Why choose the Greek Islands for a spring break? Part one – World Meanderings (n°48)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Summer holidays are already far behind, days grow shorter, the recent switch to winter time has disturbed many of us and we start to dream of sunshine, blue sea, light clothes and sunglasses… Even if we will have to wait until next year why not plan now a cruise through the Greek Islands? Since the multi-award winning Celestyal Cruises Company proposes its 2018 all-inclusive cruises with special early booking rates, giving in to the temptation is all too easy!
Whether for any 3, 4 or 7 days cruise, Celestyal Cruises offer a wide range of excursions in each visited island suiting your taste for culture, leisure or fun. Few cruising ships propose so much in just a few days. For instance a 4-day cruise will take you to six different destinations: Mykonos, Kusadasi, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini where you will be able to discover the area by yourself or opt for one or several of the 30 organized excursions with an English speaking guide. The ship goes from one island to the other at night and days are devoted to exploring the islands. But you might as well stay on board and enjoy the sundeck and the swimming pool or take part in the activities proposed by the entertaining team of the ship.
All cruises start and end in Piraeus, the Athens’ port, so you can enjoy a few days in the exciting Greek capital city before of after your cruise. The Celestyal Cruises Company deliberately chose “human size” ships that welcome 1,200 to 1,600 guests, far from the “floating city” like cruise boats hosting several thousands of passengers. These “smaller” ships, relatively speaking of course, can dock in ports where big ones can’t, thus taking their passengers faster to their destinations.
Life on board is both relaxing and entertaining. Once settled in your small but comfortable cabin, go explore the ship and get acquainted with your new “home”. Going up and down the decks you will discovers the bars and restaurants, the sundecks and pools, the kids’ fun area, the shops, the fitness room, the spa, the casino, the theatre… The cruise fare includes all meals and drinks, entertainment, shows, tip for the crew as well as two selected shore excursions. This guarantees no bad surprise when leaving the boat back in Piraeus!
Frederic and I had the opportunity to test a 4-day cruise called “Iconic Aegean”, onboard the “Celestyal Olympia” last October. Those were 4 busy days since we chose to do as many excursions as possible, making the most of our cruise. Thanks to the Greek weather we enjoyed warm and sunny days this late in the season and you can have the same good conditions in early spring when the cruising boats will be operating again. Our first stop was in famous Mykonos. For a few hours we wandered in Chora, Mykonos’ capital town, and its maze of small cobbled streets lined with the typical white and blue houses that make Greek islands recognizable at once. If many of these houses have been turned into luxury shops, the authentic Mykonos’ spirit still lives in its numerous churches and chapels topped with white domes, in its windmills proudly standing on the seashore against the clear blue sky, in its Folk Museum and in the kindness of its people. In the 18th century, rich merchants and shipmasters built big houses on the seashore. Today most of them are trendy bars and restaurants and, sipping a drink, we enjoyed an amazing sunset that turned the sky pink, then purple and finally deep red while the sea got black. Fantastic!
We had diner back on board. Food is a serious matter during a cruise! There are three different restaurants on the Olympia, each one serving a Mediterranean style cuisine made in the ship’s huge kitchens. All “à la carte” or buffet meals are included as well as the drinks (wines, soft drinks and cocktails) and a very pleasant high tea with tempting cakes and pastries buffet. There even is a gluten-free corner with delicious scones, shortbreads and a fabulous banana cake! Twice during the cruise dinner was served on the outside sundeck where we enjoyed a huge BBQ under the stars while a Greek music band did its best to add to the atmosphere.
After sailing all night long we got to Kusadasi, in Turkey from where we went to the stunning ancient sites of Ephesus and to the place where Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life. For those who do not wish to go to Turkey there is an optional stop in beautiful Samos Island where they will have free time on their own. The boat comes back to Samos after leaving Turkey to pick them up before continuing to its next stop, Patmos Island.
Ephesus was a port city probably founded in the 11th century BC by the Ionians, one of the oldest Greek civilizations. It was later enlarged and embellished by the Romans and was the busiest trade centre of the Eastern Roman Empire on the road to Asia. Since its early days Ephesus has been a religious melting pot where many gods and goddesses were worshiped. It also was the main place from where Christianity expanded throughout Eastern Europe after St Paul settlement in the city.
The site is in very good condition and walking down Ephesus’ main street, Curetes Street, we saw one wonder after the other: Artemis Temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Celsius Library which is said to have housed 12,000 to 15,000 scrolls, the Temple of Hadrian, the Trojan Fountain, the Odeon, the Grand Theatre, the Terrace Houses richly decorated with mosaics and frescoes that are in an amazing good condition, the Roman baths and even the ancient public lavatories. Ephesus well deserves its reputation of best-preserved place of antiquity in Asia Minor.
The House of Virgin Mary is only 9 km away from Ephesus on top of the Bulbul Mountain. In 1957 the Holy See acknowledged it as the place where she spent the last years of her life until her Assumption, but it was already worshiped long before that after its re-discovery in the 19th century. It’s a very peaceful place hidden in the green where both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II came to pray. The “house” is a small stone chapel where pilgrims can briefly meditate. Close by they can drink the water from a Holy Fountain before leaving their personal intentions on a piece of paper or fabric tied on the Meryemana, the wishing wall.
Next week we will continue our cruise and take you to Patmos Island, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini and tell you more about beautiful Celestyal Olympia and life onboard. http://www.celestyalcruises.uk/en-uk
Aegean Airlines proposes daily direct flights from London or Manchester to Athens. They offer good money for value tickets with comfortable enough seats and a hot meal on all flights.
More at: https://en.aegeanair.com/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes