A luxury Med cruise from Athens to Venice with Silversea

Gillian Thornton took a luxury cruise from Athens to Venice with Silversea

Standing beside the Ancient Greek marketplace on the tranquil island of Delos, I couldn’t help marvelling at how times change. A short boat ride away on Mykonos, the flower fringed alleys and quayside cafes of the main town, Chora, were buzzing with visitors keen to experience its whitewashed buildings, blue paintwork and chic boutiques.

But wind the clock back 4,000 years and the roles of these twin islands were very much reversed. Mykonos was a sleepy backwater and Chora just a supply port for Delos, a sacred destination that buzzed to the daily life of some 35,000 inhabitants. Legendary birthplace of divine twin archers Apollo and Artemis, Delos attracted pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean as well as dozens of trading ships each day. But today, Mykonos has a population of 12,000, whilst Delos is home to just a handful of archaeologists who work on the ruined temples and public buildings, the tightly packed shops and ancient houses of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Silver Moon

Delos was the first of many fascinating destinations that my husband and I visited on a spring cruise holiday from Athens to Venice on board Silver Moon, one of the latest additions to Silversea’s fleet of small luxury ships. With just 596 passengers and a package that includes drinks, excursions and gratuities, it proved the perfect floating home for two silver travellers who enjoy great food and service, spacious accommodation, and a relaxed atmosphere with minimal add-on bills at the end. The only extras are premium branded drinks and speciality dining, private excursions and spa treatments.

Mediterranean Itinerary

Our itinerary promised three ports in Greece, one each in Albania and Montenegro, three in Croatia, and four in Italy, but no two cruises are the same, so future Silversea voyages may feature a different combination. And remember that you need to tack on a hotel stay if you want to explore your departure and disembarkation ports. Having visited Venice on several previous occasions, we opted for an overnight stay in Athens, arranged by Silversea at the centrally located Hotel Grande Bretagne. Just time for a meal in the Plaka district and a stroll around the foot of the Acropolis.

With so many countries and cultures rubbing shoulders around the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, our programme offered a crash course in Europe’s power struggles and ever-changing boundaries, along with a liberal sprinkling of UNESCO World Heritage Sites from cathedrals to city walls, ancient cities to geological features.

We love history but also enjoy the outdoors, so we chose a mix of included excursions from city tours on foot to cultural exploration by coach, and guided hikes.

Strong winds off Crete sadly put paid to our first scheduled stop at Aghios Nikolaos in Crete – presumably because of issues with tendering passengers from ship to quayside. Since our last Adriatic cruise, we noticed that even a small ship like Silver Moon is often now required to anchor offshore or dock in a commercial port outside the main town, but free Silversea shuttle buses were always available.

On Board

So instead, we spent a day relaxing on calm seas and enjoying the ship’s facilities. Not all bad! Launched in 2020, Silver Moon offers a wide choice of included restaurants including the popular Salt Kitchen serving daily dishes from the local area; the Italian-themed Terrazza; a gourmet restaurant; and jazz club. Only the speciality French and Japanese venues incur a supplement. Passengers can also enjoy cookery lessons in the Salt Lab to learn local cuisine.

Albania and Italy

After Delos we headed to the Albanian port of Sarande and another UNESCO-listed gem. The ancient city of Butrint – recently featured on BBC2’s Treasures of History series with Bettany Hughes – sits in woodland near the Albanian coast, a real treasure in a country still finding its feet with international tourists.

Then it was on to Bari, gateway to Puglia and the ‘heel’ of Italy. Our guide was, as usual, excellent, but the main sites here are ecclesiastical or military, so if that sounds like information overload, you may prefer to explore independently and wander the Lungomare or the stylish Corso Vittorio Emanuele with its café terraces and palm trees. But I’d still recommend the Cathedral of San Sabino where it is worth paying 3 euros (churches are free) to visit the extensive archaeological site five metres below.

Bari Cathedral

Bari is also the departure point for excursions to Alberobello, location for the famous conical trullo houses, as well as the extraordinary hillside town of Matera, ‘shame of Italy’ in the 1950s but now sympathetically restored.

Montenegro and Croatia

Crossing to the eastern shore of the Adriatic, every day brought a new delight. The medieval walled cities of Kotor in Montenegro and Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia; tranquil Sibernik with its Gothic-Renaissance cathedral and narrow streets; and Zadar, home to a Roman Forum and a contemporary Sea Organ (imagine blowing over bottles filled with different levels of water!). We also welcomed the chance for some calorie-busting activity.

In Dubrovnik, we hiked up Srdj hill to the fortress and restaurant; from Sibernik, we enjoyed the aquamarine pools and tumbling waterfalls of Krka National Park; and from Zadar, a canyon hike in the rugged Paklenica National Park.

Ravenna and Trieste, Italy once more

Our last two stops before Venice promised very different styles of Italian city. First, a welcome return to Ravenna, a town that at first sight doesn’t look particularly exciting. But the attractions here are behind closed doors, glittering church mosaics dating from Ravenna’s golden age as western capital of the Roman Empire. Stop too at the tomb of Dante Alghieri, Italy’s answer to Shakespeare.

All too soon we were in Trieste, a multi-cultural city at a European crossroads with ornate buildings and painted facades left by 500 years of Habsburg rule. We loved the vast Piazza Unità d’Italia, a short walk from our mooring; the hilltop cathedral and Roman remains; and – around the bay – the stunning 19th century villa of Miramare, built for Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian.

Next morning we woke up outside Venice, the end of the holiday for us but a day in port for those staying on board as Silver Moon continued its journey to Rome. Envious? Me? You bet!

Find out more

Visit Silversea and call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678 to get a quote and book your cruise. Silversea offer voyages to many parts of the world, including expeditions to the Artic and Antarctic.

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Gillian Thornton

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