Sue Shapland, Exmoor Extroverts, won the Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award® in 2019. She used her £2,000 prize money for a six-day Classical Greek cruise with Variety Cruises. 

Here’s her experience: 

We boarded our ship the Variety Voyager in Athens along with 36 other passengers representing nine different nations. After the life-boat drill we headed to the little island of Kea where we could go ashore after dinner and then departed in the early hours for Delos, antiquity’s most sacred island and the mythical birthplace of the Greek Gods.

We had an excellent guide who showed us the most interesting aspects of this enormous site; how sophisticated they were with their buildings, storage of rainwater and other communal benefits.

The iconic windmills in Mykonos.

The iconic windmills in Mykonos.

From here we set off for Mykonos, making a swim stop on the way, the beach was just for our group, the water was wonderful, warm and silky. In the afternoon and evening we had free time to explore this very busy port. Known as the windiest of the Greek Islands, Mykonos not only boasts an ancient port, tiny narrow streets but a row of six ancient windmills.

Beautiful Santorini

On day three we left in the early morning for Santorini, a tender ferried us ashore to the massive cliffs where we took the cable car to the top for a guided walk through the little cobbled streets of the capital Fira. We were then taken to the ancient town of Akrotiri, where excavations are revealing a town frozen in time by the ash from an eruption some 3,600 years ago. We saw many sophisticated buildings, beautifully decorated great pots and pictures of wonderful frescoes. From here we travelled to the most northern town of Oia, revealing glorious views over the flooded crater.

Variety Voyager, the cruise ship that GTO Sue Shapland sailed on for her prize trip

Sue and her friend Catherine sailed around the Greek islands on board Variety Voyager.

Day four saw us arrive in the lively port of Rethymnon in Crete. Having driven through the town, we headed up the mountains on ever diminishing roads. We hopped off at the Agia Irini Monastery, built in a very isolated location with stunning views – this we learnt had been rebuilt for three nuns shortly before the Millennium; they now have 10 nuns in residence. Returning to our ship we let most of the heat go from the sun before enjoying a swim on miles of golden beach.

Enjoying having beaches to ourselves

Travelling by night, the next morning we stopped for a swim at another beautiful, isolated beach. Then headed on to Kythira; here the captain’s talents were challenged because of the wind, as we tied-up in the tiny harbour. A group of us hired a bus to take us to the main town of Chora. It was quite challenging climbing up to the ancient castle and church located on the highest part of the island, but the views were well worth it. We then spent the evening in the delightful little town, two of our party joining with the local children for game of football. Sitting outdoors in the square for dinner and watching the full moon rise over the town will be a lasting memory.

The harbour at Kythira, Greece with Variety Voyager moored on the right

The harbour at Kythira, Greece, with Variety Voyager moored on the right.

On day six, we anchored off a small harbour and our tenders took us ashore where we caught a bus to take us over the causeway to the ancient, rugged island of Monemvasia. Here we had time to explore the uniquely preserved Byzantine and Venetian architecture, where there are no vehicles and where all goods are pushed up and down in handcarts.

Exploring Greek civilisation

From here we headed further north on the Peloponnesian Peninsula , making a stop on the way for us to swim from the back of the ship, later docking at Nafplion. Here we had the evening to explore this ancient city, enjoying a snack in the busy main square, along with many others. An early start for Mycenae a major centre of Greek civilisation between 1600 and 1100BC.

At the car-less island of Hydra, the transport is with mules

At the car-less island of Hydra, the transport is with mules.

We first visited the tomb of Agamemnon, then saw the museum before visiting the Lion’s Gate and the Palace and the Cyclopean Walls. Back to Nafplion for a short tour of some of the interesting old buildings, constructed whilst the Venetians were dominating this part of the world.

Our next stop was at Hydra with its small but very busy port. What a delightful island, there are no cars (apart from the rubbish cart) and transportation is undertaken by mules, who looked fat and well cared for.

Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award® winner 2019

Sue Shapland receives her Group Travel Organiser of the Year Award® from host Martin Bayfield and Mandy Keating from partner Travelsphere at the ceremony in 2019. 

We took a walk around the harbour and some of the party took a swim off the rocks to cool down. It was just delightful to relax and spend time watching all the activity in this busy harbour.

All too soon we were on our way again, back to our starting point on the outskirts of Athens. During the journey we enjoyed the Captain’s Dinner and had to bid farewell to the friends we had made on board. A wonderful week, we were so fortunate with such glorious weather, a definite MUST visit again. 

The GTO of the Year Award® is part of the Group Leisure & Travel Awards. To find out more go to: