A magical journey from Rhodes to Marmaris

I love travelling the globe and am lucky enough to have visited many stunning destinations. I was very excited to be heading for Rhodes in Greece to embark on my Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage around Greece and Turkey.

Travel can come with its downsides though. Like being delayed 17 hours at Gatwick Airport! This involved eight hours sitting on two planes on the runway for a raft of reasons before being herded back into the airport for a night in the (very nice) Hilton Hotel and an early morning wake up to try all over again. Tedious to say the least.

This did have the positive effect of making my eventual arrival in Rhodes even more joyous. Due to the shocking weather our voyage was delayed, too, and I explored this beautiful town in a torrential downpour.

Rhodes Old Town is a charming place packed with history and lots of great shopping and eating opportunities. Even in the rain!

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Grey skies and waterlogged streets couldn’t spoil the beauty of Rhodes

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Time for some shelter and a delicious traditional Greek lunch

And every cloud has a silver lining – or in this case a rainbow!

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The perfect rainbow lit up the cloud-laden sky

I was told that Rhodes supplies a lot of the country with water, so the rain was a good thing – and having grown up on the farm I get that. But I was pleased when it stopped and we could embark on our adventure, early the next morning. Our beautiful Turkish gulet was heading for the Greek island of Symi. First stop the Panormitis monastery.

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The imposing building seen from our boat

No one seems definite about exactly when everything was built but it’s thought the church was constructed around 450AD over the site of an ancient temple. It stands on the left of a beautiful courtyard and is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Tradition has it that if you ask a favour of Archangel Michael (and loads of people do), you must give him something in return, so the little, elaborately decorated church is packed with an array of gifts. Rooms are available to rent in the monastery, I’d imagine it’s the ideal place to get away from everything and enjoy some peace and Greek sunshine by the sea.

Explorations complete, it was time to embark on our first hike. Right up to the top of the hill. There’s a herbal aroma like no other in Symi with wild sage aplenty, hints of oregano and thyme and the refreshing scent of fresh pine needles. We breathed in the heady cocktail as we ascended higher and higher with a widening panorama of blue to feast our eyes on.

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On top of the world looking towards Turkey

The hike was a good work out but nothing too taxing with a wide, beautiful and somewhat wild path to follow. It felt like we could be the only people on top of a beautiful world. What a perfect first morning.

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Hiking doesn’t get better than this in its shades of blue and green

There are endless photo opportunities on this trip, perfectly encapsulated here as we all stop to snap away at each other, the views and even ourselves.

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A picture-taking extravaganza

We sailed every day, but never very far. Another cove in Symi revealed steep cliffs, a little beach, another monastery (tiny this time) and plenty of goats nimbly descending precipitous slopes. I’ll always feel a sense of happiness when I hear the tinkle of goat bells again.

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Moored in the cove for swimming and chilling time

Daily stops varied from us being the only boat in sight enveloped in the most beautiful peacefulness you could imagine to harbourside mooring in lovely seaside towns. The perfect combination of get-away-from-it-all relaxation and happy exploration with welcoming locals, bustling bars and restaurants and amazing shopping opportunities.

I fell in love with Symi Harbour instantly. I mean, do villages get more beautiful than this?

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Picture perfect Symi with our beautiful boat in the foreground

With herbs growing aplenty it wasn’t surprising to find the most wonderful array on sale. Here’s Stavros’s stall, a real treasure trove of delights sold with a smile and a chat. Great value too, I bought a big bag of the most aromatic oregano ever and some herb tea that I’ve been drinking copiously since my return home.

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My kind of shop – herbs and spices galore

Our second hike of the trip, just before sunset, took us around the side of the harbour, up a stone path to the very top and another picturesque monastery.

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Up the hill we go as the sun sets

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Beautiful views all around in the last of the day’s sunlight

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Monasteries exude their peace everywhere

Symi’s where Rick Stein did his cooking in his recent TV series, From Venice to Istanbul. I have a great job, but I’ve got to say, his has to be better! As I watched the series avidly I recognised the town and felt immediately at home in it. It’s the perfect holiday spot, one that I hope to visit again for a longer stay.

We did have time to test out a couple of the bars and I convinced one of my fellow travellers to share a jug of Retsina with me. I’d recently read a novel based in Crete and it seemed that every house the main characters went to (and it was a lot of houses), they were offered Retsina and bowls of olives. When in Greece…

I quite liked the Retsina with its earthy, somewhat weird taste. I’d describe it as kind of like a cross between Grappa and wine. Nothing wrong with that.

This was our last stop in Greece,  a couple of hours sailing across the bay and everything felt very different. Welcome to Turkey and Bozburun, another seaside port with its own  unique charm. And amazingly welcoming, friendly people.

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The contrast of super yachts and mosques in Turkey

We were even invited to a local home for lunch. Now that’s friendly. A meander up the hill and we arrived to a table set under the trees laden with a delicious home-cooked meal.

