FIVE REASONS WHY A GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE IS A GREAT CHOICE RIGHT NOW

Despite the hail of horror stories raining in and around Athens, there has probably never been a better time to visit the region, especially on a short cruise and stay holiday. And, for those of you that think I’ve taken definite leave of my senses, I’m going to outline the reasons why in this piece.

CHEAPER FLIGHT PRICES

Since the high noon standoff between Tsipras, Merkel, and the rest of the EU, flight prices from Europe to Greece have gone into something of a tail spin- pun wholly intentional. And, with airlines such as KLM serving Athens via Amsterdam from no less than twenty-one different regional airports in the UK, you can add a healthy dollop of convenience into the mix for good measure. And, with flight times from Amsterdam to Athens of around four hours, you get cheap, fast and convenient all packaged up and served in a goody bag.

IT’S TIME FRIENDLY

Taking one of the short, three or four night cruises offered by Celestyal Cruises out of Piraeus, the port for Athens, will serve up snapshots of anything up to six different ports of call. No other Aegean cruise can pack in so much on such a short itinerary.

Three night cruises sail from Piraeus at 1100 every Friday morning. By five that same evening, you’re in Mykonos for a few hours of fun and frivolity ashore.

Next morning will find you in the stunning Turkish seaside town of Kusadasi, leaving around noon, and by mid afternoon you’ll be in Patmos for long enough to enjoy dinner and drinks ashore. Back aboard, and you’re on your way again about 2200 that evening.

The last full day finds you in Heraklion first thing, before an afternoon arrival in Santorini, with time enough to ascend the caldera to Thira, and a chance to check out the most stunning single vista anywhere in the Aegean.

Next morning, you’re back in Piraeus.

HISTORY AND HEDONISM

The Greek mainland and islands offer endless scope for both history lovers and sun worshippers. Just consider the itinerary above, and look at what you can actually see in a mere four days;

In Athens itself, there is time to check out the Acropolis, with it’s stunningly majestic Parthenon. On Mykonos, there’s time to take in the fabled sunset- the best such show east of Key West- from the waterfront at Chora, before an evening in the nightlife capital of the Aegean.

In Kusadasi, you can check out the stunted, sprawling ruins of magnificent Ephesus, and then savour a long, lazy evening of dining and people watching on the waterfront in pretty little Patmos.

From Heraklion, there is time to see the stunning palace of Knossos, a platinum chip rated UNESCO World Heritage site. And an afternoon in Santorini, spent chilling out on the Olympian heights of Thira, is one of the most unforgettable travel experiences in the world.

It’s worth mentioning that the four day cruises, which sail on a Monday morning, also throw in a full day’s visit to the amazing medieval theme park known as Rhodes. The old town has history in spades, yet the nearby beaches are a sun seeker’s utopia. This one island alone really does have it all.

SIZE REALLY DOES MATTER…

The smaller, comfortable ships operated by Celestyal cruises offer a far more intimate, ‘up close and personal’ view of the islands. In fact, these ships are sailing their own home waters, and their captains know the area better than most. The small size of the ships also means that they can get into the smaller ports, and often much closer to all the good stuff, than the much bigger ships with their thousands of passengers.

And that small size makes for a far more intimate, rewarding on board experience. The ships feature many authentic Greek specialities on their menus in addition to international fare, and there is a very definite emphasis on Greek hospitality on board. In other words, it’s a more genuinely authentic, pared down way to see the islands. One that offers the best of everything.

OVERALL VALUE

Add up all those points above and you’ll realise what a fantastic, time sensitive, cost effective little jaunt one of these cruises represents. Over one slightly long weekend, you can see and do more than many millions of people actually achieve over the course of a lifetime. These trips offer comfort, good pricing, awesome, world famous sights and jaw dropping scenery, plus the chance to just spend a few days’ lazing under that glorious Aegean sun.

Greece? It’s still the word. See you out there.

Savour marvellous vistas from atop spectacular Santorini

Savour marvellous vistas from atop spectacular Santorini

MINI ANTIQUES- VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY OFFERS SHORTER FLY CRUISES

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

In a move that is possibly a test run for future sailings, specialist operator Voyages To Antiquity is offering a pair of shorter fly cruises this May aboard the small, beautifully styled Aegean Odyssey.

