There’s an indefinable scent that, in an instant, brings the Greek islands vividly to mind. A mixture, perhaps, of thyme-covered slopes cooling overnight and the more prosaic smells of the port, of fish and octopus, overlaid with the diesel exhaust of the ferry that’s carrying you there. A moment at night when you can sense approaching land but not yet see it, just moonlight reflecting off the black Aegean and sparkling in the churning wake.
Travelling between the islands by boat, it feels like little has changed in hundreds of years. Dolphins really do still leap around the prow, days are stiflingly hot, nights starlit and glassy. The ferries on the Aegean may be modern but the old adventure stubbornly refuses to die.
There are well over a thousand Greek islands, perhaps a tenth of them inhabited. Almost all of those have some kind of ferry connection, and no two are the same. From party islands like Íos or Mýkonos to the sober, monastic atmosphere of Pátmos, from tiny rocks to the vastness of Crete, there’s an island for every mood. And there’s a visceral thrill in travelling by sea that no plane or coach or car can ever match. Sleeping on deck under the stars; arriving in a rock-girt island port at dawn; chaos as cars and trucks and human cargo spill off the ship; black-clad old ladies competing to extol the virtues of their rooms. Clichéd images perhaps, but clichés for a reason – this is still one of the essentials of world travel, uniquely Greek, hopelessly romantic.
The starting point for almost all Greek island travels is Athens’ port at Pireás. Timetables change constantly and are subject to the weather. www.gtp.gr is a good starting point, but the only truly accurate information is at the port, on the day: simply turn up and buy a ticket.