Simply the best  (or why our family cruises are a perfect experience for people of all ages )

“Look, mum – I’m using all the spolia!”

This, as I was told by the proud mother, is what a 9-year-old boy from the US said to his mother while playing in the Kids’ Corner of an East Asian airport in late 2009. At the time, he was playing with Lego, reusing bricks from abandoned structures previously created by other children. Spolia? It’s an archaeological term that describes elements of older architecture, such as lintels, thresholds or decorations, that are later incorporated into newer buildings – architectural recycling. He’d picked the phrase up while travelling on a Peter Sommer Travels’ adventure family tour in Turkey, a cultural gulet cruise to Ephesus a few months earlier.

A 9-year-old on an archaeological tour of Turkey, Greece or Italy? Sure, you may think, such a holiday would be a wonderful, intense, insightful experience, with beautiful scenery, fascinating historical sites and majestic architecture – but isn’t that all a bit much for children?

Au contraire!

Over the last 6 years, we have been organising a wide variety of family tours, hosting two or three generations of one or more families, either as scheduled tours or as specially arranged charters, following variations of our “normal” cruise itineraries. Children of any age from 4 to 18 have taken part, and have loved it in each and every case

This is hardly a surprise. Our escorted tours in Turkey, Greece and Italy are designed to be varied, offering a rich variety of different kinds of sites and sceneries, a broad range of unique experiences in an easy-going atmosphere. This begins with the boats themselves: impressive handcrafted objects of great elegance and interest to the adult eye, for our younger guests a week on a gulet is eternally fascinating, as she ship becomes not so much a classroom, but a permanent playground, a living adventure and an indelible memory.

The cultural programme is interspersed with lovely walks, ample time for swimming, snorkelling and kayaking every day, and a seemingly never-ending succession of delicious and interesting meals prepared aboard or enjoyed ashore in tavernas and restaurants. Each family tour in Turkey, Greece or Italy is designed to hold a balance, but – I should stress – this is not a balance between fun and relaxation versus history and learning, but one between different kinds of enjoyment: the sites and sights along the route are presented and perceived as part of the fun.

Archaeology and history, presented as an exciting hands-on experience, are anything but stuffy pastimes. Our expert tour leaders strive to bring antiquity to life. They are story-tellers as much as they are guides, drawing on the rich resources of their knowledge, from historiography to mythology, but always returning to the sheer physical experience of the ancient sites themselves, letting them speak to old and young alike.

Archaeological sites lend themselves perfectly to this kind of active learning. They often represent the remains of past communities reduced to their essentials, frequently with clearly accessible functions, as in temples and shrines, city walls and fortifications, theatres and stadiums, market squares and government buildings, palaces and private homes, all there to be seen and felt. But this seeming simplicity is linked directly with the endless variations of history and legend, local variation and historical change, the very complexity of humankind and its ways of life – the story we are trying to tell.

The sense of exploration and wonder makes the children (and not just them) feel as though they are dealing with something real and exciting; mysterious and fascinating, Indiana Jones without the snakes (there may be tortoises or dolphins, though).

But to be honest, while the carefully prepared itineraries, the selection of sights, and the attention and effort on our experts’ part are obviously necessary ingredients to make a family cruise the uniquely enjoyable experience that it is, time and time again the true star billing goes to the kids themselves. It is the freshness of their minds, the lack of hesitation in asking questions, the open-minded imagination and the boundless curiosity of our young guests that make it such fun for everyone to be on such a tour.

The chance to share in this intense and beautiful experience of travelling with one’s loved ones, all ready prepared and seamlessly organised, is not to be missed. It’s no wonder that our experts, including the present author, all hope to go on a family cruise once our children (if any) are old enough. In fact, Peter himself has taken his family so many times – his 10 year old daughter, Rebecca has come to expect at least one gulet cruise as part of her yearly routine!

The last word goes to another participant on one of our family tours. In spring 2010, I was just about to start talking at the final stop of the tour’s final site, the ancient theatre of Ephesus, when I was interrupted by a 7-year old guest from Britain. In a few words, he proceeded to do my job for me, summarising succinctly what I had said about other theatres earlier on that tour, especially in regard to their changing function – namely their initial use as spaces for ritualised Greek drama, as opposed to their Roman adaptation as venues for gladiatorial fights. Here’s what he said:

It’s a theatre. Not an amphitheatre – people always get that wrong. The Greeks used it to do something complicated with a chorus, and the Romans to watch people kill each other. Let’s take some pictures and go for ice cream”.

Find out about taking a gulet cruise or an escorted family tour in Turkey, Greece or Italy.

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