Greek Islands: Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes

-Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with
more of the best of Europe. This time, I thought
I’d take you on a little cruise. We’re sailing to three
iconic Greek islands, Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes. Welcome aboard! ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ While there are lots
of Greek islands to visit, we’re dropping in
on just three classics. While we could fly
or take a local ferry, this time, our mode of
transportation is a cruise ship. In this sampler of Greek isles, we’ll enjoy
their fascinating history, inviting beaches,
and dramatic beauty. Our ship functions
as our floating hotel and takes us effortlessly
from port to port as we settle into the relaxing
tempo of an Aegean holiday. Exploring each island
under the reliable sun, we’ll compare beaches
from the ultimate party beach to quieter,
more idyllic hideaways. We’ll tour ancient ruins, then climb to the summit
for a grand view and sample Greek cuisine within
splashing distance of the sea. -It tastes good. -We’ll learn of crusader history and marvel
at stunning Greek isle views, and we’ll connect it
all by cruise ship, enjoying fun onboard as we sail. From Athens, we sail
into the Aegean Sea. Of its hundreds of islands,
we’ll visit three — Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes. ♪♪ Cruising is designed
for the masses, and it has its pros and cons. There are 3,000 passengers
on this ship. While it’s surely
not for everyone, many find it efficient
and economical for island-hopping
in the Mediterranean. If you do opt for a cruise, you’ll live within
a strict schedule — sail by night, sightsee by day,
about 10 hours per stop. The Aegean Sea offers
the quintessence of Mediterranean island charm. Punctuated
by romantic nights at sea, our itinerary promises plenty
of unforgettable sightseeing. In the morning,
we’ll be in Santorini. ♪♪ I enjoy the scenic arrivals
and departures by cruise ship. Being on the top deck as you
approach the day’s destination gives you
a quiet bird’s-eye view. Approaching an exotic
and fabled island like Santorini as the moon sets
and the sun rises, just kissing the lip
of the breath-taking cliffs, is worth getting up for. Santorini is a dramatic island, the rim of a volcanic crater
with spectacular vistas. Once a complete island
like its neighbors, it was a volcano
that about 3,500 years ago blew its top,
creating a caldera, this flooded crater. Today,
inviting whitewashed villages seem to crowd
its dramatic ridges as if jostling
to enjoy the views. Because Santorini’s pier
is small, giant cruise ships drop anchor and tender their passengers in
on small shuttle boats. ♪♪ Individuals go
to the tiny old harbor where they can ride a donkey
up the zigzag trail or hop a cable car up to the
scenic lip of the island crater. Those paying for
the cruiseline’s excursion get off the ship first and head for an alternative port
where buses and guides await. ♪♪ With the crush of the crowds,
the limited time, and the scattered array
of interesting sights, investing in a bus tour
like this to see Santorini can make sense. Within minutes,
you’ll be powering up the switchbacks
into the island as your guide
narrates the drive. -Those two are
the Kameni Islands. The Kameni Islands
are actually made of lava rock. -Excursions also include
scenic views from the bus and the stress-free efficiency of getting smoothly
from point to point. And tour groups are sure to have
free time at the best photo ops. Oia is the postcard image
of the Greek isles. This idyllic ensemble
of whitewashed houses and characteristic domes
is delicately draped over a steep slope
at the top of a cliff. Viewpoints here are some of the
most striking in the Greek seas as tourists clamber
for just the right angle. Artists fall in love
with Oia and move in. Honeymooners find the B&B
of their dreams and savor breakfast
in unforgettable settings, and at the quiet end of town, the old windmill reminds all
of a more rustic age gone by. ♪♪ The whitewash, while scenic
today, was originally practical: White reflects
the powerful heat of the sun. The lime that makes the
whitewash is a good antiseptic. Villagers knew it would
naturally disinfect the rainwater
that was collected on rooftops. And I love the way the blue
and white of the townscape seems inspired by the colors
of the Greek flag. Many of these dwellings
originated as humble caves. With little building material
on the island, it just made sense
to dig into the cliffs. These cave houses,
surrounded by air-filled pumice, are naturally insulated, staying cool in summer
and warm in winter. Gradually, these cheapest bits
of real estate were developed, and with tourism, they became
today’s expensive villas, hotels, and restaurants. ♪♪ With each port,
you’ve got sightseeing options. You can take the organized bus
tour and be on their timetable or you can hire a private guide. You can use a guide book
and be your own guide, or you can just hang out
and be thoroughly on vacation. There’s no right or wrong. It depends on your mood
and your style. I’ve left our bus tour early for a rendezvous
with a private local guide. -We had a big earthquake
back in 1956, 7.8 Richter scale, destroyed very many houses like
this captain’s house over here, and on the other side, you can
see the Venetian fortress. It’s destroyed. It’s been there
since the 14th century. -To get the absolute most
out of our Santorini day, I’ve booked half a day
with Demetrus. While pricy, if two couples
split the cost, enjoying the services
of a private guide can cost about the same
as the cruiseline’s bus tour. Of Santorini’s many beaches,
Kamari is one of the best. The black sand is a reminder
of the island’s volcanic origin. Typical of Greek island
resort beaches, it’s lined
with rentable lounge chairs and a strip
of seafood restaurants, and with Demetrus,
I know exactly what I’m eating. These salads look delicious.