The fly cruises are of five and nine nights’ duration respectively, and come inclusive of all flights, transfers, shore excursions with knowledgeable, in depth guides, and inclusive beer, wine and soft drinks with dinner each evening. And, with no single supplements to boot, they represent quite extraordinary value.

The first, five day jaunt departs from Istanbul on May 10th, with calls at Lemnos and Izmir to see the stunning, magnificent ruins of Ephesus. Moving on, the Aegean Odyssey then offers a morning touring among the sacred grave sites at Delos, followed by a few hours’ people watching in classy, stylish Mykonos, before disembarking in Athens on May 14th. Single fares for this trip begin at £895.

The second, nine night itinerary begins in Athens on May 14th, and finishes in Rome’s port of Civitavecchia. En route, the Aegean Odyssey visits Nauplia, to see the fabulous site of Epidaurus. After a day at sea, she sails on to Taormina, with it’s fantastic Greco-Roman hilltop theatre, and then on to the historic Sicilian city of Palermo for an overnight stay.

From here, Aegean Odyssey makes her way for another overnight stay; this time in fabled, springtime Sorrento. There is ample time to see such landmark sites as Pompeii, Herculaneum and, of course, the brooding Mount Vesuivius itself, as well as leaving time to enjoy some serious people watching in Piazza Tasso, or even a drive along to fabled Amalfi, or perhaps a boat trip out to Capri.

This cruise concludes the next morning. Prices for the inclusive, nine night package start from £1,495. Again, there is no single supplement.

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

Flights are usually arranged on the scheduled services of British Airways, and include domestic flights to Heathrow where necessary.

The Aegean Odyssey is a small, destination intensive cruise ship with an ambiance more akin to that of a floating country club than a vast maritime theme park. With a capacity for less then four hundred passengers, she offers fabulous service and dining- both indoors and out- and a smart casual dress code.

This is not a ship for those wanting a lively, late night environment. Think of her as a very comfortable combination of a boutique hotel and a fantastic, fulfilling and educational travel experience, and you have the gist.

I particularly recommend the cove balcony cabins in the aft part of the ship as a great buy. Nicely sheltered, and with lovely canvas chairs, they offer you an expansive and roomy vantage point from which to savour those balmy spring time Aegean and Mediterranean sunsets.

DISNEY DELIGHTS- MEDITERRANEAN CRUISES IN 2014

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

After a very successful 2013 run, the Disney Magic will return to the Mediterranean next year. The ship, recently extensively refurbished in Cadiz, Spain, will offer a series of four, five, seven, nine and twelve night cruises running from May to September, before making a fourteen night transatlantic crossing back to America.

Disney Magic will offer twelve cruises in all, book ended by a twelve night eastbound crossing in May from Port Canaveral to Barcelona, and the aforementioned, fourteen night westbound voyage in September. Almost all twelve of these cruises sail round trip from Barcelona.

Here’s how the cruises in between break down in terms of length, ports and dates:

FOUR NIGHT CRUISES:

A one off departure on August 7th. Ports of call are Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca. One sea day.

FIVE NIGHT CRUISES:

Another one off departure on August 11th, calling at La Spezia, Civitavecchia for Rome, and Villefranche, One sea day.

SEVEN NIGHT CRUISES: 

Five sailings, calling at Villefranche, Naples, Civitavecchia and La Spezia, These cruises depart on May 31st, June 7th, and August 16th, 23rd, and 30th. Two sea days.

NINE NIGHT CRUISES:

Two cruises, this time to the Eastern Mediterranean. Embarkation here is in Venice. Ports of call are Katakolon, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Mykonos and Venice (overnight stay). This one sails on June 26th and July 5th. Two sea days.

TWELVE NIGHT CRUISES: 

First itinerary is from Venice, and sails to Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Heraklion, Mykonos, Santorini and Valletta, Malta. A one off sailing on July 14th. Four sea days

Second itinerary from Barcelona. Ports of call are Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Mykonos and Valletta. Another one off, sailing on July 26th.  Four sea days.

Third itinerary is also from Barcelona, with calls at Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Catania, Naples, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Venice. Sails on June 14th. Note that this cruise ends in Venice. Three sea days.

THE CROSSINGS:

May 19th, Port Canaveral to Barcelona, with calls at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island experience), Funchal, and Malaga, Twelve nights.

