CRUISING WORLDS

Like a prism that can be seen from many sides, Greece opens up different worlds, in each of the island groups briefly sketched below.  Each of them is an archipelago of strong appeal, making the choice of the first cruise difficult.

It should not be so; for whatever will be your point of entry in these worlds, it will only mark the start of a physical and mental journey that will perpetuate itself in time.

It is hard to sail the Greek waters only once. One day you shall return to sail thru another archipelago, enjoy another world, and another.. until the prism dissolves into a kaleidoscope.

CRUISING WORLDS

Like a prism that can be seen from many sides, Greece opens up different worlds, in each of the island groups briefly sketched below.  Each of them is an archipelago of strong appeal, making the choice of the first cruise difficult.

It should not be so; for whatever will be your point of entry in these worlds, it will only mark the start of a physical and mental journey that will perpetuate itself in time.

It is hard to sail the Greek waters only once. One day you shall return to sail thru another archipelago, enjoy another world, and another.. until the prism dissolves into a kaleidoscope.

THE IONIAN ISLANDS

Sailing in the breezes of the Ionian is the easiest entry into the Greek galaxy of Islands. Precious and gentle, refined by centuries of Venetian rule, these garden islands of flowers, pines, cypresses, olive groves and vineyards hover in emerald waters and bathe often in the misty light of the Sirroco.

The largest, cosmopolitan Corfu, has emerged from a palimpsest of cultures: Italian, Russian, Austrian, French. Their legacy is evident in the palatial architecture of the main town. Remote, sparkling coves embrace the fragrant landscape.Past the blissful retreats of unspoiled Paxi and Atipaxi lies Lefkas of the white cliffs, surrounded by turquoise islands such as Onasis’ Scorpios and Meganisi.

A brief passage south reveals Kefalonia of green mountains and azure sea caves, graced by charming seaside towns like Fiskardo and Assos and a short distance away blazes Odysseus’ Ithaki with its enchanting shores.Before entering the gulf of Corinth, the sailor is tempted by Zakynthos. Elegant in its Venetian finery, it is also laced with brilliant grottos and beaches, and shelters now the endangered sea turtles.

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THE ARGO- SARONIC ISLANDS

With Piraeus harbour only a few miles behind the stern, the ship meets the smooth and gentle, islands of the Saronic and Argolic gulfs.  Each of them develops a strong individual character whilst sharing an everyday Greek feeling. First among them Aegina of prehistoric origin watches over the sea with its magical Doric temple of Aphaia, its pistachio plantations, its neoclassical harbour and fabulous fishing villages.

Lemon scented Poros with houses built along a narrow channel links further to the south and west part of the gulf with the major maritime protagonists in the Greek war of independence: The rocky, stylish, and amphitheatrically built Hydra, now an artist colony, and the softer pine covered Spetses, famous for its patrician villas, vivacious nights and traditional boatyards. And in between, out of aquamarine waters, rise silently deserted rocks, homes of seagulls, mirage like anchorages of nowhere.

 PELOPONISSOS

Cruising around Peloponissos is witnessing a perpetual struggle between capes and gulfs, plains and mountains, radiant beaches and craggy coasts. And all along there is the burning temptation to use the sea for short pilgrimages inland and to use the land for further explorations into the sea.Past the harbour of Epidavros with the nearby amphitheater and sanctuary, past the Saronic islands, deep in the Argolic gulf, under a medieval citadel beckons the Neoclassical harbour town of Nafplion; and close by, the haunting citadel of Mycenae, home of the avenging heroes of the Trojan war.

Further down the coast rise up in the sky the rock castle and churches of Monemvasia, and further south the mythical shapes of wind beaten cape Maleas.To the east unfolds the fiercely independent domain of Mani with its ghost towers now watching the approaching vessels like mysterious sculptures.

If the bow turns south, Aphrodite’s birthplace is waiting. Kithira’s steep shores are hiding medieval remains and wild terrains.The wind brings to the sea the perfume of herbs from the cliffs of Mystras: the last stronghold of Byzantium. There, magnificent frescoes still give life to the ruins of palaces and churches. After olive rich Kalamata, and the sea castles of Methoni and Coroni, off the western coast, beams the birthplace of the Olympic games, peaceful Olympia, with its stadium, temples and a treasure house of a museum.

Patras’ bustling port leads into the gulf of Corinth, and to the two historic maritime towns of Galaxidi and Nafpaktos. The otherworldly site of Delphi can be reached by a short drive thru a sea of olive trees before entering the Corinth canal, gateway to the Saronic.

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EVIA AND THE SPORADES

The land and sea intermingle when sailing around Evia where golden bays and promontories of pine and spruce and plane trees are washed by the spray of mostly open water.Huge in size but thinly populated, Evia projects into sky and sea awesome mountains, fertile fields and ports and villages of strong local character.

The Sporades to the Northeast, also unspoiled, unfurl magnificent seashores like those of popular Skiathos and of quieter Skopelos where one can endlessly discover and visit as many as 360 churches. Skyros, Theseus’ dying place, farther apart, a harder island, reveals to the visitor rich folk art and architecture. The smaller islands: Piperi, Scantzoura, Planitis, K Panagia jealously retain their ultramarine paradises and Alonissos has made itself a shining reserve for marine wildlife.

 HALKIDIKI AND NORTH AEGEAN ISLANDS

Crossing the waters of North Aegean, to Halkidiki means leaving the Mediterranean behind and coming under the spell of the Balkans: A dark green world wild and pure, with harsh climate and its own flora and fauna. Faith is still alive as a fact of nature. The Byzantine spirit reigns in these parts, especially on Mount Athos where over one thousand year old monasteries and hermitages are spread on the promontory overlooking the dark sea. Here monks and hermits live in sacred space and time. Only men can be permitted to visit, but women may circumnavigate the peninsula to catch glimpses of a forbidden world, in a fairy tale like setting.

