In May, I headed to a place in Italy that despite all the times I have been to Italy I have just never made it to. The Amalafi Coast lives up to its reputation as being a place of stunning beauty and gorgeous coastlines. While I could wax lyrical about all the wonders of this amazing area, I am instead going to talk about the second week of our trip.
After a week of eating great food, drinking wonderful Italian wine, hiking, sightseeing and negotiating the very crowded buses and boats (early May is not the offseason anymore!), we headed to Greece to do a Star Clippers Cruise.
I had not been to Greece since the late '70s, when I spent two months working and traveling there as part of my overland trip from Australia to the UK. The sea was still as blue, the sky as clear and the houses as white! If Greece is not on your bucket list, then maybe you should add it.
We sailed out of Athens at 11 p.m. with all sails up, lit with sparkling lights and haunting music playing in the background. It was a magical moment.
Clipper Ships originated in the 19th century and were very fast sailing ships with three or more masts and a large sail area. The Star Clipper, our boat, was 360-feet long and can carry 170 guests. Our group of 130 was a mixed bag of German, Swiss and French nationalities with a sprinkling of Americans, Brits and Canadians - and one lone Australian (me). It never felt crowded as the deck space was pretty big and there were plenty of areas to get away if you wished. The decor was nautical - no surprise there - but the rich teak and mahogany wood created a very elegant, old-world feel.
We sailed all day the first day to reach Rhodos, our first stop. There were activities to choose from if you wished, or you could just relax on a deck chair in the sun.
Rhodos was a great first stop as we had 11 hours there, so plenty of time to explore and eat some great Greek food. It's the largest of the 12 islands of the Dodecanese and was the realm of Helios the sun god. It is also the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - the Colossus of Rhodes. The medieval part of the city, once occupied by Turks, is a fascinating place to wander around. It has narrow stone-paved streets, 15th century buildings and the Street of the Knights is one of the finest examples of late Gothic streets to be found anywhere in Europe. At the end of this street is an imposing 14th century Grand Masters Palace. We spent hours just wandering around the streets, stopping for occasional ouzo and ending up at a wonderful little tucked away restaurant for a fabulous dinner.
The next two ports were Turkish. Bodrum, the St. Tropez of Turkey, is a far cry from the Turkey I saw in my youth. It is one of Turkey's loveliest holiday resorts and attracts an international clientele. The medieval castle built by the Knights of Rhodes was very interesting, and the boat yards have been famous since ancient times. We had a great, if somewhat expensive, seafood lunch with a (surprisingly) very good Turkish wine.
The western side of Turkey is very progressive and the whole of Turkey is experiencing a surge of tourism. As one of our guides said, it's a Muslim country, but not Islamic.
The Delta of Dalyhn River, our next stop, and the four-kilometer-long Iztuzu Beach is well known for the Caretta Caretta (Loggerhead Sea Turtle), which have existed for 95 million years. The boat trip through the Delta was fun, and the archeological site Caunos and the Lykian rock tombs situated on the cliffs over the canal are a must see.
Santorini is simply spectacular. Part of the Cycladic chain, the characteristic features of the island are the 600- foot high sheer cliffs. It has the only active volcano in the Eastern Mediterranean. The little white towns cling to the cliffs, and the sunsets over the Caldera are magnificent.
Our last stop was to have been Hydra, but winds prevented us going there so we went to Poros instead. It was a rainy day, but the discovery of a little restaurant run by an English-Greek couple saved the day. Along with two other couples from the ship who waved us over to join them, we spent a few hours sampling dishes that the owner kept bringing out. There were no crowds, and we felt like we had the place to ourselves. A fitting way to end a great trip.
Rosie Holliday is an ex-pat Aussie and longtime long travel agent who owns Holliday Adventures, an affiliate of Andavo Travel- A Virtuoso agency. While she can and does book the world, her specialities are Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Europe. Reach her at 970-748-9818, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.hollidayadventures.com.