Ikaria: the island of longevity

We set off sails from Samos on a Monday early morning. We checked 2 or 3 different weather forecasts before departing towards Ikaria as the island is famous for its very strong winds.


Ikaria reaches an altitude of more than 900 metres: winds slide off the mountain slopes acquiring speed, and gusts of 30 plus knots are not uncommon on both sides of the island when the wind blows. Sailors are advised to keep 5 miles off the coast to avoid bad surprises.


The island derives its name from Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the sun: his wings made of wax started to melt and he fell in the sea, in the same spot where the island is – so the legend says.

Together with a few other blue zones (areas of the world where people live on average a decade longer than those in America or Europe), Ikaria has built a reputation for its longevity: around one in three Ikarians lives into their 90s.

Their secret? Couple of glasses of wine every day, little meat and fried food, sage or mint tea, bust most importantly a very active sexual life…even through their late eighties!


The sailing was good as the weather was quite clement with us. We only faced 30 knots in the channel between Samos and Fourni, as expected, and then sailed with 25 knots all the way to the port. The wind direction kept changing quite often so we kept an extra eye open.

We arrived at the port of Evdilos, in the northern part of the island, around lunchtime and managed to moore stern to. The port is quite small and the constant swell makes the stay rather uncomfortable. We discovered only afterwards that the port on the Southern side is better protected and would have probably been a more suitable option.


Ikaria is an unspoiled, wild island. Moving around the 255,000 square metres takes time as roads are quite narrow and winding. They go up and down the mountains around the island’s perimeter and it is common to find pebbles and gravel along the road as the rocky mountains are sanded by water streams.


The island is lusciously green in the north where in springtime it’s a great feast of colours and perfumes: the yellow brooms, the dark green maritime pines, the little lilac flowers, the delicate daisy flower all moving rhythmically, gently caressed by the sea breeze.

Our first stop with the car was Nas, in the North, where there is a very spectacular, picturesque scenery: the fresh water stream coming down the mountains joins the open sea. They face each other fearlessly mirroring their contrasting natures: the first placid and contained, the second wild and limitless. In between, witnessing this constant shift of personality only a little strip of sandy beach.


Stone steps take you down to the beach and back up to the tavernas that populate the village. Sitting on the balcony of one of the few restaurants already open in early May, Artemis, we admired the view, breathed in the salty air and enjoyed fresh fish cooked in the oven (both skala and palamito were absolutely delicious!) and salad made with greens from the garden, all accompanied by a perfumed, delicate white wine from Ikaria.

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Reds and whites are both produced on the island and winemakers are getting more and more skilled, obtaining interesting results.


Wether it’s a blend of Assyrtiko, Fokiano, Koudouro and Reteno or white Begleri, Ikarian wines are full of flavour.

20170503_125604The southern part of the island reserves even more surprises. Arid, rocky, dominated by the majestic mountains, with its natural hot springs in Lefkada, several spas in Therma and the beautiful beach of Seychelles. Loads to discover!

Watch our video on Ikaria!

Sailing from Leros to Sicily: Chapter 3

Zakynthos and the shipwreck bay

We continued sailing towards our destination, now stopping more often than before and taking it easy as we came to the conclusion – with great disappointment on my side, initially- that we won’t make it to Sicily in time for me to see my family reunited and my friends there on holiday.


We had a few delays along the way: we were in Milos for 4 days as the wind was too strong and the sea quite rough, making it very difficult for us to cross to the southern part of the Peloponnesos. We also stopped a few days in Koroni to rest as we were quite tired after sailing for many days, stopping only at night to sleep.

Sailing teaches you a big lesson: you and your plans mean nothing when at sea.

You are just a minuscule pawn on a big chess board: you have no control on your moves. No point in being stubborn and trying to impose your will: no matter what, you’ll have no chance to change the course of the game.

All you can do is second the elements.


Sometimes I look at sailing as a metaphor of life: when the wind is constantly on your nose and you struggle to make any progress then it’s probably time to stop and wait for more favourable conditions before setting sails again. Like in life, sometimes it’s wiser to step aside and gain a new perspective on things before making the next move.

Having come to terms with the new circumstances all was left to do was take a deep breath and enjoy the journey! Tough thing to do when sailing in the beautiful Greek waters with thousands of wonderful islands to visit, right?

navagio bay

Next stop along the way was Zakynthos. The name sounded very familiar to me and I then remembered why! Ugo Foscolo, a famous Italian poet, dedicated a poem to the island where he was born.

In the poem, Foscolo laments the fact that he will never be able to go back to his beloved homeland with its luxuriously green slopes and its turquoise waters which gave birth to the goddess Venus.

Having been exiled from the island, he will never be able to be buried on its fertile soil washed by crystalline waters.

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He compares himself to Ulysses as they share a similar fate. Ulysses, though, did manage to go back to his Ithaca eventually. The poet instead will never see this dream come true.

Gc and I started reciting the poem while sailing, feeling very sympathetic towards the unlucky poet.

High on poetry and sea breeze, we kept on going until we saw an unusual movement of boats, yachts and super yachts – all concentrated in a small patch of sea.


What was going on there? People call people.. and our curious souls couldn’t resist the temptation. We joined the crowd.