To the east, before the bow come Thassos abundant in ancient monuments and natural beauty and imposing Samothraki whose waterfalls, lakes and high mountains were the backdrop of the ancient mysteries of Cabiri. Further south, gentle Limnos, acts as a bridge to the East Aegean islands.

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THE EAST AEGEAN ISLANDS

Verdant, mountainous, beautiful, crossroads between East and West. Long ago these islands drifted away from Asia Minor but stayed linked to that coast since Homeric times by a constant exchange of culture, merchandise and violence.
To drop anchor here is to enter a new cosmos. Rich and complex Lesvos, home of poets and artists beginning with Sappho, exposes boldly its extremely varied landscape and towns, and offers great ouzo times and lovely beach dreaming and joy. Noble Chios cherishes eerie Medieval villages and stunning Byzantine mosaics in the Nea Moni Monastery.

Lush, happy, pine clad Samos, home of Pythagoras, is proud of its Heraion. Like Byron it holds high its cup of Muscat wine…Unspoiled Ikaria, the wild civilised beauty, Oinousses, the cradle of Greek shipping, tough Psara, serene Fournoi, leave a wake of emotion along their straits.

THE CYCLADES

The bow rides high crested waves to reach the heart of the Aegean. Here, spread like stars across the sky are the Cyclades. These islands are more religious in their pagan nature than any other group. Bold, naked and vibrant, flailed by the wind and the bluest sea, they are brilliant jewels, ignition to the senses and the spirit.

In their heart floats Delos, birthplace of Apollo god of light: a vast and radiant site, bearing testimony to its ancient role as sacred and commercial centre. Nearby, shimmers Myconos, a haven for the jet set, lively day and night in the beaches and the nightspots. Across the waves rises Syros. Neoclassical, aristocratic and business like, the capital of the Cyclades is urban, sophisticated, and stark in its seashores. And from the north emerges Tinos, the Lourdes of Greece, where in mid August, faithful gather in the monastery of Panagia for cure and worship. A short venture in the interior uncovers magical villages marked by special dove houses.

Cascading from north to south: Kea, Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos, an incantation of barren rocks crowned by blazing white clusters of cubist houses and below, terraced fields and lacelike coastline of indigo bays and fishing hamlets. Milos, Polyaigos, Kimolos unfold geological marvels of sea caves and lunar beaches, while lovely Paros and Antiparos seduce hedonists.

Lower south, Santorini opens its caldera bay revealing towns glittering like diadems on dark cliffs along the rim of the sunken volcano. Steering past frozen black lava, islands of white ash and black pebble beaches lead to Akrotiri. An entire Minoan city preserved in volcanic ash; around it and all thru the island, villages half built into the rock are scattered among vineyards producing an astonishing variety of distinctive wines. Folegandros, Sikinos and Ios of sparkling harbours ease the way back north to lush, exuberant Naxos and to forbidding Amorgos. Between them, swim the Little Cycaldes, the essence of the Archipelago. Incandescent rocks over blue infinity. The sound of surf, of wind and goat bells. Here the sails drop. Time dissolves.

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THE DODECANESE

Remote and varied, scattered along the Asia Minor, now Turkish, coast, these islands are a universe in themselves. They are links between the Orient, Greece and the West, and even if medieval in character, they belong to universal history. Inside the walls of the Old Town of Rodos one relives the time of the Crusaders who ruled the East Mediterranean for centuries before the Turks and the Italians took over. And Classical times remain alive in the dreamy acropolis of Lindos, in Kameiros and in Ialyssos.

Luxurious, hibiscus adorned Rodos contrasts sharply with the holy island of Patmos dominated by its monastery fortress, and living under the spell of the book of the Apocalypse written here by John the Evangelist.The antitheses continue between the barren Kassos and Astypalaia, volcanic Nisyros, and softer Tilos, between cosmopolitan Kos, colourful Symi and busy sponge fishing centre Kalimnos and Karpathos, with the unique traditional village of Olympus. And like everywhere in Greek waters, small halcyon islets like Lipsi and Arki rise before the mast inviting you to a life of serenity one thought lost forever.

CRETE

The great island stands proud at the south edge of the Aegean, under a blazing sun, breathing the winds of Africa.Almost a separate continent in itself, Crete, spreads its rapidly changing scenery from arid mountains to tropical beaches and bears the marks of many lives: Once a centre of power, as source of Minoan civilization, it later survived the Saracenes, the Genoese, the Venetians and the Turks, developing a multifaceted culture and above all, a strong and untameable character.

The sailor receives an exhilarating welcome in the harbours of its northern coast: in Medieval Chania, Oriental Rethymno, vibrant Venitian Iraklio with its marvellous market and museum, and worldly Agios Nikolaos further east. Close to the shores lie Knossos, Phestos and other Minoan sites of exceptional liveliness and beauty. Beyond rich plains, gorges, mountain ranges and villages where time has stopped, the great island unwinds its rugged south coast. Here, the island best expresses its spirit in sombre castles tucked in the wilderness, Byzantine Monasteries on silent bluffs, and countless silent, isolated and mystical places which inspired El Greco and Kazantzakis.

Crete may recede behind your wake but it will never leave you. Once you have touched its shores, the addictive, obsessive music of the lyra and the lute enters your blood. A sweet poison, a haunting presence.

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