I travel for two reasons – it is my passion and because it is how I earn my living. My bucket list of “must-do” adventures continues to grow each year. Each time I check one destination off the list, I seem to add 10 more places that had not been high in the ranking. So as you might imagine, returning to a place I have already visited sometimes is a luxury in time that I can just not afford. It is for that reason that even I surprised myself when for the fourth time I made my way back to the incredible “East-meets-West” city of Istanbul. This is such a unique city where literally two continents meet – European Istanbul is separated from its Asian suburbs only by the mighty Bosphorus, the narrow channel, and major shipping lane that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. What is so striking about this mad city of 20+ million people is the juxtaposition of old and new – modern office buildings tower over historic palaces, women in jeans and elegant designer outfits walk next to their counterparts clothed in full head coverings, and most striking is at dawn when the call to prayer belts out from ancient minarets throughout the city, hearty revelers still fill the many nightclubs and chic rooftop bars.
There are so many fantastic places to stay in Istanbul, with new luxury hotels popping up in every neighborhood, but I am true to my favorite places to stay! Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet is in old town walking distance to the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the centuries-old Basilica Cistern. The Sunday brunch on the terrace in summer and inside the greenhouse in winter is so cozy to say nothing of the incredible spread. For the glamour of the Bosphorus, there is nothing like the terrace at Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus, watching the yachts bring in guests for lunch and dinner. The views of Asia minor are stunning and the Turkish Hammam spa and pools make this a wonderful option for families or those wanting to relax.
Clients of Resort to Laura Madrid always receive the following special amenities when they stay at Four Seasons Hotels in Istanbul:
– Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
– Daily full Turkish, American, or Continental breakfast
– Fresh Fruits
– $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit, to be utilized during stay
Istanbul was a perfect starting place for the 7-night Silversea cruise and we were about to board to visit the ancient lands of this breathtaking region of the world.
We set sail with 500 fellow passengers and a crew of 400 aboard the flagship Silver Spirit, the largest of the fleet of 6 luxury ships that make up the Italian family-owned SilverSea Cruise Line. The nice thing about the all-suite Silversea product is that every suite is assigned both a housekeeper and a butler. I think some people in the modern world ask themselves, “Well, what will I do with a butler?” but quickly discover how nice it is to have your every whim tended to.
For 7 mornings in a row, Arun awoke us at 7:30 am, approximately 15 minutes after sunrise with two hot cappuccinos and two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice and the newspaper. Now, that was really easy to get used to! Whenever my children were locked out of their suite, which was very frequently, they would simply pick up any phone and their butler would let them back in. At check-in, the butler gave us a choice of toiletries and savages for our suite – Bulgari or Ferragamo? Water, a glass of wine, a martini, or any meals at all that we preferred to have in our suite, not a problem at all. And of course, he delivered the daily agenda, assisted with laundry, and was always about with a kind work or to assist with questions. Without even asking, Lorenzo, the butler assigned to my children’s suite has taken a sweater with a button torn off to the seamstress for repair! Not that is anticipating our needs, even ones we did not realize we had!
Food and beverage onboard are excellent, and of course, no one ever has to grab the check since cruising with Silversea is completely all-inclusive. This makes cruising with a group of friends or as a multi-generational trip, like we did, so easy. The dining options on the Silver Spirit in addition to the main dining room included La Terrazza Italian, the pool deck, Stars Cabaret, Le Champagne Relais and Chateau, and Seishin Asian Sushi. Only Le Champagne and Seishin have a nominal reservation upcharge, which is well worth it. In general, the wines and spirits served throughout our very high quality but there are always options available for those that might want to select beyond the vast complimentary offerings.
For entertainment singers, cabaret acts, movie nights, disco, and even a lively barbecue at the pool make for great evening fun that changes on regular basis. Although, there were at least three ports of call where the ship docked until 11 pm, allowing guests to stay in town late for dinner onshore. This is something that the larger ships just do not!
The first night after setting sail, we joined up with my parents for our first meal onboard which the kids found to be great fun at the pool deck – cooking tableside on hot rocks, which allowed each person to monitor the temperature of their own dinner and have a bit of a communal cooking experience while we dined.
Each day our ship arrived early morning at a new port of call, which we watched from the balcony of our suite, coffees in hand as we approached a new fantastic destination.
The first full day was at sea after leaving Istanbul, which could not have been more perfect. This was a day to explore the ship, get spa treatments, and shake off a bit of jet lag.
Each day was a completely new experience, which touched on the historic wonders of the ancient world in Istanbul, Ephesus, Rhodes, and Athens to some pretty fabulous beaches and sea views in Mykonos and Santorini, and Crete.
Mykonos, Greece –
This tiny island where Hercules killed the giants and much later made famous by Jackie Onassis is a place where the jet-set rub elbows with backpackers. It may be the best example of Cycladic architecture, the small cubic two-story white flat-roofed homes dot the landscape. We opted to rent a car and explore some beaches on our own, enjoying a traditional Greek meal at a beachside Taverna, before exploring the shops and cafes of the narrow old streets of Mykonos town.
Ephesus, Turkey –
Here we set up a private tour with my on-site to take our family to see the ancient sites of Ephesus including the house where the Virgin Mary purportedly spent her final years of life after the death of Jesus, the Great Theatre where St. Paul preached to 25,000 Ephesians in the first century AD, the Celsius library, the 3rd larges in the Ancient World, and the incredible Terrace houses discovered in the 1980s and were the elaborate homes of the wealthiest Ephesians with still intact beautiful mosaic floors and richly colored frescoed walls.
