The Greek Islands bring back happy memories for my husband, Guy, as we spend this week together on a Greek Island and Turkey Cruise with Azamara Club Cruises. Guy went island-hopping in his student days and visited many of the places such as Santorini and Mykonos that form part of this cruise, although his student budget in those days could not stretch to some of the luxuries we are now enjoying on Azamara Journey. Our early morning flight from Heathrow brought us to Athens and an easy transfer to Pireus where we boarded Azamara Journey and settled into our luxurious stateroom, our home for the next seven days.
The first port of call was Santorini, a group of islands that were formed in a volcanic eruption many thousands of years ago and form the outer ring of the volcano with the sea covering the central caldera. The main island of Thira or Fira has no port large enough to take a cruise ship, even a small one like Azamara Journey, so we tendered into shore and took the cable car up to the top of the cliff (€5 per person 1 way). Neither of the alternatives of a donkey ride or a walk up the steep cobbled path to the top in the hot sun were very appealing and even in the cable car, the rich smell of donkey droppings wafted up from the path below.
Beautiful sea views
We didn’t linger too long in Fira, but found the crowded bus station with expert drivers backing their buses into impossibly small spaces. We joined the many people asking the bus conductors “Is this the bus for …?” and eventually found the one for Oia – pronounced Ee-ah. (€1.80 per person 1 way every 30 mins). Who’d be a bus driver on Santorini, driving along narrow, winding roads, trying not to be distracted by the sea view?
As the buildings of Fira town thinned out we passed bright white and local stone holiday villas, with domed roofs proclaiming “caldera views” – some of them looking rather smart places to stay. Beside the road all we could see were dusty cactus clinging to the pumice stone and a few patches of purple flowering thyme.
There’s a walking trail that runs between Fira and Oia that I would have happily hiked in May, but in the heat of the midday July sun it would have been a quick way to get sunstroke. As we got closer to Oia we could see the flat plain below with square fields marked out and fewer houses apart from those perching on the side of the cliff.
Most people’s idea of Santorini is formed from the photos of white houses and blue domes that they think epitomize Greece, but are actually mainly found in Oia. The town is strung along the cliff-top and there is one main pedestrian stone paved street (beware it can be slippery) that stretches in both directions from the bus station along the top of the cliff overlooking the sea.
Shopping and people watching
With shopping ranging from the sometimes tacky to the mostly tasteful and the achingly trendy, this is a place to shop for jewellery and gifts, hang out in bars and cafes and take plenty of photographs. It’s also the place that everyone comes to watch the sunset and take those picture postcard shots as the sky turns pink and the light is golden. This is the place you’ll find stylish fashions with everything you need to look the part on your Greek cruise or your hot, hot, hot Greek island holiday.
The burning heat
Did I mention the heat? It was absolutely boiling hot 35 degrees + and if you insist on visiting in July and August, my recommendation would be to walk the streets of Oia, take your photos and then to find a nice shady café for lunch or a cooling drink. Walk, rest, drink every 30 mins or so until you have had enough of the people watching and the wandering and the shopping. There isn’t a great deal else to do but Oia is a pretty enough place to hang out for a few hours.
Apart from the obligatory visit to Oia are some archaeological remains to see at Akrotiri but we decided to give that a miss because of the heat. Seriously, if you are there in July or August, plaster yourself in high factor sun cream wear a hat and drink plenty of water. After a walk around Oia I felt like I’d been in a sauna.
Dinner at Pyrgos
After our very hot walk around Oia we had lunch followed by a cooling swim at the pleasant Lioyerma pool and café which is at the furthest end of Oia, close to the windmills. Then we took the bus back to Santorini and from there got the taxi to Pyrgos where we were having dinner at Kalisti Taverna. Because we were a bit early we decided to walk up to the Kastel where we found an old church at the top with a fortified gateway and some great views over the flatter side of the island.
Our dinner at Kalisti Taverna was part of the Azamara Club Cruises “Cruise Global Eat Local” dining experience where you eat in restaurants with excellent food and a local flavor. We enjoyed delicious Greek specialties such as Greek salad with tomatoes, olive, feta, nicely presented in a grilled cheese basket. There was a garlic aubergine salad, fava bean puree and baby tomatoes stuffed with rice and local cheese. This was the meze style starter course and then we had roasted lamb chops with baklava for desert, all washed down with an excellent award winning Santorini wine. At 9.30 pm we were swiftly transported back to Azamara Journey just in time for the ship sailing out of Santorini at 10pm. Next stop Mykonos where we arrive tomorrow.
About Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises is a small luxury cruise line with two ships; Azamara Journey that Heather and Guy sailed on and Azamara Quest, each with a capacity of 686 guests. The smaller ship size means you often visit destinations that larger ships can’t get into and the ships can dock in more central locations. The emphasis is on destination immersion; enjoying the destination to the full, arriving early and sailing late so that guests can enjoy nights and cool places ashore, with insider access programmes and a unique AzAmazing evening included in each cruise. No itinerary is the repeated and each year the ships visit different destinations around the world. Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruise group. Visit the Azamara Club Cruises website more information about a Mediterranean luxury cruise like the one Heather and Guy enjoyed.
Joining your Azamara Club Cruise
Heather and Guy flew from London Heathrow to Athens and back from Istanbul using British Airways, although obviously each cruise is different in the best way to get there.
Heather used the Meet and Greet Parking Service booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who offer airport parking at a range of airports across the UK as well as travel extras such as airport lounge booking and airport hotel stays.
Both flights and transfers from the airport to your cruise ship can be arranged through Azamara Cruises via their Choiceair service
Thanks to Azamara Club Cruises who hosted Heather and Guy for their 7 day Greek Island Cruise and to Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who provided their airport parking at Heathrow.
Read More about our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Charming Patmos – Day 3 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Visiting Kusadasi and Ephesus – Day 4 of our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise
Istanbul the golden – final stop on our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise
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