One couple step back in time with a trip to Northeast Greece where they discover a quiet spot in the often busy Mediterranean

The islands in northeast Greece immediately have a different feel from the west and south. Not only do the flotillas fade away but the western tourists are replaced by eastern Europeans, for whom this area of Greece is just a short drive away.

There are fewer islands here, though Thassos, right in the middle, and Samothraki, close to Turkey, are gems. The three indented fingers of Halkidiki provide much to explore and a few beautiful small islands. The winds during our two month trip (June and July) were usually a gentle Force 1-3 coming from a different direction almost every day though in the far northeast, the Meltemi can prevent upwind progress.

We waited a week at Samothraki hoping to sail to Alexandroupolis at the corner of Greece but eventually gave up and sailed to Thassos. Whilst marinas are (thankfully) uncommon we found many town and village harbours with plenty of space and low costs. Of our 28 stops, 12 were anchorages, 10 alongside in harbours and six stern-to, marina-style moorings. Our lazy sailing, typically three days per week, averaged 20 miles per leg, giving plenty of time for evening swims and exploring. The longest trip, by necessity, was 57 miles round the Mount Athos peninsula (Akti, the eastern finger).

This famously autonomous region is populated by monks and only pre-invited male guests may set foot ashore: yachts with female crew are meant to keep at least one mile from the shore. The 20-plus historic monasteries have fantastic sites over cliff edges but with each being organised by individual orthodox countries there seems to be a competitive frenzy of opulence. Not surprisingly the Russian monastery, regularly visited by Putin, looks like a royal palace.

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We journeyed from east (Lesvos) to west (Thessaloniki). The long crossing to Limnos takes you across the shipping lanes from the Dardanelles. The main town, Mirina, has a good town quay, a large anchoring area and a splendid beach.

We motored the next day to anchor in Hephaestus Bay on the north of Limnos and watched the reflections of stars in the still sea. We agree that Limnos is one of the most beautiful and untouched Greek islands.

Kamariotissa, the harbour village for Samothraki, is secure and welcoming. Its hill town (Chora) is 5km away and 300 metres up. We bicycled along the coast to the Sanctuary of the Gods, a lush site filled with goats as well as temple ruins – if it was good enough for Herodotus, Plato and Aristophanes then it was good enough for us too. This is where the famous winged statue of Nike was discovered.

Storm warning

Our next stop, Thassos, is renowned for its beauty: the pine groves and streams, even in summer, are so different from most semi-barren Greek islands. Sailing round to the southeast corner is Aliki, a beautiful cove that is protected by a long peninsula famous for its ancient marble quarry.

Chris seeks out shade in the blistering Greek sunshine

We then sailed to Skala Marion, which quickly became our favourite: a small quayside town with great beaches to the north and south. There’s space for about three boats alongside and we were mostly alone for our stay. The bay is open to the west but we had no worries till 0100 on the last day when locals twice came to warn us that a distant and unheard thunderstorm would soon bring 1.5m waves straight into the quayside! ‘Go, go, go!’ said the restaurant owner, urging us to forget the bill, and soon we found ourselves in pitch black off a rocky coastline trying to work out where to go.

Steering by GPS alone, we motored round three invisible headlands to Limenaria fishing harbour where distant lights made the harbour wall apparent, 20m straight in front of us. Waking to the sound of cranes, we found out in the morning that the harbour wall was being extended – a lucky escape.

Thassos town, with ferries to the mainland every hour, made a good place to be joined by my eldest daughter and her friend. After exploring the ruins of the ancient town we made a happy second circumnavigation, repaid the kind restaurant at Marion, and crossed to the mainland at the large enclosed bay at Elevtheron. It was then just a 7-mile trip to the city of Kavala. We spent a week there exploring and taking a bus to visit the ancient city of Philippi, where Brutus was finally defeated by Mark Antony.

Dolphins joined the couple during their trip to the uninhabited island of Diaporos

No women allowed

En route to the fingers of Halkidiki, we aimed for a good-looking harbour at Paralia with protection from the predicted Force 4 night wind. Close up we found shallow water but steadfastly anchored in the middle with just 40cm under the keel, which was tight with 0.5m waves outside.

Our next anchorage, Ormos Plati, is at the start of the Mount Athos peninsular and its territory is forbidden to females, although we did swim to a beautiful shell bay there. We were up-anchor at 0615 the next morning for the long trip round the peninsula.

The marble peninsula of Aliki, with its ancient ruins and secluded bays

On the eastern side the monasteries are remote and majestic in their wooded valleys. All was reversed on the western side: tourist boat trips galore ogling the opulent and over-the-top monasteries. We rested a day at the pretty wooded island of Ammoulliani at the head of Sithonia Gulf before the crossing to Diaporos island on the other side of the gulf.

The eastern side of Sinthonia is influenced by the large and expensive Porto Carras marina. Near the tip of Sinthonia we anchored in the beautiful natural harbour of Porto Koufos, which was also rather crowded. Rather than sailing all the way round Kassandra we decided to go for the Portas Canal. Not only do the 2.5m depths suffer from silting, but a bridge gives a clearance of 16m, a mere 60cm above our masthead.

We were now in the Thermaikos Gulf and heading up to Thessaloniki. We very much enjoyed visiting historic and culinary hotspots in Thessaloniki – it was the perfect way to end our sailing season.

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