Before we sold up and started sailing around the world (err, only the Mediterranean thus far) I was totally hooked on Greece. From my past experiences, Greece had it all – the islands, fabulous food, great anchorages, amazing views, a variety of villages, history and more.
I had the attitude of, ‘why go anywhere other than Greece – it’s perfect!’
For over fifteen years, we enjoyed flotilla holidays in Greece and more recently, we sailed around almost every region of Greece. Last year we started in the Ionian, went through the Corinthian Canal, around Athens, down to Kos and Symi (hitting many islands on our way down), over to Crete (Agios Nikolaos marina), up to Santorini and then stopped at a variety of places as we made our way around the Peloponnese back to the Ionian. You could stop in at Kalamata Marina.
Greece is the mecca of the sailing world – isn’t it?
But then my husband, four-year-old daughter and I spent over eight months living/sailing around Sicily and the bottom part of Italy and my perspective changed.
My headline, “9 reasons why Greece is a great sailing destination but Italy is better,” is a bit misleading. Actually…
Greece and Italy are both great sailing destinations but they’re different – very different
Greece is great but the country is set up to cater to tourism
Of course, that’s not a bad thing, but after spending month after month getting the same Greek plates, offered the same t-shirts (just the name of the island changes) and the same kind of service your experiences start to merge together.
Italy is more authentic. Rather than rely on tourism (or making people happy with souvenirs and novelty food) Italy is a working country. It’s not set up to make me happy…it is what it is and I can take it or leave it. I wonder if that makes sense?
Let me tell you why I love Greece:
1. It’s cheap – The inexpensive moorings (€10/night on a town key and that’s if they can be bothered to collect the money). And of course, it’s free to use a mooring buoy or anchor.
2. Sailing distances can be as short or as long as you want – Short distances between destinations. A one-hour motor could often get you to a totally new island!
3. There’s massive amounts of choice – Greece has it all…beaches, cities, towns, ruins, ruins and more ruins. If you’re on a tour of history, Greece can easily keep you busy for several years! Furthermore, there are so many quiet bays, tranquil moorings and picturesque fishing villages. Each night you could be somewhere new and thoroughly enjoy the backdrop.
4. No language barrier – Greece thrives on tourism so it’s very uncommon to come across a Greek that doesn’t know some English. And almost every restaurant you visit on the cost has menu’s in both Greek and English.
5. Good food – I won’t say great food but at times it can be great – in fact, I’ve had outstanding food. More times than not, however, Greek food can be ‘okay.’ The Greeks tend to cook everything a few hours longer than it needs to be cooked, but as long as you don’t have your heart seat on medium rare meat or slightly crunchy cooked vegetables you’ll be fine.
6. Groceries are easy to get – Everywhere you go there’s at least a small grocery shop and in the larger towns you’ll find an AB Grocery store where you can get all sorts of items including Chinese, Mexican and Indian curry mixes. A few years ago that would have never been the case.
7. The water is clean – Some bays are not great due to high traffic – perhaps it’s the tour boats that dirty the water. And Athens is disgusting… Overall, however the water in Greece is wonderful to swim in. I’ve only seen an occasional jelly fish and for the most part the Greek water ways are unpolluted.
8. Other boaters are usually helpful, kind and courteous – Of course you get the odd jerk in a bay that doesn’t leave enough chain out, yells in a foreign language and likes to walk around in his birthday suit, but I just file that experience under ‘entertainment.’ Overall, most boaters are just like you and I – we all have a love for sailing and that creates an instant bond. The only slight issue I have under the ‘other boaters’ category is that there are high concentrations of flotillas (groups of sailors on holiday for a week or two chartering boats – especially in the Ionian). We started off chartering and it’s a great way to get into sailing. The issue I have with flotillas, however, is that they can fill up a bay. We’ve had our plans set to go into X bay and because it was filled with a whole flotilla we’ve had to divert.
9. The Greek people are lovely – Anyone that’s ever been to Greece will have loads of stories about how Greeks went out of their way to help. If you ask for directions, you’ll be taken, almost by hand, to the location you’re looking for. If you want to buy something but are unsure as to whether it will work or not, they Greeks will tell you, ‘don’t pay for this now – take it back to your boat and if it works, come back and pay me.’ (Last week I took a pillow insert home to make sure it would fit into my new Nautical Pillow Covers and when it did, I went back to the store and paid for it!)
If you’ve never been to Greece before, I highly recommend the region
If you’re new to sailing, the Ionian Islands are a perfect place to start – there are short or long sails, it’s easy to anchor or moor to a town quay and there are many other beginners (and salty sea dogs!) there to share stories with. The Aegean is lovely too…it’s a bit more windy and the islands are more spread out.
However, if you’ve sailed around Greece year after year and have a niggle that it’s perhaps time to try a new sailing destination, I highly (and I mean very highly) suggest that you give Sicily/Italy a go – in Fact, if you’re bringing your boat from Greece, I’d suggest a trip from Corfu, stopping at Gouvia Marina over to the bottom area of the boot in Italy and then anywhere in Sicily. You’ve got the Aeolian Islands in the North (with live erupting volcano’s), an east coast of variety, history and breathtaking views and a south region showcasing rural, authentic, traditional Italy.
