Written by Missy Johnston
Board in Saranda, Albania. Close by is the important archeological site of Butrint overseen by the Rockefeller Foundation and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Butrint, known in ancient times as Buthrotum, was an active busy trading and fishing port from Hellenistic to Ottoman times
Ancient Ruins – Butrint
In Ancient Times, Butrint became well known as the location for a healing sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine, founded in the 4th century and many came to be healed by the waters of Butrint. In 44BC, after visiting Butrint, Caesar designated Butrint a Roman colonial city. Under Caesar’s adopted son’s rule, Augustus, great Roman building works were instigated including an aqueduct bringing water for fountains, and bath houses creating a lovely cityscape with a large forum, gymnasium and theatres, along with villas and palaces for the wealthy. By the 5th century AD, Christianity was established in Butrint, and large basilicas were built or created within previously built structures. Butrint passed through rule under the Slavs, Byzantines, and Angevins. In 1386, the Venetian Republic purchased the area from the Angevin Kings and held control of Butrint and the island of Corfu just across the straits until the fall of the Venetian Empire in the late 1700’s. After the late 1700’s, the area fell under Ottoman Rule until Albanian Independence was declared in 1912.
After visiting Butrint, cruise to the nearby but rarely heard of Diapontia Islands to overnight around the island of Orthoni.
Orthoni Island Beach
There are five islands in this little island group, which are two to seven miles north of the northern coast of Corfu. The main Diapontia Islands are the islands of Erikousa, which is the farthest northern island, the island of Mathraki, which is the farthest southern island and the island of Orthoni, one of the largest of the Diapontia Islands and probably the most well-known. The lovely Port of Ammo on Orthoni is also a great stop.
The island of Orthoni is probably the most well-known, as this island is believed to be the mythical island of Ogygia, in Homer’s writings, and here on this island supposedly, according to Homer, is where Ulysses was kept captive by Calypso, the nymph daughter of Atlas for seven years after the Trojan War. The believed to be Cave of Calypso on the island of Orthoni, is able to be visited today; however, only by ship’s tender, so only a very few are able to visit the infamous supposed Cave of Calypso when visiting the island of Orthoni, which would be a unique experience when on a crewed yacht charter of the Diapontia Islands. The designated Cave of Calypso on Orthoni is quite large at over 100 meters long, 20 meters high and 10-15 meters wide. After breakfast, jump in the ship’s tender to explore this mythical Muse’s cave. Spend the day exploring the caves and grottos of the island, and later in the afternoon, head to the lovely port town of Ammo, a typical Greek village port.
The Diapontia Islands are great for those that really want to get away from it all. The islands are rich in vegetation, with beautiful beaches and many sea caves. There are few inhabitants’ year around, and those that do make this island group their home are mainly engaged in fishing and agriculture. The villages are very picturesque with traditional houses and churches. It is in the villages in this island chain where one could find the true local Greek Taverna experience for not only great local Taverna food and fresh seafood, but also to experience the Greek Taverna as the community center of any small traditional village. Sit back and spend an evening in the middle of village life in a local taverna in these islands.
Corfu Venetian Fortress
After lunch cruise to the most northern Ionian Island of Corfu. Anchor between Kanoni and Mouse Island on the tip of a small peninsula south of Corfu’s town center to visit the much photographed Monastery of Vlachema.
Corfu is the most fought-over, romantic and cosmopolitan of all the Ionian Islands. Homer tells us Odysseus found shelter in Corfu at the end of his wanderings. Corfu Town is presided over by two imposing Venetian fortresses and Renaissance-style city squares. Head ashore to enjoy Corfu Town museums and the sound and light show at the old fort.
In the later afternoon, cruise to the tiny island of Pondikonissi, crowned by a 13th Century church. There are many anchorages to explore around this island and the additional little islets in which to spend the night on anchor.
