By Cele and Lynn Seldon
Fall is the perfect time to social distance in Europe
Fall ushers in the end of summer — cooler temperatures, shorter days, spectacular sunsets, kids getting ready for school and football. It also signifies the start of the quiet season in the Mediterranean. With fewer crowds, easier access to attractions and social distancing, idyllic weather, and a return to the new normal, fall and winter are the perfect times to cruise the many exotic European destinations. Viking is at the forefront of this quiet season with five new eight- to 29-day “Quiet Season” itineraries that take a deep dive into the antiquities and treasures of Europe’s Adriatic and Aegean seas.
All five new multi-country itineraries have several things in common. For starters, they all start with the eight-day “Ancient Mediterranean Treasures” sailing between Athens and Istanbul aboard the 930-guest all-veranda Viking Sky, with several longer combination cruise options available. All also feature itinerary names that foreshadow the exotic voyage that lies ahead, like “Ancient Adriatic Treasures,” “Ancient Mediterranean Antiquities,” “Mediterranean’s Iconic Shores” and “Iconic Mediterranean Treasures.”
Another commonality between the “Quiet Season” sailings is the company’s return to Istanbul. All five itineraries visit this iconic city, where East meets West as the city straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Simply sailing into Istanbul is its own attraction, with a historic city skyline filled with ornate domes and exotic minarets.
Visits to the engineering marvel of the Hagia Sophia and the stunning Blue Mosque offer a glimpse into the enigmatic world of Islam. Taking the waters in Istanbul takes on new meaning at the varied and voluminous hammams, or Turkish baths, and the sixth-century underground Basilica Cistern. Of course, no visit to Istanbul is complete without exploring the spices, copper, ceramics, textiles, Turkish foods and so much more at the Grand Bazaar. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered market in the world, with more than 4,000 shops across 60 streets and 330,000 square feet.
Ephesus & Troy
Another Turkish highlight is a visit to the ancient city of Ephesus. Once one of the Mediterranean’s most important trade centers and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the ruins of the massive Great Theater, the Library of Celsus, the second-century Temple of Hadrian and the Christian pilgrimage sites of the Byzantine Basilica of St. John and the House of the Virgin Mary — where the Virgin Mary purportedly lived out her final days — are just a few of the highlights of one of the best-preserved cities of antiquity in the world.
The ruins of Troy in Canakkale are yet another ancient option in Turkey. Once a power center of Asia Minor, this UNESCO World Heritage site showcases the days of Alexander the Great and the Roman Emperor Augustus, as well as bringing the Trojan War to life through well-preserved structures and archaeological ruins. Another interesting historical option near Canakkale, the battlefields of Gallipoli are a memorial of one of World War I’s longest and most deadly battles.
Athens & Rhodes
“Quiet Season” itineraries also explore the origin of civilization in ancient Greece across all-new itineraries. Visitors can explore “the birthplace of democracy” in the vibrant capital city of Athens at the Hellenic Parliament, Syntagma Square, the Temple of Olympian Zeus or the wonders of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis. They can marvel at the extensive Greek antiquities at the National Archaeological Museum, or simply wander through the rich café culture of the bustling Plaka district.
Rhodes, one of the west’s largest inhabited medieval cities, is also featured on all itineraries, and takes visitors on a tour through the Middle Ages. Participants walk along the city walls and through its imposing gates, exploring the medieval architecture of the cobblestoned Street of Knights, the 15th-century Hospital of the Knights of St. John, which now houses The Archeological Museum of Rhodes and the 14th-century colossal Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes.
The walled city of Heraklion on the north coast of Greece’s largest island, Crete, is filled with Venetian and Minoan history and architecture, including the Koules Fortress, the Venetian Loggia (now Heraklion’s town hall) and the city’s main square, Plateia Venizelou. But the real draw of Heraklion are the ruins of the legendary and sprawling Palace of Knossos, home of the mythological King Minos and the center of the mysterious Minoan civilization (from 2600 BC to 1100 BC), which sat undisturbed until it was unearthed in the early-20th century.
Many of the “Quiet Season” itineraries also visit several Italian ports. Possibilities include the picturesque city of Messina or smoldering Mount Etna on the island of Sicily, the Neapolitan cuisine of Naples, St. Mark’s Square and the canals and gondolas of Venice and the legendary sites of Rome.
Still other itineraries focus more on the Adriatic, with stops in Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia. Lucky explorers will experience architecture going back 17 centuries, including the fourth-century Diocletian’s Palace, the stunning bell tower at the Cathedral of St. Domnius and wonderful examples of pre-Romanesque churches and Gothic chapels in the city center of Split.
There’s also the 12th-century walled city and medieval streets of Old Town Dubrovnik, along with sites like the Renaissance Sponza Palace, the Baroque Dubrovnik Cathedral and Onofrio’s fountains. For the adventurous, it’s fun to get a spectacular birds-eye view of the city and the Adriatic Sea from atop the city walls.
The 22-day “Adriatic & Mediterranean Sojourn,” 22-day “Iconic Mediterranean Treasures” and the 29-day “Mediterranean’s Iconic Shores” offer a more extensive experience, with additional Greek, Italian and Croatian ports of call. With varied itineraries, smaller crowds and the experience of the leader in small ship ocean cruising, Viking’s “Quiet Season” is a great time to explore Europe.
Discover a quieter side of the Mediterranean. Call your AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 or visit AAA.com/Travel and book your cruise today!