“Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea,” wrote Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba the Greek. We couldn’t agree more. And Azamara’s seven-night voyage is an opportunity to make the at-least-once-in-a-lifetime sailing.
After all, the Classic Greek Isles itinerary includes many of the most appealing destinations in the Aegean. Patmos is where St. John is said to have written the New Testament Book of Revelation, and the monastery dedicated to him remains the island’s main attraction. On Rhodes, you can wander the capital’s medieval streets, following in the footstep of crusaders. Chania, on Crete, is a gateway to one of the world’s most important ancient sites, the Palace of Knossos, home of the legendary minotaur. Santorini and Mykonos are two of Greece’s best-loved islands, where whitewashed buildings sit beneath bright blue skies, and you can visit ancient ruins and cutting-edge restaurants in the same day. While the focus of this itinerary is Greece’s islands, there is one detour into Turkey: Kusadasi, home to the ruins of Ephesus, one of the most impressive ancient sites of the Mediterranean.
Your journey through the Aegean follows a roughly clockwise route, beginning with Patmos in the Dodecanese islands along the Turkish coast. Here you’ll find whitewashed homes and tavernas serving fish fresh, though most travelers don’t come to Patmos to experience typical Greek island life. Instead the main draw of this island, often called “the Jerusalem of Greece,” is a cave where the apostle St. John is said to have written Revelation.
That cave and the 11th-century monastery near it are the focus of the St. John’s Monastery and Panoramic Patmosexcursion. After departing from your ship at 8:45 a.m., you’ll head to the Byzantine-era monastery which looms over the town like a formidable castle. Still functioning, with some 40 monks in residence, the complex is also home to prized manuscripts, an important icon by El Greco, and a skull that is supposed to be that of St. Thomas the Apostle. After visiting the various chapels, you’ll continue on to the Grotto of St. John, which includes the cave where he is said to have the visions that are the basis of Revelation. On the drive back to the ship, you can sit back and take in sweeping island views.
The Turkish port of Kusadasi is the gateway to one of the most impressive Greek and Roman sites anywhere: Ephesus, famed for the Temple of Diana, one of the wonders of the ancient world. It no longer stands having been destroyed in an earthquake, though it’s possible to view the foundations of the temple and sections of some columns.
Azamara offers a number of different excursions to Ephesus. The Highlights of Ephesus tour begins at what is believed by many to be the House of the Virgin Mary and where she spent the end of her life after the death of Jesus. The tour then continues to Ephesus itself, where highlights include the Celsus Library and the Grand Theater, where St. Paul preached. The tour concludes with a visit to the Cittantica Ephesus Park, a recreation of the ancient city with shopping, restaurants, and interactive experiences. For a more customized experience, guests can opt instead for a full-day private car with a guide. How long you spend at Ephesus and whether you also visit other nearby sites, like the remains of the Byzantine-era Basilica of St. John, will be up to you.
Travelers interested in local cuisine and culture will want to consider the Cruise Global, Meet Local: Taste of Turkish Country Life excursion instead. You’ll travel through the countryside to the home of a local family who will greet you with fresh lemonade. In their kitchen, you’ll learn the secrets of meze, the small dishes of pickled vegetables, cheeses, yogurts, and grilled meats typically begin any Turkish meal. Afterwards, everyone will sit down to a feast you’ve just helped prepare.