Day 1: Our gulet awaits you about 60 minutes from Bodrum/Milas airport, in the harbour of Bodrum, ancient Halicarnassus. If you arrive early enough, there may be time to stroll through town and perhaps tp visit the remarkable Castle of the Knights of Saint John, which houses an excellent museum of underwater archaeology. If possible, we set out for the Greek islands in the late afternoon. Welcome drinks and dinner on board.
Day 2: We explore Pothia, the main town and harbour of the rugged island of Kalymnos. The local archaeological museum provides a fit introduction to the earlier history of the Greek islands, demonstrating how even remote places like Kalymnos were integrated into an Aegean cultural continuum since the Bronze Age, both as recipients of cultural influences and as participants in them. The museum’s collection of sculpture, from the island’s main sanctuary to the god Apollo, but also from the bottom of the sea nearby, is one of the best in any provincial Greek museum, not least because of the wonderful Lady of Kalymnos, a nearly fully preserved bronze statue of a woman dating to the 4th or 3rd century BC. As Kalymnos is the last island in the Aegean to maintain a sponge-diving fleet, a tradition going back millennia, we also visit a local sponge-washing workshop to learn more about this ancient trade. In the afternoon, we continue to a bay off the eastern coast of Kalymnos.
Day 3: On Leros, we have much to explore. The Castle of Panteli, visible from most of Leros, is really three castles, one built around the other in succession, exemplifying the structural differences between an eleventh century Byzantine fortification, one built by the Crusader Knights of Saint John in the fourteenth century, and the Knights’ own fifteenth-century modification, a reaction to the introduction of gunpowder. In the castle’s chapel, we catch a glimpse of the miracle-working icon of the Virgin of the Castle. Next, we explore Lakki Town, once Porto Lago, an Italian military town of the 1930s, built in the style known as razionalismo, an odd combination of stark fascist aesthetics, Bauhaus modernism and Art Deco eclecticism. Here, we also learn about the events of the pivotal Battle of Leros in October and November of 1943, when the island fell from Italian to German control. After lunch at a local winery, we set out on a scenic crossing towards the sacred island of Patmos.
Day 4: Patmos is where Saint John is believed to have received his vision of the Apocalypse. As a result, it has been a centre of Christian worship for many centuries. In the morning, we explore the resulting Byzantine riches, listed by UNESCO as World Heritage. At the monastery of the Revelation, we find a medieval church added onto the cave said to be the venue of John’s account, a place of dense atmosphere and dignity. The main Monastery of Saint John, founded nearly a thousand years ago by the Blessed Christodoulos, is one of the chief Byzantine treasures in the Aegean, sternly fortified on the outside, and serene and beautiful within, with superb frescoes revealing the full splendour of Late Byzantine art, of a quality we would expect to find in a metropolitan centre like Istanbul/Constantinople or Thessaloniki. The monastery museum houses rare treasures, including fragments of the most famous Byzantine book, the Purple Codex, and an icon by Domenikos Theotokopoulos, the Cretan painter later known as El Greco. The monastery is surrounded by the immensely picturesque Chora, a fine town of traditional mansions from the last four or five centuries. In the afternoon, we make the long crossing to the great island of Samos.
Day 5: Our base for a few nights, the charming port village of Pythagoreio was built on the ruins of the ancient island capital. In antiquity, it was called Samos, like the island itself, but today it bears the name of the island’s most famous son, Pythagoras. Samos was one of the most powerful Greek city states in the Aegean, especially during the sixth century BC, when it was a place of great wealth and unusual sophistication and innovation. We first visit the Heraion, one of the most important shrines in the region, said to be the birthplace of the goddess Hera, and the site of her wedding with Zeus. The sanctuary, another World Heritage site, set in an atmospheric wetland area by the sea, was richly embellished, especially with the huge Temple of Hera, built and rebuilt in the sixth century BC. The massive foundations and the single standing column allow us to appreciate the lost grandeur of this structure. Next, we make our way to the island’s modern capital, Vathi, where the archaeological museum contains the rich finds from the Heraion, including fantastic examples of early Greek sculpture, among them the stunning colossal kouros, an Archaic statue of a nude young man and the largest known piece of its kind. There is also a vast array of small finds, among them bronzes from all over the eastern Mediterranean and even further afield, rare carvings in ivory and wood, and much more.
