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Trip Logs

Cruising the Greek Isles Trip Log: June 25–July 4, 2024

Trip Logs

Cruising the Greek Isles Trip Log: June 25–July 4, 2024

Photography by Richard Harker | June 26, 2024

June 25, 2024 | Athens, Greece

We gathered at our opulent, historic hotel, excited to begin our expedition to the Greek Isles. Located in the heart of Athens, opposite Constitution Square and the House of Parliament, this neoclassical gem featured stained glass ceilings, potted palms and corridors lined with antique etchings.

We spent the afternoon settling into our rooms, resting and enjoying time at leisure before meeting for lunch at a lovely rooftop cafe overlooking the Acropolis. Afterward, we strolled through the narrow cobblestone streets of the historic, hillside Plaka neighborhood.

This evening, we attended a welcome cocktail party in the hotel’s grand ballroom. Our Expedition Director, Suzana Machado D'Oliveira, shared program details and introduced the expedition team accompanying us on our voyage.

June 26, 2024 | Athens

We awoke to our first full day in Athens, where ancient iconic monuments blend with modern, lively cafes and restaurants. One of the world’s oldest cities, its rich cultural history spans 3,400 years. With over 6,000 islands — 227 inhabited — scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian Seas, it would take a lifetime to fully appreciate the enchanting region’s depth and diversity.

Departing early to avoid the heat, some of us explored the city’s highlights, beginning at the Acropolis. This ancient citadel, perched high atop a flat-top rock, is home to the Parthenon. A short climb up Democratic Hill brought wonderful views of Athens. After appreciating the panoramas, we settled into a rooftop restaurant for a typical Greek lunch. We ended the day in the historic quarter, finding hidden treasures and shops along the way.

Some took a scenic drive to the Peloponnese peninsula, taking in views of the Saronic Islands and lush, green pine trees en route. Pausing to see the Corinth Canal, we continued to the ancient archeological site of Mycenae, passing through the famed Lion Gate and visiting Grave Circle A, 16th-century royal tombs. After lunch at a local restaurant, we explored Epidaurus, marveling at its well-preserved Greek theater, which is still in use today. There, we witnessed its impressive acoustics firsthand.

Art enthusiasts immersed themselves in some of the world’s greatest works. Starting at the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, a private collection of modern and contemporary art, we saw rare pieces by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Degas, Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, as well as the work of distinguished Greek artists. We then visited the Zoumboulakis Galleries, its current exhibit a showcase of comic-influenced art. We ended the day at the Benaki Museum, housing treasures from the Bronze Age to WWII. Among its exhibits, we observed works by El Greco and saw its extensive collection of Asian art and regional Greek costumes.

The rest of us embarked on a culinary excursion through the Plaka neighborhood, sampling traditional Greek delights — such as gyros — and seeing cultural monuments.

The evening concluded with a private event at a local winery, with spectacular landscape views. Musicians strolled the patio and performance artists — still as statues — posed Greek gods and goddesses. Sitting down to an al fresco dinner at flower-topped tables tucked amid trees, we enjoyed traditional Greek dance, laughter and good conversation.

June 27, 2024 | Athens

We spent the early morning at leisure before gathering for an authentic local lunch in the shadow of the Acropolis. From there, we strolled to the modern Acropolis Museum, its beautiful objects bathed in natural light. Housing artifacts from the dawn of the Bronze Age through the Roman and Byzantine eras, the museum itself is built upon the ruins, offering a window into the layers of history beneath your feet.

Strolling the first floor, we observed statues, including some of the earliest examples of Greek art in marble. Continuing onward, we saw the historical progression of Greek clothing styles, from simple designs to more elaborate ones. Making our way to the museum’s top floor, we marveled at Parthenon metopes, reproductions of marble plaques originally placed above columns of the Parthenon.

We then bid farewell to the mainland, proceeding to the Port of Piraeus to board our luxury vessel, ‘L’Austral.’ Setting sail through the calm harbor toward the southeastern Peloponnese, we toasted our journey over a glass of Champagne on the deck, excited about the adventure ahead.

June 28, 2024 | Monemvasia

We sailed into a small port on the eastern coast of the Peloponnese to explore the fortified, medieval town of Monemvasia. This Byzantine castle city is built into sheer rock cliffs that rise hundreds of meters above the sea. It’s divided into a lower town — marked by narrow cobbled streets — and an upper town, featuring an imposing fortress. We took in breathtaking views of the Myrtoan Sea; meandered through lower town, a complex network of stone houses, tiny alleyways, shops and tavernas; and saw its central square and 13th-century cathedral Christos Elkomenos.

Some continued to Liotrivi Boutique Hotel & Historical Mansion, the former family summer estate of poet Yiannis Ritsos. Stretched with vineyards and olive groves, it was converted into an olive oil mill in the 1930s. Today, its history is preserved at an on-site museum. After learning about the cultivation of olives and the production of pure olive oil, we sat at white-clothed tables nestled beneath olive trees, tasting its oils, sipping local wine and nibbling traditional regional delicacies.

