“You do have a mall on the boat, don’t you?” I was recently asked that question by a potential guest inquiring about one of our Blue Cruises. The question is a perfectly reasonable one, but at the same time totally absurd. Here’s why.
Cruising is huge these days. There are about 300 cruise liners operating worldwide, serving about 20 million passengers per year and creating an annual turnover of 30 billion dollars. The ships are growing in size, most recent models carrying a capacity of up to 5400 passengers and 900 crew. They are equipped lusciously, with restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theatres, casinos and – of course – shopping malls. On those vessels, you can “do” long-established destinations like the Mediterranean or Caribbean, but by now also pretty much all of the Seven Seas, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Quite amazing.
But there is another way of cruising, fully deserving of the name but perhaps slightly sidelined by the behemoth of the global cruising industry. It is an alternative and a complement to the cruise liners and comes with various names. Where I work it’s called the Blue Cruise (or Blue Voyage).
The Blue Cruise has become a classic in the Eastern Mediterranean in recent decades. The term derives from Turkey, where it developed in the mid-20th century and describes cruises along the western and southern coasts, usually on the traditional and locally built wooden motor yacht known as a gulet, ranging from 20 to 35 metres in length. The term is now also applied beyond Turkey, in Greece, Italy and Croatia. The Blue Cruise is an opportunity to intimately and intensively explore and enjoy the shores and islands of a specific region as part of a small group, ideally with dedicated guides.
A Blue Cruise presents a more intense but also more relaxed alternative to the conventional cruise liner voyage and its superficial sense of exclusivity. Ever-larger ships frequent the same routes again and again. Instead of adventure and truly personal and local experience, the traveller is subjected to the commercialised mass-treatment of enormous groups; the intensive cultural and personal adventure that travelling can and should entail is substituted with the superficial “ticking off” of the well-known “highlights”.
The Blue Cruise is different. The gulet, derived from boats used in local maritime traffic, is still hand-crafted, mostly of wood, and offers an enticing mixture of traditional elegance and modern comforts. Each of its cosy and beautiful cabins is unique, and none of them look or feel like the standardised modern hotel rooms, land- or sea-borne, that make us forget where we actually are. Its distractions are the lapping of the waves, or the creaking of the wood, not the hum of omnipresent machinery.
A gulet usually carries only ten to twenty passengers. It is able to motor or sail, depending on itinerary and wind conditions. It cannot cover the same distances the cruise liners do, but instead offers a more profound exploration of a specific region. A gulet cruise is by no means slow, but has its own pace, mixing leisure and movement, while maintaining a cultural and geographic connexion between its landfalls.
The gulet cruise has access to remote coves, islets or beaches that are inaccessible even to smallish cruise liners. It does not offer a way to “do” regions, but it allows travellers to really experience them, to see and feel and hear and smell and sometimes taste them, to engage with an area, to feel you actually are there.
There are many ways to run a Blue Cruise. It can concentrate on swimming opportunities, on diving, on sailing, on coastal scenery or on opportunities for walking or hiking, or even on gastronomy. Or on culture.
For us at Peter Sommer Travels, the greatest thing a Blue Cruise can do is to mix the pleasure of cruising, swimming, sunbathing and so on with the profound experience of the respective region’s culture, history and archaeology, going back three or four millennia (or more). The shores and isles of Turkey, Greece and Italy are jam-packed with historical sites, each with its own fascinating story and each part of a larger narrative of our shared human heritage.
Of course, such a voyage will include a number of the well-known highlights, but it also gives access to rarely visited and hard-to-find places you will not see on any cruise liner itinerary. It is not about jumping from Venice to Athens to Rhodes to Istanbul, but about experiencing a region in all its beauty, all its interest, all its context.
A guided gulet cruise will take you to sites steeped in an atmosphere of mystery and beauty. To get the best out of such a voyage, you need to prepare, or make sure to have the best possible guides. The ideal gulet cruise should be accompanied by an archaeologist or historian who knows the area’s background in great detail, and also by a local guide. That’s exactly what we at Peter Sommer Travels) strive to offer.
Somewhere out there, unforgettable moments, places of intense serenity, are awaiting you. You might find yourself admiring the vibrant colours of an extraordinarily well-preserved 1500-year old mosaic overlooking a stupendous coastal vista on the rarely visited Greek island of Kalymnos. Maybe you’ll enjoy scrambling up the rocky peninsula of Loryma in Southern Turkey to explore one of the best-preserved ancient fortifications along the whole Mediterranean, reachable only by boat. Or perhaps you’ll visit the famous Amalfi Coast of Italy and a varied selection of its innumerable historical sites (and its cuisine!) by sea, indulging in a leisurely and stimulating experience incomparable to the hectic coach tours along its shores. These are just three examples of what a guided gulet cruise can have to offer…
But no, on a traditional wooden boat, there is no mall. There is a fine on-board bar and if you yearn for shopping, you can do it ashore, be it at one of the busy tourist centres or in an authentic local village. We’ll be happy to help.
Author Bio: Raised in Germany, educated in Ireland and resident in Greece, Heinrich Hall is an archaeological Tour Expert at Peter Sommer Travels, a UK-based operator specialised in cultural tours and gulet cruises in Turkey, Greece and Italy. He is co-editor of the most recent Blue Guide to the Greece: The Aegean Islands. Heinrich is a connoisseur not just of the ancient sites, but also of the landscapes, the modern culture(s) and the gastronomy of the region.
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