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The best way to sample local cuisine – freshly cooked for you at home

This beautiful dish of pumpkin leaves stuffed with tasty, savoury rice was a real labour of love…and it tasted like it.

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Stuffed pumpkin leaves in the dappled sunshine

We were also presented with large chillis picked straight out of the garden, a beautifully fresh salad and a big bowl of aubergines cooked with tomatoes and garlic. All produce straight out of the garden a few metres away. Just fabulous.

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Salad with a bit of spice on the side

A post-lunch wander back through town to our boat home and it was out into the wide blue yonder again and away from civilisation into a perfect azure cove for the night. We hadn’t been anchored for long before shopping opportunities came to us. My first experience of boat shops…an ice cream man, a load of beautiful towels and linens and even freshly baked bread first thing in the morning.

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This has got to be the best way to shop

As we headed towards our final destination, Marmaris, we stopped off opposite Paradise Island for a final dip in the ever-warm sea. How I miss that sea.

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Paradise island is covered in lush trees

The final sail of the week and we headed into Marmaris Harbour. From my favourite spot on the top of the boat (officially know as the sunning area), all set to the tones of Johnny Cash (a boat tradition apparently) which somehow seemed to add an extra poignancy – and ultimately a couple more songs to my iPod.

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There’s plenty of boat life in Marmaris

Here’s the view from our final mooring of the journey in Marmaris. An amazingly buzzy holiday town, with the front coast-facing road packed with a cornucopia of restaurants offering delicious Turkish fare. And there’s Bar Street running parallel behind it, no confusion as to what happens there.

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Lovely Marmaris with its restaurants with great views

I loved the Grand Bazaar (a smaller less hectic version of the one in Istanbul) with an exotic mix of spices, souvenirs, clothes, bags and pretty much anything else you could desire. All dotted with great food stalls and coffee stops. I could meander here for days and snapped up bags of chilli powder, sumac and dried pomelo. Great flavours to take home.

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The greatest collection of spices and herbs I’ve ever seen in one place.

Here’s a final shot of our wonderful gulet the Muhtesem A. My home for a wonderful week and one I really didn’t want to leave.

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Our beautiful home, the Muhtesem A

Voyage itineraries have to be a bit flexible, taking weather into consideration – as I discovered. Who’d have thought it could rain that much in one afternoon in Greece. Here’s the map so you can get an idea of the geography. The stars denote Rhodes (our starting point, Symi, Bozburun and Maramaris (our finishing point).

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Find out more about Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyages by clicking here. It’s a truly great way to explore this beautiful region. There are a range of fabulous trips available for 2016.

A Greek island paradise

I visited the beautiful Greek island of Santorini as one of the stops on my Crystal Cruise a couple of years ago and although I wrote about Fira (the main town) then, for some inexplicable reason I’ve never got round to posting it here. So, better late than never, here’s the story of a fabulous Greek town perched on high.

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This is the view that greets you from the ship

The views, the shopping, the food, the people – even the way you get there – everything screams wow in Santorini

Fira (also called Thera or Thira) is Santorini’s main town. Perched high atop a towering cliff, it beckons temptingly. Everything about this totally unique place, literally on the edge, is spectacular – even getting there from the quay once we disembarked from our ship. You have three choices. Take the funicular – a small, creaky structure that climbs vertically up the cliff face (a little scary!); ride a donkey up the zigzag road or walk the same track, dodging said donkeys. I opted for the funicular and shut my eyes for most of the (very short) journey.

Once you scramble out of the little car, it’s like you’re living a fairytale. The blue sea glitters below like a field of sapphires and the stylishly whitewashed buildings gleam around you.

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And the views just as good from the top

You’re up on high in what has got to rate as one of the most beautiful towns on earth. Ambling in awe through the precipitous, winding streets you stumble upon all manner of delights. Shops spill over with stunningly colourful ceramics, summer shoes, jewellery and a myriad of handbags. Prices can be high but the charmingly cheerful traders are more than happy to bargain. We learnt how to say thank you in Greek by memorising it phonetically in English (eff-curry-store) and that made the perfect ice-breaker. It’s a fun shopping experience with some really unique (that word again) goods on offer.

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Yogurt and beer on high; our ship below

Although the town isn’t large (part of its charm), when it comes to time for some much-needed refreshment, there are certainly enough tavernas to choose from. The chilled local beer tasted like nectar and the huge dishes of Greek yogurt and honey were simply heavenly. For lunch, the juiciest of lamb sausage, amazing salads, freshly caught local fish and what could have been the best spinach pie in Greece (can’t say for sure as I haven’t tried them all…yet, anyway).

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Fabulous lamb sausage and sea views

And a wonderful bottle of Santorinian wine, aptly all in that dazzlingly Greek trademark blue. The Santos winery is only five minutes drive away and, again, offers something special with the vines woven into a circle forming a basket.

