Sailing the Greek Isles

Bob Hohlfelder is a Professor of Ancient History at the University of Colorado, Boulder and has been at the forefront in the field of classical maritime archaeology for more than 35 years. Bob traveled with us on Sailing the Greek Isles, our exploration of the Cycladic islands, and hosted a webinar as well. On a very snowy day in Boulder, Bob wrote down some of his thoughts about his summer expeditions. Thanks, Bob.



Last June, I had the good fortune to serve as the National Geographic expert for two Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions in the Greek Islands on the ship Panorama that was perfect for such a voyage. It is small enough for guests to get to know one another quickly, its Greek crew knows the waters intimately, and frequent winds and generally calm seas enable some of the trip to be done under sail, an experience that brings all on board closer to the ancient mariners that sailed this timeless sea.  Since I have spent my professional career studying ancient seafaring and conducting marine archaeology throughout the Mediterranean, these expeditions provided me with another opportunity to sail into antiquity, as well as to visit some smaller islands that I had not seen before and to glimpse a face of Greece that most tourists never see. I also enjoyed the chance to meet guests who are interested in the history and archaeology of the Aegean and who themselves are interesting and accomplished people.  Every expedition I have ever made with Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions has been a tremendous learning opportunity for me in unexpected ways. What a pleasure that was for me! ...

Our two itineraries last summer were the same, but turned out to be different in subtle ways. The ancient Greeks had a saying that no man crossed the same river twice, and that seems to apply to a sailing expedition with Lindblad/National Geographic as well. Poseidon can be very capricious at times. Winds and waves can sometimes play havoc with schedules. We may have to shift venues and arrival times to accommodate a changing sea. Our crewmen, however, are operating in waters they know well. They can always find a safe and interesting anchorage with good beaches for swimming and kayaking and with hills to explore.  No matter where we anchor, there will be opportunities for water sports, nature hikes, and small villages to explore and local lore to learn from our wonderful Greek guides. Unlike other ships I have been on, Panorama can make these mid-expedition adjustments effortlessly. Flexibility is the operative word for all Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions, and the ability to make the very best of every situation that nature provides is a hallmark of a Panorama voyage.

While the smaller, less traveled islands, like Sífnos, Folégandros, and Paros, might have to yield to other Cycladic destinations because of weather conditions, we always make every effort to see the major sites of Delos, Santoríni, and Mykonos. The Panorama can drop anchor in a sheltered location off Delos even when high seas might prevent travelers from larger ships from visiting the birthplace of Apollo. As always, we try to time our visits to these sites to maximize our opportunity to see the highlights after or before large groups appear. Last summer, we were the first group on Delos, and I had the opportunity to visit places on this vast island I had never seen before. Delos is a great place for guests to wander off by themselves after or even during the formal tour by our guides (There is never a requirement on a Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions expedition to stay with our tour groups if your curiosity or instincts suggest other paths to follow.)

There is so much to see on Delos. Other than a few permanent guards and seasonal occupation by small teams of archaeologists, the island is uninhabited. Ruins extend as far as one can see in all directions. We all go to the same island so rich in history and archaeology, but in our own ways, we see different things. “Recap” on board after our explorations on shore can be a great time to exchange impressions from our time on Apollo’s island.

Santoríni (ancient Thera) is so often the favorite destination for many of our guests. We sail into the great caldera formed when arguably the most devastating natural disaster in recorded history occurred in c. 1630 BC.  The island volcano exploded with such force that weather patterns as far away as China were altered, as a large portion of the land surface blew into the sky. Could it be that this horrific event that ended an advanced civilization in such a dramatic way inspired Plato to tell his tale of Atlantis? Could the aftereffects of this eruption ¯ earthquakes associated with this “Big Bang,” the resulting fallout of ash and pumice throughout large sections of the Mediterranean, and the tsunami(s) that resulted from the sea pouring into the gaping abyss in the earth caused by the catastrophic explosion and hitting the magma ¯ caused the end of Mediterranean Bronze Age civilization? 

There is so much to ponder and see on this beautiful, but naturally scared, island. The almost impossibly picturesque modern villages of Oia and Fira now sit on the rim of the ancient caldera, providing charming streets to wander and some of the best shopping in Greece. They also afford endless photo opportunities. It’s almost impossible not to take great images of whitewashed houses, gaily colored doors and windows, and panoramic views of the villages against the sea, and this is a statement from someone who does not claim to be an accomplished photographer. This day’s expedition always provides a near overload of new information and memories, as well as splendid cafés to begin processing what you learned and experienced. Santoríni is an island of awesome beauty, dramatic history and archaeology, and forever a land of mysteries that we can’t quite solve.

Mykonos has its own distinct appeal and beauty. It doesn’t take anyone very long to realize why this island has become so popular. For our guests it provides the perfect venue for roaming winding streets, sampling local and international shopping, meeting friendly inhabitants, and enjoying a glimpse of traditional charm mingled with Greek modernity.

I could go on and on, particularly on this November afternoon when several inches of snow outside my office window in Boulder clash with my reverie of warm days, cloudless skies, and the magic light that everywhere bathes Greece.  Sailing the Greek Isles always transports me to a different time and also overwhelms me with the natural beauty of sparsely inhabited islands, high cliffs that precipitously drop into a blue sea, winding goat-trails heading up into mountains to who knows where, and small communities very much in touch with their past as they live in today and look to tomorrow. Join one of our expeditions and experience the best of what Greece has to offer. But I must warn you, however, that once may not be enough. I have had an affair of the heart with this country and its islands for years with no end in sight. It could happen to you as well.

Get our newsletter

Join us for updates, insider reports & special offers.

Privacy Policy