September 6th, Barcelona to San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling at Malaga, Tenerife, Antigua, St, Maarten, St, Kitts, San Juan, Fourteen nights.

This is a really good programme of cruises, with something for everyone. A couple of short breaks to allow first timers to decide if the Disney style of cruising is for them without breaking the bank, some excellent seven nighters that include the rare treat of two full sea days, and a trio of cracking twelve nighters that are more or less a complete sweep of the ‘greatest hits ‘of the region. Again, there are enough sea days on these- between three and four- to allow time to recover from ‘cathedral fatigue’.

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

But the daddy of them all for me is the sailing on July 26th, that includes both Villefranche and Mykonos on the same itinerary. Probably the two most beautiful ports in the entire region, it is very rare indeed to see them both featured on the same itinerary.

Freshly upgraded, distinctive, and graced with a stance that is instantly nostalgic, the Disney Magic has more than enough areas for the whole family to eat, rest and play through the pleasure spots of the balmy summertime Med. And the ship is not short of adults only enclaves for when you need a little kiddie-lite time. And some shore excursions are even tailored for adults only in certain ports of call.

It’s also worth noting that the standard cabins on this ship are some of the largest in the industry. That gives you somewhere cool and air conditioned to really chill out when you return from a day spent exploring the hot spots waiting for you ashore.

Altogether well thought out as a programme, and definitely worthy of your consideration.

INSPIRING SPRING BREAKS IN THE SUNNY GREEK ISLANDS

Magical Mykonos awakens with the first kiss of spring

Magical Mykonos awakens with the first kiss of spring

It’s that time of year when winter slowly begins to descend across Europe like a damp. clammy shroud, and many of us just mentally curl up and hibernate. We go out when we need to but, in general, we just stock up on the wine, batten down the hatches, and pray for an early arrival of spring.

But nothing sharpens the appetite for travel like anticipation of trips to come. And knowing some of the options ahead might just add a little warmth and brightness to those long, leaden winter nights.  So, with time and money also being key considerations in these straitened times, why not consider a short, exhilarating three or four night cruise to the Greek Islands and Turkey out of Athens on Louis Cruises in the spring?

There are quite a few advantages here. Firstly, the cost is very reasonable- around £200 per person, based on two sharing an inside cabin. Then there’s the time scale. For the three night cruise, you’ll need to fly to Athens on the Thursday night and stay overnight. You’ll be home by late Monday. For the four nighter, flying on the Sunday prior to a Monday sailing will have you back at home late Friday. So it’s not a huge drain on your time.

The ships themselves are relatively small; comfortable rather than luxurious, with a smart casual dress code. The welcome is very warm and the ships are perfectly attuned for cruising these waters- vital on such a short, high density trip as this.

So you’re probably wondering ‘how soon can I get out there?’

The first three night cruise begins on the 38,000 ton Louis Olympia on March 14th, 2014. The weather by then should be more than agreeable enough to enjoy the best hospitality that the islands have to offer. This three day cruise leaves Piraeus- the port for Athens- at 11 in the morning. Here’s the full skinny for the itinerary:

Day One: (Friday)

Depart Piraeus 11.00

Arrive Mykonos 18.00

Depart 23.00

Day Two: (Saturday)

Arrive Kusadasi, Turkey 07.00

Depart 12.00

Arrive Patmos 16.00

Depart 21.00

Day Three:  (Sunday)

Arrive Heraklion, Crete  07.00

Depart 11.30

Arrive Santorini 16.30

Depart 21.00

Day Four: (Monday)

Arrive Piraeus 06.00

Waterfront at Symi, Greek Dodecanese islands

Waterfront at Symi, Greek Dodecanese islands

Yes, it’s a busy few days, and it will pass at one hell of a rate of knots. But in that short space of time, you’ll see and experience more than many people do in an entire lifetime. From people watching in Mykonos, to strolling the stunning ancient ruins of Ephesus (see previous blogs), a late dinner ashore in Patmos, strolling the quayside in Heraklion and, as a finale, the stunning sunset from the Olympian heights of Santorini, it’s a fabulous feast of options.

The four day cruise (Monday departures) follows a similar route, but also allows for a full day in historic Rhodes, usually on the Wednesday. Whichever option you decide to choose, it’s a wonderful, whirlwind tour through some of the most amazing waters anywhere in the world.

And, hopefully, you’ll even come back with a sun tan. See you out there in March, maybe.

