When I visited the Greek island of Patmos, the main issue of the day was the airport, or rather, the lack of it. The ‘pros’ said they would value the amenity, as they could visit other islands, or the mainland, without having to commit several days to the visit. The ‘antis’ feared it would bring an onset of ‘mob tourism’ to what is, to many, a holy place; it was here that St. John had the Apocalypse vision which led to his writing the Book of Revelations.
The ideal would be for the ‘antis’ to have it, for it’s my experience that, the harder it is to get to a place, the more attractive, laid back and unspoilt it tends to be.
I went to Patmos with Seascape Sailing; their 50-ft. yachts are able to use the quieter fishing port of Grykos, which fits well with their policy of visiting the kind of places where the cruise-ships can’t go and ferries call infrequently.
Seascape Sailing is a small, friendly and independent company, offering cruises around the Dodecanese Islands and the Turkish coast. They operate three boats out of Lakki, on the island of Leros, and the name of their game is Adventure Sailing.
Sailing experience wasn’t necessary. Guests could choose whether to take an active part in everything, or just help with the domestic stuff, such as cooking or washing up, and let the crew deal with the sailing.
Most nights were spent either moored up or at anchor, and the evening meal was usually taken ashore. It was mainly traditional fare, rather than ‘kalimari and chips’, providing a literal, as well as a metaphoric ‘taste of the real Greece’
It can be truly said that there’s something for everyone on these voyages. We swam and bird-watched in a little bay on the uninhabited islet of Aspronissi … Seascape think they are the only operators to go there … and we watched someone sampling the infamous ‘Flaming Lamborghini’ cocktail in the Savanna Bar in the more populous fishing port of Pandeli. Trust me, this is something better witnessed than experienced!
At Grykos, we shared the jetty with a local character known simply as the Old Fisherman. Our crew said that he was almost always there, patiently sitting in his little red boat, mending his nets. When he was out fishing, his three friends, two cats and a seagull, would await his return on the quay near his berth, for he always had a fish for them, no matter how meagre his catch.
The islands of Lipsi and Arki are only a few hours sailing from Patmos , but a world away. Lipsi is called ‘The Island of Churches’. There are 42 of them, which worked out at approximately one per 17 head of population, although some of the smaller ones would be hard pressed to accommodate 17 people.
The reason for this apparent ecclesiastic overkill wasn’t religious fervour, though; it was more to do with the fact that considerable rebates used to be granted on land taxes if a church was built on the land.
Most of the churches are painted white, edged in light blue, a theme repeated in many of the houses in Lipsi, whose narrow streets, more suited to donkeys than cars, weave haphazardly up the hill around the harbour.
I walked up to a ruined windmill on a ridge, where there was a superb view of the harbour and the neighbouring islands, as well as an unbelievable scent of spring wild flowers blowing in the breeze.
Nearby Arki is Lipsi in miniature. It has similar blue and white houses, relieved by an occasional splash of colour from a pot of geraniums, or a bougainvillaea tree. There aren’t as many churches … however, there aren’t as many people, either! We hiked up a rocky footpath to one church, standing in a cluster of ruined, long-abandoned buildings on a hill-top, for the views.
There was only one shop … really, a kiosk near the harbour … but three tavernas, grouped around a delightful miniature plateia, or village square. The host at the one we chose for dinner told us, with a grin, that the purpose of the other two was to take his overflow when there were a lot of boats in!
Tiny Marathi, only a loud shout across the water from Arki, has only one church, but three tavernas, and is a favourite night stop for independent cruisers.
It’s not quite the uninhabited tropical paradise of day-dreams … but it’s not far off. There’s no mains electricity on the island because of its sparse population. And, they say, when they shut down the generator for the night … that’s when the stars really come out.
There’s more about the Greek Islands at http://casteloleros.wordpress.com/