This Is Your Best View Of Greece

It’s horribly early in the morning, and I really shouldn’t be awake right now. I have a long day tomorrow, travelling from Athens to Crete on a ferry that’ll take me all day. The weather will be good, and the views magnificent, and I won’t want to miss any of them due to exhaustedly napping in my cabin. I should be sleeping right now – but this is my very first glimpse of Greece, dimly seen in the rosy dawn light from this ship from Italy, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

But actually, this isn’t really true. I didn’t need to wait for the mountains to appear out of the remains of the moonless night, little more than shadows I could only see from the corner of my eye. I actually saw Greece when I first stepped yawningly on deck an hour ago. Greece is all around me, made from the wine-dark sea. The sea is where this country is at.

In September, some of you will be getting your first sight of Greece as well, in Wheel & Anchor’s Aegean Odyssey. You’ll be looking forward to catching a glimpse of the Acropolis (although I hope you try Lykavitos Hill for the best view of this magnificent city), and the vast crater of Santorini, an ancient relic of one of the biggest volcanic explosions in the history of our planet, and so much more. In other words: landmarks. You’ll be expecting to get the best feel for Greece when you have both your feet planted upon dry land.

But if you want to really understand this country, I recommend looking in the other direction, towards the enormous blue-green gap between the islands and the European and North African mainlands.

We don’t think of our oceans in the way people from the past did. These days, we see them as a barrier to our physical progress – something requiring a relatively slow passage by ship, or skipping altogether by flying a plane over it. But as little as three hundred years ago, and going back to the dawn of human history, the sea was the superhighway of the world. 

Here’s a fascinating example of this principle in my own part of the world: it’s been archaeologically proven that some early medieval peoples on the extreme west coast of England and Wales had more in common with the material cultures of France and Ireland than with their direct neighbours inland because sea-trade was such a potent force. They had a far deeper connection, in all the ways that mattered, with the people at the other end of the journeys that started at the dockside. 

The same is true in the Mediterranean as a whole (which was the subject of a branch of study by the historian Fernand Braudel that captured my imagination when I was an archaeology student). 

The sea isn’t just “the bits between” the countries – it’s a living network of connections that makes them possible, in the way that land travel just couldn’t. There were no other reliable ways to transport heavy goods like stone and timber, or at least certainly not as fast as on water, where the weight of those goods could be near-magically rendered null & void by flotation. A horse could be quicker in a dead sprint, but for sheer efficiency and staying power, nothing could beat a boat with the right wind in its sails – and for travelling between different countries around the Mediterranean, the sea was a near-straight line, in direct contrast to an often tortuous (and dangerous) voyage around its perimeter.

This is how ancient Greece came about. It was a collection of ambitious, sometimes warmongering city-states that used the sea for, well, everything. It was a source of food, a medium for international trade and every city-state’s economy, a method of defence and a source of plunder – and a way to expand their borders. Ancient Greek sea-borne colonization began in the 9th Century BCE and never let up for a thousand years. We can even see this today, in the influence the Greeks have had on modern Western countries, powered by the export of the Greek alphabet, its artistry, and its ideas of government and law. The sea is how these things spread so far and wide that they got written into the cultural foundations of so many other countries, ours included.

Then there’s Greek geography itself. Its islands – around 2,000, with just 168 of them inhabited – make up a fifth of the entire land mass of the country, and give it the largest coastline in Europe. Even today, some of these islands (eg. Delos) do not have airports and are only accessible by boat. The water still does the job just fine.

This is the perspective I’d wish upon anyone new to the Mediterranean, and particularly to Greece: the view from the seaward side, to see how the landscape fits around the ocean, and not vice versa. You’ll also see an astonishing range of colours – that particular glowing blue of the sea on a sunny day that Greeks love to paint upon their doors and window shutters and onto the domes of their churches, and all the fiery shades of sunset and sunrise that make sky-watching such a treat…

(And as I’ve said before, forget your ideas of pristinely monochrome temples – the ancient Greeks loved colour just as much as we do.)

So, please – leave the mountains of inland Greece for later. Make your first experience of the place an ocean odyssey – that deliciously evocative word the rest of the world has stolen from Homer to denote a journey that leaves you forever changed. See the place as the Classical-era Greeks tended to see it: an environment filled with so much sea that everywhere else became within reach, and therefore everything was possible (the gods permitting, of course).

Set sail to enjoy the very best view available. You’ll never forget it. 

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Join Wheel & Anchor for a vibrant voyage through the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas as we explore Greece on a 7-day cruise around the many islands. Discover stunning natural beauty and historic wonders at every turn as we guide through the tranquil seas. Get the details here.

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