Can you tell me about them? -Well, we have here a Greek
salad and a Santorini salad. The difference
with the local salad is that we use
the local tomatoes, the cherry tomatoes,
the local cucumbers, and instead of the feta cheese,
we use the goat cheese, and we add the capers
and the caper leaves. See, you can eat them.
They taste good. Right, we got some
sardines here, grilled, and on the other side, we’ve got
a very nice grilled calamari, also served with salad,
the lemon, and the olive oil. -This is a healthy diet. -This is the Mediterranean diet. [ Both laugh ] -Santorini is small. Driving is fun,
and traffic is sparse. In a few scenic minutes,
we’re across the island. We bid our guide good-bye
to enjoy a last couple hours in Fira, Santorini’s main town. Fira is the island’s commercial
and transportation hub. Its main street,
thronged with tourists whenever there’s
a cruise ship in the bay, seems like little more
than a long line of shops, cafés, and restaurants,
all with staggering views. ♪♪ Enjoying the island
with a local guide and then taking a short break
to enjoy a cliffside bar filled with happy travelers
from around the world is a reminder
that even if on a cruise, you can exercise
your independence and spark some
great travel moments. Keeping my eye on the clock, I hop the cable car
back down to the old port where our ship’s shuttle
or tender awaits. Most cruisers get nervous
about missing the ship and head back
earlier than necessary. I find the ports are
least crowded and most relaxed and enjoyable
during that last hour. ♪♪ The last tender is not
leaving for 15 minutes. That’s plenty of time
for one last uzo. Cruisers enjoy
toggling effortlessly between their daily adventures
on shore and evenings back home
on their floating resort. Sure, there’s nothing culturally
broadening about this. In fact, the only thing
broadening about all this lazy time on ship with
the unlimited food and drink is the effect it might have
on your waistline, but the ease of
not having to change hotels with every new destination and the abundance
of entertainment onboard can contribute
to a nice vacation. While cruisers may miss
evenings in port, what they do get to experience
are the evenings at sea, whether it’s a dance party
by the pool or quietly enjoying
the full moon and anticipating
new adventures tomorrow. Mykonos is another small island with a small port
inundated by cruise-ship crowds. It’s so iconic and beautiful
that it’s included in most major
cruise-ship itineraries. There’s a pier
for only one ship, so most ships drop the hook and shuttle their people in
by tender. If visiting by cruise ship, it’s
smart to get an early start. We caught the first tender, beat the crowds
and beat the heat. It’s easy to enjoy
Mykonos town with no planning, no tour, and no guide. This is a stop
that lends itself to unstructured free time,
just lazing on the beach, wandering,
and browsing the shops. It’s the epitome
of a Greek island town — busy break water, fine little
beach, and inviting lanes. While tourism
dominates the economy, Mykonos still has
a traditional charm, thickly layered
with white stucco, blue trim,
and colorful bougainvillea. ♪♪ Back lanes offer tranquility
away from the cruise crowds. As in many Greek island towns,
centuries ago, the windmills of Mykonos
harnessed the steady wind, grinding grain
to feed its sailors. Five mills still stand, perfectly positioned
to catch the prevailing breeze. A tidy embankment is so pretty,
they call it Little Venice. Wealthy shipping merchants
built this row of fine mansions with brightly painted
wooden balconies that seem to rise
right out of the sea. Today, these mansions have been
refitted as restaurants and bars for tourists enjoying
fresh fish and romantic views. ♪♪ Mykonos’ status
in the last generation was as a fashionable destination
for jet setters, and it retains
a certain hip cache. These days, tacky trinket stalls
share the lanes with top-end fashion boutiques. Prices are high, and in season, the island is crammed
full of vacationers, but even with four ships
in the harbor today, there seems to be
plenty of room. ♪♪ I love how in the middle
of all this modern tourism, the traditional culture
carries on at the tiny church built to bless those
who go to sea. A fisherman and his wife pop in
for a few meditative moments among age-old icons
and flickering candles. Mykonos is small. Any point on the island
is within a 20-minute drive. The windy roads feel like
a fairground race track for tourists, busy with an array
of easy-to-rent vehicles. And, like most of them,
we’re heading for the beach. There’s a range of beaches
on Mykonos. The most trendy is Paradise, one of the ultimate
party beaches in the Aegean. Presided over by hotels that
run bars for young beachgoers, the Paradise action is nonstop. ♪♪ While the beach becomes
a raging dance floor after dark, the DJ is busy all day as
the cruise set joins backpackers from around the world
to enjoy the scene. ♪♪ As is standard around here, beaches rent comfortable
lounge furniture with umbrellas. Just plop onto whatever appeals. Don’t worry.
