The Old Town Rethymno
Greek Island holidays were top of the list for family getaways when the kids were young. I have memories of sunny, cloud-free days spent exploring Rhodes old town, dipping into warm turquoise seas around Corfu and of sleek dolphins slip-streaming the boat during a trip from Skiathos. But that was a long time ago. Too long ago, and a day excursion to Mykonos and Delos during a cruise last year got me thinking that it’s time I gave the Greek Islands some proper attention again.
The island of Delos sits in the sparkling Aegean Sea in the centre of a circle of Greek islands called the Cyclades. Just a 25-minute boat trip away from Mykonos it’s one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece. It’s also the mythical birthplace of Apollo, god of light, truth and music and his twin sister Artemis.
For over a thousand years Delos, Isle of Light, font of life, was a sacred place and is today UNESCO protected and part of the World’s Cultural Heritage. And it’s beautiful.
Pillars at Delos, Greece
A morning excursion from our cruise was spent exploring the sprawling ruins of the ancient shrine. The island is 3.5km south-west of Mykonos and just 5k long and 1.3 wide so this can be done in less than a day. Just as well really because the island shuts at 3 pm when the last boat leaves.
For more Greek island inspiration check out this Greek Island hopping itinerary
This tiny island was inhabited from 3000 BC by a population of around 25,000 and by 300 AD was completely abandoned. At one time, Delos was so sacred that people close to death or giving birth were kicked out to a neighbouring island. It would seem things have gone full circle as the only inhabitants are now the team of archaeologists working on the ruins. This makes it a peaceful contrast to busy Mykonos just across the water.
The Ruins of Delos, Greece
Delos, in ancient Greek, means clear and brought to light. You can pretty well roam as you please through the ruined streets, arcades and temples and the light gave everything a particular clarity. The pale golds of the stonework complimented the blue skies and seas perfectly giving it a softer appearance than the pristine whites and crisp blues of Mykonos. So, what is there to see on Delos? Here’s what I discovered…
The Theatre District, Delos
The Theatre from the stage
The theatre once held up to 5,500 spectators. Nearby is an underground water cistern – there was no fresh-water on Delos so drinking water was captured from the rainfall and stored in the cistern.
The House of Dionysus
The remains of many mansions are near to the theatre. Obviously ‘the place’ to live. The mansions must have been impressive with outdoor pillared courtyards, two or three levels have intricate mosaic floors. The House of Dionysus (below) has a mosaic showing Dionysus riding a panther.
Pillars and Mosaics at Delos
Window at the House of Triton
The Sanctuary of Apollo
The Sanctuary of Apollo lies at the heart of the ancient remains at the end of The Sacred Way. The remains of a massive statue of Apollo rests here although only the torso is left – probably because it was too heavy to loot. One of the hands rests in the Delos museum and a foot resides in the British Museum.
The torso of the statue is to the right of the right-hand column
Terrace of the Lions
This is probably the most famous of Delos’ sights. The lions on the Terrace of the Lions are replicas of a possible nine to twelves lions that once guarded the wealthy trading port. The remaining five original lions are now housed in the island’s museum. The lions were a gift from the people of Naxos in the 7th century BC – an imposing sight to guard the ‘sacred way’.
Terrace of the Lions
Delos Lion Statue
Most of the significant finds from Delos are now housed safely in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens but there are still some interesting and beautiful pieces in the museum at Delos so it’s worth taking a look inside at the statues, pottery and mosaics.
Statues in Delos Museum
Leopard Mosaic in Delos Museum
I enjoyed just wandering the island for a couple of hours soaking up the feeling of a place lost in time and bathed in light, seeking out carvings in the stone as tiny lizards scorted through the dust around my feet. I’d have liked to climb Mount Kynthos for views down over the island and stopped off at the Temple of Isis on the way up but didn’t have quite enough time. Here’s a few more images of what I discovered on Delos.
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Getting to Delos:
Boats leave for Delos from the Old Port of Mykonos daily, weather permitting, except Monday when the site is closed to visitors.
The first boat to Delos leaves at 9:00 am and the last one at 12:50 pm. The first boat back to Mykonos goes at 11:00 am and the last at 3:00 pm
Travel Tips for Delos:
There are toilet facilities in the museum.
It is not possible to stay overnight in Delos.
It’s very hot with little shelter so I’d advise taking water, a hat and sunscreen.
Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for hosting me on this fabulous cruise.
Mykonos is the epitome of Greek prettiness. The island is part of the Cyclades archipelago, adjacent to tiny Delos in the Aegean Sea. Pristine white buildings with azure blue doors and windows are set against the bluest sky. Winding alleyways lined with boutique shops, bars and restaurants festooned with fuschia pink Bougainvillea lead to tiny churches and heavenly courtyards. The sun shines and cats laze in doorways soaking up the heat. And then there are the iconic Mykonos windmills looking down over Chora (Mykonos Town), Little Venice and the clearest, bluest seas ever.
The Bay in Mykonos Town
What to see in Mykonos Town (Chora)
You’ll probably arrive into Chora by the harbour in the main area of town which has a little bay busy with restaurants, shops and little sugar-cube houses tumbling down the hillside. Colourful fishing boats bob around in the bay and Agios Nikolaos Church with its blue dome sits right by the water. You’d think it couldn’t get any prettier but, actually, it does.
Agios Nikolaos, Mykonos
Head to the right and up the hill and you’ll soon see. First you’ll come to the gorgeous Paraportiani Church, the most famous church of 400 on Mykonos. It’s a cute little pyramid-shaped building made up of a conglomeration of four churches built asymmetrically together. White-washed to within an inch of its life it has a little bell-tower, dome and is topped with crucifixes which stand out against the cloudless blue sky.
Paraportiani Church, Mykonos
There’s exploring and shopping to be done here in the tiny alleyways but first we’re going to visit the Mykonos windmills. Keep close to the waterside and you’ll pass through Little Venice. Bars and restaurants sit right next to the water, with little wooden balconies hanging over the sea. The crystal clear waves gently lap against the walls and it’s a lovely place to stop for a beer and from my shady little balcony the view over the water to the windmills was gorgeous.
Little Venice, Mykonos
The Mykonos Windmills
As you emerge from the slatted shadiness of Little Venice you can’t fail to spot the iconic Mykonos windmills (Kato Mili) standing sentry at the top of the hill. They’re old, built by the Venetians in the 16th century, for milling flour. They have wooden sails, white-washed walls and are capped with straw hats. One is now a museum and there are around a dozen on the island but these are the most famous and very photogenic!
Where to eat in Mykonos Town
Feeling hungry? Then carry on to the top of the hill,past the windmills, through the car park and meander down to a quiet little bay and the golden sands of Megali Ammos beach. It’s a ten minute walk, sometimes with no pavement, but you’ll find a lovely, chilled restaurant on the beach. Joanna’s Niko’s Place Taverna. Recommended by Elle, from A Bird in the Hand, we stopped here for a fabulous lunch of fresh, crisp Greek salad, perfect in the heat, and little marinated fish which were full of flavour and deliciously tender.
A Wander through Mykonos Town
After a late lunch I had an hour or two to wander which really is the best way to get a feel for Mykonos Town. Art galleries, hip boutiques selling artisan jewellery, cute cafes and cobblestone alleyways were explored. I’d have loved to have seen those windmills as the sun set behind the hill but we’d sailed off into a crimson sunset long before the sky turned pink. Mykonos, I’ll be back.
Crystal Clear Mykonos Sea
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Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for sending me on this fabulous cruise. All views, opinions and new-found love for Mykonos is, as always, entirely my own.