Turquoise-lapped beaches, pretty harbour villages and luscious green scenery await those visiting the Ionian Islands by superyacht. But, before reaching the idyllic islands, which lie linked in a chain along the west coast of mainland Greece, most luxury yachts have to traverse the remarkable Corinth Canal, a narrow waterway linking the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea to the Gulf of Corinth.
Cutting through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth, the Corinth Canal not only acts as a link between the two gulfs, but it also separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese peninsular, effectively turning it into an island. And, for those on a private yacht charter, the passage is both practical and a sight not be missed.
Without the canal, ships in the Aegean Sea wanting to cross to the Adriatic or to anchor in Corinth would have to circle the Peloponnese. This would add an extra 185 nautical miles onto their journey.
The majority of Greece yacht charters begin in Athens, so the canal is a lifeline for those travelling from the capital to the Ionian Islands on their charter vacation as it shortens the time of their journey significantly.
Yet, there’s more to the canal than it’s time-saving capabilities. Those travelling the passage are left awe-struck by the near-vertical 90-metre-high limestone walls, which plunge into azure waters, as well as the incredibly narrow width and the knowledge that around 2,000 workers hand dug the channel back in the 1880s.
The canal is a lifeline for those travelling from the capital to the Ionian Islands on their charter vacation as it shortens their journey significantly
At 6.4 kilometres long and only 25 metres wide, the canal is quite tricky to navigate and is open only to vessels with a beam of under 18 metres and a draft of up to 7.3 metres. Superyacht captains are, of course, well-adept at cruising through the waterway.
In the photos above, superyachts including the 85m/279ft charter yacht O’PTASIA from Golden Yachts, the 60m/197ft Benetti charter yacht ‘St David’ and the Amels’ 55m/180ft superyacht ‘Gene Machine’ can all be seen making their way through the narrow passage.
Before the Corinth Canal was constructed, it had been a 2,000-year-old dream. Back in 602 BC, Periander, the tyrant of Corinth, is said to have come up with the idea of digging a canal. But, the project was deemed too complicated and a stone road, which allowed ships to be transferred on wheeled platforms, was built instead.
The venture was taken up again by Macedonian King Dimitrios Poliorkitis in 300BC and later by Julius Caesar, but both aborted their plans due to the belief the Adriatic would flood the Aegean. Emperor Nero, meanwhile, attempted the build with a group of 6,000 slaves, but the work came to a premature end following his death.
Work was done by around 2,000 pairs of hands digging out the rocky channel – an immensely impressive feat of engineering
Much later, in the 1830s, Kapodistrias, the governor of the newly established Greek state, was the first to reconsider the idea, but it was too expensive. Then in 1869, a private Austrian company was authorised to go ahead with the build. Yet, with an insufficient budget, the project was put on hold.
A Greek company with a capital of five million francs restarted the job in 1890 and, this time, the canal was completed and used for the first time on 28 October 1893. Work was done by around 2,000 pairs of hands digging out the rocky channel – an immensely impressive feat of engineering.
Once luxury yacht-goers have undertaken the breath-taking cruise through the canal, they have the alluring cruising grounds of the Ionian Islands to look forward to.
Made up of six core islands strewn along the Grecian Sea, the Ionian archipelago is much greener than its stark Aegean counterparts and serves as a beautiful, more peaceful alternative to popular Greek yachting hotspots such as Mykonos and Santorini.
The islands also feature architecture, cuisine and culture not found anywhere in Greece. This is due to their proximity to Italy, as well as their Venetian, French and British occupiers. But, just as the archipelago differs from the rest of the country, each island boasts its own individual appeal.
The Ionian archipelago is a beautiful, more peaceful alternative to the yachting hotspots of the Aegean
Corfu and Zakynthos (Zante) are the most well-known. Combining overrun resorts and buzzing nightlife - which are best avoided - with quieter pockets of scenic coastline, sun-kissed beaches and picturesque countryside, the islands still have much to offer travellers on the lookout for a secluded escape.
Meanwhile, charming coastal towns, unspoiled coves and on-land hiking opportunities are to be discovered in abundance on tiny Paxi and romantic Ithaki, the island where time slows down, seduces with its ancient ruins, stunning harbour villages and wilderness walks.
Home to some of the finest beaches in the Mediterranean, Lefkadha is also a must-visit on a private yacht charter. Likewise, Kefalonia with its convoluted coastline, which conceals all sorts of captivating coves and beach-lined bays, is always a favourite among charterers.