In Summer 2016, I had chance to sail to Greek Islands with the Celestyal Cruises. In an organization with Karavan Cruises, travelers enjoyed best of Greek islands with Celestyal and received a complete experience at sea, one that comprises comfort, education, entertainment and luxury. Another feature of the cruise is that travelers do not need to have a Schengen visa.
The visa-free cruise onboard Crystal Nefeli departed from Izmir, Turkey and sailed to Lesbos – Mytilini, Athens, Mykonos, Milos, Izmir, Chios, Rhodos, Santorini, and Crete. “Nefeli,” comes from Greek mythology – Nefeli was a goddess of hospitality and a nymph of the clouds.
Throughout the cruise, passengers experience the best of Greek culture, gastronomy, history and wine. These include cookery demonstrations with chefs, performances from leading Greek musicians and dancers. Travelers also learn Greek dancing with lessons onboard. At nights, passengers listen and dance with the ship’s fabulous Cuban band Havana 4.
I enthusiastically recommend Vasilis Klimantakis as tour guide. Vasilis and his team present history, geography, and religion in such way travelers found many fascinating facts to remember. Vasili, who speaks Greek and Turkish fluently, is like a local of all islands. His stories and descriptions of the sites and the land and the history was phenomenal. I learned so much interesting facts and had lots of fun, too! I hope our paths cross again soon in another trip to Greece.
Before going into details of our trip, for future travelers of Greece, here are some Greek basics:
|Do you speak English? – Milate anglika?
|one – ena
|twenty – ikossi
|one thousand – hilia
|Yes, no – Malista or Ne, ochi
|two – dio
|thirty – trianda
|two thousand – dio hiliades
|Good morning, Good day – Kalimera
|three – tria
|forty – saranda
|three thousand – tris hiliades
|Good evening, Good night – Kalispera, Kalinichta
|four – tessera
|fifty – peninda
|Goodbye – Ya sas
|five – pende
|sixty – exinda
|Mister, Madam, Miss – Kirie, Kiria, despini
|six – exi
|seventy – evdominda
|Please – Parakalo
|seven – epta
|eighty – ogdonda
|Excuse me – Me sinchorite or signomi
|eight – okto
|ninety – eneninda
|How are you? – Ti kanete or pos iste
|nine – enea
|one hundred – ekato
|Thank you – Efcharisto
|ten – deka
|two hundred – diakossia
|three hundred – triakossia
Lesbos – Mytilini
The 7-night cruise’s first stop was Lesbos, sometimes referred to as Mytilini after its capital.
The island had many prehistoric names such as: Imerti (longed for), Lassia (densely forested), Aiyeria (The place of the sun-browned people), Aithiope (sun-drenched island), and Makaria. The island’s name is coming from the Classical Greek mythology, Lesbos was the patron god of the island. The island, which is located on the Northern Aegean, is located close to Turkey. Lesbos is among a chain of Greek islands lined up along the Turkish west coast. Those islands are Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and the Dodecanese islands. Many people visiting Lesbos take advantage of the island’s proximity to Turkey and take a day trip from Mytilini to Ayvalik or Dikili.
There are many churches of interest and also renowned neo-classical mansions scattered throughout the city. There are a total of 12 historic churches on the island that were listed together on the 2008 World Monuments Fund’s Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world. The churches range in date from the Early Christian Period to the 19th century.
In the Middle Ages, Lesbos was under Byzantine and then Genoese rule. Lesbos was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1462. The Ottomans then ruled the island until the First Balkan War in 1912, when it became part of the Kingdom of Greece. In 1923, after the signing of the treaty of Lausanne, it was definitively ceded to Greece.
42 kilometers from Mytilini on the southern coast of Lesvos, Plomari, the ouzo capital of Greece, is a must visit place for many. This is where the famous Barbayiannis Ouzo comes from. There are several ouzo factories and also the Barbayiannis ouzo museum on the road leading into town. The video below is from our visit to the museum in 2011.
Our ship docked at the port of Lavrion. We have traveled about one hour by Celestyal’s tour bus and arrived Athens city center. During our tour we visited Acropolis, which contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. The Acropolis is located on a flat-topped rock that rises 150 m (490 ft) above sea level in the city of Athens, with a surface area of about 3 hectares (7.4 acres).
After walking around the Acropolis, we headed to Plaka, where is the city’s Old Town. Here is an area of cafes, restaurants, jewelry stores and tourist shops. We have enjoyed a cold frappe at a café and buy souvenirs. The Plaka is under the Acropolis and stretches almost to Syntagma. Syntagma Square is the central square of Athens. The Square is named after the Constitution that the first King of Greece Otto was obliged to grant, after a popular and military uprising on September 3, 1843. It is located in front of the 19th century Old Royal Palace, housing the Greek Parliament since 1934. Syntagma Square is the most important square of modern Athens from both a historical and social point of view, at the epicenter of commercial activity and Greek politics. You may not miss to see the Panathenaic Stadium which is an ancient stadium. For many centuries it had hosted games in which nude male athletes competed in track events, athletics championships.
After we set sail at noon from Lavrion, we have arrived Mykonos at 8 pm. We don’t have enough time to travel around the island. Just like my previous visit to Mykonos, this time again I walked at the tiny streets and whitewashed steps lanes of Mykonos Town. The streets are lined with little shops, boutiques, art galleries, cafes, stylish bars and restaurants.
Mykonos has become one of the most popular of the Aegean islands. Visitors arriving the island with cruise ships and staying on the island for some hours don’t have chance to see what the island really makes it so popular.