Those who ventured further afield passed through the valley of Sparta with its orange groves, olive trees, and stands of pine and cypress. Arriving at ancient, fortified Mystras — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — we visited the Church of Saint Demetrius, Patron Saint of Thessalonica. Continuing up the ancient stone steps to the base of the Pantanassa Monastery, we were greeted by a wash of pink bougainvillea; sleeping cats; and the warm hospitality of resident nuns, who served fresh loukoumi with gracious smiles.

This evening we attended our Captain’s welcome cocktail party and gala dinner aboard and met his senior officers.

June 29, 2024 | Santorini

We awoke to breezy conditions and stunning views of Santorini, as our Captain deftly maneuvered ‘L’Austral’ inside the volcanic island’s enormous central caldera. Our first sights were of the brilliant, white-washed, cuboid buildings, built on cliffs that appear to tumble into the sea.

Once a sophisticated outpost of Minoan civilization, the volcanic island was the site of a major, catastrophic eruption 3,600 years ago. Considered one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, it produced an eruption column 22 miles high and tsunamis nearly 165 feet above sea level.

Those interested in the area’s unique geological history instead boarded a boat to the small, uninhabited island of Nea Kameni, ascending its still-active crater alongside our knowledgeable guide. Sparsely vegetated, it featured lava rock formations and active sulfur vents.

Others chose to visit the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri, a Cycladic Bronze Age settlement. Paved streets, an extensive drainage system, and the production of high-quality pottery and crafts point to the level of sophistication and prosperity achieved. Buried under volcanic ash for thousands of years, the site is remarkably well preserved, revealing frescoes, furniture and pottery designed to transport goods. The remarkable frescoes — painted using mineral-based pigments in earth-toned hues — depicted life in this once beautiful city.

The oenophiles among us chose to explore some of the world’s oldest vineyards. A Mediterranean climate combined with nutrient-poor soil — composed largely of volcanic ash and rock — give these wines their unique character. We spent the morning learning about the painstaking, manual production process and saw the unique vine-training system that protects grapes from the harsh sun and strong winds.

Our afternoon was free to explore the beautiful cliff-top villages of Fira or Oia. As we strolled the labyrinth of narrow, meandering cobblestone paths lined with white-washed shops, cafes and restaurants, we took in staggering views of the sea below. Adventure awaited us as the weather picked up and the port closed. Our expert team leaped into action, whisking us to the port in Fira instead. Before long, we boarded cable cars; descended the sheer cliffside; and returned to our vessel.

June 30, 2024 | Rhodes

We arrived on Rhodes in the southeastern Aegean Sea, the largest of the Dodecanese Islands. Brilliant red and purple hibiscus flowers and great boughs of pink bougainvillea color the island.

Some of us set out on a scenic drive through citrus groves, vineyards and olive trees. Arriving in picturesque Lindo, our guides introduced us to the island’s history. We then climbed nearly 300 steps to reach the mighty acropolis, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. We then viewed the Temple of Athena Lindia, once a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess.

Still others instead explored the historic Old Town area. Once occupied by the Knights of St. John, who transformed the island capital into a fortified city, it was able to withstand terrible sieges. Entering through the D’Amboise Gate, we proceeded down the cobblestone streets with thick limestone walls and into the 14th-century Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. Filled with fanciful interiors, it was graced with intricate mosaic floors depicting everything from the head of the Medusa to fish and dolphins. We next strolled the famous Street of the Knights, ending at the archeological museum. Housed in the former hospital of the Knights of Saint John, it contains a fascinating collection of relics, including the “Statue of the Crouching Aphrodite” (or “Crouching Venus”), a Hellenistic model of Venus surprised at her bath.

After a scenic panoramic drive of the city, some of us walked to a local restaurant to attend a cooking class. After sipping tsipouro, we donned chef hats and aprons and prepared traditional Greek dishes. We then sat down to the fruits of our labor.

Our final group drove south to a ceramic workshop in Archangelos. There, our guide lent insight into local history, archeology and the daily lives of residents. We observed a ceramist making a vase and then created our own masterpiece, which we’ll receive by mail once it’s fired.

The afternoon was spent at leisure. Many of us chose to relax at a beautiful, pebbly beach, sunbathing on lounge chairs, reading, enjoying refreshments and swimming in the shimmering sea. Back onboard, we attended enriching lectures as we set sail for Mykonos.

July, 1 2024 | Mykonos

“The Island of the Winds,” it is said Mykonos has only 10 days each year without wind — and today was not one of them. Boasting 25 beaches, tiny coves, white-washed houses with colorful doors, narrow streets lined with bougainvillea and tiny, picture-perfect churches, Mykonos is nonetheless not to be missed.