FIVE MUST SEE SIGHTS FOR AMERICANS IN SOUTHERN EUROPE

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The whole thing with southern Europe is that it is one vast, cake rich, cultural glut of incredible things to see. Castles, cathedrals, museums. Turrets, campaniles and spires. They all vie- nay, sometimes demand- your undivided attention on any given day of your European vacation.

Simple truth? You can’t do them all. So don’t even try. More truth? Not all of the truly great, awe inspiring sights are of human construction.

That point made, here’s five of my favourite places in the Mediterranean. With time, tide and fair breezes, they might just become some of yours, too.

Church of Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Antonio Gaudi was a creative genius on a par with Warhol or Hans Christian Andersen, and the still incomplete Sagrada Familia church is without doubt his most stunning masterpiece. With it’s clutch of gingerbread spires clawing at a perfect Catalan sky, it has become the symbol of one of the greatest, most swaggering and stylish cities in the world.

In places, it has the appearance of a slowly melting cake, inlaid just above ground level with some of the most amazing and intricate carvings you will ever see.  There is literally no other church like it in the world. During the day, this honey coloured colossus enjoys a matchless stance by a small park, but try to catch it at night. Indirect lighting, built all around it makes Sagrada Familia truly unforgettable and awe inspiring. You don’t have to be of any religious persuasion to be awed by this stunning testament to human devotion and ingenuity,  Highly recommended.

Villefranche, Cote D'Azur

Villefranche, Cote D’Azur

Bay of Villefranche, Villefranche-Sur-Mer, France

A sensuous, semi circular sweep of high, rolling hills studded with million euro villas, Villefranche is the most stunning single coastal location anywhere in southern Europe; one so perfectly formed that it was used as the backdrop for a James Bond film in the 1980’s.  At the edge of the quay, a row of Italianate shops, bars and restaurants in shades of blue, ochre and terracotta curves seductively around the lower edge of the bay. Umbrella shaded bars and pavement cafes spill out onto the quay that overlooks an azure harbour, studded with literally dozens of idly bobbing yachts and fishing boats. It’s a place to kick back and people watch over a sumptuous, two hour lunch, You’ll see people wearing sun glasses worth the entire national debt of a third world country, and old ladies walking impossibly small dogs among the jasmine wreathed cobbled streets that lead up into the old town.

Once seen, never forgotten; Villefranche will stay with you long after you leave it behind.

Greco-Roman Theatre, Taormina, Sicily

This almost perfectly preserved, Eighth Century amphitheatre is as compelling for its location as it is for it’s ageless, elegant sweep and still flawless acoustics. Nestling in the shade of towering pine trees at the top of Taormina, it looks down and out over the sparkling blue carpet of the Mediterranean. From it’s terraces, you can clearly see the brooding, still smouldering mass of Mount Etna, grey against a cobalt blue sky.

It has an exalted, almost Olympian feel to it; row upon row of stepped, circular stone seating cascades down to a central ‘stage’ which is still used for outdoor concerts to this day.

Worth going to simply for the view alone; an outdoor concert at dusk would be a truly amazing experience as well.

Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy

One of the scenic exclamation marks in a city almost awash with them, Piazza Navona has been a Roman stand out for centuries.

The centre piece is formed by a series of amazing, medieval fountains by Bernini, almost awash with a riot of intricate, over the top, Romanesque statuary from the middle ages. Off to one side is the cool, ordered elegance of the circular Pantheon, with its shady interior, incredible frescoes and marvellous acoustics.

These fountains and surrounding buildings form the focal point of this famous, frantic, bustling square that hums with life at all hours of the day and night. The whole area is framed by a host of sun splashed cafes and restaurants, while mime artists and strolling musicians mingle with dog walking locals taking time out for an ice cream.

It’s a quintessential Italian slice of the good life; la dolce vita served up with age old Roman style in a swaggering, feel good setting. Deliciously over the top, and typically addictive.

Windmills of Mykonos

Windmills of Mykonos

Windmills of Chora, Mykonos, Greek Islands

No other single sight is as evocative of the history and hedonism of the Greek Islands as those five famous windmills that sit on top of the hill above the harbour of Mykonos, immortalised in the movie, Shirley Valentine. They can be seen from any part of the island, and the views of the sunsets from here draws out the crowds each and every night in the peak summer season. It’s an almost pagan ritual, as compelling as anything you’ll see at Stonehenge. The vibe at evening time has more than a little in common with Key West.

