Travel Writer Barbara Barton Sloane shares her magical Windstar experience on board Wind Star’s Enchanting Greece & the Amalfi Coast.
The Wind Star Cruise
By Barbara Barton Sloane
Setting sail from Piraeus, Greece with seas a deep navy-blue and fluffy white clouds floating lazily above Mount Olympus – the city of Athens appears to be a mere granite backdrop to the impending enchantments just over the horizon. You’re aboard the Wind Star – long, sleek, with dazzling white sails soaring 200 feet above your head. Standing on deck and gazing down at the animated crowd bidding us Bon Voyage, it is clear: this stunning vessel commands recognition and respect wherever she sails. Now you’re a part of this reality – or is it a fantasy? Whichever. You know this will be the trip of a lifetime.
Windstar Cruises operates a fleet of small luxury cruise ships known for their intimate yacht-style experience and unique voyages to the world’s best small ports and hidden harbors, cruising to 50 nations and 100 ports throughout Europe, the South Pacific, the Caribbean and Central America. Recently Windstar purchased three new ships, the Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Spirit. This effectively doubles the size of Windstar’s line and makes it the leader in small-ship cruising. And, perhaps one of the most appealing things about the cruise line: they take only 148 to 310 passengers. Expect fine service and attention to your every need.
Wine for the Bard
Your first port-of-call was Monemvasia, Greece, is a town inhabited since the sixth century and located on a small peninsula off the east coast of the Peloponnese. After a very long and steep climb, you reach a large plateau hovering above the sea, the site of a medieval fortress and a stunning Byzantine church, the Church of Christ in Chains, with its intricate, carvings of peacocks, a favored symbol of this era. Nearby, another church, the Agia Sofia, has ceilings and walls studded with sparkling mosaics. During Monemvasia’s Golden Age in the 1400s, wealthy families exported wine, a variety of Madeira, which was actually praised by Shakespeare. Learning that this ancient wine is still served in local trattorias, how could you possibly miss this chance? Finding a medieval-looking café sitting prettily under a stand of orange trees this renowned pink nectar accompanies your dish of freshly-caught (think 2 hours ago) grilled scallops. Rapture.
Back on board, you’re delighted to hear the same music thrumming over the decks that you heard upon first embarking: the sound track from the movie “1492”. It is grand, majestic, and absolutely perfect for setting sail to a new adventure. (Windstar plays this same exciting riff each time you leave port- your clarion call to anticipate the next exciting destination).
Next: Glythion, Greece. The town is surrounded by the formidable Taygetos mountain range and adding a bit of romance, Glythion is reputed to have been founded by Heracles and Apollo; their images still appear on its coins. It is recommended that you visit the Diros Caves, first opened in 1963. It’s about 19 miles from the town, and considered one of the most spectacular sites in Greece. You’ll view the glorious, mile-long interior named the “caverns measureless to man” by boat and see forms shaped like well-known icons: There, just ahead in all its tilted glory, the Leaning Tower of Pisa; further on, that mammoth pile has to be the great Chinese Palace. Stalagmites all.
Truman and You
What can one say about Taormina, Italy that hasn’t already been said? Truman Capote wrote about it in much of his work and D.H. Lawrence lived in this town’s oldest house, Villa Fontana Vecchia. Its beauty is legend, with the Ionian Sea providing a cinema-worthy backdrop, its ancient theatre the most celebrated ruin in Sicily, and Mount Etna towering over all. You’ll have a happy time navigating Taormina’s narrow, cobblestone streets which are, happily, closed to traffic
On your days “at sea”, there is plenty to keep you busy on board. A fave activity -merely claiming a lounge chair on deck and allowing yourself to be seduced by the sea, the beautiful sea. Having in hand one of Wind Star’s inspired cocktails is a major plus. But if you require more activity, there’s the fitness center, with its challenging Body Sculpting Boot Camp, the spa beckoning with sumptuous facials and wraps and best of all, a Water Sports Platform where one can slip into the warm, enticing sea to windsurf, water ski or lie back on a water mat and ponder why you are – at this very moment – the most lucky person.
Lipari, Italy is the largest island between Vesuvius and Etna in the Aeolian Islands. It is enlightening to visit their Museo Archeologico Eoliano, one of the very best, which traces the volcanic and human history of these islands. It houses finds from Lipari’s necropolis and the most sensational collection of miniature Greek theatrical masks in the world. Leaving this lovely town in dazzling sunlight, you set off for the place where its famous sunlight is extolled in the moving lyrics of Torna A Surriento, “Come Back to Sorrento.”
The Scent of Orange Groves
That song of Sorrento that everyone knows and loves and the images it portrays are all there – the shining sea, the citrus-perfumed gardens, and love – love in the air. It’s there. Sited on a terrace overlooking the Amalfi Coastline which affords a stunning panorama of the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is imbued with echoes of is ancient past and its singular charm lies in its sun-drenched rustic simplicity. Meandering down a maze of medieval alleyways, you’ll visit quaint artisan workshops and perhaps find a tiny, fragrant boutique where you’ll buy luscious lemon soap – and zingy lemon candies! “Return to Sorrento” ends by saying to one’s love “come back to Sorrento so my broken heart can mend.” Well, as you leave this irrepressible place your heart’s not broken exactly – a bit blue maybe – but now you’re off to some true blue magic. That would be, of course, Grotta Azzurra, the Blue Grotto!
La Dolce Vita
This bewitching phrase typically conjures up thoughts of Rome, but for many the concept is more closely aligned with a fabulous little kernel in the Bay of Naples known as Capri! Sleek black and silver tenders bob close to your ship, ready and waiting to ferry you to Capri. As you speed off, in the distance you see candy-colored homes built right into steep cliffs forested with oleander, jasmine and bougainvillea and before you, the iconic Faraglioni Rocks, seeming to stand guard over this wonderful island. Shopping here is a heady delight. All the top designers are here: Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Prada, Valentino – lofty couture goods with equally lofty price tags. Best, therefore, to confine one’s amusements to sitting at a well-positioned sidewalk café and people-watching. Capri is made for this – enjoying a voyeuristic lunch while sighting a Loren or Mastrioanni look-alike; maybe even donning one’s own Jackie-O shades and hoping a wandering paparazzo will notice you!
Take a small rowboat to the Blue Grotto. A word to the wise: if you’re claustrophobic, perhaps you’ll want to rethink this adventure. The entrance into the Blue Grotto Cave is so low that you must lie down on the floor of your tiny boat in order to enter, and then there’s the matter of floating into this dark cave. Think you can manage it? Ok, once inside you’re met with a most spectacular sight as the sunlight is refracted onto the cave’s waters. It’s a luminous blue seen nowhere else in the world – and though you’ll have only about a minute inside to relish its loveliness – it’s completely worth it!
Still more blue? It’s inevitable. You’ve come to the end of your idyll, this Windstar voyage, and perhaps glum and downhearted expresses your mood more accurately. You’ve wined and dined royally, you’ve had raucous BBQ’s under the stars (and the sails) with new friends, you’ve danced nightly to some of your favorite music, and you’ve gazed up at ridiculously blue skies from a water mat lounging a few feet away from your ship.
On the Wind Star, you got to know many unfamiliar parts of the world on more intimate terms as you sailed into harbors known only to other yachters – helping you delve deeper into local customs and cultures. Yes, the Wind Star is a small yacht but your memories of this voyage are large. In your mind, you know you will return often to those quiet moments when the engines were off, the sails were up, and the only thing you heard was the sound of the sea.