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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Northern Greece 2009

Mamma Mia was calling and so were the Sporade Islands.  It was in these beautiful northern Greek Islands that the movie was filmed.  We’d seen it one wet and miserable day in Colchester in the UK and decided we just had to visit. 
Northern Greece was a real surprise.  We only went as it seemed a sensible place to head after Gallipoli and then work our way south with the wind behind us.  We didn’t expect to fall in love with the uncrowded anchorages and remote islands quite so much and wished we’d had more time.  As it was we lingered far longer than the few weeks we had initially set aside.
Our first stop in northern Greece was Samothraki – a beautiful island with an intriguing history thanks to its pre Greek inhabitants, the Kabeiri.  They built an astonishing temple/city on the north coast and we biked there one hot day and enjoyed exploring the ruins.  One of the statues taken from this historic site was the Winged Victory of Samothrace which is now on show at the Louvre.
From Samothraki we headed to Thasos, another equally remote and non touristy island.  We particularly enjoyed the trip we took by ancient bus into a remote mountain village and had a delicious lunch of goat on a spit.  The beaches on Samothraki were wonderful- crushed marble – but it was still too cold to swim being only early May!  But we made up for the lack of swimming by biking miles each day and exploring.
The Halkidiki is a three pronged peninsula that just down from mainland Greece.  The easternmost prong is Akti, commonly known as Mt Athos – with no road access from the mainland it is essentially a water access men only “island”.  Home to dozens of monasteries precariously perched on seemingly inaccessible hillsides…it’s an astonishing place. 
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Women are not allowed anywhere near the island – until recently even female animals weren’t allowed (until they realised it was the female of the species that produces goods like eggs, milk etc!!!).   Boats with women on are meant to stay several miles offshore but we figured we weren’t going to get shot at!  Anchoring is impossible due to weather so we just sailed on by and headed for the much more welcoming Sinthonian Peninsula.
As we pulled in to the harbour we were met by a local who took our mooring lines and told us we could stay as long as we liked for free.  “We welcome visitors,” he said. And stay we did, enjoying this place immensely.
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From there it was a lovely downhill run to the Sporades – Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonnisos, Peristeri, Pelagos and Skiros.  We absolutely loved the beautiful Sporades.
We spent most time on beautiful Alonnisos….a very non touristy island.  It was here that David’s first grandchild Harry was born arriving at a very sociable hour for us…..4pm Greek time.  We wet Harry’s head in fine style starting with ouzo, moving to beer and red wine and finishing with a bottle of bubbly.  Then we rowed back to Bandit across a busy harbour in the dark….hmmmm!  Responsible grandparents we think not.
The best thing about the Sporades is they miss the Meltemi – it doesn’t seem to get this far west.  Winds are generally light and temperatures warm.  Not many cruising boats get up this far so it is very uncrowded and there are some beautiful anchorages.   We reluctantly left in mid July as we had friends coming to the Cyclades.