The drinks will come to you. ♪♪ If you prefer a quieter scene, the more remote beaches
are a short drive farther out. While extremely arid, the stony
countryside of Mykonos, complete with whitewashed
churches and staggering views, is a delight
for a quick road trip. Agios Sostis,
an old hippie beach at the north end of the island, has none of the thumping
party energy of Paradise Beach. It offers little
beyond lovely sand, turquoise water,
and tranquility. And for many, it’s their
Greek-isle dream come true. ♪♪ Along with its beaches, Mykonos offers a major
historic attraction. It’s on an uninhabited
neighboring island a 30-minute
shuttle boat ride away. The island of Delos was one
of the most important places in the ancient Greek world… with temples honoring
the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis. Centuries before Christ, Delos attracted pilgrims
from across the Western world. ♪♪ Delos was important in
three different ancient eras, first as a religious site, then as the treasury
of the Athenian League. That was sort of the Fort Knox
of the ancient world. And later, during Roman times,
this was one of the busiest commercial ports
in the entire Mediterranean. Delos ranked right up there with
Olympia, Athens, and Delphi. Survey the remains
of the ancient harbor, foundations of shops and homes, and hillsides
littered with temple remains. ♪♪ The iconic row
of sphinx-like lions still heralds
the importance of the place. This was one of the
Aegean world’s finest cities. Imagine Delos in its heyday,
a booming center of trade, streets lined with 3,000 shops where you could buy
just about anything, dazzling mansions
of wealthy merchants with colonnaded
inner courtyards. There were fine mosaics like
this one of the god Dionysus riding a panther. Culture thrived here
enough to keep this theater, which could seat 6,000, busy. Innovative cisterns
collected rainwater. These round arches date
from the third century B.C. Plumbing ran under the streets,
and water was plentiful. Local guides demonstrate
still-working wells. -One of the 200 wells
and cisterns in the city, fresh, drinkable water from
the rich aquifer underneath us, and it was enough to supply
the 30,000 people at the peak of
the flourish of the city. -30,000? -So for more than 2,000 years,
water has come out of this well. You can still drink if you want.
-Very nice. About a century before Christ, Delos was devastated
by a terrible war. It never recovered
and was eventually abandoned. After 14 centuries
of silence and darkness, it was finally excavated
in the late 1800s, and today, the ruins of Delos
are ours to explore. ♪♪ I cap my visit by climbing
to the summit of the island. My reward: one of
the Mediterranean’s great king-of-the-mountain thrills. As you observe
the chain of islands dramatically swirling
in 360 degrees, you can understand
why historians believe that these Cycladic Islands
got their name from the way they make a circle —
or a cycle — around this oh-so-important
little island of Delos. ♪♪ ♪♪ Back on board,
we sail farther east toward the island of Rhodes, and we have another
evening on board. Assuming a sunny,
floating resort is what you’re looking for, cruising can be both
economical and efficient — especially when lacing together
far-flung islands within a limited
vacation schedule. Rhodes, or Rhodos,
as locals call it, is the fourth-largest
of the Greek islands. As we enter the historic harbor, the walls of the fortified town
seem to tell a story. Rhodes is built upon layers
of civilizations — Italian, Greek, and Turkish, with a dash
of medieval Crusader lore from all over Europe tossed in. Today, luxury yachts
crowd the harbor. The island’s main city,
also called Rhodes, was one of the great cities
of antiquity. The famed statue
called the Colossus of Rhodes once towered above the city. ♪♪ Ancient Greeks believed that this easternmost point
of the Greek world, where the rising sun
first kissed Greek soil, was the home
of the sun god, Helios. So, they honored Helios
by building a colossal statue. It was 100 feet tall
in polished bronze. This Colossus of Rhodes was one of the seven wonders
of the ancient world. But it was destroyed
by an earthquake a couple hundred years
before Christ, and today, nothing survives. The formidable Thalassini Gate
is a reminder of the age of Chivalry
and the famed Knights of Malta. They were also called the Knights
of Saint John Hospitallers. Their mission during
the 12th-century crusades: To protect Christian pilgrims
on their way to Jerusalem and provide hospitals
for their care. The pope recognized
the Knights of Saint John as a religious order, and they eventually became
“soldiers of the cross” with an economic agenda