Day 6: Still on Samos, we visit the famous Tunnel of Eupalinos, a wonder of ancient Greek engineering. Another achievement of island’s golden age in the 6th century BC, it is cut through sheer rock for a length of over a kilometre. It served as the base tunnel for an aqueduct (which runs in a separate tunnel below its floor), supplying the city of Samos with fresh water while being invisible to any attacker or besieger. The story of how the tunnel was made, by teams working towards one another from both ends, has been painstakingly reconstructed by archaeologists and is truly marvellous. Next, we visit the superb and state-of-the-art archaeological museum of Pythagoreio, a carefully designed exhibit that strives to present the history of this age-old settlement and to bring the life of the ancient city of Samos back to life: its prehistory, its shrines, its graves, its art and its domestic life. In the afternoon, we set out southwards for a cove on the northeastern side of Kalymnos.
Day 7: We make an early crossing to the great island of Kos and its ancient harbour. Founded in 366 BC as a cohabitation of the earlier Koan cities, Kos Town quickly became one of the main commercial centres in the Dodecanese, famed for its wine and set on one of the major Mediterranean trade routes. The destruction of its later successor by a devastating earthquake in 1933 led to a major rebuilding by the Italian authorities then in control of the island, and to a series of excavations, many of which are preserved as archaeological parks within the new town: a charming juxtaposition of old and new. In the afternoon, we visit the ancient harbour quarter and the agora or market, the meeting space defining an ancient city, and the superb archaeological museum, displaying the city’s history from prehistory to the Roman era. Its collection of sculpture is superb, featuring many depictions of Greek mythological characters, as well as a wealth of other fine finds, throwing light on many aspects on the wealth and sophistication of ancient Greek and Roman Kos. We spend the night in port, sheltered by the walls of the medieval castle of Nerantzia, another memento of the Knights of Saint John.
Day 8: In the morning, we visit two of the most important sites on Kos. Set in what used to to be the city’s most desirable neighbourhood, the reconstructed Casa Romana, or Roman House, was the residence of a wealthy and probably powerful family during the Roman era. Well-preserved and even better presented, it is the best example in Greece of an upscale Roman residence. The superb interior decorations, especially the floor mosaics and marble inlay floors, are beautiful and permit us to imagine glamorous Greco-Roman lifestyles. Afterwards, we drive inland for the Asklepieion, the great sanctuary of Asklepios, the God of Healing, a place revered across the ancient world. Its remains, set on a slope with wonderful views across the straits to Asia Minor, are a key example of Late Classical architectural planning and they elucidate some of the key functions of an ancient sanctuary. In the afternoon, we cross to a cove off the volcanic islet of Giali for a leisurely evening.
Day 9: The morning is spent swimming and relaxing off Giali, an island of unique industrial heritage. For thousands of years, it was important as one of only two sources of obsidian, natural volcanic glass, a material that was used in prehistory to make cutting tools. In recent years, it also produces high-quality and pumice and perlite, two distinctively volcanic resources. At lunchtime, we continue a short distance to the beautiful island of Nisyros, essentially a dormant volcano.Our first visit is to the charming port town of Mandraki, a place of great serenity, where we pay a visit to the small but excellent archaeological museum of Nisyros, with fine material from the island’s ancient cemeteries. In the afternoon, we travel inland to see the stunning fortification at Paliokastro, one of the best examples of defensive architecture of the Classical and/or Hellenistic eras in the Greek Islands, in a superb setting overlooking the sea. Then, we continue to the interior of the caldera, the volcanic centre of Nisyros, to walk right into the Stefanos steam crater, estimated to be about four thousand years old. It is a fascinating place, offering deep insights into a geologically volatile region. After a traditional dinner on the rim of the caldera, we return to the boat in Mandraki.
Day 10: In the morning, we set out for a Tilos, the ‘greenest’ island in the Dodecanese. Tilos is the first Aegean island to rely entirely on renewable energy, and the only island to ban all bird-hunting. An inland excursion takes us to the monastery of St. Panteleimon, a place in a nearly absurdly picturesque and precipitous location, combining the serenity of Greek Orthodox monasticism with unusual neoclassical influences to create a unique whole. At the Chora, the island’s capital village, we discover tantalising remains of an ancient city, and admire some of the finest of the famous Dodecanesian pebble mosaics. We also learn about the island’s unique palaeontological finds, namely the island’s extinct species of pigmy elephant. These odd mammals, apparently survivors of a wider-spread species that got stranded after the last ice age (or ice ages) in many islands from Sicily via Crete to the Dodecanese, appear to have survived on Tilos until fairly recently: 6,000 years ago. Later, we make the crossing to Alimia (weather permitting), a small island between Rhodes and Chalki. Uninhabited today, it was the winter anchorage for the great Rhodian fleet of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, and also served as a naval base during the Second World War.
