Find your bliss aboard a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea.
A recent trip with Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage found me sailing through the Greek Islands aboard the Muhtesem A, a 100-foot Turkish gulet. The company offers a number of different itineraries — all focused on exploration, exercise, food and fun — and I opted for the Greek Voyage. It started in Rhodes, and it included seven nights and eight days aboard the yacht, along with daily stops at off-the-beaten-path islands both in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.
Come to find out, our captain for the voyage, Aytekin Karayigit, is a man of many talents. Not only did he build the yacht (with the help of eight other men over the course of a year), he is also a trained chef who served up some delicious, traditional Greek and Turkish meals during the journey. As part of the onboard activities, he even taught a culinary lesson to all of the guests one night while docked in Tilos. It included samphire seaweed, Turkish spring rolls and dolma (bell peppers stuffed with rice and tomatoes).
Also aboard the yacht was our tour director, Ali Yalcin, owner of the Gulet Adventure Company. As the guru behind the land excursions, he led guided adventures that made the island hopping that much more enjoyable. He really went out of his way to teach about the area’s history and culture, and made sure that everyone was having fun above all else.
Muhtesem A features eight comfortable cabins (that sleep a total of 16 guests) with private bathrooms; a sunning area located above the cabins; a large deck at the stern with space for alfresco dining; and a large deck at the bow with space for dining, relaxing in the sun and doing yoga (which was a large part of this journey). Our yoga instructor who was also along for the ride, Keri-Louise Gray, is a certified Sivananda yoga instructor based out of Dorset, UK. She led classes twice per day with a focus on sun salutations and pranayama (breath work).
While this trip of a lifetime included a multitude of life-enriching experiences, here is my top 10 list! If you’ve ever considered a trip to Greece, now is the time to go!
Exploring Old Town Rhodes
Upon first arriving in Rhodes, and meeting up with Yalcin and the other guests that would be joining me on this incredible journey, we set out to explore Old Town Rhodes. Within its stone walls lies the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe. There are nearly 200 streets within Old Town (many without names), which provides a great opportunity for getting lost and discovering new sights at every turn. Be sure to check out Simi Square, which contains the ruins of the Temple of Venus. Also within Old Town Rhodes is the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. This medieval castle, which was once a citadel of the Knights Hospitaller, is one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Greece. Also be sure to walk along the Street of the Knights, a nearly 2,000-foot long cobble-paved street, which is one of the best preserved medieval relics in the world.
The Beauty of Symi
This is one of the most scenic places I have ever had the opportunity to visit. Located about 25 miles northwest of Rhodes, Symi features beautiful pastel-colored homes that climb the hilly coastline. It actually reminded me a lot of Positano, Italy, with little winding alleyways that lead between the homes. While here, I explored the many shops and restaurants in the main lower town around the harbor, stopped for some gelato and then headed out for a hike up to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Taxiarchis Mihail Panormitis. The views from here are nothing short of breathtaking, with wide panoramas of clear blue seas, colorful flowers and happy goats grazing along the hillside. Walking back down the main street of Symi, we came upon a cemetery with above-ground tombs like those found in my hometown of New Orleans. Once back in the lower town, we settled in to a fun little bar near the harbor called Harani Bar and danced the night away while throwing back a few Mythos beers.
Swimming in Symi Kayadibi Cove
A short sail from Symi harbor is Symi Kayadibi Cove. It was here that we dropped anchor and spent the afternoon diving off the side of the boat, snorkeling in crystal blue-green water and exploring the grounds of the little monastery on the beach. This experience made my list thanks to the idyllic setting, coupled with the amount of fun that everyone had while simply playing the day away.
Hiking and Dining in Nisyros
This Greek Island in the Aegean Sea, located between Kos and Tilos (two islands we also visited as part of this trip), is home to the dormant but active Nisyros volcano. The Stefanos crater, which is the largest at the site, has several bubbling fumaroles (openings that emit steam and gases). And, since you can hike right to the center of the crater, you can see these fumaroles up close! Putting the smell of sulphur aside, it really was a cool experience to hike into the center of the crater. However, after striking a few yoga poses there, I was ready to get out—just in case. There is also a great hike that runs up along the edge of the Stefanos crater that leads to beautiful views of the sea. Afterwards, we indulged in a Mandraki calamari and beer party at Veros Restaurant. Delicious!
