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Ports of Lipari, Giardini Naxos, Gythion, Monemvasia - Shore Excursions?

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Hello
I am traveling on a Windstar cruise in May and we stop at these port towns listed above. I can not find information in the guide books that make suggestions on whether to take the Windstar Shore Excursions or find a guide upon arrival or explore on my own. I have no idea if these ports are near sights or far.
Any help would be appreciated.

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    Gythio and Monemvasia ( especially Monemvasia) are tiny places.
    It will be absolutely NOT possible to find a guide there, there won't be any offices for renting a car either.

    Your only option will be to go on the Windstar Shore excursion, or spend your entire time in Monemvasia and the town of Gythio.

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    I suggest you head over to cruisecritic.com and look for a roll call for your cruise. Not many cruisers on this board, although you might find some on the cruise forum.

    Of course, I can think of worse things than spending a day on Monemvasia - Gythio, not so much.

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    I am surprised you cannot find info for Giardini Naxos. It is probably referred elsewhere as the nearby better known Taormina. Taormina a major big boat cruise port.

    Monemvasia is visited only by a handful of specialty small boat cruises. It would be difficult for someone to make a living being a guide even as a part time to deal with handful of small boats that make port calls. It is a fascinating medieval town. You can easily spend a whole day on your own especially if you choose to hike up to the upper town ruins. The streets are lined with uneven cobblestones and the stairs to connect various part of the town are often damaged. Wear shoes with good ankle support and sturdy sole to venture into the town. This town is difficult to navigate for those with unsure footings. There is really no port near the old town, so I am guessing your tender takes you to Gefira on the mainland side or to a small port at the end of the causeway into Monemvasia. It is a trek from there to the walled town. The shore excursion does exactly the same thing but takes care of a shuttle to the town plus the guide and includes the upper town. It says moderate, but if you are not in good shape it is pretty strenuous to the top. It is about 300-400 feet straight up.

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    I can comment on Lipari, the main town in the Aeolian Islands: it's easy to do on your own, and if that's not something that appeals to you, I'm pretty sure you would be able to find a guide at the harbor or at one of the travel agencies in town. Here are some notes I made for a friend of mine who was cruising and stopping in Lipari. Not sure how long your port call is there, so some of this may not apply.

    The port is very active, with lots of boats coming and going, including boats to the different islands. The main commercial street has lots of shops and cafes. Almost everything closes from 1:00 to 4:00, so that's a good time to be eating lunch or swimming. You can take a bus or taxi to the several swimming locations--nothing right near Lipari harbor, unfortunately. But the water is glorious, so hopefully you will get the opportunity to swim.

    There are several places to rent scooters or mopeds, which might be a fun way to take a tour of the island and to get to the swimming beaches. Or you can take the public bus around the island, very cheaply. It takes about an hour to do the full circuit of the island on the bus (requires a walk to connect the buses because they actually don't circuit the island--go figure). With limited time I recommend a taxi.

    If you have all day and want to explore some of the other islands, I highly recommend Panarea. It's just the most charming place (though way too crowded in the high season, July/August)! You can take a boat trip there--it's about 30 minutes away. The private boats will stop at several beautiful places for swimming. It's about 35 euros per person to get to Panarea on a private boat tour for the day. You can also go to Vulcano island, which is closer, on the other side of Lipari island, though it's not our favorite. Boats to nearby Salina island are also fun--more good swimming places! If you want to see the volcano erupting at night you can go to Stromboli via boat.

    I can recommend several places for lunch or dinner on Lipari. None of them have great views -- those places are beautiful to sit at but the food generally isn't as good as the places on side streets with no views. Here are a few places we've had good meals:

    --Sfiziuza--a small family-run cafe restaurant about half a block up Via Roma from Marina Corta, the harbor where the smaller boats dock (as opposed to the larger harbor where your boat will probably dock). Delicious pasta etc., very friendly, open for lunch and dinner (lunch with wine will run about 35-40 euros for two)

    --Kambusa -- a small but more established restaurant on Via Garibaldi, on your way from the main port to Marina Corta. Open for lunch and dinner.

    --Kasbah -- dinner only, but excellent food. Has a pretty enclosed garden in the back. Worth eating here if you are going to be in town in the evening (fish, meat, pizza).

    --L'Anfora -- also only for dinner (fish, meat) -- closer to the main port, on a little street off the main street of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 4 lanes up from the supermarket on the left side. No garden, no view, but good food!

    Be sure to try the granite (flavored crushed ice, so delicious). It's very good in the islands (especially Salina), but the best place is probably the little granite bar in Taormina, down the hill from the main street, toward the public garden.

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    I believe Giardini Naxos is next to Taormina. So, if you find tours available in Taormina, they can also do Giardini Naxos. For all tour operators, they are happy to pick up anywhere near a major port of call.

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