Dani's Journey to Greece
8th March 2017
The Greek Islands are like individual pieces of paradise, scattered in and around one of the bluest seas in the world. The glistening waters of the Aegean reflect the scorching sunlight perfectly, lighting up the white-washed cliffs of Santorini, the well-known windmills of Mykonos and the sandy beaches of Lindos in Rhodes. Beginning in the Greek capital, Athens, history lovers will be spoilt for choice by the ancient architecture there is to see, a bustling city full of life, good food and friendly people, it would be wrong not to indulge in a night or two pre or post your Star Clippers sailing.
A rooftop pool area, which becomes a candle lit bar by night, is one of the many endearing qualities at the St George Lycabettus Hotel in Athens, a place we have been recommending and sending our guests for many years now. With breathtaking views of the Acropolis, modern comfortable rooms and a quiet location just 20 minutes from both the airport and the port, this is the perfect base to start and/or finish your Greek island cruise. I’ve been lucky enough to stay at this property myself on several occasions, and would not hesitate in choosing it again. I particularly like the rooms with a view of the acropolis, which must be requested at the time of booking.
With embarkation starting from 4pm in Piraeus (the port for Athens) if you flew in the day before, you still have the whole morning and lunchtime to enjoy Athens before it’s time for your transfer to the port. Perhaps it’s time for one more Gyros and bottle of Mythos, a little shopping, or even some more sight-seeing before your pre-booked transfers will take you in plenty of time to start your adventure. If you’ve flown on the same day as the cruise departs, you will be transferred straight from the airport to the port, to wait for embarkation time.
Of all the itineraries Star Clippers performs, the Greek Islands is a particularly special one, a route we have been doing since the company began 25 years ago, our captain’s knowledge of these areas are unarguably wonderful, with the Aegean seas lending themselves to a sailing experience like ours, offering better winds and therefore meaning a higher percentage of time under natural sail – a real treat!
From Athens, there are two 7 night itineraries to choose from, both of which I have experienced, and both of which are just as magical as each other. They alternate from week to week, so some guests decide to ‘back to back’ the sailings for a longer time on board (who can blame them) but whichever one you choose, both the Northern and the Southern Cyclades will not disappoint. Both itineraries begin with a relaxing day at sea, which in my opinion is the absolute best way to start any Star Clippers trip. A day with no excuse to do anything, other than read, relax, eat, drink, marvel at the work of the skilled sailors and perhaps join in with the odd nautical activity should you choose to – these 24 hours at sea will help adapt your body from reality to holiday mode, in quite simply, the only way to ease into Star Clippers life.
Rhodes – The old town in Rhodes is full of head-turning sights, stunning Greek structures from thousands of years ago, still standing in their medieval glory. The square like many in Europe, lined with attractive bars and restaurants where you can sit, soak up the atmosphere and watch the world go by, albeit at a much slower pace than we are used to back home. Where the ship docks, alongside, you can easily stroll into the old town independently and spend the day wondering around the cobbled streets and sampling the local beers, however, if you fancy exploring a little further afield, I have the perfect suggestion for you…
On stepping off of the ship, there will be plenty of taxis offering their services, after a little bartering, we usually settle on a good price with a driver to take us up to Lindos, and meet us after a few hours to bring us back. The journey is around 35 – 40 minutes, and I believe we usually pay around 60 euros for the return trip, per car, so if you’ve made any friends on board that fancy doing the same thing, this is a really reasonable way of seeing a different side to Rhodes Island. Lindos is an archaeological site, a town and a former municipality on the island of Rhodes, it’s situated in a large bay and faces the fishing village and small resort of Haraki. The taxi will drop you off in a small square, which will also be where they pick you up from again. From this square there are several options, but here is what I would suggest… Follow the crowd, they will be heading up one of the many narrow streets off of the central point, all of which will eventually bring you to the same point.
It’s quite a climb, but it’s so worth it to see the temple at the top, and the views back down again, just make sure you take plenty of water. It’s an exciting walk as you meander through the streets, with many local shops and cafes to look in to, so although it’s a bit of a hike, it’s a leisurely one, with plenty of stops should you need them. Once at the top you can walk freely around the temple and take your photographs of the view of the bay, which is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes I have ever seen. We stopped for lunch on the way back down, some fresh pittas, Tzatziki, stuffed vine-leaves and grilled lamb, all washed down with a couple of bottles of Mythos (the local beer) then set us up for an hour on the beach. The beaches of Lindos will be busy, as they are some of the most popular on Rhodes island for their talc-like sands and clear blue calm seas, but if you can find a spot, it’s worth stopping here for your last hour or so, a swim in the sea perhaps, or just relax with a book on the warm sands, before meeting your taxi driver to take you back to the ship.
