This Chic, Educational Cruise of the Greek Islands Is a Smithsonian Collab

Immerse yourself in Greek history, culture and cuisine on a Ponant cruise of the Southern Aegean.

Cruising by Athens on a Ponant cruise / Photograph by Gwenvael Engel/Studio Ponant

You can learn about ancient Greece by setting aside a few months to wade through Homer’s Odyssey, or you can hear about it from an archaeologist — while aboard a sleek ship, coasting from island to island across the Aegean Sea. 

French expedition ship operator Ponant recently partnered with Smithsonian Journeys — part of the Smithsonian Institution (which includes the world’s largest museum; maybe you’ve heard of it?) — for itineraries that are part immersive education, part effervescent holiday. One was the seven-night voyage aboard Le Jacques Cartier called “Cruising the Greek Islands of the Southern Aegean,” setting sail from Athens. 

It would be enough to spend days surrounded by sailboat-dotted harbors and dramatic hillsides that spill into the technicolor blue water of the Dodecanese isles. But in Athens, you can also explore the Acropolis, one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites on this journey. Walk the cobbled streets of Amorgos, soak in the whitewashed churches and homes clinging to the cliffs of Santorini, and swim off the coast of Mykonos. You’ll get a true sense of place with excursions that tap into the local culture, cuisine and history, especially coupled with on-board talks from archaeologist Albert Leonard. 

The recent collaboration isn’t the first time the 34-year-old company has broadened its horizons. Ponant has been among the pioneers of sustainability in the industry, with initiatives that include eschewing single-use plastics on its ships and redesigning liners to reduce emissions.

Aboard the ship, the 92 plush staterooms and suites are equipped with balconies or private terraces for taking in panoramic views of the archipelago. Make time to visit the Blue Eye, an underwater multi-sensory lounge featuring two sweeping windows that overlook the seabed. Take a beat in a lounge that vibrates in concert with music piped in from under the water. And while you’re exploring the ship, keep an eye peeled for a hidden work of art by French graffiti artist Shuck One. (Hint: it’s only viewable through a portal.) 

Two chic restaurants aboard, including Le Nautilus, with beautiful views from the back — er, aft — of the boat, focus on French cuisine. But if you’re as excited about Greek fare as you are about archaeology, there’s a Smithsonian expert aboard to delve into Mediterranean cuisine, too. 

With all due respect to Homer, this instruction feels far more enlightening.

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Published as “The Educational Journey” in the September 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.