Day 11: A very short corssing takes us to Chalki. Here we travel inland to the abandoned former main village or chora. We ascend a steep slope (the most demanding walk on this itinerary), covered in crumbling terrace walls, houses and chapels, all crowned by the mighty walls of another castle of the Knights of Saint John. As we approach the various structures, we discover that there is more to the place: the medieval buildings of the village and castle stand on mighty predecessors: the remains of a large ancient Greek city, with vast terrace walls, bases for statues and dedications, rock-cut cisterns and a mountain-top citadel. Atop, we are rewarded by wonderful views across the local seas and over to Rhodes. There is time to wander the lanes of the lovely port town, and later we cross to the island of Symi. Weather permitting, we stop for a lovely chance to swim in a cove below steep cliffs. Once we continue, we are eagerly watching on deck as we enter Symi’s lovely neoclassical port town, one of the prettiest sights in the Mediterranean, based on its nineteenth-century affluence from sponge-trading and ship-building. Striking pastel-coloured homes cascade down the slopes towards the harbour.
Day 12: We spend the morning wandering Symi’s winding and stepped streets, making our way from the harbour settlement up the traditional main artery, the many-stepped Kali Strata (‘beautiful street’) to the upper village. Along the way, we admire its many fine mansions, all following the same basic design but featuring an endless variation of Neoclassical façade decorations, revealing the great wealth that was once concentrated on this tiny and rocky island. Let, we set out for another long swimming break in a picturesque cove, before making our way onwards to the great island of Rhodes, we moor just below the medieval city walls of Rhodes Town. a major centre in Antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and now. The city of Rhodes, founded in 408 BC as a synoikismos, a moving-in-together of the earlier cities of Ialysos, Kamyros and Lindos, and thus a collective decision changing the fate of the island and its surrounding region, is a most unusual place. It was taken over by the Knights Hospitallers or Knights of Saint John in 1310, henceforth the Knights of Rhodes, leading to a complete reorganisation of the city, which stands as one of the best-preserved medieval ensembles in Europe, with streets, lanes, squares and houses still following their fourteenth-century outline, another World Heritage site.
Day 13: We spend the entire day in the medieval city. We start by walking through the huge rock-cut moat, reflecting the Knights’ increasing sense of threat in the changing geopolitical theatre of the 14th and 15th centuries and revealing many details of medieval fortification architecture. Then, we visit the grandiose Palace of the Grand Masters of the Knights, rebuilt as a royal residence by the Italian occupants in the 1930s and embellished with many fine Roman mosaics from the excavations in Kos. Next, we walk the superbly-preserved ramparts that enclose the medieval town and offer superb views across centuries of history: domes, belfries and minarets of chapels and mosques, lanes, squares and streets, the multiple harbours and much more. The afternoon is free for further exploration, for a bit of shopping, or just to sit back in one of the squares and watch the ebb and flow of life in the bustling Old Town.
Day 14: We complete our tour of Rhodes with a short visit to the church of Our Lady of the Castle, a rare example of Gothic architecture in the Dodecanese. The highlight of the day, however, is the former Hospital of the Knights of Rhodes, one of the most significant pieces of Crusader architecture in the Aegean. It now houses the island’s main archaeological museum. It is a rich trove of treasures, fit to be our final visit in the Dodecanese: examples of Rhodian sculpture, sensual and sensitive at the same time, are one of the highlights, but the Hellenistic pebble mosaics, a Macedonian tradition transferred to wealthy Rhodian homes in the the third and second centuries BC, are as spectacular. There is also a superb display about the island’s prehistory, when Rhodes was a key recipient of first Minoan and later of Mycenaean influences. Another unique exhibit focuses on the role of writing and literacy in the ancient city. Eventually, we make the crossing to Marmaris for our farewell dinner on board.
Day 15: Transfers to Dalaman Airport, about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Marmaris Harbour.