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The first settlement of the marshy islands in the lagoon was for protection from barbarian tribes that terrorized mainland farms and villages. Island living quickly led to the development of skills in handling boats, then ships. Maritime trade conducted by shrewd merchants brought great wealth, which permitted the building of palaces, churches and monuments. The city became the center of the vast Venetian empire, its name forever summoning visions of grandeur, magnificence, richness, graciousness and beauty. Although later linked to the mainland, first by a railway bridge built in 1848 and then by a motor causeway in 1930, this island city will always be considered the “Queen of the Sea.” There are no cars in Venice; all transportation is by boat or on foot along the time-worn, cobblestone streets and across some 400 bridges that span the city’s 177 canals. Enchanting Venice truly offers an atmosphere that exists nowhere else.
Sibenik lies in the middle of the Croatian Adriatic Coast, at the mouth of the Krka River, one of the most beautiful karst rivers in Croatia. Limestone mountain crests, small valleys and striking plateaus characterize this scenic region. A picturesque town, Sibenik was originally built on a small island, surrounded by a high wall and towers. The historic old town of Sibenik is rich in cultural and historical monuments. The most representative among them is the famous Cathedral of Sibenik, an important architectural Renaissance building listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, Sibenik is the administrative, political, economic, social and cultural center of a county, which stretches 62 miles along the Croatian Riviera between the Zadar and Split.
One of the best preserved medieval towns of the Adriatic, Kotor is protected by UNESCO. Between 1420 and 1797, the area was under the rule of the Republic of Venice and the Venetian influence can be seen in its architecture. The Gulf of Kotor is sometimes called the southernmost fjord in Europe, although it is actually a submerged river canyon. The overhanging limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovcen complete one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful landscapes.
A scant few miles off the Albanian coast lies the island of Corfu, one of the most richly endowed of all the Greek Isles. Praised by Homer in “The Odyssey” and selected by Shakespeare as the setting for “The Tempest,” the island retains evidence of cultural heritage from each of its past rulers – Byzantium, Venice, France, Russia and Great Britain. Rolling acres of olive groves, small orchards of lemon and orange trees, tall cypress, oleander, and myrtle bushes lend a lush, verdant look to the island. While the oldest part of Corfu Town has cobblestone lanes so narrow only pedestrian travel is possible, the modern sector has wide avenues. Residents boast that its “Spianada” is the largest and most beautiful square in all Greece.
Located on the east coast of Kefalonia, Sami is home to beautiful beaches and pleasant cafés and tavernas around the harbor that provide an ideal setting to soak up the traditional Greek atmosphere. Situated on a hill to the south of town are the ruins of ancient Sami, where visitors will find a fascinating site consisting of artifacts spanning several different civilizations over thousands of years.
Pylos occupies a superb and dominant position on one of the best natural harbors in Greece. Your gaze is inevitably drawn to the bay that is almost landlocked due to the position of the offshore island of Sfaktira. The Battle of Navarino, which took place here one night in 1827, effectively sealed Greek independence. An unusually stylish town with a pair of medieval castles, Pylos is an excellent base for exploring the Peloponnese.
Enjoy time at leisure to explore this town, which spreads across the slopes of the hill, its picturesque cobbled lanes lined with two-story houses. Opposite the harbor, in the Square of the Three Admirals, a three-sided column rises between two canons – one Turkish and the other Venetian. The figures of the admirals of the three fleets, English, French and Russian that defeated the Turko-Egyptian navy in the Battle of Navarino are represented. A visit to Niokastro, one of the two castles guarding the harbor, affords wonderful views out over the bay.
Held to be one of the loveliest small towns in all the islands, Navplion has a tradition and culture all its own. The sheltered location, below a rocky headland crowned by a Venetian fortress is perhaps unrivaled in Greece. After the Greek revolution of the early 19th century, Navplion served as the first modern capital. The neoclassical houses, large official buildings and carefully planned seafront streets all date from this period.
Piraeus has been the port for Athens since 482 BC. The busy harbor is filled with ferries and cruise ships making their way to the Greek Islands and other Mediterranean cities. The busy metropolis of Athens and its treasure trove of antiquities lie just a few miles from the port. Even as the reality of the modern city took hold, with its high-rise apartments, crowded sidewalks and bustling traffic, the beauty of the Acropolis, the outstanding museums, charming cafés, sidewalk markets and startling views come together in a cultural mosaic for all to enjoy.
