"Do you want to eat lunch on the bridge or aft deck?" inquired Nasos, our chief steward.
"Hmm, well...let's see...How about...No. Um...that's a tough question. What are my choices again?"
Three days into a Greek charter and what should have been an easy decision tormented my cerebrum. (I believe my brain began shutting down the moment we boarded the brand-new Canados 86, Anassa, in the port of Piraeus.) I was stumped. After all, meals were a key component to the fabric of our daily routine-wake, eat, swim, nap, eat, explore, read, eat, sleep.
"I got it! How about we eat lunch on the aft deck and have a glass of wine on the bridge afterwards," I suggested, feeling mighty proud of my take-charge attitude.
"Excellent idea, Mr. George," shot Nasos, beaming a smile crafted by years of providing first-class service on board large yachts. Before I knew it, he evaporated into the galley with a feather-like glide to inform the chef of our decision.
We were only three days into a seven-day charter of Greece's Peloponnese on board Anassa-owned and managed by Atalanta Golden Yachts-and I felt like we had been gone a month. The hypnotic pace of the region forced us to forget the stress of work, a vanishing stock portfolio, and the daily grind. Time began to slow down and it became abundantly clear how much we needed this spell. This is what a vacation on a crewed charter yacht is all about.
The neutral, light interior palette of Anassa is what you would expect of an Italian-built yacht and she provided a near-perfect backdrop for our decompression. I admit that I can be more of a traditionalist-okay, a stick in the mud-when it comes to interiors, but the uncluttered, spa-like atmosphere of the accommodations ensured there was no outside static to interfere with the stunning scenery of this part of the world. The interior adapted to us, rather than the other way around.
The amidships master stateroom took advantage of the yacht's full beam. Six large ports brought in plenty of light. Vistas could be easily viewed while swaddled in the bed's plush comforter, as a morning cup of coffee steamed on the nightstand.
A VIP stateroom was forward and two additional twin staterooms flanked the passageway. Each was en suite and outfitted by Atalanta with top-shelf appointments and fixtures. The salon was arranged for lounging with a good book and the formal dining area provided yet another option.
At 86 feet, Anassa was considered small by Atalanta's Michael Skoulikidis when compared to the company's other offerings in its fleet. "But we changed a few things to make her better suited for charter," he offered. In my opinion they succeeded.
Our brood was made up of Michael, his girlfriend Pat, and photographer Pamela Jones. Michael proved to be a generous host, whose eyes held a mischievous sparkle as he showed us the secrets and customs of his country. He designed our itinerary to immerse us quickly in our surroundings, so we made a beeline to the ancient city Monemvasia, on the southeastern end of the Peloponnese.
"This is a great weekend place," said Michael. "It's a wonderful spot to come in August when there is a full moon." Since this was my initiation to Greece beyond Athens, it was wonderful to me during a quarter moon in September! During the Byzantine era, Monemvasia, which translates into "sole entrance," was a key naval fortification- especially after Crete fell to Arab control in 961 A.D. The upper portion of the settlement was first inhabited in approximately 395 A.D.
This was not my vision of Greece. Mine was full of whitewashed buildings and cascading walkways. This ancient city built into rock blew all of my pre-conceived notions back into the Stone Age. The village beckons you to slow down a notch, cast aside what you are doing, and simply sit down at a sidewalk café with a glass of wine to take in the scenes of village life. Cars are not permitted in the upper part of town, beyond the fortified entrance. At night, sounds of honking horns and speeding cars were replaced by the melody of clinking glasses from a nearby café, the monotone of Leonard Cohen's "In My Secret Life" flowing from the CD player of a nearby tavern, and the backdrop of couples speaking in whispered tones. It was while sitting at a sidewalk café that I decided that I want to come back in my next life as a village cat in Monemvasia.
"This is nice. No?" asked Michael as we walked back to the boat for dinner. Yes, this was very nice indeed.
One of the delights of cruising the Peloponnese is the condensed geography of the cruising grounds. There is a rich variety of destinations-from secluded coves to sleepy villages, to bustling towns with nightlife pouring into the streets-all within an easy day trip of each other.
From Monemvasia we cruised north to Porto Cella. The deep blue water bordered by lush forests provided a postcard-perfect backdrop for an anchored lunch. Our captain chose Zogiorgia Bay for an ouzo before a course of cheeses, a fresh Greek salad, and sardines.
We skipped our afternoon nap on this day to explore Spetses, where we moored for the evening. Our arrival was after the high season of July and August. Michael and Pat explained that the vibe is much different in the height of summer. I prefer cruising away from the crowds anyway, so the fact that the island had returned to a quiet fishing village was fine with me.
Close to Athens, Spetses is a popular second-home destination for well-heeled Athenians, who have restored many of the classically designed mansions lining the island. The architecture is more in line with what I originally expected Greece to be, with stark white stucco buildings flanking narrow streets. Tavernas and shops dot the historic port of Dapia where we tied stern-to.
Beachcombers will not be disappointed with Spetses. The contrasting turquoise water, white beaches, and tall cypress trees are a nice change to the beaches I frequent on the East Coast. The beach of Ayii Anargyri is one of the largest on the island and hosts a variety of restaurants and taverns.
The next day we made a short hop over to Hydra, with a swimming stop along the way. "What's great about this water is you don't have to worry about anything nibbling on you," said Michael. I hadn't thought about it until then, but I could see his point. The sea in September was like bath water and it was easy to stay in too long.
We arrived in Hydra in the afternoon, maneuvering through the herd of day-trippers from Athens. About 1 million tourists a year visit the island, with an accelerated rate at the height of the summer. It was easy to forget that the bustle of Athens was just a few hours away.
There are no cars allowed on Hydra: Mules still provide the main source of transport on the island. The town envelops the harbor, which contained a variety of large motoryachts, world cruisers, and small fishing craft. The number of shops and galleries will keep even the most dedicated of shoppers smiling ear-to-ear. And history buffs will enjoy the four museums on the island, especially the remains of a shipwreck dating to 2,500 B.C.
That night we decided to take advantage of Hydra's restaurant scene. Michael and Pat brought us to Omilos on the outskirts of town. I've been fortunate to travel all over the world, but I've never experienced a view like the one we had from this quaint restaurant. Our table jutted out onto a narrow suspended rock ledge that was no wider than the bench and table, with crashing waves on both sides. The sea was lit from underwater lights beneath the rocks. Awesome! The local cuisine, wine, and company were excellent, but the chef could have served burnt toast and this night would still have been a memorable event.
We finished off our last day in Poros.Taking a morning walk, I realized that Poros, like the other towns we visited along the Peloponnese, was very different from the previous destinations. In fact, each stop presented us with its own rich history, unique sights, and varied geography.
I slowly worked my way back into the real world, but much more relaxed, and fully recovered. Now my biggest source of stress is figuring out how to get back to Greece this summer.
Atalanta Golden Yachts, +30 210 991 0722; www.atalantagoldenyachts.com. Price: June 15-September 15, 45,000 euros per week, MYBA terms. September 16-June 14, 38,000 euros per week, MYBA terms. All charter inquiries are welcome.