From the Cycladic charms of Santorini and Mykonos, journey into the heart of Greece by way of an iconic Corinth Canal transit to discover idyllic Ionian Sea treasures in Nydri and Parga and Dalmatian Coast wonders in Dubrovnik.
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Piraeus is Greece’s largest port and has been a gateway to the Mediterranean since 482 BC. It lies on the innermost point of the Saronic Gulf and is a short drive from Athens, the cradle of Western democracy and culture. Throughout the ages, Athens’ lofty Acropolis has been a source of inspiration. The ancient ruins scattered throughout this legendary city are reminders of Greece’s great cultural heritage.
Of all the Cyclades Islands, Santorini is often considered the most dramatic. Once an active volcano, it was known as Stongyle, or the Round Island. In about 1500 BC, the volcano erupted with such force that the center of the island literally exploded, leaving the haunting submerged crater into which Crystal Serenity sails. The island’s small villages were preserved in the ashes and recent excavations have uncovered a fascinating view of everyday life from 3,500 years ago.
Santorini’s dark landscape offsets its simple, yet refined Cycladic buildings, which glimmer in the sunlight. The rich volcanic soil is ideal for grapes and the local vines produce a cherished crop known for its “special volcanic taste.”
Thíra, or Fira Town, is laid out along the edge of a cliff that partially forms the rim of the now extinct caldera. A picturesque site, it exudes charm and an atmosphere of leisure that can be attributed to the easy-going Greek lifestyle.
One of the most significant archaeological and mythological sites in all of Greece, Delos earns its UNESCO-celebrated status in spades. It is a tiny island in the heart of the Cyclades Archipelago in the Aegean Sea, is believed by Greek Mythology to have been the birthplace of Apollo, and considered to be the most sacred of all islands in ancient Greek culture. Excavations have unearthed tremendous monuments, sanctuaries and other facets of the Hellenistic history. Due to its remote location and the fact that it was largely uninhabited since the 7th century AD, its well-preserved ruins are fascinating journey through time and culture, situated in the heart of one of the most breathtaking stretches of sea in the world.
Mykonos, a former 18th-century pirates’ bastion, is now a sophisticated and cosmopolitan island resort. This quintessential Greek island offers a maze of winding streets, graceful windmills, inviting beaches, domed churches and whitewashed houses accented in blue. Dotting the waterfront are cafés, taverns and tempting shops.
If there is a holiday retreat where rustic meets chic, it is Hydra, one of Greece’s Saronic Islands. Put on the map in the 1950s and by artists, celebrities and musicians and a perennial favorite for locals, the island is a place to see and be seen, with the harbor putting on a veritable show of taste and fashion with each catamaran’s arrival from Piraeus. People-watching has become an unofficial pastime, along with sipping cappuccino at the cafes centered on the crescent-shaped port. Energized by your brew and ready to explore, head out by foot and in fact, by foot is the only way to conduct your discovery. Other than a few city-operated vehicles, no cars, scooters or motorcycles are allowed on the island. Walking along the steep, stone streets, some of the best-preserved anywhere, you will surely appreciate a sense of stepping back in time and an intimate look at the 18th- and 19th-century mansions, or archontika. Be sure to yield to the primary mode of transportation, the donkey, and any temptation you may have to wander into a gallery or quiet back lane.
Rulers of ancient times wanted to construct a canal connecting the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf, but lack of engineering expertise and a fear of Poseidon’s wrath kept the project stalled. It wasn’t until 1893 that a deep cut through the narrow isthmus was finally completed. Today, the four-mile-long canal only ignites wonder, with steep rock walls rising 300 feet above sea level at a near-vertical angle, and a width of a mere 70 feet allowing ships of only a limited size to pass through.
One of the seven Ionian Islands, Lefkada is among the most scenic and pristine islands in Greece, offering picturesque stretches of forest-draped mountains, vast olive groves and magnificent beaches. Surrounded by crystal-clear turquoise waters, its hilly landscape offers exceptional vantage points for witnessing breathtaking vistas. The island’s main town, Nydri, situated at the mouth of a charming inlet, is a haven for yachters seeking to relax and savor Greek delicacies at one of its many tavernas and cafés. The Nydri seafront is named in honor of the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, and boasts a bronze statue of him looking out to his island of Skorpios. Further inland are the stunning Nydri Waterfalls.
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