiet if not deserted, islands revert to being real places rather than tourist resorts, even Mykonos. Nights are cooler, this is the best time for walking, exploring, visiting archaeological sites and churches.
Disdvantages: Bars and tavernas may be shut, After early September, weather is no longer high summer – be prepared for some rain/wind/cloud, if only for a few days, but the sea is warmer and clean, the sun is milder, the evenings are longer and there is a very mellow quality to life. In spring, weather is not yet proper summer – you could get 80 degrees and sun, you could get a cold, windy spell – 60-70 degrees. The sea is colder, the days are long and the sun is extremely strong though the cooler air temperature will fool you – factor 30 sun cream!
Advantages: Easy access via airports and good, fast hydrofoils, boats and ferries. Better infrastructure such as broadband lines, easier to source things like gluten-free/lactose-free groceries, more sophisticated dining, shopping, organised beaches and plenty of water-sports. There is more to keep youngsters and party-goers happy. See and be seen, Mykonos and Santorini are hip! The beaten track is usually beaten for a good reason – pretty villages, great accommodation, good services and wonderful beaches.
Disadvantages: In high summer, expect crowds in the villages, crowded beaches, bus traffic, hassle, noise and expensive prices! Flights, ferries, car rentals, taxis, restaurant tables and beach umbrellas all need to be reserved well ahead.
Advantages: Less people, unspoilt landscape, uncrowded beaches, traditional values and village life. Get away from it all and slow down. True hospitality offered by locals, another world from the one you probably come from. Can be totally idyllic.
Disadvantages: Infrastructure such as telephone lines and power can be a bit dodgy, especially in or after storms! Broadband and mobile reception can be spotty. Telephone lines going over the hills tend to get nibbled by goats…. Rustic life can also mean cocks crowing, dogs barking, and, sadly, inadequate litter control. These islands are generally harder to get to. No Nobu’s or fusion cooking, (or should this be under advantages?) Houses tend to be less luxurious as equipping and furnishing houses on these islands is complicated, so owners try to keep it simpler.