In northern Europe, the autumn closes in with often remarkable speed. With winter’s clammy breath just about tickling your windpipe, the need for a last, furtive few days of late, sultry sun becomes almost an obsession. But if you’ve only got the equivalent of a long weekend to play with, and/or money is tight, then the options can look pretty thin on the ground.
So. How about a long weekend’s cruise around the Greek islands? Sounds mad. At best, implausible. But actually, it’s brilliantly simple to both arrange and enjoy. Five days and four nights is all you’ll need to invest. In that time, you can see Athens, visit no less than four Greek islands, set foot in Turkey, and get a tan to boot. All at a good price, as well.
Sounds peachy, no? The downsides? You’ll get between five and seven hours in each place at the most; and the whole trip will pass at an absolutely frantic rate of knots. It’s a safe bet that you won’t absorb the entire experience until you’re back at home- and at work- the week after.
Here’s the skinny; you’ll need to fly from the UK to Athens on the Thursday night, and return the following Monday. Easyjet fly direct from Gatwick and Manchester while, from the regions, both BA and KLM have a good network of flights, at usually inexpensive prices. Hotels in Athens are not expensive but, for convenience, I recommend you stay in Piraeus, which is actually pretty easy from the airport.
In Piraeus, walk to the pretty little yacht harbour of Marina Zea, and treat yourself to some delicious, lemon drenched souvlaki, washed down with a cold beer. Even in the mellow autumn nights, it’s quite warm enough to sit outside in summer clothes here. Just beware of the mosquitoes. And get some sleep. You’ve got an early start tomorrow.
On Friday morning, you’ll board either the stately Orient Queen or the bigger, more amenity laden Louis Olympia, for a three night mini cruise you will never forget. By eleven that morning, you’re heading out of Piraeus, across the calm, sparkling Aegean, to an early evening arrival in fabled, funky Mykonos.
There’s time for some serious people watching on one of the best waterfronts anywhere in Europe, and even a late dinner ashore, before you’re back on board, destination Kusadasi, While you’re partying the night away, the designated driver is keeping you on course for early morning arrival in Turkey.
Your morning here gives you just enough time to see the amazing, petrified ruins of mighty Ephesus. If you’ve never been before, I suggest you do this. Otherwise, just shop in the fantastic bazaars, straight across from where the ship docks, or even grab an hour or two on the beach. It’s easy walking distance from the ship. Back on board for lunchtime, and you’re off again, destination Patmos.
This is a place made for the kind of languid, laid back hedonism that Greece showcases so beautifully. Tavernas with brightly coloured, rickety wooden chairs and tables are still splashed out along the waterfront, catching the last high days of the autumn sun. You could go and see the famous monastery of St. John, if you’re so inclined. On the other hand, you and your friends can just chill out and enjoy some mellow wine and quality time. Your day, your call.
Back on board, and another night of dining and dancing. Maybe inside, maybe out on deck. The ships are three star; comfortable rather than luxurious, but with good prices and an alluring, feel good vibe on board. Pack lightly; the dress codes are informal and, in all likelihood, cabin space will not be great. Manageable for a long weekend, and great value, though. Did I mention that your sun tan is coming on quite beautifully? Result.
Next morning is a whistle stop visit to Heraklion, in Crete, The old, walled harbour, with it’s massive Venetian fortifications, is a pleasant stroll on a sublime, sunlit Sunday morrning. But the scenic highlight comes in the shape of Santorini this afternoon, with it’s blinding white rows of houses and churches looking like frosting atop the massive, slab sided wedding cake of what is actually a spectacularly imploded volcano.
It is worth doing the whole trip just to see this spectacular sail in. And the views from the top- take the cable car, not the flea bitten, truculent donkey ride- will make you feel like one of those Greek gods of old. Cruise ships look like bath tub toys, flung across the sparkling carpet of the Aegean. The upper level views from the town of Thira are, without doubt, some of the most spectacular in all of southern Europe. Sailing away from such beauty is almost physically painful.
Next morning finds you back in Piraeus, and the airport beckons. Tuesday morning, and you’ll be back at your desk. Those five days and four nights will seem like some fantastic, fiery dream. But then you’ll look at your sun tan, you’ll smile at your snaps, and you’ll realise that the improbable trip was not only really easy, but really excellent value too. An exhilarating little pick me up that won’t have your bank manager sending you the poison chocolates. Tempted? Well… get out there. And enjoy.