I have come to the conclusion that early November is the perfect time to visit Greece. The temperature is a pleasant twenty degrees as opposed to the sweltering heat of July and August and there are none of the swarming hordes of tourists.
In fact, most of the historic must-see sites such as Olympia, Mycenae and Delphi were virtually deserted. The same could be said too of the ports, towns and villages we visited, and we were able to see and, in some cases, join in everyday Greek life and chat amicably with the locals.
We took an eight-day ‘Antiquity to Byzantium‘ cruise with Variety Cruises sailing around the Peloponnese on the beautiful M/S Galileo. A lovely three masted ship, she has engines but the sight of the crew hoisting the sails in warm Mediterranean sunshine is one to remember for a long time.
She is classically and comfortably furnished inside and though she only holds some forty people there are still places on the three upper decks where you can go for solitude or a quiet drink. The food on board was amazing, the only problem being I did not dare step on a pair of scales for at least a week after I got home.
Check in onboard was smooth and with only thirty-five passengers onboard we headed up for a welcome drink and snacks in the upper deck bar at the stern and soon started to gel and found ourselves a mixture of British, German, Swedish, Greek and Australian voyagers. The crew are a mixture of nationalities as you would expect in cruising these days and they were cheery and bright and extremely proficient at what they do.
I can thoroughly recommend this cruise as history drips off the trees around you, and all the sites are visited by a short comfortable coach ride. You also visit places such as olive plantations, you’ll need a suitcase for what you want to take home, explore the wonderful cave system at Diros, part of which is done by boat and some beautiful towns and villages where you can sample local delicacies. Mind, you can also do that on the ship with delicious little Greek pastries that drip sugar and honey but beware they are very, very moreish!
What makes this cruise so special is the way you travel back thousands of years to Classical Greece with free entry to the major sites and a highly qualified guide who stayed on the ship with us. You also get free time to explore and entry to the national museums at the sites where you can see some of the most exquisite pieces of art anywhere.
The museum at Delphi for example holds the world-famous Charioteer, the only known life size bronze statue to have survived from the classical period some 2,400 years ago. I sat and stared at it for some twenty minutes with just a trickle of people joining me. Something that would have been impossible had we visited in July and August.
At the same time overnight stops in some of the ports let you stroll around the almost deserted streets of towns such as Nafplio regarded by many as the most beautiful town in Greece and sample a glass of ouzo in harbour side tavernas with the reflection of the Galileo dancing on the water.
Olympia is a must to see the very first ever Olympic stadium and the site where the Olympic Flame is kindled every four years. The dome shaped Tomb of Atreus is simply breath-taking and to walk beneath the Lion Gate at Mycenae as Agamemnon once did is simply giving you major bragging rights.
Nothing is too much trouble for the staff on board the slightest query or request was dealt with immediately. Joseph our Cruise Director was an Athenian and passionately proud of Greek history and culture. A fact noticed by the emotion on his voice when we travelled some thirty minutes by coach to head back to the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. to Epidaurus. Not just an archaeological site, it is one of the most important centres of antiquity. The jewel in its crown is the incredible theatre which held some 13,000 people. A wonder of the ancient world the acoustics in this open-air theatre must be heard to be believed. Wherever you stand or sit you hear the actors speaking perfectly.
The scenery of the Peloponnese is simply beautiful and diverse changing from mountains to plains but perhaps the passage through the Corinth Canal is one of the highlights with its sandstone walls towering above us as we sailed majestically through.
Many of the Byzantine churches and suites we visited were equally memorable such as the walled town of Monemvassia remarkably preserved and built on ‘Greek’s Gibraltar’. Perfectly preserved, this medieval city is a warren of narrow cobbled alleyways, arches and steep staircases with no wheeled vehicles any kind, including bicycles, allowed inside.
Greek Night on board is a must too, with traditional Greek food and dancers coming on to Galileo to show us national and local dances where you can join in if you wish. A fabulous night on fabulous cruise.
Do go, you’ll remember it forever.
Steve Newman was a guest of Variety Cruises.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Variety Cruises.