Travel: Eco-Hopping

A modern-day Greek odyssey that cruises the Aegen Sea by (mostly) wind-powered means, taps unspoiled destinations, and zeroes in on sustainable island life

By Jennifer van der Kwast

Photo by Tracy Toscano

Three hours after we’ve left Athens, I’m sitting at the back of the boat with a glass of Sigalas, an organic white wine from Santorini. Behind us, the mountains of mainland Greece wear the gossamer negligee of dusk. When night falls, the horizon ahead glimmers like a strand of Christmas lights, our first glimpse of the islands that will be the site of our eco-adventure.

It’s after midnight when we pull into Kythnos, the only island in the Cyclades to get its electricity entirely from either wind or solar parks. The harbor of Loutra in Kythnos has the ghostly glow of an empty department store parking lot. Marina bars blare music, but there are few eager revelers.

After we secure our boat at the end of the pier, Yianni, the fresh-faced, exuberant owner of Sofrano Taverna, welcomes us with kisses and joins us at our table for dinner. This type of friendliness, which can border on excessive, is distinctly Greek. But it also has something to do with the fact that Yianni has known our skipper, Vaggelis (aka Vagos or Angelo), for more than 16 years. Vaggelis, who is Greek by way of Australia, loves boats and cigarettes, but hates footwear. He sits at our table barefoot.

We let Yianni and Vaggelis sort out the details of our meal. In their hands, we kick off with rakomelo, a grappa liqueur spiced with clove and honey that Yianni lights on fire. After that, a symphony of homemade dishes arrive: eggplant with a creamy yogurt, classic Cycladic tomato fritters, grilled octopus, and, the big hit, goat cheese fried in ouzo. Yianni tells us that all but one grown ingredient on our menu is organic and from Kythnos. The only exception is the eggplant, which came from Syros, 22 miles away. Probably none of the ingredients consumed on the entire trip will have traveled more than 50 miles.

Two hours and several dishes later, we stroll around the marina to a hushed, honeysuckle-lined road that brings us to the Xenia Hotel. The hotel is home to the most famous attraction on Kythnos—the thermal spa, where people come to soak away aches and pains in the curative, iron-rich hot springs. It’s 3 AM and the spa is closed, but Vaggelis encourages us to take off our shoes and dip our toes into the deliciously warm runoff on the side of the road. The spring water drains to the edge of Schinari Beach, where a natural hot tub has
been erected with a handful of well-placed rocks. Here, we submerge our legs knee-deep and imagine the little waves are whirlpool bubbles in a private Jacuzzi.

Our next stop is Serifos, where a proposal to erect a massive 87-turbine wind farm is being opposed by locals who fear it will tarnish the simple, unobstructed island views tourists want. Serifos is one of the few islands in the Cyclades where the dazzling white crown of the hilltop hora, the medieval city that features prominently on many of the Greek isles, is visible from the main port. A 30-minute hike up a wildflower-strewn footpath gives way to the winding, white steps of the village. At the very top of the hora there is a square of cafes, clustered in front of a striking, blue-domed church. As tempting as it might be to sit down and order a freddo, the Greek frappucino, I already feel a tug for the sea.

Back at the dock, an easy sailors’ camaraderie has formed. Conversation floats between boats. Serifos has revealed another secret of the sea: While at any whim we can hoist the sails and trans­form our boat into an eco mode of transport, we can just as easily turn it into a social hub of eating, drinking, and entertainment, where the stars are mini disco balls and the beating of the waves against the boat is our soundtrack. Who needs those party islands like Mykonos and Ios, anyway?

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Issue 25

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