Cruise in the morning to Ithaka. On route to Ithaka you will see many Caiques, the traditional sailing boat of Greece. Ithaca town is a small, hospitable place full of Homerian history and coves with crystal-clear water. Generally, felt to be the Ithaca island named by Homer as the home of Odysseus, Ithaki is a small quiet traditional island where villagers still gather at the local tavernas and life moves at a slow island pace. Enjoy the beautiful coves for an afternoon of relaxation and water fun. As the sun sets, head into Ithaca Town to explore and perhaps have ouzo and octopus at a local Taverna, a daily event at 5:00pm. This is an excellent island to enjoy a traditional Greek Taverna for dinner as well, as the Taverna is the heart of local Greek Life. Overnight.
Cruise into the Bay of Corinth to the modern port of Itea, which is a 10 mile van ride from ancient Delphi. Have a tour of Delphi with a private guide. Dating from around 500 BC, and in Greek Mythology said to have been founded by Zeus, Delphi is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the south-western side of Mount Parnassus, Delphi was a very important site in Ancient History for here was located the Oracle of Delphi in the Sanctuary of Apollo. Delphi was the site, every four years, of the Pythian Games, one of the precursors to the Olympics. The Oracle of Delphi was consulted by every great Greek Ruler before undertaking any significant action. Felt to have been the result of the Oracle, a local woman of unquestionable birth, breathing a vapor released through a chasm, enhanced by chewing and breathing the smoke of burnt Oleander, the Oracle would go into a trance, or fit and make statements, all of which were translated by Apollo Temple Priests. In 83 BC, an earthquake damaged the chasm, perhaps closing the chasm which stopped the release of vapors from deep inside the earth, and Delphi began to decay with a brief respite in the 2nd century AD under the rule of Hadrian until Christianity dominated. This is an extensive site which includes an Archeological Museum. Guides can be arranged for additional cost if wanted.
For any Historians in the group, also in Delphi, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the monastery of Hosios Loukas, considered one of the most important Monasteries of the Byzantine Period.
After a visit to Delphi, cruise to Zakynthos, the most southern of the Ionian Islands. The Ionian Islands are said to have the finest beaches in the world, and some of the most photographed beaches in the world, and this is certainly exemplified by the natural beauty of the sandy beaches in Zakynthos.
Zakynthos Loggerhead Sea Turtle
On the southwest side of the island is the National Marine Park of Zakynthos, a nesting location for the loggerhead sea turtle, also known in Greece as “Caretta Caretta”. Overnight on anchor and keep your eyes open for the “Caretta Caretta”.
The island of Zakynthos receives a large amount of rainfall each year resulting in rich green vegetation covering the island and a strong agricultural economy producing export goods, which includes olives and olive oils, grapes, citrus fruits, and the Zakynthos small and very sweet seedless currant called the Zante Currant. While exploring the island, enjoy the various scents in the wind and the bounty of local nature served up in the various local tavernas and try the rich sweet desert wine made from the Zante Currant.
Zakynthos just like the other Ionian Islands, spent 6 centuries under Venetian rule. However, Zakynthos also suffered two large earthquakes in recent history, one in 1953 and one in 2006, and unfortunately, much of the architecture left as a mark over the centuries from various civilizations was destroyed. Many of the buildings now have been built in this and the last century, however nothing can obliterate the beauty of the beaches, and waters surrounding Zakynthos.
Along the west coast of Zakynthos are the Blue Caves and rock arches which have been eroded into the cliff sides by winds and seas. Only able to be visited by boat, this is a great area to explore in the ship’s tender threading through the various arches and cave areas over the dark blue waters that are highlighted in various shades of blue and green by the sunlight piercing through the rock formations and dappling along the surface of the water. Spend the morning exploring this area, and have lunch on anchor.
