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A Classic Journey Through Greece’s Islands
“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.
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    Day 1
    Athens
    Your cruise will depart at 6 p.m., from Piraeus, the port for Athens. While you’ll have a day to explore the city, you’ll likely want to add on additional nights in Greece’s capital with a pre-cruise extension. Azamara can assist with hotel reservations, giving you more time to explore what’s old and new, from the Acropolis to up-and-coming neighborhoods.
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    Photo By AGE FOTO STOCK
    Day 2
    Patmos
    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 Patmos excursion. 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.
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    Day 3
    Kusadasi
    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.
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    Day 4
    Rhodes
    Your next stop was also the site of an ancient wonder: While the 100-foot-tall Colossus of Rhodes once welcomed visitors to the island, it too was destroyed in an earthquake. What travelers to Rhodes will still find is a remarkably intact medieval district. Rhodes was long the base of the Knights of St. John, from the beginning of the 14th to the middle of the 16th centuries. They were eventually defeated by the Ottomans, but their medieval street plan and landmarks remain.

    The Historic Rhodes Walking Tour takes in some of those sites, like the Agora and the Collachium, a section of the town of Rhodes where only the knights were allowed to remain after sundown. You’ll also visit a number of churches, Fillerimos Monastery, the town’s Jewish quarter, various inns used by the knights, and the Palace of the Grand Master. After walking down the mosaic-paved Street of the Knights, you’ll arrive at the Hospital of the Knights Museum, which illuminates this chapter of history.
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    Day 5
    Crete
    You’ll spend today on Crete, where you’ll learn about the oldest of the many civilizations to have flourished here on the Knossos Palace & Heraklion Town excursion. After going ashore by tender, you’ll board a bus for the archaeological ruins of Knossos. The three-story palace here is a maze of rooms and courtyards—its unusual layout perhaps explains the source of the myth of the minotaur, trapped in the palace’s labyrinth. The palace was erected in 1700 B.C.E. and destroyed around 1450 B.C.E. by an earthquake. Your guide will explain the latest discoveries and theories of the Minoan civilization along with the iconography of the famous murals at the site. Afterwards you will continue to Iraklion where you can have lunch and explore on your own before returning to Chania.

    Later in the day, you can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime concert. The AzAmazing Evening features a piano recital by the acclaimed soloist and composer Andreas Boutsikakis performing under the stars of the night sky at Yali Tzami, or Mosque Square, on the city’s Venetian Harbor.
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    Day 6
    Santorini
    Santorini tops the wish lists of many travelers to the Aegean—and it’s not hard to appreciate why. This island’s shape today is the result of an immense volcanic explosion, which left an enormous caldera, now connected to the sea. (Some believe that a civilization destroyed by the volcano was the inspiration for the mythological Atlantis.) Along the edge of the caldera, a number of beguiling villages perch 800 feet above the water.

    You’ll visit them on Azamara’s Villages and Vintages of Santorini excursion. After taking in the views of the caldera at the center of the islands, you’ll continue on to Oia, a village located at the northernmost point of the island. You’ll wander its cobblestone lanes, lined with beautiful houses painted in white as well as historic churches, boutiques, and art galleries. You’ll continue on to a local winery and learn about the island’s wines as well as sample some. The excursion concludes in Fira, Santorini’s capital, another village that hugs the caldera’s cliffs. You’ll be free to explore and pop into any shop, bar, or restaurant that looks appealing before returning to the harbor of Skala via the island’s cable car.
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    Day 7
    Mykonos
    Mykonos pulses with some of Europe’s best nightlife, but that’s just one aspect of this island of spectacular beaches and traditional villages. On the Mykonos Drive & Ano Mera Monastery excursion, you’ll focus on a different side of the island’s character.

    You’ll drive through the cosmopolitan port and enter a landscape of blue-domed churches and centuries-old windmills with traditional sails. Your destination is the village of Ano Mera. While it’s the most populous town on the island, life here is far different from the resorts on the sea. Tavernas and pastry shops serve locals and the occasional visitor to its quiet cobblestone streets. You’ll visit the Panagia Tourliani monastery with its marble bell tower and elaborate altar screen. Afterwards you’ll have time to enjoy a lunch on your own of Greek meze, perhaps accompanied by a glass of ouzo.
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    Day 8
    Return to Athens
    Your cruise will conclude back where it started, in Athens. If you didn’t spend extra time in the capital at the beginning of your cruise, you’ll have another opportunity to do so now.

    The Highlights of Athens and Culinary Tour excursion makes the most of a day here to cover the major sites. As you enter the city on Syngrou Avenue, you’ll pass the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch, before continuing past the National Gardens, the Parliament, the National Library, and the Panathenaic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympics. Then you’ll continue to one of the most famous landmarks, the Acropolis, crowned by the temple to Athena, the Parthenon. Following your tour of the city, you’ll enjoy a culinary workshop, where you will learn to prepare some Greek specialties, and then dine on the meal you helped cook.

    If you’d like to dig deeper into Greece’s ancient capital, add on pre-cruise nights with Azamara.