By Janet Strassman Perlmutter
September 12, 2012
The Greek islands look so much like postcardsthat once arriving, it takes time to believe they are real—particularly when you’resitting at a beachfront table for two watching the sun melt into the Aegean Sea, or when you’re strolling down narrow alleys of whitewashed buildings accented with cherry pink bougainvillea blooming overhead. Reliably found in most top-ten lists of desired honeymoon destinations, Greece beckons with rich culture, friendly people, tempting food and internationally acclaimed nightlife.
By day, Greece is a delight for lovers of history and archaeology, as well as sun seekers and shopping enthusiasts. As the sun gets low
and the evening cools, people fill the streets, parks and cafés. Even young children enjoy the playgrounds well into the night. Locals gather at outdoor restaurants, huddled around a television as they share a beer and watch a
soccer game. But it seems the night is owned by the young adults who practically flood the streets on islands like Mykonos and the hotspots of Athens, crowding the clubs, dancing and partying until morning hours.
Cruise ships offer the most convenient and, often, the most well-priced way to enjoy this country of islands and peninsulas. Surprising to some, however, is that a cruise on a 50-person yacht doesn’t have to cost much more than taking a similar route on a 5,000-person mega ship.
Small-ship cruising with AdventureSmith Expeditions boasts numerous itineraries around the Mediterranean, traveling on family-owned Variety Cruises, including the delightful Harmony V. AdventureSmith, a California-based outfitter, specializes in sustainable travel and intimate cruise experiences.
If you’re willing to forgo the climbing wall, the casino and the company of a few thousand other travelers, you may find that small-ship cruising is for you. Service is highly personalized and the atmosphere is one of casual luxury.These 180-foot motor yachts include sun decks fore and aft, indoor and outdoor dining, a staffed bar and even a small spa with a talented massage therapist. Cabins all offer window views, flat-screen TV’s and private en suite bathrooms. Ships are staffed with a hotel manager to oversee on-board services, a cruise director to arrange shore excursions
and tours, and the captain and his staff to navigate the ship.
A delightful option is the seven-night Classical Greece cruise, which departs the glittering port of Piraeus (near Athens) each week from April through October. The first evening the ship stops in Kea, a small island in the Western Cyclades. Popular among Athenian families for weekends at the shore, this quiet spot offers a low-key beachside village, a Venetian fortress for exploring and stunning views.
Mykonos is this ship’s second port, allowing for a morning excursion to the archaeological island of Delos. Mythology holds that this sacred island was the birthplace of Apollo; history shows that up to 30,000 residents filled the small island in its heyday. Today, only archaeologists are in residence at this UNESCO World Heritage site, which is widely regarded as the most extensively excavated site in the Mediterranean.
Back in Mykonos, the next challenge is choosing a beach. Water taxis, as well as public buses and cabs, deliver beachcombers to locales such as Paradise, for a more raucous scene, or Kalu Livadi, for a quiet afternoon in a pleasant, sandy cove.
Among the most popular of the Greek isles, Mykonos is also among the most recognizable. With its classic, whitewashed adobe structures and lines of windmills atop the hills, almost every view catches the eye.
Dinner is typically served after sunset and often features fresh-caught fish. While many of the recommended eateries face the water, Kounelas Fish Taverna is tucked into a little whitewashed alley. A deservedly popular spot,
the best seating here is in the garden and reservations are welcome. Like most seafood restaurants in Greece, diners are invited to inspect the fish and choose what they’d like prepared for them. Fish is gloriously fresh
and grilled simply with herbs. Prices are moderate by Mykonos standards and the restaurant is busy but friendly.
Late at night, the Harmony V departs for Santorini, an island of black sand beaches, cliff-top villages, cable cars and donkey rides. Frequent buses deliver travelers to a choice of beaches or to the colorful village of Oia, known for opulent resorts, charming shops and jaw-dropping views of the inky-blue waters below.
After dinner, the ship cruises south to Crete, the largest of the Aegean islands, docking in the city of Rethymno.With just a bit of orientation it is easy to explore this city by foot, from its beaches to its marinas, from traditional bakeries to modern cafés. Take time to watch the fishermen fix their nets and sell their catch, as well as the phyllo maker—known simply as George—stretching his dough to prepare flaky baklava. Pastries are a specialty here and the little pies filled with spinach, cheese or wild greens are not to be missed.
The island of Kythira is so small that no large cruise ships dock there. This little gem offers a tiny beachfront village, quiet swimming (sometimes with sea turtles) and the remnants of a Venetian fortress. Nearby Monemvassia, on the Peloponnesian peninsula, has a look all its own as each building is constructed from centuries-old stone in various shades of golden brown.This
compelling village, surrounded by astoundingly clear waters, includes fine restaurants, winding passageways, and both a lower and upper castle to explore. Here, locals and visitors alike swim off rocky coves on one side of the little bridge at the base of the Byzantineera town, or at a sandy crescent across the way. For a memorable meal, stay left across the bridge, pass the larger restaurants and choose a seaside table at family-owned Scorpio or Aragonia, both toward the end of the waterfront path. Delicious food and welcoming Greek hospitality make these perfect places to relax over lunch or dinner.
Traveling around the southern tip of the Peloponnese, take in beautiful craggy mountain views along the not-too-distant shores and delight in the playful dolphins that escort the ship. Napflion is the next destination, boasting attractive city squares, sparkling waterfront hotels and the charming Old Town lanes.The beach is a quickwalk from the town center. Concluding the week is an evening in Hydra. Once considered a “hidden gem,” this car-free island has grown in popularity among the rich and famous, as well as Athens weekenders and island-hopping tourists. Scenic and peaceful, it is enough for many to simply wander the winding passages between the white stucco houses and blossoming gardens. Sit beneath the trees in an outdoor tavern such as Xeri Elia (meaning Dried Olives), a traditional restaurant owned by the same family for nearly 200 years.The food is fresh and authentic, and the atmosphere is vibrant and entertaining.
Too soon, of course, the cruise returns to Piraeus, but your explorations can continue with a few days in Athens. Formerly known as a dirty, polluted city, Athens cleaned up its act for the 2004 Olympics and has instituted anti-pollution measures that have proved highly effective. Enjoy a stay at the intimate Eridanus Art Luxury Hotel, which is not far from the Plaka. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, and views of the Acropolis from the hotel’s romantic rooftop lounge are unforgettable. Modestly-priced, room costs include a bountiful breakfast with an exceptional cheese tray, pastries, fresh fruits, delicious coffee and much more. From here, you can venture out to the renowned Acropolis Museum, various archaeological parks or the city’s famed nightclubs.
Greece not only promises the honeymoon of your dreams, but it delivers—over and over again.