Visiting Greece and her islands had always been a dream of mine since I studied ancient history in high school. The legends and pictures of this beautiful country from the school textbooks of my youth were about to become reality.
Our home for three nights was the ship Louis Olympia, part of a small Greek cruise line that specialises in island hopping, rather than normal cruising. The Louis Olympia is more like a floating hotel that transfers you between the different islands at night, optimising your days on the islands. She is also a lot smaller than the American mega-ships that plough the oceans these days; that being said, she still has all the facilities you would expect like swimming pools, heaps of deck space for sunning yourself, a fully equipped gym, spa, multiple restaurants, dining rooms, bars and a casino.
We boarded the Louis Olympia in the Turkish port of Kusadasi and headed out to explore the amazing Greek Islands.
Our first stop was the Greek island of Rhodes, located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea, just below Turkey. In ancient times, Rhodes was home to the massive Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the Greek god of the sun Helios, that stood in the harbour and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately the statue was destroyed in an earthquake in 226 BC and all that remains are the footings. The main attraction of Rhodes now is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed medieval old town with its historic walls and gates. The old town is a mecca for tourists with its many museums, arty shops, restaurants and cafés. We spent our time walking, exploring and getting lost in the old town and thoroughly enjoying ourselves! Of all the places we visited, we found the locals in Rhodes to be very friendly and loved to stop and have a chat.
The best meal we had in Greece was at one of these small local restaurants in the plaza of the old town… my mouth waters just thinking about it!
Crete is the largest Greek island and one of the most historic, with the island’s Minoan civilisation dating back to 2600 BC.
The main attraction on the island of Crete is the massive Palace of Knossos with its maze of rooms, which can be found in Heráklion. You will need a lot of imagination when visiting the Palace of Knossos, as most of it is just stone walls and foundation ruins, but there are some decorative murals and mosaics still on display as well as some reconstructed areas with stone columns to give you an idea on what it would have looked like.
Besides the palace, Crete has a lot of beach resorts that cater for European holiday-makers seeking the sun.
The last Greek island we stopped at is also one of the most photographed islands in the world. Santorini is truly spectacular and a must-see destination for anyone visiting the Greek Islands. The island was formed and shaped by a volcanic eruption that left Santorini with its dramatic high cliffs and deep lagoon.
The town of Oia on the northwest side of Santorini is the principle place of beauty, built on the high cliffs overlooking the sea, giving it the best location to watch the sunset each evening. Most of the buildings in Oia are whitewashed with blue domed roofs; all built hugging the steep cliffs.
The town of Oia is quite small and the main activity for tourist is walking the main pedestrian road that winds its way along the cliff, linking the many art galleries, cafés, restaurants and touristy shops together.
Make sure you take the time to soak in the view and the relaxed atmosphere in one of the many local taverna’s that offer amazing vistas of the cliffs and sea below.
If you are lucky, you may also get to witness the spectacle of one of the locals leading a long string of mules carrying any number of different things up or down the narrow paths leading to the bottom of the incredible cliff face.
The Greek islands really do live up to their reputation in every way.