Sailing the Aegean between the Isles of Greece may be a dream, but the ferry journey from Piraeus to Santorini is a pleasant reality. Several shipping lines operate but the daily, early ferry via Syros, Paros, Naxos and Ios allows a day of sea travel with glimpses of interesting islands.
The ship leaves the chaotic sprawl of Piraeus, heading south east, and sails round either the rocky north or the greener south of Syros, into the handsome port of Ermoupoli. This, the largest town in the Cyclades, was, in the 19th century, Athens main port. Its opera house is based on La Scala! On two hills behind the harbour are a medieval quarter and a fine domed church.
The ferry runs south to Paras whose single central peak is ringed by fishing villages, beaches and little bays. The busy harbour at Parikia is the hub of inter-island transport, but behind it, ranks of tightly packed square white houses rise gently to an old kastro. Just an hour west, Naxos is big, beautiful and, unusually, very fertile.
Fishing boats and restaurants crowd the harbour and narrow, ancient alleyways climb through stone archways to the fine mansions of the fortified Venetian town. Midway between Naxos and Santorini, the little 'party island', los, has one of the prettiest harbours in the Aegean: linked by a stepped path to the port at Yialos, hilltop Rora has snovvy houses, blue domed churches and a windmill, all flanked by palm trees.
Santorini (Thira) was part of the Minoan civilization till (probably around 1640 BC) a cataclysmic eruption when its high centre sank to form a deep lagoon around which the island - actually the partial rim of the crater - curves. Above black sand beaches and tiny fishing villages tower darkly striated pumice cliffs; hundreds of feet up, the brilliantly white settlements of la and the capital, Fira, cling to the caldera ring.
WHEN TO GO
May, June, September and October
TIME IT TAKES
Ten to twelve hours
The traveller entering Naxos harbour has been greeted for 2,500 years by the colossal marble portal of na unfinished temple to Apollo.
While the ferry is moving slowly, dolphins may swim alongside and play for a while.
Indigo sea, sunshine, the misty outlines of the clustered Cyclades, the joy of 'island hopping' for a day.
The extraordinary thrill of entering the great bay of Santorini.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Buy ferry tickets on the day - weather can cause disruption to schedules.
The last major earthquake on Santorini was in 1956.