The good thing about a cruise such as the one Celestyal offers is the chance to visit several stops with major landmarks and cultural highlights. If I was planning my own voyage of the Greek Isles, I likely would have left Patmos off the itinerary because I had heard little about it prior to arriving and its main attraction — a curiosity with religious significance to Christianity — didn’t seem as compelling to me as Crete’s Minoan history, or the fascinating ancient Greek finds on Rhodes, or the modern-day fun that makes Myknonos so alluring. But Patmos turned out to be my favorite stop on the trip and the Greek Island to which I am most keen to return.
Compared to Mykonos and Santorini, it is quaint yet contains many similar art shops and restaurants than its two more well-known counterparts in the Aegean Sea. And that top attraction turned out to be more fascinating than I imagined.
According to many scholars, Chora, the island’s capital, was home to John the Apostle (or St. John the Divine) during the late stages of his life. Followers of Christianity believe the priest saw visions that he dictated around 96 AD to an apprentice while living as a monk in a cave on a hill above Chora. The student, Prohoros, wrote the details of the visions as John the Apostle, then in his 90s, recited them. They formed what may be the most provocative book of the New Testament. The Book of Revelations is famous for its prediction of the end of civilization, the second coming of Jesus Christ, and depictions of hedonism.
The Cave of the Apocalypse, the name given to the spot where John reputedly received his visions, still exists. It is inside of a chapel that is home to a sole monk who maintains its operation. A worn piece of rock is said to be the ledge where John would brace himself as he stood following his dreams.
The island has been a destination for Christians and in the 16th century a monastery was built on a hill above the cave. It is home to 15 monks and its shape features a series of murals that are outstanding displays of Byzantine art. Its small museum is also worth a look for a collection that includes a painting by El Greco, who gained fame in Spain for his distinct style.
No matter if you’re a religious believer or not, there’s little denying something significant occurred in the cave and the surrounding area of Patmos near the end of the Roman Empire. Its legacy tied to John has helped the community maintain a peaceful, low-key way of life compared to so many of the other Greek Isles that are visited by cruise ships.
The island has two main towns: Chora, the capital and the home to the monastery of St. John the Divine (who is known in Greece as Agios Ioannis Theologos); and Skala, the main port and largest city, with a sandy beach and plenty of bars and restaurants. The villages of Kampos and Grikos feature beaches, cafes, and more of Greece’s iconic white-washed architecture. Regardless of where you go on the island, you’ll want to search out its delicacy, a sweet treat called pougia — a doughy cake that includes almonds and walnuts. Other nibbles you will find include locally made cheese and salads prepared with vegetables sourced on the island. Patmos is also a traditional fishing center and local restaurants serve Mediterranean favorites such as sea bass (or branzino), octopus, shrimp, and sea bream.
Home to many artisans, Patmos offered the most interesting shopping on my tour of the Greek Isles, because of the local flavor of the art and the lack of an overabundance of cheap, kitschy souvenir shops.
The island’s picturesque harbor is visible from the hills overlooking it, adding to the charm and experience. For an island known as the home of the Apocalypse, Patmos is a surprise with how heavenly and serene it feels.
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.