Caves are not my favorite places. Bats hang out in caves, and they are definitely not my favorite animal. I also feel claustrophobic in a cave. I’m worried it will collapse or a big boulder will fall out of the sky and block the opening, imprisoning me inside, surrounded by a cauldron of creepy bats.
But this cave tucked into Rhodes’ rocky coast is different, not spooky at all. The setting—sapphire blue water of the Aegean Sea and a stunning azure blue sky—gives everything a brilliant sheen in the morning sun, including the craggy rocks that rise up from the sea. Caves like this one served as hiding places for pirates back in the day, explains Maria, our guide. She and her partner, Jimmy, run a kayaking business in Rhodes and are showing Peter and me and eight other kayakers the island’s beautiful coast, beaches, and swimming coves.
Peter and I are on Day 3 of Celestyal Cruises’ Idyllic Aegean 8-day cruise, which stops in eight ports in the Aegean Sea: Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Turkey, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, and Milos. We have been looking forward to this kayaking adventure since the cruise began. Unfortunately, once we start paddling, I remember that Peter and I don’t kayak (or canoe) well together. Since solo kayaks aren’t available, we’re stuck in the same boat—uh oh. More on that later.
Our kayak outing is one of Celestyal Cruises’ Authentic Excursions. Introduced earlier this year, these tours are designed for small groups and promise an up-close and personal look at Greece and Greek people. Themes include Foodie Heaven, Culture Vulture, Seeking Adventure, and Wonders of Archaeology.
Our kayaks are bobbing in the water, thanks to passing boats, but the plan is to paddle through the narrow opening of the cave. “One at a time,” says Jimmy, as we carefully paddle into the darkness. Inside the cave, it’s tranquil, even though a few bats are flitting about. Even better, we escape the beating rays of the August sun for a while. As Jimmy shares watermelon and sesame seed candy, we relax a bit. Me—relaxing in a cave?
It’s just one of many surprises that Peter and I experience on this cruise. Celestyal Cruises has a knack for elevating your experience on their itineraries. In 2019 we took their Three-Continent Cruise and visited bucket-list destinations like Egypt, Turkey, and Israel. Now we’re back and can’t wait to partake in new experiences, not to mention enjoy fabulous Greek cuisine, sublime scenery, and new destinations.
Come along on our adventure and discover why Greece is one of the most surprising places you’ll ever visit, and Celestyal Cruises is the best way to explore her amazing islands.
Thessaloni: History, Heritage & Culture
Don’t Miss Ktima Gerovassiliou Wine Estate
After the cruise begins in Piraeus, Athens’ port, we sail through the night to Thessaloniki, a city I’ve always wanted to visit. Perched on the northern side of the Aegean Sea, the city has a long history of conquerors, including Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and most recently Nazi Germany. But Thessaloniki has survived, and today a white tower stands along the waterfront as a testament to liberty. The city is proud of its history, heritage, and culture. Greece’s second largest city is also said to have some of the Aegean’s most beautiful beaches.
Peter and I are signed up for an Authentic Excursion, a visit to Ktima Gerovassiliou Wine Estate about 15 miles outside of the city. We’re joined by a mother and daughter from Florida. Like us, they’re excited to discover more about Greek wine. I’m already a fan and have visited wineries in Santorini and the Peloponnese, but this is new territory, and I’m eager to learn more about Greek wine.
After a winery tour, our guide takes us to visit the estate’s museum, an eye-opening collection of historic wine vessels and wine-making equipment. What impresses Peter and me most is the corkscrew collection. Who knew collecting corkscrews was a thing? Winery owner Vangelis Gerovassiliou began collecting them in the 1980s and now has more than 2,600: corkscrews in canes, animal-themed corkscrews, erotic corkscrews, cartoon corkscrews, keychain corkscrews, corkscrews made from bone and wood, corkscrews in all sizes, shapes, and colors.
Next we sit on the patio of the lovely tasting room overlooking the vineyards and taste five wines, each paired with a small bite. The wines include a blend of Asyrtiko, a crisp refreshing white that tastes like the sea, and Malagousia, a white grape with herbal and pear notes; and a luscious red blend, Avaton, which features three Greek varietals—Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano—and has a lovely deep red color and depth of flavor. The food pairings are amazing. I especially love the dried fig with black garlic and a balsamic reduction glaze, which accompanies the dessert wine. The winery visit is an excellent introduction to Greek wines and a most enjjoyable experience.
Kusadasi, Turkey, is out next port of call. Known as the closest port to Ephesus, a wonderland for anyone who loves archaeology, it’s a thriving city with an exotic vibe. Since we toured Ephesus on our last cruise, we opt for a more adventurous Authentic Excursion this time around: a Buggy Safari! We leave Kudasasi behind and head into the countryside, where we meet our outfitter and get a safety briefing. We purchase kerchiefs to keep the dust out of our nose, but I skip the goggles, thinking our glasses will be good enough eye protection (they aren’t).