The late departure from Rhodes means you can have a lazy day, and not worry too much about timings, but it’s a shame to miss dinner on the ship as the choices are always so mouth-watering! I like to have my dinner in the dining room, and then wonder ashore for a last drink in old Rhodes town, which by night, looks all the more majestic.
Bodrum – For any handbag lovers out there, or leather in general actually, today is all about the shopping! It’s easy to spend hours in and out of the shops and markets, and even easier to come away with a ‘designer’ bargain, which is all part of the experience. Other than shopping, Bodrum has a lot to offer. It’s beautiful marina sits just beneath the ancient castle, with many café’s and bars to choose from again for a light refreshment while looking over the sparkling blue sea. It would definitely be a shame to miss out on a real Turkish kebab whilst you’re here! I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Bodrum, the clean streets, friendly locals, stunning flowers and colours, a great port of call and very versatile.
Dalyan River – Today we chose to do the ‘mud bath excursion’ offered by the ship. This was a well-subscribed trip, I would say there was around 30 – 40 of us in total. After meeting in the Tropical Bar, we all boarded the first tender of the day, which took us on the short journey to meet our other boat, a much more traditional river boat, which was extremely comfortable with benches all around the sides, cold bottles of water available to us and plenty of space. Our leisurely boat trip began, as we glided slowly down the Dalyan River itself, taking in the abundance of wildlife along the way. We saw gigantic crabs, rare birds and turtles, which our experienced tour guide took time to point out and explain at each point. Probably the most dramatic sight along the way is that of the Lycian tombs.
Sat above the river’s sheer cliffs is this unusual sight, preserved incredibly from circa 400BC, and still attracting tourists today, excellent photo opportunities along this journey. The boat ride comes to a stop and as everyone steps ashore, we enter the Turkish mud baths, renowned for their anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, analgesic, relaxing and revitalising qualities. It’s such a strange feeling, stepping into the brown, smelly waters and rubbing yourself from head to toe with the natural muds, but definitely liberating. The hour or so you have here is certainly relaxing and a lot of fun, with time to take a shower of course, before heading back. All in all, this was a great excursion with both the boat trip down the river and the mud bath experience, I would definitely recommend.
Santorini – One of the better known of the Greek islands, Santorini is definitely an itinerary highlight for the Southern route. Its unique rugged landscape was determined by the volcano that rocked the island in the 16th century, shaping it forever with its dramatic whitewashed houses, blue roofed windmills and steep winding streets. Star Clipper drops anchor in the large bay, usually alongside another cruise ship or two, allowing her to perfectly show off in all her glory at sail away… After a short tender ride to the shore, you can take the funicular to the top, where you will find yourself in the ‘capital’ of Fira.
The views from the top are outstanding, the jewellery shops are tempting and the beauty of this place overwhelms you. After a good hour of window shopping, we took a taxi up to Oia, the other major region on the island. On route, we stopped off at ‘the blue dome’ famous as the landmark of Santorini and unmistakably impressive. After the obligatory photo stop, we continued to Oia, where we found more shops, more bars hidden in the cliff sides and more stunning scenery. You really can get lost in this place and it’s one that makes you want to return for a longer holiday, but to get a snap shot of the day, during this sailing, is a real treat.
Hydra - A more ‘off the beaten track’ Greek island, not often offered on larger cruise lines, this small, typically Greek town sits above the crescent-shaped harbour, which offers restaurants, shops, markets and galleries. A light stroll around the port town is a welcome experience, almost as if you’re a witness to a place so beautiful, it’s only shared with select people, a real Star Clippers exclusive!
Kusadasi – Today the ship will dock alongside the port of Kusadasi. A small, pretty marina, with plenty of trendy seafront bars and restaurants outlining the busy town and marketplace, where most guests tend to head for a shopping experience like no other. The markets in Kusadasi offer a typically Turkish ambience, with all the hustle and bustle of the market traders, offering their goods and trying to interact with tourists to make a sale.