In the afternoon cruise to the northwestern side of the island. One of the most photographed bays and beaches on Zakynthos is Navagio, on the northwestern side of the island, also known as Shipwreck Bay. Anchor in the bay, surrounded by a tableau of white limestone cliffs, and white sand lapped by crystal clear waters reflecting the sun. Enjoy a refreshing swim in the waters wading ashore to spend time on the white sandy beach. Overnight.
Kefalonia Assos Village
Cruise to Kefalonia which is the largest island and is covered with green forests offering beautiful walks and great hiking. Kefalonian wines are unlike those of the rest of Greece due to the introduction of the Robola grape in the 13th century, so be sure to try local wines at the village taverna. The archetypical fishing village of Fiskardo is popular with visiting yachts. Unfortunately, the other towns on Kefalonia were all leveled in the earthquake of 1953 and Fiskardo is the only town left on the island that displays the traditional Greek island fishing village feel. Kefalonia is an island to visit to enjoy the natural green beauty as surrounded by beautiful clear azure waters. There are many coves and anchorages to enjoy around the island, and to perhaps enjoy in total isolation, with no other yacht in sight. Overnight
Maganisi Island Beach
Cruise to Meganisi Island, a little remote island rarely visited by anyone where traditional village island life flourishes. Close by is Skorpios, once the private island of the Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis. Meganisi is a very green island covered with pine an olive trees. According to legend, it is on this island were the cave is located where the cyclopse that was blinded by Ulysses lived. Truer to fact, is that during WWII, the Greek submarine “Papanikolis” was successfully hidden in a big cave on the western shores of the island, which cave can be visited by ship’s tender. Anchor and enjoy lunch.
After lunch, navigate the ancient Levkas Canal and enter the charming harbor of Lefkada, named for the white cliff from which Sappho supposedly flung herself in the 6th century B.C. Shops around the harbor in this island village sell traditional lace. Despite being connected to the mainland of Greece by a causeway/bridge, this very green island remains unspoiled. Anchor off Egremni, a couple of miles south of Athani, a beautiful long, sandy beach and backed by sheer white cliffs. This is a beach more easily accessed by private yacht, as by land there are 355 steps to climb down and then back up cut into the cliff side. The water in this bay is impossibly beautiful reflected against the white cliffs.
The area of Sfakiotes on the island has seven very traditional settlements where within, and along the roads between traditional life continues. Here is an area of age-old olive groves, ancient wells, ruined watermills, crumbling campaniles, and very welcoming locals, usually dressed in traditional garb. Overnight.
Paxos Island Caves
Cruise to the west coast of Paxos Island to anchor and then gunkhole in the ship’s tender through the many caves that have worn over the millenniums in the while chalk cliffsides. Seven spectacular caves on the western coast include Ipapanti, Homer’s cave. This is a great location to explore by ships tender and “gunkhole” in and out of the various sea caves and grottos. And is also a great photo opportunity to take photos of lovely water colors throughout the caves.
After exploring the caves cruise north to Gaios, the capital of Paxos, a picturesque village built around a port which is protected by two small islands Agios Nikolas and Panagia. On the Northern side of the harbor is the village of Lakka and on the east side is the very charming village of Loggos. You will find the pace is still unhurried, very relaxing with genuine friendly Greek hospitality at its best. Paxos Island over all, has a permanent population of approximately 2,300 inhabitants. Overnight.
Antipaxos Chalk Cliffs
Pop over to the beautiful rarely visited little island of Antipaxos. Cruise to Antipaxos Island. Antipaxos Island is said to have two of the finest sand beaches in Greece. One of the best of these beaches is Voutoumi beach. Tucked behind the beach is an excellent taverna serving local dishes and with a good selection of fresh fish. Take a walk back from the beach into the interior among orchards of fruit trees, vineyards and carpets of wildflowers. Further inland are groves of olive and citrus trees. This is a lovely island on which to spend an entire day relaxing on your last day on charter enjoying Voutoumi Beach and also exploring the many caves washed into the limestone chalk cliffs.
Sail back to Saranda, Albania to disembark