Enchantment in the Greek Isles
The land of Greece includes more than 6,000 picturesque islands, which dot the blue waters of the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Like the Hawaiian Islands and the islands of the Caribbean, the Greek Isles are located relatively near to one another but have their own distinctive characteristics, scenery and charm. Greek Isle landscapes can include beaches of golden sand, black sand, red sand or smooth pebbles; wind-sculpted sand dunes; serene bays and coves; steep cliffs striated with color; whitewashed villages that gleam in the sun; ancient ruins teeming with history; and much more.
Cruising to the Greek Isles calls for some time spent ashore to tour traditional Greek villages and the beautiful landscape via your chosen cruise line's shore excursions. See ancient art and architecture, relax on pristine beaches and enjoy delicious local cuisine. Be sure to pack sturdy walking shoes, as archeological sites in the Greek Isles often occupy uneven, rocky ground, and many of the charming village streets are made of cobblestone. Dress comfortably and casually, with outer layers you can remove as the day becomes warmer. Bring a sun shade or hat as well: many of the islands are nearly treeless, and what trees there are don’t provide much shade.
Three of the Greek Isles that are among the most popular stops for cruise ships are Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini.
Mykonos. Once a base for Aegean pirates, this sophisticated island was a favorite vacation spot for Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Her presence brought the small, rugged island to the attention of the international community, including well-heeled Americans and Europeans. The island’s attractions include long stretches of beach, thatch-roofed windmills and vibrant nightlife. Mykonos town is full of whitewashed buildings adorned with colorful flowers. The town’s medieval quarter, the Kastro, is worth seeing, as is Little Venice, where houses with brightly colored balconies and doorways nestle right against the sea. A popular side trip is the sacred isle of Delos, which reigned as the political and cultural center of the Aegean for nearly 1,000 years.
Rhodes. Rhodes has a fascinating history, having been settled or invaded at various points in time by Dorian Greeks, Persians, Crusaders, Venetians, Turks and others. Unfortunately, the Colossus of Rhodes, a massive bronze statue of the sun god Helios and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, no longer dominates the city of Rhodes. After it was toppled by an earthquake in 227 B.C., the100-foot-tall statue lay where it fell for more than 800 years. Its eventual fate is unknown, though some accounts have it being sold as scrap metal. Still, today’s visitors can enjoy modern Rhodes and its Old Town district, which is just a short walk from where the cruise ships dock. One popular excursion on the island is a short journey to the ancient city of Lindos, where a steep walk (or donkey ride) will take you to a lovely old acropolis.
Santorini. Make sure that you’re up on deck as your cruise ship approaches the island of Santorini, because the views are spectacular. The island is formed by the caldera of a volcano that erupted in 1500 B.C., and your ship will sail into the volcano’s water-filled crater. The city of Fira looks down from its perch atop 1,500-foot-high cliffs, waiting for the cable cars and donkeys that ferry visitors up and down. The island has an archaeological excavation site at Akrotiri, which was preserved under a layer of volcanic ash more than 3,500 years ago; Oia, a quaint village and artists’ colony; and many open-air restaurants where you can enjoy views of the sea. Santorini is also known for its distinctive white wines, with more than 30 varieties of grapes grown on the island.
When to Go
The best times of year to cruise the Greek Isles may be late spring to early summer, then again in the autumn. The islands are busiest in July and August and the heat can be intense, with temperatures approaching 100. In spring and fall, the crowds dissipate a bit and the weather is reliably warm, dry and beautiful.
Whenever you go, be sure to check out local handicrafts, which make wonderful gifts and souvenirs. These often include fine linens, gold and silver jewelry, sea sponges, lace and colorful bags. Then, relax on a sandy beach for a while, or enjoy some refreshments in a Greek taverna.
To find out more about the many options available for cruising the Greek Isles, contact Cruise Holidays.