Yoga and sailing holidays in Greece

Greece is witnessing a retro revolution in its tourist industry. It’s something akin to the northwest maistros wind that blows across the Ionian every afternoon in summer; silent and soothing. Sailors have always understood that the old ways are still the best. They know that a night out under a blanket of stars is more enjoyable than bright artificial lights; they understand that tales of Odysseys are far more interesting than anything a glossy all-inclusive resort could ever hope to entice you with.

Just ask Panos Koniavitis, the skipper and owner of our Greek yoga and sailing holiday specialists EYsailing. He’s been aware of the changes for some time now: “Over the last few years, Greece has been heading away from the all-inclusive large hotel strategy and trying to focus more on smaller, locally-owned businesses. This allows travellers to experience the culture and the history of the real Greece, not something that has been made up for the tourists. Our yoga and sailing trips are a lot like this. They focus on islands that have remained untouched by mass tourism. You find out more about nature, history and culture as well as relaxing in a quiet and peaceful environment.”

Sailing specifications

The yacht that you’ll sail on is small (13.4m in length) and quiet, this allows her to anchor in tiny sheltered harbours without making a big fuss on arrival or departure. She has three double cabins, one twin bunk room and two bathrooms, and can comfortably accommodate nine passengers including the skipper – who sleeps in the communal area – and the yoga instructor who has a bed in the bunk room.
Panos has skippered lots of sailing and yoga holidays in Greece. He tells us more about the types of guest that he welcomes aboard: “Our guests tend to be mainly female, I'd say 90 percent, but we do get one or two men coming to sail and do yoga. Everyone is welcome. Our ages are very mixed and range from 25 to 50 or 55 years old. It's a nice spread of ages, everyone always gets on. It's very nice to be a part of. Guests can book their own cabin for a single supplement or sleep in a double cabin with another passenger of the same sex.”

Setting sail for a stretch

Panos’s sailing trips can be adapted to move and flow with the northwest wind rather than going against it. If one side of an island is a little too exposed then he’ll simply change course and head for the other side which is a lot more sheltered. He finds that his guests are looking for a relaxing experience – think yoga every morning followed by breakfast – rather than a wild and wavy ride. As he explains: “We're very flexible as to what happens – it's up to individuals and the group, as a whole. The same goes for the sailing. We can plot a path depending on the weather. If one side of an island is getting windy, we simply sail on the other side, where it's calmer. As the islands we sail to are very sheltered our voyages are often very calm and peaceful. There aren't any big waves. The islands that we visit are usually quite close, we never sail for longer than one or two hours max.”

The yoga is flexible, too. Instructors are well versed in creating classes that encourage people of all levels of experience to stretch and develop at their own pace. There are lots of mats onboard the yacht or you can bring your own. From Vinyasa flow and Ashtanga to Yin sessions with emphasis on breathing, alignment and the progressive strengthening and opening of the body – nothing is pushed, everything is gentle and left to evolve as naturally as possible.

Like the sailing, Panos tells us how the yoga teachers that he works with also tend to go with the flow: “We work with three different yoga instructors, Marisel, Eva and Wen. Each has their own style and way of teaching yoga, practicing different aspects. The instructor onboard (depending on the dates of the retreat) usually brings some students to attend the retreat and they stay on the yacht with the other guests.”

Sessions always take place on land, somewhere relatively flat and shaded, close to the sea. On the harbour walls of a tiny island or alongside a whitewashed church where there's a nice flat surface and lovely sea views. On the island of Kastos, for example, sessions take place outside a local cafe overlooking the ocean. It's a great place to relax and enjoy the view, although the smell of fresh coffee and pastries can sometimes send tummies rumbling.

A typical day afloat

During the 90-minute morning yoga session the skipper, either Panos or his partner Elias, will prepare breakfast for everyone. “Our guests always love our breakfasts on board the yacht, after a morning of yoga, they are the best way to start the day,” says Panos. Fresh food is bought locally from the island stores. These aren't large supermarkets, they're small, local places where the money goes back into the island's economy. They generally have vegetarian options: fresh fruit, Greek yoghurt, freshly baked sesame seed bread, omelettes, homemade jams and locally-sourced honey.
After breakfast it’s off to the next island, which is usually quite close, you’ll never sail for longer than one or two hours max. On the way the yacht will sometimes stop so everyone can have a swim or a snorkel. Sometimes guests can try free diving but there’s no pressure to do more diving than you want to – entirely up to you. Free diving is where you practise slowing down your breath and your heart beat. It actually works very well with yoga practice. It's easy to learn as a beginner but on the yoga and sailing trips that we offer you only try it out – you don't focus on it all the time, but they will cover the basics. Marisel is from Greece and she’s a very good free diver. You'll probably be invited to do more free diving if she’s your yoga instructor for the week.
When you reach the next island you’ll usually have lunch on board the yacht whilst it’s anchored just outside the main harbour walls. This gives you another chance to swim or snorkel whilst the food is being prepared. You’ll then pull into the harbour in the late afternoon where you might have the option to meet a local historian or walking guide who can show you around the island. As Panos says: “Often the history of the locations that we visit is very interesting. Ithaca, for instance, was once the home of Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey. Kastos Island, on the other hand, is uninhabited and we often go walking through the olive groves and along the hillsides without anyone else around.”
Sometimes there’ll be an evening meal in the local taverna on the island or you’ll eat on board the yacht. It's nice to eat out and get to meet the local people living on the island. It benefits the restaurant owners too; they often rely on sailing tourists for their income, especially before it gets busy in the summer season.

The village of Kioni on Ithaca is one place you might dock to spend an evening. When you return to the boat you can look at the stars and the moon through the onboard telescope. There’s no artificial light pollution in these parts, and the skies can often be very clear. It really is amazing to line up the telescope and look up at the craters on the moon and the stars.

Our top Unusual combinations Holiday

Greece cycling holiday, archaeology tour

Greece cycling holiday, archaeology tour

Discover Greek history and the Greek seaside beauty by bike!

From €735 8 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Unusual combinations or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

The best time to sail

The best time to go on a sailing and yoga holiday in Greece is either in May or June. It's not too hot, the sea is usually quite calm and there are far fewer tourists out sailing on day trips. Also, according to Panos, you might get lucky and find a few friends along the way: “Sometimes, perhaps every other week, we have dolphins that come and swim near the yacht. This is not all the time but it has happened for me on several occasions. Underwater, when you're snorkelling, you can also see lots of little fish swimming around. The water is very clear and being on a sailing yacht means that we aren't damaging the environment.”
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Mor Shani] [Sailing spec: _dChris] [A typical day: Phuket@photographer.net ] [best time to go: _dChris]
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