Individually, each of the five windmills has a uniform stance. Circular and whitewashed, surrounded by low stone walls and fronted by petrified, long silent sails, each is topped with it’s own thatched ‘mop top’ roof.  It is their collective poise and presence that makes them so memorable; they loom above the Aegean’s most compelling and indulgent island like a quintet of benevolent deities.

So; there you go. Five of my faves from the magnificent Med. You may agree. You may disagree. But I think we’d all agree that the real fun lies in getting out there, and finding and defining your own favourites, Happy exploring!

WONDERFUL WINDMILLS- A MYKONOS LANDMARK

That famous Mykonos headland

That famous Mykonos headland

Most people would quite probably agree that Mykonos is the most high profile of the Greek Islands. The island was already a world famous centre for summer hedonism and all night parties long before Shirley Valentine transformed it’s fortunes on a global scale. But, truth be told, to those ‘in the know’- from the widowed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy onwards- Mykonos has always had a unique, almost surreal lustre that sets it apart from its neighbours.

And no sight on this most alluring of islands typifies Mykonos more than the range of seven, sixteenth century Venetian windmills that crown the high ground just above the cafe strewn pier. They loom even above the surf kissed bars and restaurants of Little Venice. In fact, this group of ‘seven sisters’ can be seen from anywhere on the entire island.

Painted blinding white like most Greek architecture, they range in a lopsided line along the brow of a hill that offers the best view out over the town. All of them were initially built to mill wheat, and some were in use until the middle of the last century. One of them has now been preserved as a museum, but they all stand still, as perfectly petrified in time and space as the statues on Easter Island. And, it has to be said, they are a lot prettier.

They are all built in the typically round style of the times, with narrow. slit windows and gaunt, skeletal sails that look like the weavings of some giant spider. The thatched, mop top roofs look like an early homage to a Beatles haircut.

This is undoubtedly the best place from which to witness the legendary Mykonos sunsets, an experience in high summer that verges almost on the religious in terms of the crowds it draws out.

The silence is incredible, and the sense of peace and calm is impossible to quantify as the sun sags gently into the slowly rolling embrace of the summertime Aegean. The great, fiery orb casts a pale, dusky pink glow on the sinuous curves of those seven windmills, throwing them into sharp relief against the backdrop of a slowly reddening sky.

Up close and more personal

Up close and more personal

It’s a truly beautiful, spectacular sight; a superb natural floor show that comes at no extra charge. Often as not, it’s the mellow prelude to an evening of late night, early morning carnival madness on the true hot spot of the Greek party circuit.

And more than one or two people have wandered back to their hotels at sunrise, somewhat the worse for wear, only to find themselves entranced again as the slowly rising sun glints with deceptively gentle shyness against those ancient Venetian windmills. Waiters are setting up the cafes on the quayside as the silhouettes of the first inbound cruise ships loom impressively over the horizon. It’s another day, Mykonos style.

For visitors, the days and nights are never long enough. But for the seven slumbering sisters, time stands as still as the gossamer like strands that still frame their faces, just as they have for centuries here.

A LONG WEEKEND IN THE AUTUMN SUN….

ImageIn 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.

ImageSo. 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.

ImageSounds 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.

ImageHere’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.

ImageIn 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.

ImageOn 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.

ImageThere’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.

ImageYour 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.

ImageThis 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.

ImageBack 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.

ImageNext 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.

ImageIt 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.

ImageNext 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.

MESMERISING MYKONOS

ImageMykonos. Even saying it sounds good. As zesty as lemon splashed souvlaki, And every bit as irresistible.

ImageWhereas most of the Greek islands are archaeological theme parks, devoted to Zeus, Apollo and all the other ancient deities, Mykonos bows her sun-kissed head solely to the god of Hedonism.

ImageNo other island in this sparkling sea of gems quite outshines Mykonos in the twenty carat, indolent people watching stakes. It combines the ‘stroll and roll’ loucheness of sassy New Orleans with the laissez- faire lifestyle of the south of France to create a style all of it’s own.

ImageIt all comes together most perfectly at sunset. The Greek island sunsets are legendary, but those in Mykonos draw out the crowds like some kind of mellow, mystical bat signal. The mood and vibe is very similar to Key West, it’s freewheeling soul mate across the Atlantic.

