Living in a place such as Seattle (tucked in the upper Northwest of the U.S.), we endure many months under wet, cold weather and grey skies that finally give way to summer. This is when we plunge into the warming waters of alpine lakes. As last summer came to a close, my friend Anne asked if I would entertain a swim vacation for Summer 2014: I was all in!
Anne and I are very different swimmers. She grew up swimming competitively, all the way through university. I learned to swim distance just five years ago, at the age of 40, when my neurologist recommended it as therapy for pain management, overall fitness and flexibility for MS. Whatever vacation we took, we knew it needed to suit a range of swimming abilities.
Shortly after Anne’s proposal, she emailed a link to our open water swim group to field interest on The Big Blue Swim. I clicked through all these photos of turquoise waters and thought, “this isn’t the U.S.” I wrote her back, “But Anne, this is Greece!” Nonplused, she asked if I was still in. We booked a few weeks later. Now we had to live through the grey and wet nine months until our trip.
We planned our travel with a bumper day in London coming and going to Preveza Airport, to help offset jet lag and catch some sleep. It helped some. Once at Ilios Club Hotel, the long journey fell away.
Soon, we were swimming. This really is a trip for people who like to either be on the water or swim…a lot. The waters are a perfect refreshing temperature and so blue. The team goes out of its way to group swimmers by speed, and offers constructive tips on day one of swimming. The captain and first mate navigate safely, sometimes finding alternate swim routes when needed, with the consensus of our friendly guides (as ours did during an exceptional three-day swell).
Evenings were as much of a blast as the swims. Within a five-minute walk are several family-owned waterfront tavernas and all are delicious (as well as Ilios Club Hotel–try the slow cooked herb chicken or the lemonade made fresh from their trees!). There was an opportunity to take a mountain bike tour around the bay (small fee) through Simon of Get Active Day Tours; do it! After seeing the Ionian Islands by sea, you’ll get the balance of seeing a slice of Greece through its cobble-paved neighborhoods, olive groves and a refreshing waterfall.
Even though you’re spending entire days with complete strangers, the bond galvanizes through a sense of accomplishment from the swims and by the natural wonder of new surroundings. These holiday swimmers inevitably become friends. By the time the trip ended, a few of us were misty-eyed upon saying goodbye.
Anne and I can’t praise the guides enough. Jax is eternally joyful and optimistic, radiating warmth that makes the experience even greater. Polychronis was rascally and fun; he brought sage advice to the newer swimmers and his own swimming is very elegant (once we coaxed him to come in). Kostas is friendly, introspective and incredibly helpful; he had us in stitches on our last night (behind a shy exterior is a savvy and hilarious thinker). All of them were so special that on our last night we pitched in Euros and asked Michael to tip them for being so spectacular.
Thank you, Big Blue Swim. We will return!
Heidi Skrzypek and Anne Presnal Seattle, Washington USA
Ben, Anne, guide Kostas and Heidi
03 August 2014