Cruising the Greek Islands- Fifth and last part – World Meanderings (n°30)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
On board the Celestyal Crystal we continue our journey through the Aegean Sea and after a whole night of navigation we berth in Kos one of the greenest islands of the Dodecanese. It is only two miles away from the Turkish coast and you may still have in mind last year terrible images of the refugees who fled the fighting in Middle East and landed in Kos (among several other Greek islands such as Symi or Tilos). We were obviously wondering how Kos would be like one year later. Of course we’ve been there only for a few hours during our boat’s stopover and were not able to visit the whole island, but we saw enough to figure out that the situation is much better both for the refugees and for local people who live off the tourism.
Two excursions were organised by the Celestyal Crystal in Kos, and Frederic and I decided to do one each, in order to see as many different touristic places as possible during our ten-hour stay in Kos. The island’s inhabitants have been caught between their compassion for the refugees (many of them voluntarily helped) and their need to make a living from tourism. I guess there is no perfect solution under such circumstances but a reception centre for asylum seekers was built this year and they don’t have to wander in the streets anymore. All the places we went to were devoid of any refugee.
Since antiquity Kos is known as Hippocrates’ island. We don’t know for sure if he was born in Kos but he lived and taught there during the 5 C BC. Students came from all parts of the Mediterranean world to the Asclepelon, a site where several temples dedicated to the god of medicine Asclepios and to his father, Apollo, were built next to a hospital and a medicine school. They were erected on three huge terraces with big stone stairways to go from one to the other. After visiting this impressive site rediscovered in 1902, Frederic went to see the Roman agora in Kos town and close by the Plane Tree of Hyppocrates where the physician used to teach. Is it really the same tree? The answer is lost in time but the tree we can see today is very old and needs scaffolding to support its heavy and tired limbs!
The excursion that I attended, took the visitors to a winery set at the foot of Dikeos Mount, Kos’ highest mountain, it is only 834 m high but perfect for vines growing. Like his father and his grandfather did Vassilis Hatziemmanouil grows local grape varieties such as Assyrtiko or Malagouzia and combine them with Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon to make several red, white or rosé wines. Tasting them is a concentrate of rich aromas enhanced by the strong Aegean sun.
Next we met a family of beekeepers. Dionisia and Antonis Anthouli ‘s family makes honey for more than 100 years and although Kos’ thyme honey is very popular there are less and les beekeepers on the island. The Anthoulis make and sell thyme, pine and heather honeys as well as royal jelly, pollen, candles made with bees wax and a nourishing skin cream made with olive oil and wax under the Melissa-Kos brand. I brought back home a jar of pine honey that was really delicious but unfortunately they sell their products only on the spot and it is impossible to shop on line.
Both excursions take the visitors to Zia a charming small village set almost on top of Dikeos Mountain in the shade of lush green forests. From the village we got great views of the island. In the main street there are plenty of tourist shops selling natural sponges, colourful pottery and a red liqueur made with cinnamon, the Canelada, supposed to do wonders on any digestive disorder…
In the afternoon Frederic and I went to Kos town and stroll on our own in the streets shaded by big palm trees. We visited the tall fortress built by the Knights Hospitaller during the 15th century, went to the covered market where we found plenty of small souvenirs: Kos’ aromatic herbs, Greek wines and spirits, sponges, honeys, Turquish delights that happen to be Greek sometimes…
In the evening we came back to the boat that was leaving for Ios Island that we were to reach the following morning. It was time for a drink and we went to the pool bar to have a cocktail. The ship’s barmen do make very good ones and we had the opportunity to discover their “Greek Flavors” made with ouzo, the well-known aniseed spirit or with Mastika, a very special and rare liqueur made on Chios Island. Mastika is seasoned with “mastic”, a resin gathered from a small evergreen tree called mastic tree. The Mastika is made in Chios since antiquity and has a Protected Designation of Origin. Hippocrates used this resin to treat many disorders and recent studies proved that it has anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. But drinking Mastika is far from taking a medicine! On board the Celestyal they use the Skinos Mastika, one of the very best brands. Believe it or not they make a Greek Mojito! Made with Skinos Mastika, fresh basil and lemon, topped with soda water, it is surprisingly delicious. The delicate herbal and orange blossom aroma of the liqueur makes wonders. During the cruise we also had a “Cosmopolis” made with Vodka, Skinos Mastika, cranberry juice and lime squash or a “Skinos Dry” made with Gin, Skinos Mastika and a lemon peel. These cocktails and many others are included in the optional drink packages proposed by Celestyal Cruises (you can read our first article “Cruising the Greek Island- Part One” for more details).
Everything must come to an end and this is our final day on the Celestyal Crystal. Ios Island is the first stop of the day. This small Cyclades Island is famous for its beautiful beaches and we spent a relaxing morning on Manganari beach enjoying the fine golden sand and the crystal clear blue-green sea.
But the best part of our day was entering Santorini Island. You really “enter” the island since most of its centre collapsed into the sea during a huge volcanic eruption 1,600 years BC and boats sail in this enormous caldera. Even big liners are dwarfed by the high cliffs that overlook the inside lagoon. White villages have been built on top of these cliffs and we imagined how helpless pirates must have felt looking at these inaccessible preys that taunted them from high above!
An excursion took us to Oia, one of the most beautiful villages of the Cyclades. Unfortunately it is packed with tourists and countless groups of visitors from all over the world invade the streets that have been turned into big shopping centres. Oia is beautiful but has lost its very soul. Yet the magic still works: the steep and narrow streets lined with white and blue houses and churches, the breathtaking views over the caldera are unforgettable memories. It still is an extraordinary place to see and should be on your list of the hundred places to visit one day, but don’t expect peacefulness and solitude! On our way back to the boat the setting sun illuminated the cliffs that went orange, yellow then purple as if bidding us goodbye on our last evening in Greece.
For more information about cruises with Celestyal Cruises: http://www.celestyalcruises.uk/en
About Kos wines by the Hatziemmanouil: www.hatziemmanouil.gr
About Kos honeys: www.melissa-kos.com
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes