Greece - Athens
 
GREECE - HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
AND LESSER KNOWN GREECE - PART 1

Greece is the foreign country I know the best, as I have spent over a year and a half in total in this wonderful land. I have discovered some extraordinarily beautiful spots at the end of little roads, both on remote islands and on the mainland . I have organized an exploration of Greece in 2 parts. Part 1 will be in the Fall of 2015 and Part 2 in the Fall of 2016. Late September and into the month of October is a perfect time for the weather. The summers in Greece are extremely hot, and the country is overrun with tourists. In the latter half of September tourism decreases considerably, the temperature is mostly much more pleasant and the water is still swimmable. As these two trips will not repeat any destinations, one could even do both of these and still have a different experience on each trip.

Both of the Greek trips will see some of the historical highlights that everyone must see, some of the lesser known historical spots, and in both cases there will be many “off-the-beaten path” real Greek experiences. On this trip we will see the main Classical sites of Athens, Olympia (where the Olympic Games were held for 1000 years), Bassae (a site not often visited), Mystras (a well-preserved Byzantine city), Mycenae (the story of the Trojan War and the Oresteia are centred here), the marvellous Theatre at Epidauros and its healing centre, and the Minoan city of Akrotiri in Santorini. We will also visit the Islands of Kefalonia, Hydra, Koufonissi, Santorini and the Western end of Crete. On the Mainland Peloponnesus we will visit some beautiful little villages in the mountains in Arcadia, along the seashore and in the Mani Peninsula.

By exploring Greece in two parts one can see some of the important sites but still have the time to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Greece. We will be in Greece on each trip for 21 nights, so that since transportation by sea is rather time-consuming there remains ample time to just soak up the atmosphere of the smaller places and islands. In comparison to Turkey and Morocco, there is less intense sightseeing on this trip except in Athens.
 
I always say that one is seldom as alive as one feels in Greece. From my first visit there, I immediately felt at home. And that is in a country where the language, the alphabet, and many customs are different. But as human beings I think we recognize something about the landscape, our history and our evolution. I like to quote a wonderfully dynamic Greek friend of mine who used to say “Greece is the love affair that never ends” in her Melina Mercuri-esque accent and who suggested she sell her motto to the Greek National Tourist Organization.

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Itinerary
September 23 to October 14, 2015
(Click photos to enlarge)

  • Day 1 - Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - Athens

    Arrival in Athens. Check-in to hotel. We will have a short break only as the Athens portion of this trip is the most intense. I highly suggest taking the metro from the airport to the nearby station of Thisio. Traffic is horrendous in this city.

    I think Athens is an amazing city. Many people do not like it as its first impression can be off-putting. It has amazing monuments. It also has a gritty, intensely urban downside and underbelly. However, Athens to me is like a friend that we love despite their warts and imperfections, and perhaps because of those shortcomings. What I love about Athens is that it breathes history and yet is so very alive today. Let yourself just revel in the fact that the streets you are walking follow the same courses that they have followed for 2500 years or more. Remember also that something amazing happened here in Athens. In the short 50 or so years of the Golden Age of Greece, 400 of the most important thinkers in all of human history lived and breathed here. There is a vibrant, chaotic aspect to Athens. It is the political, intellectual, and cultural centre of the nation. Greece without Athens is unimaginable. I think that in the time you are there you will come to develop an affection for it as well.Athens

    We will meet at 6:00 PM in the Lobby. I am going to get us all Metro passes which also include all trams and buses. We can therefore cover the interesting parts of the city more efficiently in the short visit that we have here. Taxis can be a problem in this city, often overcharging. Our hotel is in a very unusual area called Psiri. Its location is excellent with easy access to all sites. Psiri is an old industrial area, rather forlorn, but with amongst the most interesting restaurants and nightspots mixed with junk shops and small markets.

    We will take public transport first to Hadrians Gate, which divided the ancient Greek city from the Roman city during the Roman era. From there we will visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus, with just a few columns standing. Immense, it was never completed and was under construction for 600 years. There are beautiful views from here towards the Acropolis. It closes at 7:30 so this will be a fast visit. We will walk just up the street to see the Panathenaic Stadium from the first modern Olympics. What is interesting about this stadium is that it is a faithful reconstruction of the ancient stadium (accommodating 70,000) and so brings us so close to the past. We then head to the Zappeion Gardens which are the old Royal Gardens. Greece voted against the reinstitution of the monarchy a couple of decades ago and so the royal family no longer has a role in the nation. From the gardens we will walk to Syntagma Square (Constitution Square) , really the centre of the city`s administrative heart, and the place of all the demonstrations you have seen on the news in recent years. The Parliament building is on the eastern side of the square.

    We will have dinner out tonight at a very atmospheric restaurant. ( INCLUDED)

    Overnight: O&B Boutique Hotel ( Ochre and Brown). I am convinced this hotel will be a great experience. It is close to everything, the area once you get used to it is `funky`, and the service is extremely highly- rated. Trip Advisor ranks it very highly.

