- About Us
- Alternative Tourism
Off shore excursions
The port of Ermoupoli in Syros is the capital of the Cyclades and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our tour takes you south from Ermoupoli to Anastasi Church, above Ermoupoli, to visit this lovely domed church and to enjoy a breathtaking view of Tinos and Mykonos. From Anastasi we drive through the beach villages of Vari, Megas Gialos, Possidonia, Finikas, Galissas and Kini: the beach at Vari, a traditional fishing village, lies along a sheltered bay, while the beach at Megas Gialos stretches beneath the brightly-painted houses of the village; Possidonia is home to a number of ornate mansions and a picturesque blue church.
We drive one kilometer from Kini to the Aghia Varvara (St. Barbara) Monastery, which was founded in 1900 and exhibits icons from the life of Aghia Varvara and many stunning embroideries. After Aghia Varvara we stop at a traditional loukoumi factory to see how loukoumi, also known as Turkish delight, is made. After enjoying some samples, we return to Ermoupoli.
On arriving at Ermoupoli, we disembark from the bus and continue on foot. We visit the Holy Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin to see El Greco’s The Dormition of the Virgin, which was painted before 1567. We then walk to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Metamorphosis, the first high school of modern Greece and now part of the Aegean University. Our tour continues on to the impressive Orthodox Cathedral of Aghios Nikolaos, then up the hill to the Vaporia district, “Little Venice,” to see the neoclassical mansions built by the island’s bankers, merchants and ship owners.
We travel downhill from the Vaporia to the Apollon Theater, the first opera house in Greece and a copy of La Scala in Milan, then on to the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Archeological Museum, which includes a number of treasures unearthed on Syros, Paros and Amorgos. We conclude our tour of sublime Syros in the center of Ermoupoli, at the town hall in magnificent Miaouli Square, which is adjacent to interesting shops and atmospheric cafes.
Let us take you for a delicious barbecue and a refreshing swim on the unspoiled, uninhabited island of Nimos just north of Symi. Known as “Ymos” to the ancient Greeks, today the island is an untouched natural wonderland and a protected archeological site.
We’ll sail in traditional kaiki boats from Symi harbor to Nimos, where we’ll swim in its pristine blue waters and enjoy a festive beach barbecue. Please note the minimum number of passengers for this excursion is 30, maximum 60.
After your ship anchors in the open sea of the Caldera, off the port of Old Fira, our tender boats will bring you to the harbor at Athinios, where your tour guide and an air-conditioned coach will await you.
Our first stop is the beautiful Monastery of Profitis Ilias, above the village of Pyrgos. Built in the early 18th century, it occupies the highest point on Santorini. The monastery is home to an important collection of rare ecclesiastical items, hand-written books and Byzantine icons. Take the path that begins at the village square in Pyrgos. The monastery is fascinating, and its unimpeded vistas will make you swoon. Take a deep breath of pure, clean Cycladic air.
We leave the monastery and drive north, past the settlements of Kamari and Monolithos, then through Fira and the smaller, traditional villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli, to Oia. At the northern tip of Santorini, about seven miles from Fira, is Oia, the island’s most scenic village. When you arrive, you’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a three-dimensional postcard from Santorini.
The sunsets here are world-famous. Turning back from the sunset, take some time to enjoy the narrow, pebble-paved streets of Oia, home to sugar-white houses (there are two architectural styles, the captains’ houses and the cave houses), blue-domed churches and one-of-a-kind shops and galleries, chic cafes and tavernas where you’ll receive a warm Oia welcome.
The Maritime Museum and its small library are worth a visit, as are the ruins of Saint Nikolaos Castle, which was built by the Venetians. On our way back from Oia, we return to Fira through the valleys of northern Santorini on the island’s eastern slope. They are flooded with white houses that seem as if they had been poured there like syrup. Here and there, they are punctuated by the cerulean domes of small churches. Our final destination is the port at Athinios, but if you wish we can leave you in Fira.
The capital of Santorini and its largest town has it all: art galleries, award-winning restaurants, chic cafes, cozy bars, museums, nightclubs, traditional tavernas, unique shopping and, of course, an incredible view of the sunset from the town’s central square, Thetokopoulou Square. You’ll want to visit the Archeological Museum, which houses Minoan findings from Akrotiri, and the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, whose exhibits date to the Neolithic era through the 17th century B.C., and the Megaro Ghyzi, a cultural center where old prints, maps, and photographs of Fira before and after the 1956 earthquake are on view.
The bright white Metropolitan Cathedral, also known as the Church of Ypapanti, was built in 1827; it is famed for its elegant rolling arches and its beautiful frescoes which were painted by Santorini artist Christoforos Assimis.
We leave Mandraki in our air conditioned coach for a short drive to the picturesque coastal village of Lindos, whose whitewashed houses line a labyrinth of pebble-paved streets. The captains’ residences were built around votsaloto courtyards between the 15th and 18th centuries; the monumental doorways and their decorative stonework, built into apsidal entrances, are especially impressive. For a visit inside one of these magnificent homes, stop by the Papakonstandis Mansion, the most elaborate of the captains’ houses and an unofficial museum. The frescoes inside the post-Byzantine Church of the Virgin Mary (Panagia) were painted in the 18th century.
Ancient Lindos reached its zenith in the 6th century B.C. under the governance of Cleobulus, one of the Seven Sages of Greece. The awesome Acropolis of Lindos occupies a hilltop 120 meters above the village – you can reach it on foot or on the back of a donkey! Enter through the Medieval Castle built by the Knights of St. John, then climb to the Byzantine Chapel of St. John. At the top of the hill, your journey back to the 6th century B.C. begins. The Doric Temple of Athena Lindia was built around 300 B.C. atop the ruins of an earlier temple, from about 1100 B.C., and many of its columns, and the massive stone staircase to the Propylaia (sanctuary), are still intact. Wander among them, then take a few moments to hide from the sun in the shadow of one of the columns which tower into the sky, and look at an endless sea.
After we descend from the Acropolis to the village, you’ll have some time for a fresh juice or a coffee and some shopping before we return to Rhodes town. The architecture, cuisine and culture of Rhodes town, the island’s capital, bear the inscriptions of its many tenants, including the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, the Ottomans and the Italians. The ancient city of Rhodes was built amphitheatrically facing the sea. The Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1523, after the Genoese ceded the island to them, built the city’s fortified walls during their occupation and, by the time of the great Ottoman siege in 1480, Rhodes was considered the best-fortified city of the day. There are ten gates that lead through the walls into the Medieval City of Rhodes: Gate D’Amboise, the Marine or Sea Gate, the Gate of the Arsenal, the Gate of the Virgin, the Gate of St. Catherine, Liberty Gate, the Gate of St. Athanasios, Koskinou Gate or the Gate of St. John, Acandia Gate and the Gate of St. Paul.
We’ll enter the Medieval City of Rhodes at D’Amboise Gate, near the port, and walk along the Street of the Knights, past the Knights’ dwellings, which were separated by order and still bear the crests of their former residents. We continue on toward the heart of the Medieval City of Rhodes, the Palace of the Grand Masters. A Byzantine fortress built toward the end of the 7th century A.D., the Knights of St. John transformed the building into the residence of their Grand Master and the administrative center of the Order. Today the massive Palace of the Grand Masters is a Byzantine museum and a symbol of Rhodes Town. After we tour the Palace, feel free to wander the Medieval City’s arcaded cobblestone streets: they’re perfect for a leisurely strolls, with plenty of stops for coffee and shopping – particularly at charming Fountain Square – before you return to your ship.
On this excursion you are sure to experience the sacred grandeur of this intensely spiritual Dodecanese island. We visit Chora, St. John’s Monastery and the Holy Grotto of the Apocalypse, which for centuries have drawn pilgrims to Patmos for prayer, esoteric seclusion and solemnity.
From the port of Skala we travel up the mountain by air-conditioned coach to immaculate Chora. Its skirting of traditional white houses encircles the bottom of the exterior walls of the Monastery of St. John the Divine. An architecturally homogenous village, the cobblestone streets and alleys of Chora are lined with mansions built by wealthy ship owners during the 17th and 18th centuries. As you wend your way up to the Monastery at the top of the hill, be sure to seek out an authentic taste of this unique Dodecanese village along with some of its quieter thoroughfares.
Now surrounded by the village, the fortified Monastery of St. John, whose walls are more than 15 meters high, was built with local gray stone. In 1088 St. Christodoulos requested the entire island of Patmos from the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Comnenus, so he could found a monastery dedicated to St. John. Even after “The Blessed” was driven from Patmos by pirates, monks continued building the monastery which, within a few centuries, became an important cultural, religious and spiritual center. Within its warren of chapels and courtyards, the Monastery of St. John houses medieval icons of the Cretan school and the Chapel of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), whose beautiful frescoes date to the 12th century; the monastery’s main chapel dates to the end of the 11th century. There is also a museum within the monastery, with icons, religious objects of silver and gold, sacred relics and embroidered vestments of inestimable value on display.
Halfway down the mountain to Plaka, we stop at the Holy Grotto of the Apocalypse. According to Christian tradition, three fissures (a symbol of the Holy Trinity) opened in a wall in the grotto, and St. John heard the voice of God, who granted him a series of visions of the future (revelations), vivid pictures of how the Church would grow, battle the wicked powers of earth and hell and ultimately emerge victorious.
The voice commanded the saint to transcribe these visions: St. John dictated the revelations to one of his disciples, Prochoros, and this text became the Book of Revelations. During his time in this sacred cave, St. John also composed the Fourth Gospel. The entrance to the grotto is marked with a mosaic of the visions of the saint. Inside the grotto, the nightly resting place of the saint’s head is fenced off and delineated in beaten silver.
We return to Plaka, where you’ll have free time for shopping and a cup of coffee beside the harbor. Close your eyes and let the grandeur of this miraculous island suffuse your soul.
This excursion is a guided tour to the House of the Virgin Mary, St. John’s Basilica and through Ancient Ephesus. Our first stop after leaving lovely Kusadasi is the House of the Virgin Mary on Mount Bulbul (“canary”). Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus Christ entrusted his mother to St. John the Evangelist, who took her to Ephesus and hid her in a hut at the foot of Mount Bulbul, where he brought her food and water every day.
The Virgin lived here until the 101st year of her life, around 60 A.D. In 1957 the Vatican recognized the House of the Virgin Mary as the dwelling in which the Virgin spent the final years of her life, and for the last five-and-a-half decades it has been an important pilgrimage site for Christians and Muslims. There is a fountain here whose waters are said to be therapeutic. We then visit St. John the Evangelist’s Basilica, a cross-shaped chapel built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian. Modeled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, it was one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites of the Middle Ages.
Our next stop is Ancient Ephesus, one of the 12 cities of Ionia. This is a stunning marvel in the hills above the Aegean coast, one of the world’s largest open-air archeological museums. Founded by the ancient Greeks circa 2000 BC, it was the wealthiest of the Ionian cities and one of the most important cultural centers in the Mediterranean. The city was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and its Artemision, a temple in her honor, took 120 years to complete and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus later became the second-largest city in the Roman Empire, at one time home to a quarter-million people.
It was the first and most significant city in the Roman province of Asia and one of its key ports.Millennia ago, the Aegean receded west, stranding the city on its sun-seared hillsides. It is believed that Paul wrote his Letter to the Ephesians here. It was the most important Christian city between Rome and Antioch.
Ephesus is rivaled only by the Forum and the Acropolis as one of the most complete classical cities in Europe, even though only 13% of the city has been uncovered! You can wander through the Odeon and the Prytaneion, then stroll between the marble colonnades of Curetes Street to visit Trajan’s Fountain, Hadrian’s Temple, the Scholastica Baths and the astonishing Terrace Houses. Nearby, where Curetes Street becomes Marble Street, is the spectacular Library of Celsus, which has been almost entirely reconstructed, and the Agora.