Nicknamed “The Isle of the Aromas”, Spetsai is a delight to all of the senses. The island’s historic old town is a yachtsman’s paradise, boasting a stunning harbor, quaint shops and some of the finest restaurants in the Saronic Gulf. The rest of the island is relatively unpopulated and is ringed by a single road, along which you can travel in a horse-drawn carriage. As you pass by quiet, rolling hills, be sure to pause at one of the many quiet coves along the way to refresh yourself with a dip into the cerulean waters.
This charming village of white houses climbing up the slopes is beautifully situated on the sparkling Gulf of Mirabello. The attractive Venetian harbor is surrounded by restaurants, outdoor cafes and clusters of shops selling everything from necessities to souvenirs. The ship docks in the center of town, and you are able to wander at will and enjoy the atmosphere of Crete’s foremost resort.
Kusadasi, which means “bird island,” is set in a superb gulf known for its sparkling water, broad sandy beaches and large marina. The city has managed to retain a certain earthiness while doing a brisk trade in Turkish carpets and leather goods to visitors. The town’s old quarter is a picturesque maze of winding streets and houses adorned with flowers and birdcages. In the center stands a 17th-century caravanserai, now converted into a hotel. The resort is also gateway to important sites of archaeological and religious interest.
The quintessential Greek island of Mykonos is marked by whitewashed houses, domed churches, imposing windmills, and a labyrinth of winding streets designed to disorient pirates. Everywhere there is a dash of bright, bold blue – doors, shutters and window frames, sea and sky. The harbor bustles with colorful fishing boats, vendors selling fish and locals gathered with visitors in the casual seaside cafes. The port even comes with two beloved mascots, the pelicans Petros and Irini.
The “green island” of the Northern Sporades is nearly half covered in pine forest. According to mythology, it was created by Dionysus, and in ancient times was famous for its wines, a heritage of settlers from Crete. Wine production is greatly reduced now, after a disastrous phyloxera infestation in the 1940s. Much of the coast consists of steep cliffs, though the island does have a few beaches. Atop one of these cliffs stands the chapel of Agios Ioannis, which was the location for the wedding scene in the film “Mamma Mia.” The port town of Skopelos, or Chora, is famous for its protected stock of traditional Pelion-style houses. The Folklore Museum houses many artifacts from the local culture. Agios Athanasios church, from the 11th century, is just one of the islands 360 churches, although many are either privately owned or closed. There are some interesting Byzantine monasteries however. Beekeeping is popular on Skopelos, and flower or pine honey makes a nice souvenir. The Sporades are a main breeding area for the endangered Mediterranean monk seals.
The lively island of Skiathos, one of the Sporades, boasts no less than 60 inviting beaches around its perimeter. Many of these have been developed and are easily reached by taxi or bus, while others remain more isolated and require transport by boat. The island’s medieval Kastro, high atop a hillside, once protected 30 churches and 300 houses from various invaders. No organized excursions are available. Please check on board for suggestions.
This tiny island 12 miles off the Turkish coast embodies the ideal of the “hidden gem.” Its harbor is dominated by a sprawling crenelated fortress with Byzantine, Venetian, Genoese and Ottoman provenance. Its compact town invites visitors to explore winding cobblestone streets with no other objective than to immerse themselves in the antique atmosphere. There is no compelling attraction here other than the picturesque, but unpretentious charm of a quiet, unspoiled haven. Its small museum is the creation of a loving amateur, Hakan Guruney, who often personally leads visitors through his collection of objects and memorabilia recollecting his island’s, and in many ways his nation’s history. Much of the island’s fifteen square miles is dedicated to vineyards producing both red and white varietals. Ayazma beach offers clear water, although freshwater springs keep the water chilly even in the summer heat. At the peninsular Polente Feneri, a white lighthouse is guarded by a picket of modern, three-bladed windmills. Local flavors worth tasting are red poppy syrup and a luscious tomato jam you won’t find anywhere else.
Spanning Europe and Asia, exotic Istanbul is one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Domes and minarets enhance the skyline. In the old Stamboul area, traces remain of every city built since the community was established over 600 years before Christ. Once Rome’s eastern capital, Istanbul was also the center of the huge Ottoman Empire. Landmarks include Hagia Sophia, once Christendom’s greatest church; the Blue Mosque with its striking Iznik tiles; Topkapi Palace, containing a sultan’s ransom of treasures; Chora Church with its Byzantine mosaics; and the Grand Bazaar, the ultimate shopping experience.
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