Sunday, 23 August 2015

Rebecca Perrot's Swim Trek through the Greek Islands

When an old swimming friend of mine, Melanie Jones, mentioned she was planning a mid-winter holiday in the Greek Islands for June this year, I’ll admit I was more than a little bit jealous.

Sightseeing, shopping, eating and sun!
When she also mentioned she had booked a week-long trip with SwimTrek, the world’s leading swimming holiday operator, I found myself thinking “what better way to celebrate my birthday” (which just happens to be in June), and I decided to join her!

As Melanie was already holidaying in Europe, we met up in Athens in early June. We then spent the next 10 days, before the swim holiday began, visiting three of the bigger islands in the Cyclades: Santorini, Paros and Naxos.

Mel had not done much swimming this year so we made sure we got a decent sea swim in each day, and spent the rest of our time sightseeing, shopping, lying in the sun and eating! We were there before the peak of the summer season, so there weren’t too many other tourists around, nor was there much evidence of the impending economic crisis!                                            

Walking from the hotel down to the port at Schinoussa
The swimming holiday we did was based amongst the Little Cyclades islands and began in Schinoussa, which was a two hour ferry trip away from Naxos. The first evening was a ‘meet and greet’ session and safety briefing with our swim guides and fellow swim ‘trekkers’. Following the formalities, we all enjoyed a group dinner at a local restaurant where we got to sample lots of traditional Greek dishes, all of which were made using local produce.


Video session at the hotel pool
The next day started with a 400-500 metre swim at Tsigouri Beach, which was just a few hundred metres from our hotel. This was so our lovely and very experienced Irish swim guide, Trish, could divide us into smaller groups of similar speed. This was followed by a 45 minute session covering basic open water swimming technique and freestyle drills. Initially, Mel and I were a little surprised by this, but we later found out that the majority of people that go on swim safari-type holidays are not from a competitive, or even masters, swimming background, and include a number that have never done any open water swimming before. After this initial session it was back to the hotel so that we could all be videoed in the pool there and, later that evening, we all watched our videos and were given feedback on things we could work on in our stroke.

For the remainder of the week our group was based on a 40 foot yacht, Katerina, skippered by Aki, a local, who has been working for SwimTrek since its inception in 2003.  We had our first proper swim that afternoon – about 2.5km following the coast of the island of Iraklia and finishing in the little port there.
Katerina and Aki, our local pilot for the week
The following days followed a similar pattern: we would have breakfast at the hotel each day then we would be transferred to the Katerina by IRB and taken, by sail if the weather cooperated, to the starting point for our first swim of the day. The location of each day’s swims was dependant on weather and sea conditions. We usually had a longer swim in the morning, probably 60-90 minutes, with a couple of these being actual crossings from one island to another. This would be followed by 2-3 hours of eating (morning tea), sunbathing, reading, chatting and eating again (lunch this time), either on the boat or at a nearby beach.
Swimming with SwimTrek

In the afternoon there would be another shorter swim, probably 45-50 minutes long. This would often be a coastal swim where we would just hug the coastline, swimming only a couple metres from shore and swimming into every little bay or cave along the way. All of our swims were done in the groups we had been assigned on that first day, and we were always accompanied by an IRB and a guide.

Once we were back on shore, the group would usually head to one of the local beach cafes for a beer. We were then free to do whatever we wanted for the remainder of the day though as our group all got on very well, we tended to get together for dinner. Interestingly our group was mainly women and the majority were around the same age as us, (50-54 years!), though we were told by Trish that they usually get a wider range of ages and have had teenagers through to people in their 60s. The majority of our group were from the UK but we also had an Irish woman, two Germans, a resident of Spain and, of course, the two of us Kiwis.

Midway through the week we transferred to the island of Koufinissi which, while still very much an unspoilt island, had a town that was bigger and quite a lot busier than the one on Schinoussa – though we’re still only talking about populations in the low hundreds (which no doubt grows over summer with all the holidaymakers).

The Greek islands are a lovely place to go for a holiday – we found everyone incredibly helpful and friendly, and the way of life is relaxing, with long siestas in the afternoon with everything staying open till late.

I would definitely recommend SwimTrek. The trip was well organised, safety was always a priority, and we were looked after well. While it may not suit everyone given how structured it was, if you’re happy to go with the flow it really is a lot of fun.




Rebecca Perrot

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