And what a beautiful spectacle started to take shape in front of our eyes! Clear water, white sandy beaches, and a bay enclosed within steep reefs, stretching high in the sky.  What a divine scene! The colours so vivid and intense, the water so crystalline it almost looks transparent, the sky so blue. A brown carcass resting on the beach.

What’s that? I grab the binoculars to ascertain the nature of that ‘thing’…we are still too far to be able to distinguish the contours.

I look intently….Wow! Hundreds of people are on the beach surrounding the ‘thing’. A shipwreck – that’s what it is!

DSC_3028 What’s this massive wreck doing there? I started wondering. Well, story goes that in the October of 1980 the ship was carrying cigarettes illegally, smuggled from Turkey and destined for the Sicilian black market controlled by mafia. The Greek coast guard had tailed it for a while and grown suspicious: they wanted to search the goods.

It was a stormy night and the waves were getting higher and higher. The ship would go up and then slide down the wave, in an rhythmic way, every time reaching new heights. The crew grew restless as they became aware of the coast guard chasing them.

The captain decided to hide in the bay: it was the only way to shake them off their tail.  The high waves though pushed the boat too far inside the bay and it got stuck on a shoal. The crew somehow managed to escape.

For months after the incident, locals would help themselves with cigarettes and whisky from the new ‘free market’: the Panagiotis shipwreck!

Some believe the Greek Ministry of Tourism to be behind all this. A smart way to attract more tourists!DSC_3021

We loved the place and the touch of mystery around the wreck, but decided to wait until all the day-trippers had left before approaching land! That way we could enjoy the beach and the wreck by ourselves.

We anchored in the bay and had a light lunch with a mixed salad.

It was roughly 6pm and the beach was almost empty. I prepared our pic- nic bag with crisps, G&T and some olives. We boarded our dingy and made our way to the beach. Best place for our aperitif!

DSC_3096On the beach, we bumped into some very nice people who happened to be the owners of one of the super yachts anchored in the bay. They were so nice as to invite us for a drink on their boat that night.

The drink turned into a dinner and we had a great time aboard their luxurious boat. Great hosts and great food cooked by their chef.

The night was a bit rocky as there is a big swell in the bay. It is not advisable to anchor in the bay unless the weather is very calm and, even so, expect some swell if you decide to spend the night there.

What a great stay in this marvellous bay!DSC_3040

Sailing from Leros to Sicily: Chapter 2

KORONI and the turtles

We stopped in KORONI on our way to Sicily from Leros. We set off from Plitra in the morning and got to KORONI after several hours of sailing. The town looks very cute once you get close enough: blurred shapes start turning into nicely built houses and villas, a medieval castle on the left hand side dominates the bay and a cute cluster of houses and flats climb up the hill.



The road facing the sea is dotted with bars, restaurants, ice cream parlours and ‘ouzerie’,one after the other. Walking along it you end up to the castle, a magnificent building that dominates the surrounding sea.


20170815_202701We were starving after a day out sailing and went to a nice restaurant and had a fish platter for 2 and a small caraffe of ouzo. The food was just ok, not the best we had in Greece but our tummies were now full and we started wandering around the streets to get to know the place a bit better.


Our attention was caught by a group of people standing by a kiosk. They wore a blue t-shirt with ‘ask me about sea turtles’ on it. Who can resist such an invitation?

We went there and enquired about sea turtles! It was only the day before that I had seen a big turtle swimming by our boat in Plitra so I was more than happy to find out more about these interesting creatures.

The volunteers told us that Zangla beach in KORONI is one of the areas where female turtles lay their eggs. Exactly the same place where they hatched at least 20 years earlier- the wonders of nature and ‘no GPS’!


Sea turtles keep coming back every 3 years during the breeding period (May to October). They live up to 80 years and start laying eggs in their 20ies- just like humans!

The little turtles hatch at night and reach the sea following the reflection of the moon on the water. The short journey from the nest to the sea is very important for them as it strengthens their flippers and their lungs before their first dip.


The volunteers also told us that they go for a long walk on the beach every morning at 6.15 to check the nests and help baby turtles who might have lost their way to the sea. People are encouraged to join them.

We really liked the idea! At 5.45 am the day after I woke up Gc with some nice espresso still hot from the Moka and with a torch in one hand and the pillow marks still on our faces, we started speeding towards Zangla beach with our dingy.

We saw a group of people moving in the dark and waved at them. It was the volunteers together with some other tourists who had decided to join them for the day.

We started walking towards the first nest -there were 46 all together on Zangla beach- which had been marked with some bamboo canes and protected with a mesh to prevent foxes from digging them out and eating them.

During our long walk we saw signs of flippers along the path marked by the volunteers, which meant that some baby turtles had made it to the sea safely the night before. We also noticed some foxes footprints and broken shells: a clear sign that some little turtles never made it…


We were told that couple of days before few baby turtles had been found in the garden of a beach house. The outdoor light had been left on at night and the turtles had mistaken it for the reflection of the moon on the sea and gone the wrong way. Those didn’t make it either….

After 2 hours of walking, we didn’t see any baby turtles that morning, but we learned a lot about the Caretta Caretta turtle and how important it is to respect their environment and to protect them. The mother will go to the beach to lay the eggs, if she encounters obstacles along the way she will try 3 times. After the third attempt though she will give up and release all the eggs at sea. The baby turtles have no chance to survive if that happens.