The Eastern Mediterranean is one of the world’s most popular cruising regions for a reason: it is the access point for waterways such as the Bosphorus and Black Sea that link southern Europe’s great cities to exotic Russian and Middle Eastern ports. Words: David McGonigal.
The Mediterranean was the sea at the centre of the Earth to the many ancient civilisations that arose around its shores. And there were a lot of them: the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Pharaohs of Egypt, and all the civilisations of Biblical times. The boot of Italy kicking the football of Sicily forms a neat boundary between the eastern and western Med.
While the Suez Canal had to be carved to link the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean, the area’s natural seaway is the Bosphorus, which bisects Istanbul. This is both the boundary between Asia and Europe and the passage into the increasingly popular cruising area of the Black Sea. We can expect to hear a lot more about this part of the world in the lead-up to the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, a Russian coastal resort sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains.
Most cruising areas face navigational imperatives, so you follow a line of coast in Alaska or a line of islands in the Caribbean – but around the eastern Mediterranean, you can go in any direction: south to Egypt, north to Greece, Italy and the Dalmatian coast, or east to the Levant or through the Dardanelles and past Gallipoli and Istanbul to continue even further east across the Black Sea.
Summer is the peak season here: it is long, warm and dry, and extends well into September. Long renowned for its ‘special light’, the eastern Mediterranean is perfect for cruising, as there are a lot of coastal destinations crammed into a region packed with historical highlights.
But none of the destinations in this part of the world are locked in the dusty pages of history. The Greek Islands have been perfect escapes from the time of Homer’s Odyssey to the era of Shirley Valentine. While Greece has long been a favourite, Turkey has become one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations and Istanbul is a showcase for the point at which Europe and Asia meet. Voyaging from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea is a significant transition. From the Aegean Sea you pass through the narrow, shallow waterway of the Dardanelles and pass by Gallipoli on the northern shore where it opens up to the Sea of Marmara. At Istanbul, it narrows again to pass through the Bosphorus; then you’re into the expanse of the Black Sea. It’s larger than the Baltic Sea and extends from Bulgaria and Romania in the west to Russia in the north-east, Georgia to the east, Turkey to the south and the Ukraine to the north. For most cruise passengers, it’s a whole new undiscovered world of attractions.