Every step here takes you deeper into the Hellenistic, Roman and early-Christian eras; you’ll notice inscriptions on many of the city’s columns. The Great Theater of Ephesus, where St. Paul once preached, was carved into the side of Mt. Pion in the 4th century BC. It held up to 24,000 spectators and is still renowned for its outstanding acoustics – even today it hosts concerts and other performances.
The “Ghost Town” of Anavatos, Nea Moni Monastery and Chios Town (CHI-02)
We leave the port of Chios and travel the panoramic road that climbs the foothills of Mount Provatas to the center of the island to tour Nea Moni Monastery, one of the most famous structures of the Byzantine period. The main church is an important example of Byzantine architecture in the Aegean – its catholicon is decorated with spectacular mosaics which are famed the world over as the pinnacle of this art form. The Cistern, which dates to the 11th century, is still intact and has also been lovingly preserved.
Nea Moni was founded by Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos in the middle of the 11th century and was, for many centuries, the religious center of Chios until its near-destruction in the 19th century. In 1822, during the Greek War for Independence, many Chians took refuge in the monastery, where they were ultimately slaughtered. Later, in 1881, an earthquake brought about the collapse of the dome and the bell tower and the destruction of many mosaics.
The “ghost town” village of Anavatos is a national monument in honor of the Chians who lost their lives in 1822. Built into a hillside 450 meters above the sea, the exterior walls of many of its 400 houses are part of its perimeter fortification. Within the walls, its small structures are an architectural marvel, narrow constructions of gray stone with flat wooden roofs, low doors, tiny arched windows and wooden terraces. Following our tour of Anavatos we will enjoy a coffee break at a small cafe in the village before our return to Chios Town.
Chios Town has always been the capital of Chios and the island’s commercial and cultural center. Its castle – built by the Genoese during their occupation of the island, between the 12th and 14th centuries – looks out toward the harbor. Our tour takes you on a walk through the narrow streets of the fortress, past the old Turkish graveyard and the mosque.
We will also visit the Giustiniani Museum, the former home of the island’s governors, where you’ll find unique icons and 14th century frescoes, and through the central square of Chios Town and its public gardens. From there we stroll down the town’s main market street, past the cathedral and the Korais Library, which was founded in 1792 as a department of the Great Chian School; today it houses more than 130,000 volumes.
We travel by air-conditioned bus to the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Knossos, the capital of the Minoan civilization, was the first civilization in Europe. The hill of Kephala, which hoists the Palace above a valley of pines a few miles outside Heraklion, has been continuously inhabited since 7000 BC.
The Minoan civilization, which endured for about 2000 years, was one of the most advanced in the ancient world, and Knossos is one of the instances in which Greek mythology might dovetail with archeological fact. Minos, a legendary king and lawgiver of Crete, was one of Europa’s three sons, all born after her tryst with Zeus, who appeared to Europa as a white bull and carried her off to Crete. The frescoed Palace at Knossos, which consists of more than 1500 rooms and occupies more than 20,000 square meters, may have been the mythical labyrinth designed by Daedalus wherein Minos imprisoned the Minotaur, a monstrous half-bull, half man born to his wife, Pasiphaë, who was impregnated by a bull sent by Poseidon.
The first excavations at Knossos were begun in 1878 by the Heraklian Minos Kalokairinos; between 1900 and 1913, and again between 1922 and 1930, British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans completed an extensive excavation of the site. The palace was constructed around the large Central Court. Starting from the west wing you’ll find the awe-inspiring Throne Room and its alabaster throne; at the south entrance, the “Prince of the Lilies” fresco will leave you breathless. The incredible Grand Staircase takes you to the Queen’s Megaron – make sure you look up: frescoed dolphins are swimming on the wall above you. Continuing north leads you to the famous “Bull-Leaping” fresco and to the raised porticoes framing the north entrance to the palace.
