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It's the small things you remember; the intimate experiences that leave the lasting memories. These are the authentic brushes with local culture you can't have in a large group, the chance to see things many people don't, the opportunity to visit places that are out of reach for most. For those who are into travelling and cruising on a small scale, these destinations are what Europe is all about.
The Location: The ultimate blend of cultures, the geographical and historical meeting point between Europe and Asia, a hub that has witnessed empires rise and fall, seen rulers come and go, but always its spirit has lived on. To wander the streets of Istanbul today is to see that history and those cultures up close, to see mosques and bazaars, souks and hammams, and shops that range from ancient tea houses and carpet stores to modern boutiques and fine-dining restaurants.
The Moment: There are an incredible 20,000 handmade blue tiles, each painted with tulips, lining the walls of Istanbul's famed Sultan Ahmed, or "Blue" Mosque. This beautiful building is the culmination of hundreds of years of architectural innovation: to witness its sheer size and grandeur, in person, is jaw-dropping.
GALLIPOLI PENINSULA, TURKEY
Canakkale Martyrs Monument in Gallipoli. Photo: Shutterstock
The Location: There's a strange beauty to the Gallipoli Peninsula, a feeling that despite the horror this part of the world has seen, there's still much to appreciate in its serene and peaceful nature. Gallipoli, which occupies an important space in Anzac history, is a rugged finger of land in Turkey's west, a place where Australians have long made the pilgrimage to pay their respects.
The Moment: There are several important sites here, poignant tributes to troops both Allied and Turkish who gave their lives during the Great War. It's a privilege to join the few who get to visit this moving place.
Old Harbour of Mytilene in Lesbos. Photo: Shutterstock
The Location: Most cruise ships can't get into Mytilene, the charming capital of the Greek island of Lesbos. This is a town of only 40,000 people; its ancient harbour is appropriately compact. The history of which stretches back to the 11th century BC. Some of the highlights here include a network of 19th-century mansions, a Byzantine castle, and the sheer joy of wandering a town that's off-limits to the masses.
The Moment: Greece has long been known for its olive oil production, and APT guests have the chance to take an exclusive after-hours tour of the Museum of Olive Oil Production in Mytilene. Here you can enjoy an authentic home-cooked meal while getting to know the local characters who are behind the production of this cherished local specialty.
The Library of Celsius in Ephesus. Photo: Shutterstock
The Location: Imagine the life of the ancient Greeks and Romans as you wandering the paved streets of Ephesus, a former stronghold founded in the 10th century BC, and eventually abandoned in 15th AD. The city has welcomed the world's most famous leaders, from Alexander the Great to Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and their legacy lives on in ruins that include a 25,000-seat Roman theatre, and the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Moment: There's no sight quite like the Library of Celsus, the beautifully preserved façade of a building that dates back to 125 AD. In Roman times the building held 12,000 scrolls; these days, it holds only legends. This is one of those sights that will transport you instantly to another time.
Traditional Greek house in Paros. Photo: Shutterstock
The Location: If you haven't already heard of Paros, then fear not: this Greek island's relative anonymity is part of its charm. There's plenty to keep travellers occupied here, with lively coastal towns and villages, beautiful scenery and great food. Keep an eye out for local marble too: the Venus de Milo was carved from the famed Parian stone.
The Moment: It's the escape from the touristy crush that provides the most memorable experience in Paros. Rather than fighting other travellers, visitors are free to wander the island's bustling fishing villages and ports, shop in local markets, and peruse some surprisingly fashionable stores. It's the experience of the Greek islands you hope for.
Parthenon temple at sunset in Athens. Photo: Shutterstock
The Location: Athens is a city in flux, a modern metropolis recovering from economic upheaval, and an ancient capital that still bears many of the hallmarks of its long and prosperous history. From almost every part of Athens it's impossible to miss the vision of the Acropolis upon its mount, a 2500-year-old reminder of what Greece stands for, of its contributions to Western culture and society. Everywhere else you look, Athens teems with modern life.
The Moment: Though Athens itself is huge, the highlight of a visit here is on a much smaller, more intimate scale: the opportunity to learn to cook authentic Greek cuisine with an Athenian cooking class. Embrace the vitality of the Mediterranean diet and take home a skill that will serve as the perfect reminder of time well spent with the people who make this part of the world so amazing.
Experience Europe like you never imagined aboard an all-inclusive, luxury Small Ship Cruise. Call 1300 336 932 or visit aptouring.com.au/Med2020