Jutting out of the eastern shoreline of central Greece and curving into the Aegean Sea, like a giant fishhook, is the Pelion Peninsula. On the tip of this hook, like bait glistening in the sun, is the fishing village of Agia Kiriaki, hoping to catch passersby. In their rush to get to the Sporades, most boats simply sail past this tempting stopover, but this is the destination we set sail for from the port of Volos.
Our crew is a mix-match of people brought together by mutual friends. Captain Kostas, a salty sea dog and two other experienced, local crew who have organised a yacht charter from Volos. The rest of us are content to enjoy the ride and be somewhat-competent crew.
As we motor out passed the Volos marina, the mythical land of the centaurs rises behind us and one cannot sail from Volos without thinking of the ancient mariner Jason, who left from Iolkos on his quest to find the golden fleece. Our quest is different, we are seeking golden shores and authenticity and hope to find both on our trip to Agia Kiriaki.
A Leisurely Sail down the Pelion Peninsula
The lake-like Pagasitikos gulf on the inner side of the hook, is protected from the strong 'meltemi' winds of the Greek summer and offers lovely coves and anchorages to stop for a dip or for the night. This lesser known Greece has little boat traffic, even in July and August, when the famous islands are packed with holiday makers. One could easily spend a week or more sailing in Pagasitikos, a bay 13 nautical miles across and 15 long.
Sailing straight across the bay is an option and, if time is short, can be done on a motor in about 3 hours. We, however, have the time and inclination to raise the sails and explore the bay and so we follow the coast, our horizon filled with the thickly forested mountains of Pelion, and marvel at the unique combination of landscape and seascape. We pass Kala Nera, Afissos , Lefkokastros, Chorto, touristy Melina, the seagull shaped Glaronisi Island; stopping as the mood takes us and anchoring alone in silent bays, lazily meandering our way down the peninsula over a few days.
Eventually we reach Trikeri Island, or Old Trikeri as the locals call it, our last stop before Agia Kiriaki itself. Way off the beaten track, this tiny island has no roads and remains as it was 100 years ago. Deserted coves abound and the 'port' has a taverna and a small supermarket. The island is dominated by the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, an easy walk from the quay. It has a small 18th-century church with a courtyard, and a lush garden of orange trees and flowers.
Having whiled the day away on the island, shaking off our sea-legs, we set off for our final destination. Rounding the bottom of the hook, leaving the safety of the bay, we pass the lighthouse and raise the sails windward. Our destination is in sight now, twinkling in the sun. We come upon the shipyard, one of the last traditional drydocks in Greece. Here, the traditional wooden caiques rest with their bellies bared for yearly maintenance. The family who owns it are specialists in the maintenance and repair of wooden boats and we can hear them calling to one another as they pull a big fishing boat out of the sea. Dotted amongst the fishing boats, the masts of a few sailing boats reach into the sky, reminding us that this scene is not, in fact, from another era.
The Local Scene and Cuisine
Our search for authenticity happily comes to an end as we dock in front of the big fish tavern, throwing our ropes out to the owner, Manoli, who has come to welcome us. Behind him dangle octopuses, drying in the sun, the first stage on the way to the plate. This small village home to only 20 permanent residents is a real fishing village. Fifteen or so professional fishing boats ply their trade in the surrounding waters and many smaller hobbyists can be seen bobbing on the sea at dusk in search of calamari. Many of the men of the village were in the merchant navy and are well-traveled and ready to regale you with stories of their adventures. Others were sponge divers and worked on the big sponge boats, risking their lives to dive for the valuable sponges. The old women have their own stories to tell of incarceration on Trikeri Island during the Greek Civil War. One can get a glimpse of this history at the small museum.
Relaxing under the trees on the waters edge with coffee and cheese-pie, still swaying with the movement of our boat we quietly observe this charming place. The weather beaten faces of the fisherman calmly stare at the newcomers from under their black hats and characters pop out as if from a book. Many of the people here are not involved in tourism and go about their daily lives largely unfazed by the odd boat and the bi-monthly flotilla. Later on we have migrated to Mouragio taverna for a taste of Greek 'tsipouro' served with plenty of ice and seafood 'meze'. A posse of bikers pass by having traveled the winding road of the Peninsula, enjoying the spectacular views of Pagasitikos Bay. Later still we see the SCUBA divers in full equipment walking over to dive 'Kali Tichi' a shipwreck right in the harbour.
A Fond Farewell
Agia Kiriaki is the gateway to the Sporades Islands. From here, one can cross the channel to Skiathos and onward to Skopelos, Alonissos and the outer Sporades. For us , it's goodbye to our new-found friends and a day's sail back to Volos. Rounding the fish hook, we look back, knowing that we will return someday...