Archeological marvels like Knossos take us back to school days. This excursion is a fantastic opportunity to rediscover lovingly remembered Greek Mythology books, or to experience these incredible stories for the first time. Knossos is the origin of many of the best-known Greek Myths, such as the story of the Minotaur and the story of Daedalus and his son, Icarus, who escaped from Crete using wings that Daedalus fashioned from wax and feathers. Young Icarus, once airborne, ignored his father’s warnings and flew too near the sun; his wings melted, and he plummeted from the sky into the bright blue sea that now bears his name.
We depart from Knossos for bustling, metropolitan Heraklion, the city of Hercules. At the center of the city, in the Piazza dei Signori (Square of the Lords), is the elegant Loggia, a nobleman’s club, which was completed in 1628 by Francesco Morosini, who also built the nearby Lions Fountain. The Loggia received the first prize Europa Nostra award for the best restored and preserved monument in 1987. Today it houses the Municipal Court and other municipal services departments.
That quiet roar you hear is the Fountain of the Lions. Francesco Morosini built the fountain, also known as Morosini Fountain, in the 17th century, and its bas-relief ornamentation is inspired by mythology and marine life, thus dolphins and mythological sea demons swim across its exterior beneath its mighty lions. The fountain was built to provide the people of Heraklion with water, and its eight pools, each accommodating five people, made it possible for up to 40 people at a time to draw water.It was once crowned by a statue of Poseidon.
A few of Morosini’s lions look toward another of Heraklion’s Venetian treasures, St. Mark’s Basilica, constructed by the Venetians in 1239 to honor St. Mark, protector of Venice, in what was then known as the Piazza delle Biade (Granary Square). The “Cathedral of Crete” was the property of the Duke of the island, and it was here where Crete’s Venetian lords were buried. The Cathedral of Crete survived a number of intense earthquakes and its occupation during the Ottoman period, when it was converted into a mosque, replete with a minaret where its bell tower had been – the minaret was hurriedly torn down by the citizens of Heraklion after the island was liberated. Today the cathedral is home to the city’s Municipal Gallery.
A few short blocks northeast stands the Church of Aghios Titos. According to theology, St. Titos was a student of St. Paul and the first bishop of Crete. His church was built in Gorthyna, the old capital of Crete, but it was destroyed in an earthquake. After the Arabs moved the capital to Heraklion, in 828, the church was rebuilt at its current location.
To the southwest of St. Mark’s Basilica, at Saint Catherine’s Square, a large, paved square, the medieval Monastery of Saint Catherine and the Cathedral of Aghios Minas keep each other company. The monastery was founded in the 10th century; the extant building, from the 16th century, was its main church. The church houses an important exhibition of Byzantine icons and religious objects, including manuscripts, vestments, and wall paintings, representing six centuries of Orthodox history (14th-19th century), as well as six unique works by the famous icon-painter Michael Damaskinos, a major exponent of the Cretan School. Built in the 1860s by the people of Crete to express their gratitude to their patron saint, Saint Minas, one of the largest cathedrals in Greece, towers over Saint Catherine’s Square. Designed by Athanassios Moussis, the architect who designed Agios Titos, the site of the church was selected by a monk to whom Saint Minas appeared in a vision. Another miracle attributed to Saint Minas occurred in May of 1941, during the intense Axis bombing of the city, which the church survived – a large bomb that fell on the cathedral, but failed to explode, remains on its grounds to this day.
Due north of St. Minas, along the harbor, the Historical Museum of Crete showcases the history of this incredible island with art and artifacts from every period of the island’s history, including works by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), examples from the legendary Cretan School of Iconography, and Cretan folk art. Book lovers will enjoy two full rooms of items that once belonged to Nikos Kazantzakis. There is also a model of a traditional Cretan house. Among so many incredible attractions within the Venetian walls of this cosmopolitan city, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum still manages to dazzle visitors with its majestic exhibition of invaluable treasures from the Ancient, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods of Crete in 20 galleries – its collection of Minoan art and artifacts is considered the finest in the world.