What’s the Meltemi?

Otherwise known as the meltem or etesians, the meltemi are strong winds that come down from the Bosphorus, northeast of Greece, across much of the Aegean Sea and therefore impacting many of the Greek Islands. They’re an annual phenomena which can occur anytime from May to October, but are most common in the summer months, from June through  September. Generally it’s at its most powerful during July and August, but there’s always some variation. The wind tends to be strongest in the afternoons and typically settles down of an evening, but in some places it can last for several days or even weeks at a time.

Known as a ‘katabatic wind’ it can bring about harsh sailing conditions but also provides cooler temperatures, low humidity and good visibility. For that reason locals often enjoy the cool change, however tourists are rarely a fan. Thankfully most islands will have a leeward side where you can escape the worst of the gales.

As they start in east Asia and come down the Bosphorus into Turkey, the meltemi first hits the Northern Aegean Islands, the Sporades, parts of the Dodecannese and the western side of Evia Island. But the full force is felt by the Western Cyclades that lie directly in its path. Tinos, Andros and Mykonos are especially affected. You’ve likely seen the iconic windmills on Mykonos, and this is your first clue that it’s a windy place. In fact, any island with a lot of windmills is likely to be one of those impacted by the meltemi.

The meltemi can start with minimal or no warning at all, and when at their most powerful they can disrupt the public ferries and even cruise ships. The western mainland and the Ionians Islands are mostly unaffected, as are the Sporades near Athens. This is due to the towering mountain ranges protecting them.

So when planning your travels to Greece, make sure you consider the impact the meltemi might have on your plans. When we cruise between the islands we always look for weather windows, but when the meltemi are at their worst or hang around for an extended periods, we have no choice but to make a bumpy ride to find a sheltered port or anchorage.