The three-mast motor sailer “MS Galileo” cruises the Cyclades islands from April to the end of October. With a draught of 2.80 metres, it anchors in beautiful shallow bays and docks directly at the quays of small ports such as Poros, Syros, or Folegandros. Get close to the sea and the Cyclades with this review
The MS Galileo was launched in 1992 as a two-master. In 2016, it was completely renovated and equipped with an additional mast. But why a third mast? This question arose after seven days aboard MS Galileo. Despite good winds almost every day, the sails are only set once, for one hour, and heavily reefed.
The dream of lying on the sun deck of the almost 50 metre long ship and watching the white high sails of the jib, main and mizzen masts fly overhead remained a dream.
The majority of the 45 passengers are from Australia, Canada and the USA, creating an international atmosphere on board. MS Galileo’s crew consists of 18 men and women. They come from Mauritius (such as hotel manager Vick), Egypt (chefs, boatmen and engineers), Indonesia (housekeeping and restaurant) and Ukraine (bar).
16 cabins are located in the “belly” of the ship on the lower deck, and nine are located two decks higher on the upper deck of MS Galileo. They have recently been completely refurbished. The cabins on the lower deck show the ravages of time …
At the Helm of MS Galileo:
Captain Vasilis, the Dancer
The captain of the MS Galileo is a picture book character: his name is Vasilis, he is a real Greek and likes to dive for squid during his swimming breaks. The stoic Vasilis is at least as good at one thing as he is at manoeuvring our three-master safely through the shallows off Delos: Dancing.
Vasilis dances a Zeibekiko to the sounds of Rembetiko on the penultimate evening. Freestyle. Zeibekiko looks like a mixture of oriental dabke and breakdance. Vasilis stomps his heels to the beat, makes little jumps, turns around, both arms outstretched. Sometimes he strides along, sometimes he jumps down on one knee. An acrobatic expressive dance to a driving 9/8 beat. Where else do you see the boss of the wheelhouse turning into a nightclub entertainer?
Porthole Cabin View:
Washing Machine Feeling
There is also a nostalgic seafaring feeling on the MS Galileo, even though sailing turns out to be an aerial act. On the one hand, you are only a few metres above the sea. On the other hand, the feel of the ship is still characterised by a lot of wood instead of laminated plastic and aluminium.
The view from the porthole of my cabin is particularly pleasant when the wind is blowing and the ship is at full speed: the sea, churned up by the swell, gurgles and foams like in a washing machine in front of the massive brass roundel, while the diesel engine loudly pushes the almost 500 tons through the Cycladic waters.
MS Galileo’s itinerary promises island insider tips as well as the major tourist destinations of Santorini and Mykonos. Via Poros and Poliegos, the route takes in Folegandros, Santorini, Antiparos and Paros, Delos, Mykonos, Syros and – due to storms, instead of Kythnos and Cap Sounion – the Saronic island of Aegina.
Insider Tip for the Cyclades:
Island of Folegandros
After an extended stop for swimming and snorkelling in a bay on the island of Poliegos, we head for Folegandros. Like Oia on Santorini, 40 kilometres away, its picturesque chora clings to a 200-metre cliff.
The MS Galileo docks at the small port of Karavostasis. The bus takes us to the chora, past the spectacular Panagia church in Paliokastro, with its white zigzag staircase. Narrow streets and pretty little squares dominate the picture. The restaurant “Belégra” delights us with first-class cuisine, far from the oil-soaked musakabiftekikalamari monotony so often served elsewhere.
The Miracle of Santorini:
So empty (seriously!)
The next morning we can’t believe our eyes. The MS Galileo is moored in the caldera of Santorini, which is up to 600 metres deep and therefore too deep for any anchor chain. Around us, as far as the eye can see, there is no other ship.
Cruise coordinator Vicky and our guide are incredulous: “This has not happened for months. Usually there are three or four cruise ships in the caldera, with up to 15,000 passengers pouring over the small cable car and then over the villages of Thira and Oia with their iconic cascades of white houses.
On a normal day, Jannis says, the crowds move very, very slowly through the alleyways. Waiting for the cable car to take visitors back down to the old port and the tenders can take up to two hours.
We are incredibly lucky. The first ship to arrive in the caldera on October 22 is the Celestyal Olympia with a capacity of almost 1,500 passengers, appearing in the late afternoon.
So we enjoy the much slower pace of Thira, where the Sunday carillon sets the tone instead of the roaring guides, and the liturgical chanting from the church of Panagia Akathistos, one of 289 churches on Santorini, creates an almost contemplative atmosphere in Oia.
It is only a ten minute walk to the Sunset View Point on the old Kastro, 800 metres away. It takes 45 minutes to cover this distance with the usual pushing and shoving. This is probably how it was from 8 a.m. the next day when “Norwegian Jade”, “MSC Musica”, “Carnival Pride” and “Resilient Lady” arrived with a total of 35,000 passengers on board…
The Island of Paros:
Jet Set and Incense
It is easier to go ashore on Paros, where the MS Galileo docks after a long swim in the bay of Krios. Because the MS Galileo is so small, with a draught of less than three meters, it simply docks in the first row. After lunch in the port of Parikia, we visit the village of Marpissa with its famous, colorful “Taverna Charoulas” under large mulberry trees.
20 metres further on, Marigoula Fyssilani works in a traditional house. On her loom dating from 1858, Marigoula weaves beautiful rugs and bags from scraps of fabric. She won’t miss the opportunity to treat the whole group to glyko tou koutaliou (teaspoon sweets) and souma brandy.