Milos is home to some of the Cylades’ legendary beaches, including Paleochori, which is considered the best beach on the island for swimmers, skin divers, sun worshippers, and water sports enthusiasts. There are about 70 beaches on Milos Island. Sarakiniko is the most famous beach of Milos. It is also known as the moon beach because its landscape resembles a scene from an extraterrestrial place – the sand is replaced by peculiar soft rock formations with sparkling white color. Since the Sarakiniko beach has a small area for swimmers, after one hour of swimming, we traveled to Paliochori Beach.
Paliochori features crystal-clear water reaching to the shore’s dark sand and beautifully colored small pebbles. The water is warm in several spots due to the underwater mineral springs. Imposing rock formations ashore stand as a testament to the volcanic origin of Milos. Sulphur as well as other ores and minerals lend spectacular colors to the Paliochori landscape. There are 3 tavernas in the main beach of Paliochori. Our group used the facilities in front of Sirocco Restaurant and enjoyed food served at the restaurant. If you are travelling in a hot day like me, I personally advise you to taste squid and taste Greek beers.
Our next stop was Izmir, Turkey. While some passengers left the ship, some joined the cruise tour. Travelers have the option to attend 3 and/or 4 night cruises as well as 7-night cruise program.
If you wonder where to eat sea food in Izmir, Deniz Restaurant is where you should go and enjoy daily fresh seafood and mezes. Providing service over 30 years, Deniz Restaurant is not only famous with its delicious seafood and service but its location as well. It offers the most beautiful view of Izmir’s Kordon.
We have arrived Chios at 6.30pm. It is the fifth largest of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea and located 7 kilometers (4.3 mi) off Turkey’s coastline. The island is separated from Turkey by the Çeşme Strait. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is the mastic island.
Alongside its rich history starting from the Neolithic Age and including adventures with Saracene pirates and the Turks during the Greek Revolution, Chios also claims to be the birthplace of Homer.
Upon arrival, our tour bus took us to the village of Mesta. This village has been interdentally planned and built as a maze in order to prevent the pirate raiding parties from reaching easily to the important building located in the center of the village. Locals of the medieval village say the only way to walk around is by climbing over the roofs. Let the locals treat you with “mestoutsiko”, a local wine, and with a drink made of distilled figs and grapes, “souma”.
Following Mesta, we have visited Pyrgi village. It is a fortress like complex of narrow streets, tightly packed houses and arches, with a ruined tower – dungeon at its center. Even more unexpected is the distinctive graffito technique used to decorate the exteriors of many of buildings.
Rhodes’ nickname is ‘The Island of the Knights’, named after the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, who once conquered the land. Travelers can wander around Rhodes’ magnificent Old City, surrounded by medieval walls with seven gates, and admire the Palace of the Grand Master, the most awe- inspiring building in the whole island, as well as the mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Turkish Baths.
Rhodes was famous worldwide for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Medieval Old Town of the City of Rhodes has been declared a World Heritage Site. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.
Travelers arriving Rhodes with sea transport, can walk (15-20 minutes) or take a local bus to the Eli Beach. It is the closest beach to Rhodes town located between the areas of Mandraki and the Rhodes aquarium.
Our next stop was Santorini. Crescent-shaped Santorini is actually a group of islands consisting of Thíra, Thirassiá, Asproníssi, Palea and Nea Kaméni in the southernmost part of Cyclades. It is still an active volcano and its crater is under the sea.
Santorini is considered to be the most sought after place for a romantic getaway in Greece. There is not much to say about this island, you should visit and experience the beauties of this island and exchange kisses beneath Santorini’s famous sunset.
Firá is the picturesque capital of the island. Firá, together with Oia, Imerovígli and Firostefáni located high above on a cliff, make up the so-called “Caldera’s eyebrow”, the balcony of Santorini, which offers an amazing view of the volcano. Santorini has a growing reputation as a “wedding destination” for couples not only from Greece but from all over the world.
A visit to Santorini is the ultimate gastronomic experience, as the island is a true culinary paradise. During our tour on the island, we have visited Venetsanos winery which is located right above the port of Athinios, overlooking the magnificent caldera of Santorini. Built in 1947 by Venetsanos family, wine originally was produced for the island and subsequently it was exported extensively, and particularly to countries such as Russia. The winery today offers you the chance to walk through and discover the history and tradition as well as the new wine making techniques.
Santorini is not known for its beaches. But it has lovely and unique beaches. Most of Santorini’s beaches are composed of dark volcanic sand. The beaches are on the east and southeast side of the island. We have visited Perissa Beach. Perissa sits on one of Santorini’s most beautiful beaches. This Blue Flag winner is a 7- kilometer stretch of velvety, black volcanic sand framed by Mount Vouno at its far end. The Aegean Sea is crystal clear, which means snorkeling is a popular pastime.
Crete is the largest island in Greece, and the fifth largest one in the Mediterranean Sea. Crete is divided in to four prefectures. From west to east: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Lasithi. Our ship docked Souda port of the city of Chania.
Chania was the former capital city of Crete (from 1847 until 1972). Nowadays, it is the second largest city of Crete after Heraklion and capital of the homonym prefecture. Chania includes the old and new city. It is one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in Greece and for food lovers, it’s a paradise.
The old town is built around the Venetian port and is also a relatively integral area where Venetian buildings and later Turkish elements compose a unique architectural style. Due to the historic center of Chania with its Venetian walls defining the borders between the old and new city and its ramparts, the city has been pronounced as preserved. It consists of five connected districts surrounding the Venetian port.
If you wonder more information about Greek Islands, I recommend Fodor’s Greek Islands travel guide. You can buy paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.