Thessaloniki cruise

Ottoman buildings & Art Deco houses
The pebble mosaics of Pella
Vergina’s amazing Macedonian tombs

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A contemporary look for an ancient heart

Disembarking from an MSC cruise ship at Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, it’s obvious it stands apart from the rest of the country. Situated at the head of the Gulf of Thessaloník, it seems open to the rest of the world, with a wide ethnic mix and an air of general prosperity.

There are substantial Roman remains and the many churches constitute a showcase of Orthodox architecture through the ages, while you can catch glimpses of the Turkish city both in the walled Upper City (Ano Poli) and in the modern grid of streets below: isolated pockets of Ottoman buildings, many of them Islamic monuments, which miraculously survived the 1917 fire. 

Modern Greek architecture is exemplified by Art Deco piles dating from the city’s twentieth-century heyday. Ruins, churches and buildings make Thessaloníki pleasant for sightseeing on an MSC Mediterranean cruise excursion. Pella, 40km west of Thessaloníki, was the capital of Macedonia throughout its greatest period and the first capital of Greece after Philip II forcibly unified the country around 338 BC. The site today is a worthwhile day-trip from Thessaloníki. Its main treasures are a series of pebble mosaics, some in the museum, others in situ. 

The site of Vergina, 75km southeast of Véria, undoubtedly qualifies as one of Greece’s most memorable attractions. This was the site of Aegae, the original Macedonian royal capital before the shift to Pella, and later the sanctuary and royal burial place of the Macedonian kings. From outside, all that’s visible is a low hillock with skylights and long ramps leading inside, but once underground in the climate-controlled bunker you can admire the facades and doorways of the tombs in situ, well illuminated behind glass. Finds from the site and tombs, the richest Greek trove since the discovery of Mycenae, are exhibited in the complex. 

Must see places in Thessaloniki

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    Under the protective wing of the gods
    Under the protective wing of the gods

    It would take a lifetime of island-hopping to fully appreciate the 227 inhabited Greek islands scattered across the Mediterranean Sea.
    With sapphire water lapping at rocky coastlines sprinkled with secret coves and sandy beaches, they are the stuff of dreamy travel posters, the very definition of the eulogized Greek summer of sun, sea and sand.

    For anyone with a cultural bone in their body a cruise to the Greek islands cannot fail to inspire. Every culture has left its mark, and almost every town or village has a link to the past, whether it’s a delicately crumbling temple to Aphrodite, a forbidding Venetian fort or a dusty Byzantine monastery decorated with exquisite frescoes. 

    But the call to cultural duty will never be too overwhelming on a Greek islands holiday. The hedonistic pleasures of languor and warmth – swimming in balmy seas at dusk, talking and drinking under the stars – are just as appealing.
    Sprawling, globalized Athens is an obligatory, almost unavoidable introduction to Greece: aside from the show-stopping Acropolis it offers a truly metropolitan range of cultural diversions, from museums to concerts; well-stocked shops; gourmet restaurants and stimulating clubs.