I recently had the privilege to sail on APT’s small ship, the MS Island Sky, on their ‘Mediterranean Odyssey’ itinerary, 13 days from Mykonos to Barcelona. That’s me on the left below! APT are cruising to new ports in 2018, so while you wont be able to join ‘Mediterranean Odyssey’ next season, APT’s range of small ship cruises in the Med include some fantastic itineraries including the 15 Day French Riviera & Adriatic Gems, & the 17 Day From Moors to Rome cruise onboard the MS Island Sky.
After a short 35 minute flight from Athens to Mykonos, the minute you step off the plane you know you’ve reached a Greek paradise. Met on arrival by APT representatives we were transferred to our stunning hotel, the Myconian Korali Relais Et Chateaux. Situated high on a hill, the hotel overlooks the azure Aegean Sea. This was the first of many spectacular Mediterranean sunsets (at 9pm no less, sunlight for hours). If you have the time I would highly recommend a few pre-cruise nights at the hotel to take in all that Mykonos has to offer. Some of my fellow travellers arranged pre-nights and not only began the cruise refreshed but got to explore the whitewashed town.
The following morning we transferred to the ship, and sailed off to Syros. After docking we began our walking tour of the city Ermoupoli. We visited Little Venice and its gorgeous neo-classical buildings, strolled through cobble streets and visited the Church of the Assumption, holding an original icon by the artist El Greco. The clear waters were too tempting in the summer heat so we took off for a swim during free time in the afternoon.
Overnight we sailed to Nafplion, a charming town and a gateway to antiquity. My Freedom of Choice Option was to visit the sites of Mycenae and Epidaurus. First we took a scenic drive into the hills, to the ancient site of the citadel of Myceanae. The citadel was once ruled by the Trojan conqueror Agamemnon, with the ruins date back 3000 years. Next we drove to Epidaurus, where the ruins of the amphitheatre are still used today for Greek performances. The site was dedicated to Asclepius, the god of healing, and the site was once filled with curative spas and baths. Again we had free time in the afternoon so of course we went for a swim, and then some shopping in the old town.
The following morning we traversed the Corinth Canal in our small ship. At 6km long and only 21 meters wide, the canal is only accessible by small ship; what a unique way to eat breakfast. Make sure you head up to the Sun Deck and take a few snaps as your sail through! Upon docking in Itea, we took a coach to the ancient site of Delphi, once home to the Oracle. Many historical figures including Alexander the Great once made the pilgrimage to Delphi to seek the Oracle’s wisdom. Set 2000 feet up on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, this site had spectacular views and amazing ruins.
On Day 5 we docked in Katakolon, and drove to Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games in 776 BC! We got to walk through training grounds, arenas, the Temple of Zeuss, the Temple of Hera and its alter, where the Olympic Torch is lit every 4 years. We even had a race on the track in the Stadium. Throughout all our visits to the historical sites in Greece the local guides were just outstanding. Their knowledge and passion brings the history to life, and their care and attention to detail is meticulous.
As a Signature Experience, we all had lunch at a local Greek family’s farm in Katakolon, and this was wonderful. Specialising in agritourism, the family make their own wine and olive oil, and the taste of the oil is like none I’ve ever had before. I had to bring some home with me! With a wave goodbye to Greece we sailed for Sicily, and docked in Syracuse. After a morning tour, I explored the island of Ortygia, walking by beautiful alleys and taking in the Piazza del Duomo at sunset. Of course I had my first Italian pizza and gelato… when in Italy!
We then took a short leave from Italy and sailed into Valletta, Malta. Now Malta completely exceeded my expectations, and though it was a short visit it was worth it. The fortified city of Mdina was brought to life by our guide, with stories of knights and hidden alleyways. Valetta has spectacular views of the Grand Harbour, and a visit to St John’s Cathedral was magnificent, with walls covered in golden detail and an alcove also homing works by artist Caravaggio.
As this is a soft expedition cruise, inclement weather can of course alter your sailing itinerary. Due to rough seas, we had to change our touring on Day 8, and dock in the Sicilian port of Trapani. The alternative arrangements were executed seamlessly by our Cruise Director and APT staff and our visit to the Sicilian hilltop town of Erice was scenic and beautiful. You won’t know what you’re missing because the replacement will be just as incredible.
The following day we sailed to the Italian island of Sardinia, with our first stop being Cagliari (our tour guide made a point of stating the city’s name is pronounced Carli-ari, and not Cagli-ari – my silent embarrassment at saying it wrong for so long! You’ve been warned). After a rough night at sea, I was a bit worse for wear, however I did have higher expectations of our visit, and found the city not to be as impressive as I’d thought. However, when travelling there are still pleasant surprises; we saw flamingos on the salt flats!
We then sailed for Alghero, though again our plans were foiled by strong winds and high seas. Once more the APT staff and crew adeptly made alternative docking arrangements for us in Oristano so we could continue with our touring as planned, with a visit to the town of Bosa. This colourful town is quaint and quiet, set in a picturesque location nestled in the hills and overlooked by a fortress. The Fiume River runs the length of the town, and gave an extra note of serenity to our morning. Bosa is renowned for its olive oil and wine production. The Malvasia wine is famous in the region, and we had a wine-tasting in a little cellar hidden away in one of the many cobbled streets. We then continued on a walking tour down the back streets and alleyways of Bosa, taking in the colourful houses covered in vines, with flowers and grandmothers lingering on the windowsills.
Alas our visit to the Italian islands was over, but we sailed on for Spain. Our first port of call was Mahon, on the island of Menorca, said to be the birthplace of mayonnaise; an alleged accidental concoction served to a French Duke in the 1700s. The rest is history. Menorca is a small island, only about 50 km wide and its highest point being Monte Toro, 342m high at its summit and home to the Sanctuary of La Verge Del Toro, the Virgin of El Toro, which has a history dating back to the 13th century.
First we had a visit to the seaside town of Binibeca; the whitewashed houses are brightened by vines of bougainvillea and surrounded by a labyrinth of pathways. Although little boats are pulled up in the bay, Binibeca is said to be more of a holiday destination not a fishing village. We then drove up to Monte Toro for panoramic views of the countryside, and a visit to the Verge de Toro before continuing on for a walking tour in the fishing town of Fornells.
Our final full day of touring was spent on the Spanish island of Mallorca, docking in Palma de Mallorca. In the morning we took a drive into the hills to the seaside town of Port de Soller. The bay was stunning blue and filled with boats, but we boarded a vintage tram which took us from Port De Soller, past rustic farm houses with groves of orange and lemon trees to the village of Soller.
Soller is nestled in the Valley of the Serra de Tramuntana and beautiful to behold. Local markets had the village centre buzzing with activity; so many market stalls with fresh cheese, meats, fruit, vegetables and olives. We enjoyed our free time exploring the shopping streets and soaking up the Spanish sun on the steps of the City Hall with a coffee in-hand. With the short amount of time at leisure back in Palma de Mallorca in the afternoon, I would highly recommend a visit to the Palma Cathedral, which stands in the old town, magnificent by the water.
Our cruise ended as we sailed into Barcelona, saying goodbye to new friends throughout breakfast after 13 unforgettable days together. Though I could only scratch the surface of Las Ramblas with my few remaining hours before flying home, I would certainly recommend extending your stay post-cruise to explore the city, take in the architecture of Gaudi, Park Guell and The Sagrada Familia.
My APT small ship cruise was exceptional, a little home at sea, made possible by APT, the Cruise and Tour Directors and of course the faultless, attentive crew of the MS Island Sky. The itinerary was rich of culture and history, and this was the trip of a lifetime. What a way to experience Europe!