Mediterranean Shore Treasures | Brownell Travel

Mediterranean Shore Treasures

Below is an excerpt from Virtuoso Life’s article “TIME TO EXPLORE” by Gail Harrington. While cruise routes change year to year, this article gives a unique insight on what to do during various stops on land as you sail through the Mediterranean Sea. See how Gail used her “ashore” time wisely by discovering the ancient hidden treasures of the Mediterranean. Be inspired by her journey with a splash of ancient history, and let Brownell customize a Mediterranean adventure that fits your interests!

It’s probably a myth that Mykonos’ main town was laid out as a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets to confuse pirates during the Ottoman era; just about any downhill lane eventually leads to the sea. Any confusion my friends and I had about our whereabouts vanished quickly. We backtracked from a few dead ends and ended up in Little Venice, where restaurants in old whitewashed buildings with bright-colored trim meet the sea’s edge. It was sheer luck we chose Katerina’s and nabbed a table on a tiny balcony hanging right over the Aegean Sea. Shaded by a white awning, this low perch gave us a great view of the island’s waterfront windmills, built by Venetians 500 years ago. While we shared some wine, tzatziki spread on pita bread, grilled feta cheese with peppers and tomato sauce, and spinach pie, waves slapped the wall beneath, and we caught every frame of the sun’s descent with time to spare before catching the last tender back to our ship…

For that first day ashore on Mykonos, I joined up with two couples I’d met at the lifeboat drill. We’d all been there before, as well as the neighboring isle of Delos (mythical birthplace of Apollo), so we passed on the tour options and checked out some of Mykonos’ famous beaches, stopping for a walk down a long stretch of fine sand. With the summer crowds gone, we had the beach all to ourselves. Then we turned to Mykonos town’s maze of cobbled alleyways lined with whitewashed shops and cafés.

With nine hours ashore on Rhodes, I had enough time for both a group tour and solo exploration. I joined the ship’s half-day trip to Lindos, a pedestrian-only village whose acropolis is topped by a Greek temple dating back to 300 BC, a Byzantine church, and later fortifications built by the Romans, the Knights of Saint John, and the Ottomans. That was fascinating enough, but powering up 292 stairs to reach the top was worth it alone for the seacoast views, especially looking down onto the blue-green waters of Saint Paul’s Bay. Afterward, I had hours left to poke around the walled city of Rhodes (a UNESCO World Heritage site) on my own.

There were days that I went totally off the map – completely doable adventures thanks to the long days in port. For example, instead of joining one of the ship’s tours to sites around Israel’s largest port, Haifa, I rode the train to Tel Aviv to meet a friend who offered to show me around. It’s an easy side trip: The rail station is right next to the port, and the ride to Tel Aviv takes just over an hour. After a coffee at Brasserie on Rabin Square, we checked out the White City district, a UNESCO World Heritage site with the world’s largest collection of Bauhaus buildings, had lunch, and poked around galleries in the restored district of Jaffa…

During a shipboard enrichment talk, the lecturer pointed out that Jerusalem has sites of the world’s three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. But you don’t have to be devout to be swept away by Jerusalem. By 9 AM we were atop Mount of Olives, looking down on the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations (our next stops) and beyond to the golden-domed Muslim shrine Dome of the Rock and the Old City of Jerusalem. Inside the walled city, we stuffed handwritten messages into the cracks of the Wailing Wall and walked the Via Dolorosa from the Muslim district to the Christian quarter, amazed to be following the same path Jesus trudged while carrying the cross to his crucifixion…

Some places, like Sorrento, call out for exploring without a plan. Grateful for a full day in port, I felt carefree and curious about what I might find on this town’s winding lanes, perched above steep limestone cliffs and the Bay of Naples. After a coffee on Sorrento’s main square, Piazza Tasso, ancient alleys promised wonder in centuries-old monasteries, tiny food stalls with lemons as large as grapefruit, and loads of charming little restaurants that had me planning lunch by 10 am. By the end of the day, I must have walked every street in town several times before buying some colorful hand-painted Amalfi Coast ceramic ware and what would be my baby granddaughter’s first pair of Italian leather shoes – just the kind of purchases that spark great memories long after returning home.

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