and a mighty navy. Because the knights were
from aristocratic families, they had lots of money
and lots of power. As the nearest Greek island
to the Holy Land, Rhodes was a natural
gathering point for Crusaders
from all over Europe. In 1309,
the Knights of Saint John claimed Rhodes
as their headquarters and transformed it
into a bustling, highly fortified European city
governed by their Grand Master. Coming from all over Europe, they gave Rhodes
a cosmopolitan feel. This lane, called
the Street of the Knights, originally hosted knights
from their various countries. Whether from Spain,
France, or Germany, each group built
its own headquarters here to feel like home. To this day, the street feels
medieval with carved reliefs that show off
that original national pride. ♪♪ In the 14th century, the knights built the
Palace of the Grand Master — an imposing residence
and capital for their leader. Destroyed by the Ottoman Turks, it was rebuilt in a fanciful
style just a century ago. The palace was fortified
with three walls and two moats for good reason —
the ever-present Turkish threat. Huge granite cannonballs
littering the grounds are a reminder that it was said,
“when the Turks attacked, cannonballs
rained down on the city.” ♪♪ The Ottoman Turks
finally defeated the Knights of Saint John
in the 1500s. The knights then retreated hundreds of miles west
to the island of Malta, where they built an even more
fortified headquarters. Rhodes then became
part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. In fact, you can still feel
that Turkish influence to this very day. Ippokratous Square is
the busy heart of the old town. And those once-formidable walls
now seem only to protect a fun-loving tourist’s mecca
and a vibrant artist’s colony. The bazaar-like back lanes
are a delight to wander, and the main shopping drag still feels a bit like
a Turkish bazaar. At the top end, a 500-year-old
minaret marks the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent. Back outside the walls, the city
beach sprawls in a beautiful arc away from the harbor. This point, where the Aegean
and Mediterranean Seas meet, is famously windy —
long powering windmills. And the once-menacing shores of
Turkey are just 12 miles away. ♪♪ The island of Rhodes,
while arid, is fun to explore. Locals manage to eke out
an existence as they have for centuries. An hour’s drive south takes us to the island’s
other popular attraction. Lindos is the most beautiful
town on the island. Strategically set
with natural harbors flanking an
easy-to-fortify pinnacle, its history goes back
long before Christ. For 2,500 years, a hill-capping acropolis
has overlooked the town. Originally protecting
a temple of Athena, today the acropolis is mostly
the crumbling remains of a Crusader fortress built
by the Knights of Saint John. The dazzling white-washed
town of Lindos, originally a wealthy maritime
center because of its harbor, is now totally over-run
by tourists. The homes of sea captains,
whose wealth came from trade, are now fancy hotels
and gift shops. While it’s traffic-free,
if you need to get somewhere you can always hop on what’s
nicknamed the “Lindos Taxi.” Giddy-up. [ Donkey brays ] The real attraction here
are the beaches. Lindos’ Beach is a broad and
sandy strip, great for families. And just beyond
the acropolis is the more exotic
Saint Paul’s Beach, named for a legendary visit
by the apostle Paul nearly 2,000 years ago. A humble Greek Orthodox chapel celebrates that visit
to this day. Oblivious to the rich historic
heritage surrounding them, vacationers here
are expert at relaxing under the steady Greek Sun. ♪♪ In a few minutes,
they’re pulling up the gangway, and I’m back on the ship. Sailing these fabled seas, I find myself drawn
to the top deck. And it’s hard to imagine
having had more Greek-island fun in a few days than
what we just experienced. ♪♪ I hope you’ve enjoyed
our Greek-island cruise as we’ve explored just three
of the countless islands that make the Aegean Sea
such a popular destination. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on travelin’. -Hi. [ Laughs ] We’re sailing to three
iconic Greek islands — Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes. Welcome aboard. Arr! [ Laughs ] This Colossus of Rhodes was one of the ancient wonders
of the seven worlds. ♪♪ -There you go.
-[ Laughs ] Ah! ♪♪

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Reader Comments

  1. D r e a m L i f e Corp.

    I think this is the way to see Greece. When I went I just visited Mykonos and while it was fun, after a few days the partying and such got a little much. Much better to hop around the islands on a cruise ship!

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