As we get underway, the dust swirls around us like a tornado, and I wish I had goggles. Nevertheless, careening around the dusty tracks, over rocks, and across hills is a thrill—albeit noisy, dusty, and hot! We stop at a beach and cool off our toes before spinning around the tracks a few more times. The Buggy Safari is exciting, but prepare to be covered in dust and grime. It’s truly an adventure for the adventurous!
Sea Kayaking in Anthony Quinn Bay
Explore Pirate Caves & More with Trekking Hellas Rhodes
Rhodes, another city known for an archaeological must-see, is our next destination. Lindos, a clifftop acropolis, dates to Ancient Greece, with more recent inhabitants during medieval times. It’s a windswept plateau high above the sea where you can see sweeping views of the Aegean. We visited Lindos during our 2019 cruise, so we decide to try the sea kayaking adventure with Trekking Hellas Rhodes. We meet on a peaceful beach beside the sparkling sea, and Jimmy gives us a safety briefing and leads us in some stretches before helping us launch our kayaks.
Paddling to the pirate’s cave is only part of the fun. We also kayak around Anthony Quinn Bay, so named because the actor fell in love with the picturesque cove and bought land nearby while filming “Guns of Navarone,” a WWII flick from the 1960s. A small beach overlooks the crystal-clear bay, which is ringed by more craggy rocks.
We navigate past moored sailboats and snorkelers and head to our next destination, a beautiful cove with arches and rock formations. Our guide passes out snorkel gear and instructs us on how to safely jump in the water from our kayaks. I’m already nervous about how to get back in the kayak! The water is the perfect temperature, and we spot lots of small fish as we snorkel. When it’s time to leave, Jimmy expertly guides us on the proper way to climb into the kayak, and then it’s time to head back to shore.
This is when Peter and I are start having trouble. First, we are heading directly into a fairly strong headwind. Second, Peter’s in the back of the kayak and can’t seem to get in sync with my paddling tempo. “You’re too slow,” he says, and I respond, “I’m not as strong as you, and this is the best I can do!” Suffice it to say, it’s a miracle we make it back. Once on dry land, I’m exhausted and barely speaking to him, but after a cold beer, all is forgiven. In fact, we decide later the sea kayaking tour was a highlight of the cruise!
Diane Kochilas’ Tasting Menu: Divine Greek Food
Next A Cocktail and The Scent of the Sea on Celestyal Crystal’s Deck
Returning to the ship after an excursion is always a pleasure. First, we adjoin to our comfortable stateroom, where we can shower and relax a bit after the day’s activities. Then there’s always lots to do on board. During the day, the enthusiastic international staff lead activities for all ages. Kids can stay busy with arts, crafts, and activities. Teens can enjoy ping pong, darts, and Wii games. Everyone can enjoy dance lessons, Greek music, quizzes, and Bingo. And there’s always frolicking fun at the pool!
Meals are amazing onboard Celestyal Crystal. Breakfast is usually buffet style and features delicious eggs, pastries, and of course pancakes and waffles. Lunch can be either buffet or a la carte—the perfect time to enjoy a Greek salad. Dinners are always a treat, especially if you love Greek food, like I do. One evening Peter and I choose to experience the premium dinner offering called the My Greek Table Six-Course Tasting Menu, available in the Specialty Restaurant for an additional charge. The recipes are provided by Diane Kochilas, one of the world’s foremost experts on Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. She is also the host, creator and co-producer of My Greek Table, the popular cooking and travel show that airs nationally on PBS and is sponsored by Celestyal Cruises. (The regular menu also features a delectable dish from Diane’s healthy cookbooks at no additional cost.)
The tasting menu features local and regional ingredients from many of the islands Celestyal visits. The dishes are all centered around the healthy Mediterranean Diet with many plant-forward or vegetarian, gluten-free, and/or vegan options. Every course is fabulous from the homemade Greek dips served with fresh pita bread and Cretan octopus carpaccio to the hearty main courses and delicious desserts. My favorite is the Aegean Fisherman’s Soup, a creamy combination of seafood stock, saffron, and shrimp.
Evenings we love sitting outside in the fresh air on the back deck and watching the sun set over another beautiful Greek landscape. There’s something about the scent of the sea that makes me feel happier and more alive. Add to that a pastel-colored sky, the sound of rushing water, and an after-dinner cocktail, and I can’t think of a more perfect scenario.
Next Month: The adventure continues as we cruise to Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, and Milos.
For more information and to book your next cruise, visit www.celestyal.com/us/. Celestyal Cruises recently announced it will be removing all of its COVID-19 vaccination, proof of COVID recovery, and pre-departure testing requirements for guests on sailings commencing on or after March 2, 2023, unless required by local regulations.