Cruising the Cyclades Islands in Greece

Arriving to Marina Zeas after a three night stay in Athens, my family and I excitedly walked onto the 157-foot, 49 passenger Galileo motorized sailing ship to embark on an 8-day ‘Jewels of the Cyclades’ cruise showcasing some of the most popular Aegean Islands.

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First launched in 1992, and most recently renovated in 2016, passengers are welcomed by the Greek Captain and his crew of 16, before being issued their stateroom key. Staterooms have portholes in the tastefully decorated cabins with spacious twin beds that can be separated or pushed together. There are two closets, and an en suite with a stall shower. Each cabin is air-conditioned and offers a mini safe, hair dryer, radio music and telephones to use internally.

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Taking a tour before sailing to the first Greek Island port of Paros, we explored the indoor and outdoor public areas, as well as the Main, Upper and Sun Decks. Although this ship mostly cruises by motor, sails are raised if the Captain feels it will be safe and comfortable for the passengers.

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Meals are served on the Main Deck dining room next to a lounge area with a full bar. In the morning, we took our breakfast out to the shaded outdoor area for fresh air and to enjoy sea or port views. In the evening, we enjoyed a drink under the stars on the Sun Deck before and after dinner.IMG_1315-2

What I liked about dining on the Galileo was the unassigned seating. We could sit together as a family, or meet other guests throughout the cruise. A few were from the United States, England and Australia. Breakfast is served as a hot and cold buffet daily, with egg dishes customized per each guest order. A few lunches and most dinners were provided as sit-down service.

Leaving Athens before sunset, we arrived in the picturesque fishing village of Paros and disembarked to explore this popular island. In the evening the locals and visitors sit outside at the multiple tavernas for a meal. The Byzantine Monastery of Ekatontapyliani (translated to the church with the hundred doors) is worth visiting. It’s an easy walk up cobblestone streets past traditional Greek architecture, to this historic stone church with 99 doors and one secret door. At the top of the hill the views of the town, boat docked nearby and neighboring islands are beautiful.

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The second day we arrived early at the secluded Polyaigos bay. As the captain dropped anchor into the still aquamarine water, the staff lowered a swimming ladder, kayaks, paddle boards and provided snorkeling equipment for passengers to swim and partake in outdoor activities. This barren island is privately owned by the Greek Orthodox church, and doesn’t see many tourists, so snorkeling in the clear water is ideal.

Back onboard, we sailed to the port Chora on Folegandros island. Steeped in history, this rock strewn island was once an asylum for political prisoners banished from the island of Crete starting in 1900 to 1970. It’s one of the best-preserved islands in the Cyclades. Sights to visit include the picturesque narrow living quarters, and the church of Panagia (Virgin) built over the ruins of the ancient sanctuary of Artemis. Located on the top of a cliff, visitors follow a steep stone path beginning at Pounda Square, and serpentine up a 15 minute walk to the church. This pinnacle offers outstanding views of the island and the sea. Down below are a variety of traditional taverns, gelato shops, and local craft stores.

IMG_1811Sailing to Santorini, the ship anchors in Ormos, the old port at the bottom of a volcanic cliffs. This area has a few taverns, small shops and three different options to get up to the top of the picturesque village of Fira. The easiest way is a three-minute cable car ride. Adventurous visitors can walk up a steep zigzag stone pathway with over 600 steps, or pay to ride a mule up to the top.

The main town of Fira is the most visited area on the island. Visitors walk along the narrow streets to admire breathtaking hotels, restaurants and homes perched in niches carved into the caldera. Take a cab, rent a car or scooter to the fairytale town of Oia. The whitewashed buildings and blue dome roofs bring a pop of color and beauty in this village.

Park and walk out to a worn historic castle that serves as a lookout point. It offers 360-IMG_1820degree views of the blue water and neighboring Greek islands. There is a picturesque old windmill that has become one of the most photographed sites.

Santorini is not known for its beaches, however the next port we visited, Mykonos has beautiful sandy beaches, beachside cafes and warm baby blue colored water.

Docking at the busy shipping dock in Mykonos, we took a local ferry boat into the heart of the picturesque and historic town. Known for its summer party atmosphere, delicious Greek food, chic lifestyle, and lively nightlife, Mykonos town is named ‘Little Venice.’ It’s quaint narrow stone walkway, alleys full of shops, outdoor cafes, hotels and churches reminds visitors of Venice, Italy. During sunset, a popular viewing spot for locals and visitors is the row of 16th-century windmills on a hill in town.

IMG_2119A must see excursion is the small island of Delos. We boarded a ferry for a 40 minute ride to this UNESCO World Heritage site. According to Greek mythology, this is a holy island of ancient Greece, and the birthplace of Apollo and twin sister Artemis.

As we docked, a knowledgeable guide walked us through a fascinating open-air museum, while describing the once thriving political, religious and commercial center around 8th century B.C. This 1.3 square mile island is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, housing thousands of restored and preserved remnants. Besides towering temple columns, there is a grand theater, private homes, and innovative drainage and water system.

British contemporary artist Antony Gormley installed a series of different human like sculptures and strategically placed them throughout the island. His art installation named SIGHT, has 29 art pieces perched outside and two inside the small Archaeological Museum.

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One of our last visits was to the island of Syros, considered as one of the most picturesque Cyclades capitals. We visited preserved Venetian mansions, narrow alleys, and spectacular sunset views from impressive Catholic and Orthodox churches perched on two different hill tops. It’s not as touristy as neighboring Mykonos, Santorini, and Paros, but the island has a lot of charm. Architecturally this is one of the most fascinating ports in the Mediterranean, displaying some of the most beautiful 19th century buildings in Greece. The town of Hermoupolis is ideal for walkers to explore narrow streets to discover Greek restaurants and ouzeries.

Take a local bus to the seaside village of Kini for beautiful beaches, warm water and beach view cafes.IMG_1177

Cruising the Cyclades onboard the Variety Cruises’ Galileo offers passengers an enlightening Greek Island experience. The small boat has a friendly and accommodating crew that make sure each journey is smooth sailing.

To learn about upcoming cruises in 2020, go to Variety Cruises.

This article was featured in the November issue of Not Born Yesterday 

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