Greece – Best Islands Among the Dodecanese

The Dodecanese islands are located in the southeast part of the Aegean Sea and consist of twelve major islands and a number of smaller islands. Some of them are located at the border to Turkey. They have everything to offer to the visitors: whitewashed houses, beautiful beaches with crystal waters, charming villages, exciting nightlife and more.

Rhodes. One of Greece’s many highlights, the island of Rhodes, has both incredible beauty and interesting history to share with its visitors. The largest of the Dodecanese island group, Rhodes has several beaches from which you can enjoy the sea. One is covered with small pebbles in place of sand, but the magnificence of the royal blue water is obvious regardless of the composition of the beach. Rhodes receives over 300 days of sunshine a year, which makes you appreciate the crisp coldness of the Aegean even more.

After the fall and fragmentation of Alexander the Great’s Empire of Macedonia, the island of Rhodes fought for its freedom and after a long siege, triumphed in 305 BC. It was during this period that the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was constructed and straddled the harbour. This impressive giant statue was demolished during an earthquake. Because of its strategic position (on the crossroads between East and West) Rhodes has been under constant attacks and dominations from early times. This continued even up to WWII when the Germans took it over for a short period, followed by the English who maintained their rule until 1948. At that time the island of Rhodes (and all the islands of the Dodecanese) was united to the newly built Greek State.

Today pottery is Rhodes’ craft and tours of factories are available. You can see how the pieces are created from start to finish, including the painting of the finished product by talented artists. Pottery is for sale all over the island, but the factories have the best selection. Some of the most beautiful pieces have colored porcelain baked onto the clay in flowery designs.

The city of Lindos on Rhodes is built around an Acropolis. Square white houses set amidst abundant greenery line the lower portion of the rock projection. Although the Acropolis of Lindos is not as high as Athens, its grandeur is enhanced by its extraordinary setting above the Aegean Sea. At the bottom, a white sandy bay greets the blue water with a spattering of umbrellas. There is seldom an empty space on the fine sand, the tourists come early and stay late. It’s quite easy to walk to the top of the Acropolis, but there is also a more adventurous way to ascend to the island’s highest point – by donkey. You might assume that this would require a lot less effort in the blazing sunshine, but you will expend more energy praying for your life and gripping the makeshift saddle. Donkeys are not the most graceful walkers and you will be constantly bumped from side to side. They also have a tendency to walk wherever they like and this includes walking awfully close to the precipitous edge where you will be sure you are going to go tumbling off the Acropolis into the clear blue water at any moment. Fortunately they are not suicidal, so don’t make any sudden shifts of your weight that would throw them off balance and all will be well.

Whichever way you get to the top, you’ll be astounded by the view. The color of the water is mesmerizing. In one direction, a long beach stretches on for miles. The water that meets the sand is almost white and then abruptly changes to a richer, dark blue as the depth of the sea increases. In another direction, tiny pieces of land form mini islands in the turquoise water.

The ruins on the Acropolis of Lindos easily rival that of Athens. Dating back to 2000 B.C., what remains is a mix of Byzantine, Turkish and Frankish ruins. The majority of the summit’s floor is a mix of rock and dry grass. Stone stairs lead to one of the Acropolis’ highest structures of which only three tall columns still stand. The front two columns support two stone blocks stacked on top of one another.

Farther along, the ground has been paved and a concrete platform makes for easier walking. Remains of another building stand here, the front and back each consisting of four supported pillars. Stacked stones compose what is left of the walls, although they are in the process of being restored. From here you can see the Bay of Lindos and the water is so clear that you can easily make out the bottom of the sea.

Patmos. Another popular cruise ship stop is the Holy Island of Patmos. The northernmost island of the Dodecanese group, Patmos is a place of pilgrimage for many Christians due to its religious history.

At the summit of the small island lies the Monastery of St. John the Theologian. If you have the time, climb up the steep road that coils its way up to the monastery. It’s a fairly long hike, but worth the effort as you’re rewarded with a spectacular view of Patmos and its numerous bays and coves. Buses and taxis also make frequent runs to the top of the hill.

The monastery itself is built within a fortress and its gray buttressed walls retain their strength even today. From the outside, it looks more like a castle than a monastery. Built 900 years ago, the monastery is constructed mainly out of gray stone. A cement pathway on the pebbled ground leads inside to an open-air courtyard. The rusting stone is stacked into arches and the positioning of the monastery on the highest point of the island means that all you can see when you look up is the clear blue sky.

One of the covered archways is decorated with scenes of a religious nature. The frescoes of saints and churches are precise to the smallest detail and their color endures. The monastery’s church is decorated with even more remarkable frescoes. Gold embellishment and exquisite wood carvings throughout the church emphasize the importance of this section of the monastery.

A small museum on the site houses sacred treasures such as intricately decorated manuscripts. It is also possible to see aged embroidered religious garments, jewelry and mosaics.

