We had just one month left in Greece and decided to spend it in the Ionian sea which meant either sailing 150nm south to get round the Peloponnese or cutting through the Corinth Canal. We opted for the latter and were really pleased we did. The Corinth Canal was completed in 1893. It is only 6.4kms long and 21.4m wide which means no big commercial boats can use it. It’s the most expensive stretch of water in the world and you pay by length of boat – we paid €182 (A$300) to travel just under 4nm! It can only be transitted one way as it is so narrow so about 6 of us tied up to the wharf, waited for them to drop the barrier and then all motored through. It was amazing – sheer cliffs rising up to 63 metres above us which had literally been sliced through. On Tuesdays the Canal is shut so that they can clear the debris that has fallen and our transit was on a Monday so we expected to see rocks but nothing…. We loved it and in comparison to the Suez canal it was far more spectacular.
We both headed for Isidoros, a small town on the mainland in the Gulf of Corinth. After we had tied up to the quay, a local guy came along and told us we would probably bring up old machinery or junk as the bottom was fouled… lucky for both of us we came up clean. Isidoros was lovely, a typical Greek town with the waterfront lined with tavernas, locals sitting around watching the world go by and nothing really happening until after 9pm. We only stayed the one night and then sailed off to Trizonia. This little island was a gem – we found a bar owned by an Aussie and decided to spend a couple of days here. We walked around the head of the bay discovering tiny little beaches and guesthouses tucked away amongst the bouganvillia. It was delightful.
After a few days we both set off for Navpaktos, a lovely town which has a stunningly maintained small medieval harbour surrounded by delightful cafes. There is a Venetian castle high on the hill looking down over the town and harbour. As the harbour is so small we had to anchor outside which was a bit rolly but we were glad to stop here as it was very different from the other places we had visited. We were slowly making our way north to get to Albania and so finding lovely places like this en route is always a bonus.
We left the next day for Messalongi, a town on the mainland. We wanted to visit this town because it was up a river which afforded good protection and was a big enough town to do some good provisioning. We found it a bit run down at first but after about 20 mins we found ourselves in a lovely square which was just starting to come alive. We had a couple of drinks here, Ian got a haircut and we decided to eat on the waterfront so started making our way back just on dusk. We found ourselves wandering through a different part of town where all the locals hang out for their evening drinks and then we found an Ouza distillery. It was a family run business and the distillery was adjacent to the shop so we had a tour of the factory, bought some fabulous tasting Ouzo and headed off for dinner.
We had our last dinner with Vamanos on the waterfront at Messalongi and bade a sad farewell as they are now heading to Italy. We had been travelling with Terry since Tanga in Tanzania 18 months ago and had had some amazing times but that’s the downside of cruising- always saying goodbye to good friends – the upside is you are always making new ones.
As Vamanos headed north for Italy, we headed west to the island of Zakynthos to see the famous Shipwreck Bay. This is one of the most visited places on the Greek islands as there is an old shipwreck which takes up most of the beach. Hundreds of day trippers come here every day so we decided to anchor a mile or so away, and take the dinghy round early in the morning. We were glad we did as we had the whole bay to ourselves and by 9.00am there were 4 or 5 tourist boats arriving. It is a photographer’s dream but as we were there so early we didn’t have the benefit of the sun on the wreck. We also went to the Blue Cave which I wasn’t really impressed with as the guide books say it is comparable to the Blue Grotto in Gozo. I saw the Blue Grotto many years ago and this Blue Cave was not really comparable!
Next island was Kefalonika and the town of Fiskardo – a busy and very touristy town. We helped some German charterers tie their boat to the rocks and spent a lovely evening having drinks with them on their boat. From there we headed to Frikes – a tiny little town as we slowly headed north.
One of our favourite stops in the Ionian was the island of Meganisi. This island has three very large safe bays at the northern tip and we wanted a safe place to stay for a few days as another Meltemi was coming. We walked over the hill to the town of Vathi – bought some vegs and dined at the small restaurant in the bay. In the afternoon Ian went snorkelling and found a large shell which still had both sides so he dove down to get it to bring it back to me and on his swim back he realised there was a large octopus inside it… We then had to get it on board – they are slippery little things. Mike and Ian killed it and we googled how to tenderise it. The original Greek method is to bash it 30 times on a rock, get rid of all its slime and cook it in a red wine sauce so we all loaded into the dinghy and took it over to the rocks where Ian did exactly what the Greeks traditionally have done. Back on board, I made the red wine sauce and we had a delicious dinner which was beautifully tender so thank you Google – we would never have thought of doing it that way.
My nephew and his wife and parents in law were coming to Lefkas the following week but we had to leave Greece the day after they arrived so we decided to visit Corfu and Paxos before they came, then backtrack to Nydri to meet them for one night before leaving Greece in Preveza he following day – a sail of only 40nm.
So we made our way up to AntiPaxos first, and spent the night in a small bay there. The water was crystal clear and warm though the night time temps are beginning to drop. In Paxos itself we stayed outside the quayside in Poros but had a very uncomfortable night with the ferry wash. Walking along the quay was interesting as we saw a few Aussie boats – always like to find fellow countrymen.
Corfu was again very different. It had an Italian feel to it and was packed with tourists. There were many small winding streets with large buildings with porticos and verandahs. Corfu has an excellent anchorage which takes at least 100 boats. I liked Corfu as it had a real cosmopolitan feel to it, but we could only stay a couple days as we had to head back to Nydri to meet up with Charlie and Jenn.
We try to never go backwards – we would never get home otherwise – but we were managing to overlap by just one night with Charlie and Jenn so we headed back to Nydri to await their arrival. We got there with a day up our sleeve so wanted to visit Skorpios- Onassiss’s island but it was so crowded and we had a day tripper boat rudely push us out of the way so we ended up in a very quiet little anchorage round the corner. The following day we went to Nydri which was packed… we dont normally stay in such busy places but it was where we were meeting so we dropped anchor and waited. The next day they arrived and it was so lovely to see them. We all had a fun night out with a fabulous meal, lots of wine Greek music and dancing. The next morning we had coffee on Indian Summer and by 11am we were heading back to Preveza to check out and they were heading south.
Back in Preveza we checked out, got our passports stamped for our Shengen and had an early night before our sail the next day to Albania.
We had been in Greece for three months and though we feel we have seen an enormous amount of it, we have really only just scratched the surface. I suspect we will return but plans are always made in sand so….