Today is the day for a good haggle, and every time I’ve been lucky enough to have been, you can usually barter the price down significantly from the original suggestion, and walk away feeling rather chuffed with yourself. If you have something particular in mind, Mulberry, Michael Kors, Burberry etc, you’re sure to find it here.
After a few hours soaking up the busy life in Kusadasi, spend an hour or two sipping on a chilled glass of rose in one of the many ocean view bars, whilst looking back to the ship, standing tall in the harbour with countless holiday makers walking past in awe staring up at your home for the week – the perfect smug feeling!
The late sail away in Kusadasi allows you to keep on living the Turkish dream, after dinner on board, why not step ashore and enjoy a final nightcap in the town, after all, there’s no better time to appreciate the site of Star Clipper, than when she is lit up at night with thousands of small fairy lights up and down the ropes, sails and masts.
Patmos – Patmos is most famous for being mentioned in the ‘Book of Revelation’ from the bible as the setting, where the author – John was given and recorded a vision from Jesus. For this reason, Patmos is a very religious island and has many eastern orthodox churches to visit. Guests can also visit the cave where John is said to have received his revelation from Jesus, so a port rich in history, culture and religion.
All this aside, the setting of Patmos is truly beautiful, typically Greek and exciting to explore. The whitewashed buildings, the unscathed cobbled streets and the small, individual gift shops, bars, and local craft boutiques, lend themselves to this island, overlooking the crystal clear blue sea, another piece of paradise in the Aegean. After a few ice cold Mythos beers in a local and friendly taverna, we made our way back to the ship for our sunset sail away (my favourite time!).
Today, the head bartender joined us all on deck when it was time, with a small table, adorned with a white tablecloth and plenty of champagne flutes to accompany the ice buckets, which were chilling the champagne perfectly. For just 7.50 euros per glass, you can purchase your drink with the ease of them bringing it to you, for this dusk time departure. As the Vangelis music starts up, and the crew begin to expertly pull the ropes, you can watch the billowing sails unfurl above you, as they catch the wind and start to steer the ship to our next destination… magical.
Amorgos – My strongest memories of Amorgos are ‘beach’ and ‘water-sports’, which after the rich history of Athens, the buzzy shopping of Kusadasi and the interesting culture in Patmos, was a welcome day. One of the reasons I love the Northern Cyclades is because I believe it offers the perfect balance of history, culture and beach, it really has something for everyone and our day today proved that entirely.
This tiny island, the most eastern of those in the Cyclades, has a beautiful sandy beach, in a sheltered cove, where the Star Clipper drops anchor and offers regular tender services to/from the beach. Ashore we were happy to find sun loungers and umbrellas, available for a small charge locally, but well worth it for the comfort factor. Our bar staff were fantastic and brought over a cool box of cold drinks from the bar which we could charge back to our cabins from the beach, as there was no bar there already. We wiled away the day soaking up the scorching hot sun, bathing in the calm, warm sea and even entertaining a few water sports activities. Kayaking was as adventurous as we went, but wakeboarding and water skiing were also available, all complimentary for Star Clippers guests of course.
Mykonos – Beautiful Mykonos, with its stunning marina welcoming the Star Clipper. The famous wooden windmills often associated with the Greek islands originate from here, and are littered perfectly around the island to delight sights of locals and visitors alike. The bustling nightlife Mykonos is known for also carries through to the day, and the lively, friendly atmosphere is positively overwhelming. Whether you choose to spend the day shopping in the expensive, luxury boutiques, relaxing on one of the beaches, or indulging in the local delicacies around the marina – you won’t be disappointed with this port of call – often named a highlight by many of our guests!
Monemvasia – One of the unique selling points of a Star Clippers sailing, is that we can take you to smaller ports of call, often untouched by larger cruise lines. Today, as Star Clipper anchors off Monemvasia, this point is very valid. The island is a product of an earthquake in 375AD, separating it from the mainland and meaning it mainly consists of rock. The town is on the slope to the south-east of the rock, overlooking the glittering bay.
Many of the streets are extremely narrow and only apt for pedestrian and donkey traffic. A small hamlet of about 10 houses lies to the north-west, but that is it. Again, a real hidden gem of the Greek Islands, which not many would be lucky enough to experience, or have even heard of before. We explored the small town on the rock for a few hours, wondering around in total amazement and excitement of our discovery of this hidden land.