ImageThese are best viewed from the patch of barren scrub in front of the famous windmills on the headland or, if you get there early enough, from one of the waterfront bars and restaurants that wind along the sinuous, spray kissed sprawl of Little Venice.

ImageIt is nothing less than Mother Nature staging full on theatre. A slow, subtle lowering of a spectacular, blood red curtain on a sea of polished glass. With friends, with wine, and always with a sense of wonder, the surreal, splendid spectacle will reduce even the most blase lotus eater to a jaw dropping jumble of awed, smiley silence.

ImageThe island is a famous party playground in the summer months; as indelibly identified with modern, cutting edge dance music and clubs as Ibiza or South Beach. But, if that’s not quite your thing, there’s a place I’d like to share with you…..

ImageJackie O’s is a bar that sits right at the end of the main drag on the waterfront. Walk all the way along the pavement- watch out for the vicious, snarky pelican and the stumbling, often sozzled local transvestite (the latter has a habit of falling into the water) and right on to the end, please.

ImageAvoid going up into those tempting, cobbled lanes with all those nice little shops. There will be time for all that tomorrow. Just keep walking and…..

ImageYou are here.

ImageJackie O’s was the place where Aristotle Onassis used to woo the widowed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, back in the 1960’s. Even now, it seems frozen in that time period.

ImageInside the two level bar, plain white walls are adorned with pictures of the famously reclusive duo, taken back in the day. But the real magic happens outside.

ImageHere, you can slouch across cream coloured sofas that surround low slung tables. Flickering lamps glow against the fast, reddening sunset. The beer is ice cold; the breeze warm, almost silky.

ImageAnd the soundtrack…. melt into the velvet warmth of Dusty Springfield’s peerless version of The Look Of Love, or some deep, soul stirring Nina Simone track from way back in the day.

ImageMusic. A magical sunset. A matchless location. The whole potent cocktail comes together as perfectly as a Busby Berkeley dance routine. It stirs a quiet storm in the soul. A moment as ethereal as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings; one as precious as gold. A moment that you never, ever forget.

Somehow, only Mykonos seems to create this amazing, platinum chip vibe. It never fails. And, by the way, mine’s a Mythos. Cheers!

GREECE? IT’S STILL THE WORD….

ImageI make no apologies for being a fan of sailing around the Greek islands. Nowhere else on earth serves up such a beguiling blend of history and hedonism in such compelling mutual proximity. The pleasures and sensations of cruising these waters run everything from the simple to the truly spellbinding

While many of the islands have similarities, no two are ever the same. Each- from the largest to the smallest- is as distinctive and individual as a human fingerprint.

ImageBut there are also some wonderful common touches, too. Like that little table with the checked cloth and the four wooden chairs- painted bright blue, red, or yellow- that stands in the shade of a taverna that sprawls across a sun splashed Greek quayside. Like me, you’ll probably always end up sitting on the rickety, lop sided one. No matter. After a few glasses of vino, some delicious, lemon drenched souvlaki and some platinum chip people watching, your grin will probably be quite lop sided, too. Sheer, languid bliss,

ImageAnd the sights… spellbinding stuff. Sailing into Mykonos and seeing those iconic, blinding white windmills that crown the low rolling hills is an unfailing adrenaline rush. Or Santorini, where the view down from Thira into the caldera of an imploded volcano leaves you feeling exalted and detached. It’s akin to being awake in a particularly vibrant dream.

ImageRhodes old town is like the world’s greatest medieval theme park. Here, the ancient stone walls, castles and turrets are bleached almost a shade of dusky white after centuries of exposure to a pitiless Aegean sun. The streets and cobbled squares where the Knights Templar once made their doomed final stand are filled with shops, restaurants, and bars selling ice cold beer in boot shaped glasses. Dogs curl up in the heat in the shade of ancient water fountains, oblivious to everything.

And what sunsets… long, slow and languid. Turning the sea into what looks like a field of burning straw. The subtle, seductive aroma of freshly grilled fish, and the melancholy twang of bouzouki as the first of the evening crowds throng the streets. The chirping of thousands of crickets and the kiss of a warm, soft breeze that hangs in the air like fine perfume. Ouzo, prawns and amazing ice cream.

Greece. Still very much the word.