Naoussa’s harbour, with the ouzeri “Tsachpinis ton Nautikon” and the smaller “Sigi Ikthos”, could be the prototype of an ideal “picturesque Cycladic harbour” in a film location scout’s handbook.
A few steps further and it is almost jet-set friendly. In the shady lanes between the laid-back beach bars “come back” and “Vavaja’s” and the Pantanassis church are fine restaurants such as the stylish white-on-white “UMI” with Japanese-Peruvian cuisine. Exclusive boutiques, jewellery shops and casual bars await the free-spending visitor.
Before the Greek Night begins aboard the MS Galileo, there is time to explore the extraordinarily beautiful Ekatontapyliani church complex around the early Christian cruciform basilica from the sixth century, which is attributed to St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great.
Incidentally, the Greek name Ekatontapyliani translates as “the church with 99 doors”. Legend has it that the 100th door will open when the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul becomes an Orthodox Christian place of worship again.
Shore Leave on Mykonos:
Must-Sees or Freestyle?
On Mykonos, the MS Galileo docks in the New Port, in the shadow of a cruise giant from MSC. Water taxis shuttle the crowds to the Old Port. There and in “Little Venice” it is extremely busy and crowded.
So I content myself with a quick visit to the out-of-time church Panagia Paraportiani, the district Alefkandra (aka Little Venice) and the five windmills built by the Venetians (Kato Mili), and then take the ferry back to the cruise port. Unfortunately without seeing any dolphins as on my way out.
Just around the corner from the cruise terminal, a 15 minute walk away, is the surprisingly beautiful and clean beach of Agios Stefanos. Just the place for me to spend the evening. After a sunset swim with a view of Rinea Island, a cool beer awaits on the warm sand.
After the bombastic sunset, the Blue Hour takes you up 111 steps to the second generation restaurant “Limnios Tavern”. The lamb chops and stifado taste wonderful and the house wine is a bargain. All for less than half the price of Old Mykonos.
Island of Syros:
Ermoupoli, the capital of the most populous island of the Cyclades, is pleasantly “untouristy”: cool cafes, bars and shops cater to the needs of the islanders. The few accommodations in town are old town houses that have been converted into beautiful boutique hotels.
Long before the rise of Athens and Piraeus, Syros was the commercial, shipping and industrial heart of Greece. In 1860, almost 70 percent of Greece’s imports passed through the port of Ermoupolis.
Ermoupoli, with more than 750 townhouses, commercial and bank buildings, a huge town hall and an opera house clearly inspired by La Scala in Milan, is as far from the whitewashed Cycladic idyll as you can imagine. But it’s not far from that familiar image: Ano Syros climbs steeply up the mountain, with many steps and fragrant jasmine and bougainvillea bushes.
It was there, almost 120 years ago, that Markos Vamvakaris was born. A gifted bouzouki player, he is considered the father of Rembetiko. Vamvakaris worked as a dockworker and butcher in Piraeus to support himself and his family. Rembetiko was very popular in the bars of the port at that time: this music was considered to be the sound of dopers, pickpockets, gangsters and anarchists.
By founding the ensemble “Ksakousti Tetras tou Pirea”, Vamvakaris succeeded in rescuing this music from its infamy. Rembetiko has been on the Unesco list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2017.
MS Galileo’s Last Miles:
Detour in the Saronic Gulf
An approaching storm forces a change of course. Instead of a view of the Temple of Gravity at Cape Sunion, the last day of the cruise ends on the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf, just 20 kilometres from Marina Zeas, the home port of MS Galileo.
The weather turns out to be a stroke of luck: the uniquely beautiful temple of Aphaia awaits us, a 25-minute walk along the root path above the pier of Agios Marina. It was built in the sixth century on an elevated site with a double view of the sea.
However, due to Crown Prince Ludwig’s love of antiquities, its valuable frieze figures are not on display in the small, well-designed museum, but in Munich’s Glyptothek Museum. Instead, you can still see the remains of the temple’s colorful splendour and the teardrop panels that resemble Lego bricks.
A visit to Aegina is a trip back to the 1980s. Lots of run-down 2- and 3-star hotels, lots of rubbish in the gutters, tavernas with blue and white tablecloths with a paper tablecloth stuck on top. And laminated menus that, like in “Kiriakakis,” list the bifteki for 8 euros and the Mythos beer for 3.50 euros – half of what it costs on Santorini.
Before the last swim in the Mediterranean, the island goddess went for a long walk, as the last rainstorm had washed away parts of the coastal path to Meltemi Beach.
At the end, I cross over a rusty ladder on the rocks into the sea. Then it’s there, the feeling of the sea. Salty on the lips. Roaring. Gurgling. The little blowhole next to the ladder splashes in time with the surf. Let yourself drift …
Well, I need to swim in the open sea again. Goggles on and off I go. The sea holds out. A throbbing pulse after 20 minutes against the current. That’s enough. I lay down on the warm rocks and let the late autumn sun dry me off one last time. October is just right for the Greek islands…
Booking Infos MS GALILEO
When booked directly with Variety Cruises, the 7-day cruise “Jewels of the Cyclades” aboard MS Galileo from/to Athens described here costs from EUR 1,295 per person.bud!
This article was originally written in German. It was translated into English with the help of Artificial Intelligence