Mykonos and Santorini. Quite likely, these are the two Greek Islands people will most often name when they cite destinations for fun, romance, and beauty in the Mediterranean. They might even identify them with a hint of awe or satisfaction. The two islands evoke visions of sunsets, al-fresco dining, relaxation, and, sometimes, carnal pleasure.
After a Celestyal Cruises sailing that took me to both of these sought-after destinations, I can offer some observations on each, including travel tips that may help you plan your voyage.
Mykonos Delivers Glorious Fun
The island of parties and outrageous nightlife could very well be nicknamed Ibiza South. Cavo Paradiso, famed among club-goers, sometimes doesn’t open its doors until 3 am and when it does guests are treated to music from the world’s leading DJs. Recent performers have included Steve Aoki and Deadmau5.
A playground for global jet-setters, Mykonos appears to have been thoroughly insulated from the financial crisis that has decimated much of the Greek economy. The island is alive with sophisticated shopping, an immense restaurant scene with establishments running along the water’s edge and above it on cliff-side roads, and those clubs that go day and night during the height of tourist season.
Mykonos is touristy but it’s also beautiful. Once you catch sight of the sunset and the joyful atmosphere in the pleasant streets of the main town of Chora, you’ll be tempted to indulge in a multi-day stay. The island is 85.5 square kilometres (33 square miles) in area, putting it about the size of Manhattan and Harlem combined. It’s home to an airport, a variety of accommodations, and stellar beaches.
Dining Tip: Roca Cookery Restaurant is in the Old Port of Mykonos, away from the row of restaurants that line the water in the area of Chora called Little Venice. It served the best meal I had in Greece, including a grilled sea bream, served whole and with roasted vegetables.
Santorini Shines on You
Oia is the name of famous resort town where the sunsets of Santorini have become a thing of lore. Half of the island was blown away when a volcano erupted 3,600 years ago. The civilization was buried after the blast, which caused catastrophe in nearby islands as well.
Although there are still active volcanoes on and around Santorini, the thought of another disaster doesn’t prevent more than 10,000 people from calling it their home year-round, or nearly 2.5 million annual visitors from arriving.
The tourists congregate mostly on the hilltop of Oia, a few hundred feet above Santorini’s shoreline and its principal town, Fira. Set on a cliff, Santorini’s main island (there are five islands that compse the destination) looks like a frosted mountain from the distance, with white-washed buildings ambling along the rock.
If you go, make a reservation at a restaurant to view the sunset, and plan to stay a while. (A bottle of nickteri, or “night-time wine”, will help; it is the the white wine of the island, whose viticulture dates to 3000 BCE.)
Tour buses arrive en masse, so the streets of Oia crowd with hundreds of people seeking the nightly show of the sun settling into the azure waters of the Aegean Sea. I viewed with a group at the Sun Spirit Cocktail Bar, watching the golden light plume on the horizon and then ebb into the night. The Santorini sunset proved to be more glorious than its legend lets on.
More About Celestyal Cruises
Sailings and Cost: The all-inclusive four-day Iconic Aegean cruise operates from March to October. Rates start at $740 per person for sailings in 2018. The Iconic Aegean is ideal for passengers looking to see the highlights of the Greek Islands and to decide in which of them to base a longer stay. Celestyal offers additional cruises of the Greek Isles as well as Cuba.