Nightlife in Kos
Kos is a Greek Island in the South Aegean region, situated only about two miles from the coast of Bodrum, Turkey. There is a happening nightlife scene here, with numerous bars getting busy around 10 p.m. Some of my more adventurous travel buddies and I decided to go all in with a fishbowl of Sex on the Beach (hey, when in Greece…). Shortly after the last sip, we ended up at another bar down the street where we showed off our best dance moves. Good times!
Turkish Bath in Datça
Warning: This is not your typical spa experience! Upon our arrival in the port of Datça (the one island in Turkey that we visited on this voyage), my group and I walked a few blocks over to Belediye Hamami Turkish Bath. As I walked into the steamy circular room with white-marble floors, walls and a heated round slab in the center of the room, I really had no idea of what was to come. Wearing only my bikini, I began the treatment by lying on the slab to let my skin get soft. Then, a large Turkish man entered the room, scrubbing each one of us down (one by one) with a loofah mitt. Once my turn was up, I quickly rinsed off in an adjacent shower and then returned to the slab. Another Turkish man entered the room and dipped a pillowcase into a bowl of soapy water, twisting the top so it made a balloon of suds that he then slathered all over my body—scrubbing every inch of bare skin clean. After another rinse, I was quickly wrapped up in pestamels (Turkish towels) and offered a cup of Turkish tea. I’m not sure when my skin has ever felt so soft, and, while the experience was completely surreal, it’s something that you should try at least once in your life!
Relaxing and Shopping in Tilos
Also known as the island of 1,000 cats (they are everywhere in Greece anyway, so it’s really not a big deal), Tilos lies midway between Kos and Rhodes. It’s a small island, but it makes up for its size with fantastic boutiques and restaurants that line the pebble beach (which, by the way, is a great place to catch some rays, skip rocks and swim in the warm Aegean Sea).
Water Sports at Alimia Island
As part of our itinerary on this voyage, we dropped anchor in the waters off of for a day of water sports. This included swimming, diving off of the boat, snorkeling (during which time I saw an octopus crawling along the sea floor…so cool!), kayaking and riding behind a speed boat on the Double Dog (like a hot dog-shaped inner tube). Needless to say, I think we all remembered what it was like to be a kid again on this day.
Wandering the Winding Streets in Halki
Halki, located about four miles west of Rhodes, is the smallest inhabited island of the Dodecanese (the group of 12 large and 150 small Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea, of which 26 are inhabited). Nimborio, the only inhabited settlement on the island, features several Byzantine churches and chapels that lie hidden in the paved alleyways. You can’t miss the church of Agios Nikolaos; it is the pride of the island with an impressive bell tower (the highest in the Dodecanese). I spent the afternoon strolling in the alleyways, getting lost and taking pictures.
While docked in Halki, Yalcin’s cousin Rukiye Celik taught all of the guests some serious belly dancing moves. We all donned coin hip scarves (one of the male crew members even joined in) and proceeded to shimmy our way around the boat. And while I had never tried this form of exercise before, I took quite a liking to it (and turned out to be pretty darned good at it too!). In addition to belly dancing and yoga, other onboard activities included bingo, a movie night, and a backgammon lesson with raki and ouzo tasting.
When I first left New Orleans for this trip, I could not have imagined the incredible experiences that were in store for me. From amazing new friendships to the sights, sounds and tastes of Greece and Turkey, this was one trip I will truly never forget. Until next year!!
Greek Voyage from $3,200 per person (based on double occupancy); $4,800 per person (for single cabin). Cost includes all harbor fees, meals, water, tea, juice, personal training, guiding and entrance fees. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312.488.1127. #mdfv2015