Let me compare Greece with Italy/Sicily
1. It’s not cheap – even the mooring buoys can cost you €50+ and the marinas are ridiculous in the summer. We were quoted around €200/night for Riposto Marina (at the base of Mount Etna). HOWEVER, anchoring is free and there are several excellent, safe spots to stay for the night or several days. As I write this we’ve been anchored in Syracuse for four days and every day we’ve been into the town knowing that the boat was safe. Furthermore, food and shopping items are very inexpensive.
2. Sailing distances are longer than you’d find in Greece – however when you get to a destination there’s so much to see that you’d want to stay longer and explore the land more. In Greece, boaters tend to anchor, enjoy a meal at a tavern, go for swim and then the next day they move on. Sailing around Italy provides a different kind of exploration – with all the ancient Greek and Roman ruins you’re spoiled for choice. And the cities are incredible – the whole east side of Sicily is baroque – after an earthquake (I think in the 1600’s) the area was rebuilt and WOW is the architecture incredible. In Syracusa you could spend day seeing the ruins, another couple days exploring Ortygia (the island off of the city) and yet another day provisioning at all the grocery stores. There’s even a creek you an take your dinghy up and explore Sicily’s countryside by boat! Just read my article, Taormina Bay in Sicily – An anchorage that has it all! to get a good example of all the variety.
3. There’s massive amounts of choice – Italy has it all too… but the ‘all’ I’m talking about is different. The food is amazing, the history is incredible, and there are beaches that stretch for miles and miles. The towns and cities have so much character – there are shops selling local produce, handmade goods and unlike Greece where many shops sell ‘made in China,’ souvenirs in Italy you’ll find items made in Italy. Furthermore, you can get anything in Italy – there are Ikea’s, large grocery stores, massive hardware stores and great chandleries. For me, Greece seems too touristy at times. Everywhere you go, the shops all sell the same things.
4. Well…I can’t say that there is no language barrier in Italy…More often than not, Italians can’t speak English (and why should they!?). That being said, I’ve never had an issue getting what I want. In the butchers I just point, in the market I just hold out my coins. It works. Yes, it can be a bit scary when you’re coming into a port and the attendants can’t speak a word of English or when you’re trying to get somewhere and the person you ask rattles off foreign instructions but I’ve realized that it’s okay. If you can’t understand the other person, you smile, shrug your shoulders and laugh. In the past I was so afraid of not understanding someone or not being understood…now that I’ve spent over 8 months in Italy over the past 1 ½ years I’m totally relaxed with language barriers! In fact, they’re not really barriers at all – they’re opportunities to communicate in a different way.
5. Outstanding food – As you would expect, Italy is AMAZING when it comes to food. Especially in Sicily, you still get fresh vegetables grown and meats that are sourced within a few miles of the restaurant or market. Nothing is genetically modified…the livestock roams free. The fish have two eye’s rather than three (joke). Everything is fresh, good quality and downright amazing. The markets offer fresh mozzarella, ricotta that is still warm, hanging provalone and loads of cured meats like salami, parma ham and on and on. Tomatoes taste like tomatoes should taste like! Everything is full of flavor and depth. (I’ve heard from others about the food on mainland Italy and the reviews don’t seem to be as good as Sicily. I think Sicily is a little gem that still offers true authentic real food…)
6. Groceries are easy to get – I find that Sicily is less open to different cuisines like Mexican, Chinese, and India so it’s hard to find any curry pastes or mixes. That being noted, I have discovered tiny Asian shops from time to time. You have to know where to go but in almost every city and large town I’ve found an ethnic shop.
7. The water is clean in most areas – Unfortunately, I’ve noticed more trash floating around Italy than any other country. Some of the bays you anchor in, you’d think twice about taking a dip. For example, the mooring area outside Syracusa is filthy – when I see people swimming in Syracusa bay, I think they’re nuts. The bay below Toarmina along Giardini Naxos has good times and bad depending on the current – when the current is in, the rubbish seems to take stuff away. When the water is quiet, you just don’t want to see what’s in the water (so sad!). The south coast, however, was very clear and the Aeolian Islands were surrounded by pristine waters. I suppose it’s like any country – some areas are good and some are not so good.
8. Other boaters are fantastic – After spending six months in Marina di Ragusa (south coast of Sicily) for the winter, we made friends with over 20 different nationalities. I’ve written at great length about our stay in Sicily. It has been a monument time for me. Read: Marina di Ragusa Sicily Marina Review – Winter Season
9. The Italians are amazing people – During our visits to Italy/Sicily we’ve made amazing friends. One in particular, was an admiral for the Italian navy (and a helicopter pilot). We’ve become such good friends that he’s joined us for months at a time sailing around Italy and Greece. Read this: Visiting Sicily – it’s one door before you get to heaven to hear more about the Admiral and the other amazing Italian friends we’ve made.
The beach along Giardini Naxos, Sicily
So, there you have it – a comparison/contrast between sailing Greece and Sicily/Italy
In the end, they’re both great sailing destinations. For me, the ideal plan to make while sailing around the Med would be to spend the summer in Greece and the Spring and/or Fall in Sicily…and I’d definitely choose Sicily (Marina di Ragusa, in particular) to stay for the winter. Greece is miserable in the winter – Sicily gets better weather and there’s much more to see in a small area.