Luxury gulet cruising in the Aegean

Hop between Turkey and Greece with ease on a traditional wooden Turkish sailing boat. Constructed from teak and mahogany in Turkey’s shipyards, these days, gulets (pronounced ‘goo-lets’) are built for private owners rather than for their former use: as sponge diving vessels. They’re jaunty-looking boats. With long bowsprit and a spar at the stern they curve, smile-shaped, out of the water. Those with sails have many, all strung across the masts like bunting.
Jump off the back of the boat into the water, dry out in minutes on the hot, sun-bleached teak deck, and grab a cold beer as a reward for sticking the landing on your backwards dive: life’s easy on a luxury gulet.
Gulets are easily adapted for luxury travel. Thanks to a broad beam (they’re around seven metres wide) they’re spacious and comfortable, with a large aft deck for dining and lounging. Every inch of their interiors is finished in glossy varnish. With the help of a uniformed crew serving three indulgent meals a day, living in the lap of luxury comes easy on board.
Gulet cruises are also known locally as ‘Blue Cruises’ – because of the dreamy colour of the water on the Turkish Riviera. On this trip you’ll be exploring the Aegean’s Dodecanese Islands, found just off the coast of Turkey. Everyone knows Kos and Rhodes, but you’ll eschew these busy Greek islands for the quiet of more remote locations – like car-free Telendos and Kalymnos, with its cathedral-tall rock formations. You’ll tread on beaches only reachable by boat or by foot, and stay long after the day trippers have left.
You’ll quickly succumb to the slow rhythms of life on board your luxury gulet. In the cool morning, savour breakfast on deck before the sun has powered up. As the sun starts to climb, weigh anchor and let the boat’s speed generate a cooling breeze that tickles the hair around your face. At lunchtime, stop in a rocky cove where the water is so clear that you can see every perfect white pebble on the sea bed. On your afternoon sail, pop on some music through the outdoor speakers to arouse the sleepy from their siestas.

What does luxury gulet cruising in the Aegean entail?

Luxury gulet cruises in the Aegean normally last eight days, for a maximum of 17 guests. Boats are between 70 and 110 feet long – that’s up to 33.5m. They are surprisingly spacious inside. Every cabin has a queen bed and an en suite bathroom fitted with a shower. There’s even a bar in the saloon. There is air conditioning throughout the interior – and WiFi, too.

You’ll have all meals on the gulet, courtesy of the talented on-board chef, who works out of a galley tucked at the back of the boat. Smartly uniformed, English speaking staff lay out a spread at every meal. Enjoy dining outdoors and plenty of snacks – pluck at grapes and help yourself to a second slice of cake. Seafood is plentiful here, as is good bread and local wine and lager. Every effort is made to provide a selection of local dishes from small producers. You could always bring your own Marmite, if you can’t travel without it.
As soon as you anchor you’ll find yourself itching to get in the water. Jump straight in off the side, or dip a fishing line over the stern and see if you can lure anything onto your hook. A nippy Zodiac dinghy transports guests to shore, but is equally up to taking you waterskiing, or dragging you round in an inflatable rubber ring. You could borrow the paddleboard for a calmer afternoon. There are other water sports – like parasailing – available at an extra cost. Crew can help you with all activities, and the captain will lead you on missions into the interiors of the islands, if you want to explore beyond the rocky shorelines.
There are board games and a DVD library on board for when you want a break from the sun, or a quiet evening in. There are plenty of seating areas on board, too – mattresses out in the unfiltered sunshine, cushioned seats under the shade of the bimini, and indoor seating around the bar.
This is a luxury cruise, but that doesn’t mean you need formal attire. On board, feel free to get by with swimwear. On shore, there are monasteries and churches to visit, so consider bringing shoulder- and knee-covering clothing, and sturdy shoes if you want to hike.
This responsible trip uses sail power over motor power whenever possible, and avoids tourist traps to bring you to under-explored areas of the Aegean.

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Luxury gulet cruise in the Aegean

Luxury gulet cruise in the Aegean

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Luxury gulet cruising in the Aegean highlights

1. Bodrum
2. Kalymnos
3. Leros
4. Patmos
5. Turkish coast
Bodrum

1. Bodrum

Evocative, sea-loving and historic, the port city of Bodrum in Turkey is the perfect place to start a cruise. Before you board your boat, stop at its market, or have a nose around its 2,400-year-old Greek-built amphitheatre. The Tomb of Mausolus – the ruins of which are still viewable in the city – is so grand (it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) that it’s responsible for the modern word for a large above-ground tomb: ‘mausoleum’.
Kalymnos

2. Kalymnos

The Greek island of Kalymnos is famous among climbers – there’s an international competition here every year – but you don’t need to harness up to enjoy its craggy heights. The island has never relied on tourism, and residents still dive for sponges, and this industry funded the gold-coated interior of the island’s beautiful monastery, Agios Savvas, in its capital Pothia. Cruises also stop at car-free Telendos, a little island just offshore.
Leros

3. Leros

Leros’s modern history is even more interesting than its ancient history. It was Italian for 31 years, during which time Mussolini used it as a strategic outpost and you can still see the infrastructure he built today in Lakki, a very Italian-feeling port town for a Greek island. There are attractive beaches and tavernas at every turn. Agia Marina, the other port, has a pleasant bustle to it, and from here you can follow a steep trail inland to an imposing crusades-era castle.
Patmos

4. Patmos

It’s said that atmospheric Patmos is where St John the Theologian wrote the book of Revelation – the most colourful book of the Bible, as well as his beautiful Gospel. On the strength of this claim, UNESCO has put its monastery, its historic center and the aptly-named ‘Cave of the Apocalypse’ on the World Heritage List.
Turkish coast

5. Turkish coast

Cruise west from Bodrum and you’ll stray quickly into the Greek Dodecanese Islands, but creep east along the Turkish Coast instead and you’ll find yourself in the cove-pocketed Gulf of Gokova. The shore is lined with pine trees – some boats even use the trunks as mooring posts – and there are lovely Turkish-owned islands off shore, like Orak, where the sea is fantastic for snorkelling.

Practicalities

Cruises start in Bodrum, Turkey. You can fly into Milas-Bodrum airport – it isn’t actually in Bodrum, but 22 miles northeast – but crew will arrange a transfer to the city if you land on the day of your cruise. Families are welcome, but children need to be over eight years old.

Luxury gulet cruises in the Aegean run between April to October. Summer is truly summery in the Aegean. The temperature sits comfortably in the 30°Cs and the skies are invariably cloudless in July and August. The meltem, a dry northern wind that arrives in summer, tends to pick up in the afternoons and can get quite strong, so many charters will try to make longer journeys in the morning. Though the meltem can sometimes bring rough conditions, it brings with it clear skies and welcome cooler temperatures.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Joselu Blanco] [Top box: The Small Cruise Ship Collection] [What it entails: The Small Cruise Ship Collection] [Bodrum: bazylek100] [Kalymnos: David Bolius] [Leros: anybookers] [Patmos: psyberartist] [Turkish coast: Tamer BUKE]
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