Another notably sacred place on Patmos is the Grotto of the Apocalypse. Just down the hill from the monastery lies the cave where it is believed St. John experienced his divine revelation. Watch your step here; the stairs are steep and the rock is slippery. Inside the cave, a worn stone ledge comprises the desk where St. John wrote the Book of Revelations. A smaller ledge served as his pillow. Three fractures in the stone roof mark the spot where God’s voice reached through to St. John. The triple crack both symbolizes and honors the Holy Trinity.

Greece – Best Islands Among the Cyclades

The Cyclades are composed of 39 islands of which 24 are inhabited. The Cyclades are the most famous of all Greek islands with names like Mykonos and Santorini and are certainly among the most heavily favored by European tourists.

Most people come to Greece for one reason – island hopping on the Aegean Sea. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to do this is by cruise ship. A variety of boats leave from Athens’ port of Piraeus on a regular basis. Some cruises are short and visit only a few islands in three to four days. Others visit more islands over a longer period of time. Although the ships only stop at each port for several hours, it’s usually enough to get a feel for each island and decide at which one you’d like to spend more time on your next visit.

Mykonos. Almost every ship docks at Mykonos, one of the most famous and most visited islands. Small enough to walk from one end to the other, the streets are lined with gorgeous white washed houses. Shutters, window and door frames, along with doors and banisters are painted in bright colors, which emphasize the stark whiteness of the houses even more. Blue is the most popular, but green and red are also common. Mykonos is a beautiful but very crowded island with a very few calm places.

In front of a white church with a red domed roof stands Petros the Pelican. The huge bird, perched on the edge of a white wall, cleans himself as tourists timidly approach for a photo. His pink and blue beak is nearly the size of a man’s arm.

Near the sandy beach sits a white washed church with a blue dome roof – the epitome of Greece. A white cross crowns the blue dome. Farther along the beach at the top of a gentle hill, a row of windmills form a straight line. Their base is whitewashed, but the cones topping them are covered in straw. Thin sticks of wood latched together comprise the wheels that spin slowly on the light breeze coming off the sea.

Delos. An island close to Mykonos is famous for its ancient temples. Daily excursions can be booked in Mykonos. Delos was the most important Panhellenic sanctuary and, according to mythology, the birth-place of Apollo and Artemis. The first signs of habitation on the island date from the 3rd millenium B.C. and important remains of the Mycenaean period have been uncovered in the area of the sanctuary. In the 7th century B.C. Delos was already a known Ionic centre because of its religious importance as the birth-place of Apollo. During the period of the alliance of Grecian kingdoms under Athenian domination, Delos was the designated treasury. Athens, being the capital city and more avaricious than its partners, began to plunder the treasury and used the wealth to build the Acropolis.

Santorini. When you’ve had just about all the history and white marble you can take, along comes one of Greece’s most breathtaking sights, the volcanic island of Santorini. One of nature’s most incredible creations, this is the island that everyone plans to revisit. One day here is definitely not enough to absorb the splendor of what has been often referred to as Greece’s most beautiful island.

Santorini is considered a caldera – a volcanic depression in the shape of a basin. The caldera was created thousands of years ago when the Strongyli volcano collapsed. Santorini is the portion of the submerged caldera that remains above sea level. The apocalyptic event that resulted in present day Santorini is one of the explanations for the demise of Atlantis, the fabled island kingdom described by Homer and believed to have existed about the time of the volcano’s eruption, 12-14,000 years ago. This, however, is only one of the possible sites of Atlantis, the Canary Islands and the Bahamas being the two most prevalent among the believers in the story.

Approaching the crescent shaped island from the deep sea, you may be astounded by its size. The most southern of the Cyclades islands, Santorini looks like a massive, snow capped mountain dropped into the middle of the sea. As you get closer, you’ll see that the enormous island isn’t covered in snow at all – it’s the thick spattering of typically Greek white washed houses that turns its top layer completely white. The sides of the island are too steep to bear any buildings and the majority of the island’s structures are built on its flat top.

Numerous cruise ships anchor in the harbor, but the massive island dwarfs even the biggest vessel. Small boats transport tourists from the cruise ship to the shore, where buses wait to drive them up the skinny road that winds its way up the side of the island. Their destination is Oia, a small village set at the edge of the caldera’s steep slope.

Oia’s bars, restaurants and homes sit along the perimeter of the island. Relaxing at one of the cliffside restaurants provides you with an unbeatable vista of the island and surrounding water. The blue sea glimmers in the bright sun and Santorini stretches on and on. Smaller islands, part of the same volcanic group, are speckled throughout the sea. The east coast of the island boasts the most beautiful beaches, but beware – the black volcanic sand may look spectacular, but it’s extra hot on the feet.

When it’s time to head back to the ship, you have two options. A set of stairs leads down the rock face to the shore, but taking the cable car is recommended. Not only is it a lot easier, but the final view of the island in its spectacular setting is one you’ll savor forever.