“Kalimera! Good morning swimmers.” “Today we are…….” spoiled for choice. “Work it, work it, work it!?” If that confuses you, you haven’t met Akis. If you haven’t met Akis you haven’t been on the Cyclades SwimTrek: the original SwimTrek and worthy of all that followed it. You haven’t boarded the Katerina, from the water. In other words, you haven’t lived.
In my mind, there’s a sliding scale of holidays. There’s the visits to friends (lovely but not SwimTrek), there’s the SwimTreks' that are not based in Greece (wonderful, often further flung adventures…but… not Greece) and then, beckoning me, every year, across the waves, to its varied, ancient islands, there’s SwimTrek in Greece. I’m going to come out with it. There’s no contest.
In the September of 2006, on the Cyclades trek, I discovered the extraordinary fact that I could swim, I, with just my arms and legs propelling me, from one island to another. No amount of advance computing of how many laps in a pool would equate to my first experience of the space of open water was relevant. There is an entirely different will, and magic, at work when you are swimming, as we were, towards bright, white churches, sighting points across a mirror of blue Aegean. On another island. I was mesmerised, and energised. And I swam further than I dreamed possible.
On Schinoussa and Koufonisi, I had the feeling I was being shown a Greece hidden from most. These ‘micro’ Cyclades are, respectively, a small farming island, its landscape so still it had the feel of a mirage from the hotel terrace where we gathered for the pre-trip briefing, and an isle whose port, the arrival point for our first swim, is a stretch of soft, uncluttered sand. They are the perfect contrast with each other.
I have crisscrossed Greece, with SwimTrek, ever since. Scrolling down the list of available locations on the website, I am more than catered for. There are now 6 Greek tours in different locations, (6 and a bonus if you include a swim to Greece on the Lycian Way trek). I’ve swum four of them and long to do more.
There’s a particular relaxation to the Greek islands. To me, it makes them the perfect follow up and context for swimming. There’s the slow ‘siga siga’ of the afternoons, after an energetic morning swim. And there’s the food: the ‘dolmades’, the fill of calamari and the feta-laden salads with generous tomatoes. And the kind of sweet baklava I eat with impunity after a 5k swimming day. I cannot get enough, of all of it.
In 2013, I experienced the postcard woodland and green seascape of the Sporades trek. In a more rock based setting, I feared I would miss the sandy, chalky Cyclades. I did not. The swims were that bit longer and my sense of achievement built with every crossing. From our hotel, high up, amongst the tumble of multi-coloured buildings overlooking the bay in Alonissos, I could sense a Greece different in its traditions, and its landscapes, from the blue and white Cyclades, but in every way as beautiful.
In Milos, my trek of July last year is I suspect the best of the Cyclades combined in a single island. The swims were a magical mystery tour of arches, sheer rock face, caves, hidden tunnels and surprise bays. I had not swum through and along natural architecture like it.
Most recently, just last month, I ventured to Crete (for the Crete Escape trek). Having been spoiled by my years of swimming adventures in the smaller isles, I had the brief thought that the larger island might lose some local charm. But SwimTrek had done it again. Paleochora is the small, relaxed place within the larger one. The different format of a swim in the morning and having most of the afternoons free allowed for walks in the stunning, deep gorges and wanderings to the pebbled beaches, which I came to love. In fact it catered perfectly for that blend of energetic and lazy which makes a real holiday.
Greece has always been a love for me. It is myth. It is ancient. But it also allows you simply to be. I can’t stop swimming across and along it. I’ve swum there with twenty year olds and seventy year olds and with fellow swimmers of numerous nationalities and abilities. It never stops being a bond and an adventure.
And if you haven’t heard “work it, work it’” I’m not going to ruin it for you. Swim the Cyclades trip, and find out.