Arranging a private guide is a great way for a multi-generational family to ensure there are enough history and interpretation for the different levels of interest but also the flexibility to change plans or slow down when younger kids are involved. The tour ended with a stop at a very local Turkish restaurant where we enjoyed an incredible mezze of specialties, lamb chops, and spicy meatballs.
Day 3 – Rhodes, Greece –
Rhodes was a crucial stop on the road to the Holy Land during the Crusades and the sanctuary of Lindos drew Pilgrims from around the region. It is here that the Colossus of Rhodes once stood, a replica of the God Helios, which was one of the 7th Wonders of the ancient world and believed to have fallen during an earthquake.
Today we decided to head out on foot and discover the ancient quarters at our own pace. We wandered through the Medieval walled city and visited the Palace of the Grand Masters.
Isabella got a beautiful hand-made braid of colored threads weaved into her hair and we all got to unwind on a local beach. Before getting back to the ship we enjoyed the typical Greek fast food, lamb gyros, hummus, tzatziki, and French fries, which we all absolutely loved.
Day 4 – Santorini, Greece –
This was by far the most beautiful place I have seen. Our ship entered a giant flooded caldera surrounded by the ancient-rim of a still active volcano and as I gazed upon what I thought were snow-covered cliffs, I realized that those were the idyllic white houses of Santorini all perched 1100 feet high at the crescent of the cliffs.
We tendered into the old Port of Fira at the base of the cliffs and here Isabella climbed the mountain on the back of a donkey while Gil, Gilly, and I hiked to the top. My parents were glad to take the cable car. Either way, views are incredible of the sea below and of more than 300 white and blue Greek Orthodox churches dotting the landscape. At the top of Fira, wonderfully chic restaurants and shops abound. We started our day by stopping into one of the many “Foot Spas” that have tanks with tiny carp fish. Once you submerge your feet into the foot tank the fish have a feeding-frenzy on your dead skin. Not easy for those that have exceedingly ticklish feet but the result is baby-smooth feet and really satisfied fish!
We jumped in a taxi and headed to the northwest corner of Santorini to a quieter and picturesque town of Oia, which is famous for its clifftop sunsets over the Caldera below. We visited two of the hotels where my clients with more time in Santorini love to stay. This is where you find the picturesque whitewashed, cliffside hotels that were made constructed in the ancient cave houses. Greek wines are excellent and most of the best wines come from Santorini, a day visiting wineries is a fantastic experience as is a private catamaran around the volcano with stops at some fabulous beaches and a barbecue lunch on board.
Clients of Resort to Laura Madrid always receive the following special amenities when they stay at Mystique –
– Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
– Daily Full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
– One wine tasting for two at Secret Wine Cave per stay
Clients of Resort to Laura Madrid always receive the following special amenities when they stay at Canaves Oia Suites –
– Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
– Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
– American champagne buffet or room service breakfast daily
– Welcome gift: a bottle of local Santorinian wine & fresh fruit
For stays of 4 or more nights guests also receive:
– Choice of 40 euro Food & Beverage credit per person
Crete is a massive island as compared to all of the other tiny islands in Greece but it is still a small town and is the perfect place to rent a 4-wheeler for your touring. Crete was the center of Europe’s earliest civilization, the Minoan, which flourished from about 2000. While there are some incredible ancient sites to see at Spinalonga and Heraklion as this was our last day of the holiday, we opted to settle onto a local beach on Mirabello Bay in a typical Greek Taverna where the owner-manned a grill and prepared the most delicious fish accompanied by an abundant display of traditional mezze – lamb stuffed eggplant, moussaka, tomatoes stuffed with rice, cheese pies, spinach pies, spanakopita, fried calamari, kalamata olives – everything truly incredible. Anyone who spends the day in Crete must find this lovely local restaurant called Garo.
Athens really does deserve two full days but as we had to get the kids home for school we could not afford an extra overnight. We instead arranged a private guide to collect us from the port and to take us on a 3 hours city tour with a visit to the majestic acropolis to see the Parthenon, and through the city to see the ancient Olympic stadium where the first Greek games of the modern era were performed, the temple of Zeus, and the majestic museums, and historic are of the Plaka. My clients who visit Athens love staying in the regal Grand Bretagne, which is in the best location to walk to many of the sites and has a rooftop restaurant offering spectacular views of the lighted Parthenon at night.
Clients of Resort to Laura Madrid always receive the following special amenities when they stay at Grand Bretagne –
– Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
– Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in-room guests
– A complimentary lunch or dinner for up to two people per room
Everyone can choose to spend the days at Port exactly as they wish and that is why it is such an ideal holiday for a multi-generational trip. Each afternoon three generations reconvened for the daily trivia contest in the Panorama lounge followed by the putting contest in the Observation lounge. Later we would get ready for dinner, always someplace new to try, and share stories of our sightseeing and port explorations. If the kids were too tired for dinner out, their butler could serve their dinner in their room while they watched movies. If some members of the family are less active or prefer to catch up on reading or attend one of the daily cultural talks as opposed to heading into Port, they can. Everyone can spend each day in a way that is meaningful to them. There are so many pleasures and benefits to cruising but perhaps the best one of all is unpacking just once yet having an ability to see so much without the hassles of moving around – cruising on a fine ship like the Silver Spirit is just like having your luxury hotel come right there with you.
Please contact Resort to Laura Madrid for ideas on itineraries that might suit you in South America, Europe, the Caribbean, Alaska, Antarctica, Asia, and Africa. By ocean, by the river, or by the canal, let us suggest an itinerary and vessel that will be top quality and at a price point that will be the best fit for you.