Our first group set off on a boat trip to the island of Delos. Once a major commercial and trading center, it remains a key Greek mythological, historical and archeological site. Approaching the island, we saw massive marble columns scattered throughout. Remnants of the once-prosperous ancient city, its ruins were astonishingly preserved. We observed small shops, grand residential living quarters with intricate mosaic-tiled floors, inner courtyards edged with great marble columns, large statues of lions, and marble slabs that once showcased prominent artwork. We then visited the on-site museum, filled with important artifacts.

The rest of us took a walking tour of Mykonos, strolling through the narrow walkways as small cars and scooters squeezed past to make their morning deliveries. It was exciting to watch the city waking up, and we were grateful to be there during this tranquil part of the day. As our guides led us through the maze of picturesque streets — a confounding design meant to confuse the pirates who once plagued the village — we stopped in a local bakery for almond cookies, a local specialty. We next made our way to the iconic windmills, built by Venetians in the 16th century. We ended with a stroll through Little Venice. One of the city’s most romantic neighborhoods, it features elegant, historic houses perched precariously at the sea’s edge.

Some of us then took a panoramic drive for sweeping views of the island. We visited the Monastery of Tourliani, known for its spectacular, white-washed architecture; ornate bell tower with triple bells; and impressive, carved marble and wood interior with Byzantine frescoes and crystal chandeliers. We then crossed the street, stopping in a taverna to sip traditional ouzo and enjoy light appetizers before visiting the Chapel of St. John (Ioannis).

The rest of the day and evening was ours to explore at leisure.

July 2, 2024 | Patmos

We arrived at the small, seahorse-shaped island of Patmos, a significant Christian pilgrimage site. Its Cave of the Apocalypse is where John of Patmos (St. John the Theologian) is said to have written the Book of Revelations.

One of the most beautiful of the Dodecanese Islands, it had very few tourists — a contrast to Mykonos. Green pine and Cyprus trees covered the hillsides; small fishing boats bobbed quietly in the port; and water lapped gently against the shoreline.

The hikers among us ventured to the northeastern part of the island — a wide, mountainous peninsula with limited road access. We embarked on a rather strenuous, four-mile hike with steep climbs along goat paths — and an occasional goat companion — to enjoy spectacular views. Our guide kept a steady pace, as we passed shrubby Mediterranean vegetation.

Others visited the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, founded in 1088. Dedicated to the beloved disciple, it’s been a place of Greek learning and pilgrimage ever since. Arriving at the site, we climbed a steep, narrow cobblestone path, lined with shops and small cafes. The imposing Byzantine structure uniquely integrates monastic values within this fortified enclosure. It also houses a remarkable collection of manuscripts and artwork. We next proceeded to the Cave of the Apocalypse, taking time to reflect on this sacred location before embarking on a scenic drive to see historic windmills on hilltops and panoramic views of the island from its highest point.

The rest of us visited the village of Chora, where we took a private tour of Arxontiko Simantiri, the island’s oldest mansion house, continually inhabited by the same for 14 generations. We next viewed impressive frescoes in a nearby monastery, where we were treated to loukoumi by our nun hostess. We ended the day at a second Patmian residence, the Nikolaidis Mansion, before returning to our ship for lunch.

Our afternoon was spent at leisure. The weather was breathtaking, with clear blue skies, bright sun and mild temperatures. Some of us swam in the crystal-clear water, while others read books by the sea or popped into local souvenir shops.

Back aboard, we attended a riveting talk on the Greek War of Independence, the rebellion of Greeks within the Ottoman Empire. A lively trivia game took place after dinner, followed by dancing.

July 3, 2024 | Crete

We arrived on the populous island of Crete, characterized by mountains, fertile plateaus, valleys and gorges. Set in a strategic position between east and west, it was once the center of Minoan culture, a remarkably advanced society and the earliest known civilization in Europe.

As we pulled into the harbor, at Heraklion, we were struck by the massive Venetian walls that once fortified the city. Some of us took a guided walk, seeing Venizelou Square with its impressive Morosini Fountain. Built during the Venetian rule of Crete, it was once the city’s main source of fresh water. We also strolled along the 25th of August Street, now a paved pedestrian street lined with beautiful Neoclassical buildings. We then toured the Historical Museum of Crete, offering a comprehensive overview of Cretan history, followed by a scenic drive to Rethymno for some time to explore on our own.

Others chose to visit Knossos. A major center of the Minoan civilization, it is associated with the Greek myth of Theseus and the minotaur. After wandering through the countless rooms and passageways of the palace, we paused for a lovely seaside lunch. We later visited the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which houses the world’s finest collection of Minoan artifacts, from entire walls of arrowheads to pottery and an extraordinary collection of gold jewelry.

The rest of us instead passed through olive and wine country to visit a local Cretan farm. Greeted by its stewards, we learned how to make cheese, feed and milk goats, and collect eggs from chickens. Sourdough bread was then prepared in wooden bowls and baked in a traditional wood-fire oven fueled by olive branches. We sat down to a family-style meal cooked by our hosts, followed by traditional dancing.

Back aboard, we sat down to a memorable photo show with contributions from our Expedition Team.

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