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Even the wine bottles are blue in Santorini

When it’s time to leave, it’s hard to tear yourself away, especially as the queue for the cable car down can appear alarmingly long when the cruise ships are in town. Actually, it goes quicker than you’d imagine, transporting about 36 people every five minutes or so. But not being great queuers, we decided to zig the zag to the sea. Now that’s an experience…slip-sliding along in flipflops, dodging donkeys and their poo – like everything else in this magical town, it’s certainly memorable. Though I was pleased to see the back of those donkeys who do have minds of their own and break out into regular mini-stampedes!

It’s like they were trying to escape, while all my instincts were doing was telling me to stay. For a very long time.

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Fira is just as beautiful at night

 

 

 

A feast of travel in Europe

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since I posted. I’ve been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday starting with a couple of days in Rome, then cruising the Med with five amazing stops and finishing in Istanbul where I spent four fascinating days. My head is full of history, memories of the most beautiful of scenery and architecture and of course the flavours of many meals eaten in Italy, Greece and Turkey.

I travelled with my brother and his two children aged 11 and 12. Our odyssey started in Rome.

Going to Rome is like stepping into the world’s biggest al fresco museum. The city is bursting with history with a story around every corner. And the food is simply amazing, including the first of many Caprese salads!

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Loved travelling around Italy sampling Caprese

My favourite thing about my first cruise was waking up every morning to somewhere new and beautiful. You just didn’t know what you’d see when you drew back those curtains.

First stop: Sorrento. Beautiful hill-top town painted in Mediterranean colours with fabulous winding streets where we shopped extensively and ate and drank. Simply the best pizza and Caprese salad twice – once in a magical lemon-grove of a restaurant.

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The pizza in Sorrento was the best ever

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Day two’s Caprese, possibly the best one yet

Next morning it was Taormina in Sicily, perched high up on the cliff with truly spectacular views. The town has an enchanted feeling and amazing views with Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano, to one side an ancient Greek theatre and azure blue seas. Plus the best veal dish ever and a contender for best dish of the holiday!

The view from our restaurant

The view from our restaurant

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Veal rolls, possibly the best dish of the holiday

And on to Greece. Mykonos is a labyrinth of blue and white…designed specially so invaders and pirates would get lost meandering through the streets. Of course this means that everyone gets lost, including us. Mykonos is where you go to party with lovely beaches and hectic nightlife…I’ll be back.

Beautiful Little Venice in Mykonos

Beautiful Little Venice in Mykonos

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A selection of Greek delights

Good morning Santorini! Honestly, I woke up this morning, opened my curtains and couldn’t believe the sight. Huddling on a cliff top and only accessible (from our side) by cable car, walking or donkey. A truly unique experience and not ideal for the vertiginously challenged (me!). We got the cable car up and walked down a steep zig zag of steps, dodging frisky, disorderly donkeys all the way.

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Beautiful Santorini, you can see the zig zag path we walked down

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Greek yogurt and beer on high with our ship in the distance

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Our favourite lamb dish of the trip

Kusadasi is a holiday town in Turkey. While the beaches are nice enough, the real attraction was the ancient city of Ephesus about half an hour’s drive away. It’s nearly 4,000 years old and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the 1st century BC it had a population of 250,000, making it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world – and amazingly they had plumbing, heating, running water and toilets. The streets are paved with marble and you can see the remains of the theatre, library, even the equivalent of the Houses of Parliament. A real revelation.

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The remains of the library at Ephesus

Last stop Istanbul where we disembarked from our stunning, luxurious cruise liner, the Crystal Symphony. All a bit of a shock after being treated like kings for nine days, suddenly we had to fend for ourselves. Of course we managed

Istanbul is a fascinating city bursting with stories going back so far in time. I’m still digesting it all. Amazingly it is situated on two continents, one half in Europe and the other in Asia with the Bosphorus in between. And it’s huge with a population of around 14 million. We hired a fabulous guide who bombarded us with information!

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An amazing array of starters to choose from

Street food is big in Istanbul with donner kebab stands everywhere. We watched the chicken man loading his up every morning with literally hundreds of deboned, marinated chickens! They tasted amazing too, the best wraps ever.

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Every morning we watched this man load hundreds of deboned chickens onto his kebab

We discovered an amazing Turkish Delight and baklava shop where we popped in for pudding one day. Super-sweet and sticky!

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Four different kinds of baklava

What can I say! A real whirlwind of a holiday with so many new experiences and food delights. Like trying ouzo for the first time – and really loving it; dodging donkeys; bargaining in the Grand Bazaar and getting everything for less than half the original price; tasting tomatoes (my favourite) throughout the continent…I could go on and on.

Hope you enjoy reading about it all. Would love to hear from anyone who’s been to any of these amazing places and what your experiences were, so do get in touch.

And keep reading for more great recipes. I’m bursting with ideas after such an inspiring trip.