  • Day 2 - Thursday, September 24, 2015 - Athens

    Today we will visit the main archaeological sites in the centre of the city. This is the biggest sight-seeing day of the trip. We will meet in the lobby of the hotel and walk the short distance to the Agora, the old commercial and administrative centre of ancient Athens. We will stroll around the site and get our bearings to the grand structures that were located here. In the Agora we will visit the restored Stoa which gives us a good idea of what the formal market areas would have looked like in ancient times. We will also visit the Thision, a misnomer really. It is rather the Hephaistion, a temple dedicated to the god of fire and blacksmiths. It is in superb condition and it is one of the best preserved ancient temples to be seen in Greece.

    We will visit the Areopagus on the way up to the Acropolis. It was here that the equivalent of superior court judgements were made. St. Paul addressed the Athenians from here. Our next visit is to the Acropolis itself. Hopefully we can get there before it is too overrun by tourists. We will visit the Parthenon (which has to be viewed from the outside only) and the small but perfect temple of Athena Nike (in perfect condition for centuries until it blew apart because it was being used for ammunition storage), and the Erechthion, dedicated to both Poseidon and Athena. The Caryatids, the statuesque maidens forming the columns of part of the Erechthion are copies except for one. (You can see the originals in the new Acropolis Museum)

    Athens developed a pedestrian walkway in recent years which is a great processional and most of the sites of ancient Athens are along this superb route.

    After our visit to the Acropolis we will pass the Roman era Theatre of Herodus Atticus and the ancient Greek Theatre of Dionysus. There are a couple of other interesting more minor sites along the way.

    TAthenshere will now be a significant break for lunch (an hour and a half. At own expense). There are many small restaurants where we are stopping.

    We start the second part of the day with a visit to the new Acropolis Museum. When it was being built, a whole Roman-era community was found with houses, baths, water systems, etc. This area was excavated and then covered over with glass so that the lower level of the museum reveals a whole other dimension of the city. The Acropolis Museum features finds from the earliest settlements on the Acropolis (at least 3500 B.C.) and up to and including the summum of all Greek art and architecture, the Parthenon. Over the day we will talk about the elements of this amazing work. You will see the details in this museum that would have finished and defined the artistic heights of ancient Athenian civilization. All that is missing from the museum are the Elgin marbles carted off to the British Museum and the installations for their display are empty awaiting their return to Greece.

    After the museum we will walk a bit in the old Plaka area, take a coffee break, and then we will visit the old Roman Agora, Hadrian`s Library and the iconic Tower of the Winds. From there it is a short walk to the hotel and a well-deserved break.

    DINNER ON OWN-There are lots of restaurants in our hotel’s area. There is also lots of shopping nearby.

    For those who can stay up (and things don`t really start until 11:00 PM), I will try to organize a Greek Music evening, hopefully not a touristic one. The best place to go, with a most amazing setting is the Stoa Athanaton, a venue above the central meat market. It is an emotionally-moving experience never to be forgotten. The only problem is that the hours are uncertain and the days it is open vary. It used to be open every evening, except Sundays and during the summer. Recently it has only been open Friday and Saturday nights .It often closes for all of September. If it is not open I will substitute another venue. ( ENTRY INCLUDED, DRINKS AT OWN EXPENSE). There is enough time to catch a few winks before heading out. Athens is notorious for its very vibrant night-life. On a Friday or Saturday night there are literally hundreds of thousands of people out in the middle of the night.

    Overnight: O&B Boutique Hotel

  • Day 3 - Friday, September 25, 2015 - Athens and on to Kefalonia

    This is will be our last day in Athens. We will store our bags with the reception so we can maximize our day. Check- out right after breakfast. We are going to go to two not-so-often visited sites today, and to one of the most amazing museums in the world.

    We will arrive at the Kerameikos for opening hour. The Kerameikos is the cemetery of ancient Athens just outside the walls of the ancient city, and not very far from our hotel. Here there have been many finds. One of the most touching things about ancient Greek art is the engravings on the funerary monuments. They try to capture something of the essence of the person who has died saying goodbye to their loved ones. There are some absolutely beautiful and haunting depictions of these scenes. There is a small museum on site with some of the finds.

    From here we will have a short visit to the Athens Central Market, a bustling and immense food market where so many of the restaurants buy their meat and seafood.

    We will have a very fast lunch and then head to the National Archaeological Museum, considered to be one of the 10 most important museums in the world. It has arguably the best collection of ancient Greek art in the world. Remember that a lot of great Greek classical art was taken off to other parts of Europe. It would take days to see everything.Museum Athens

    We will have about 3 hours here, and I will try to take you to the very best of what there is to see and then let you wander. The sculpture collection starts with the archaic period, and progresses to the classical era and then to Hellenistic works. It is, in fact, an amazing evolution. Some of this sculpture is truly divine. There is also the collection of Cycladic sculpture that inspired so many modern sculptors. There is the collection of finds from Mycenae. We will visit the ruined city of Mycenae (about 1500 to 1300 BC) later on this trip. It was not safe to leave these invaluable objects in as rural a place as Mycenae is now.

    There are rooms and rooms of pottery upstairs. We at least should view the evolution of this pottery from primitive to geometric to classical era. The pottery/ceramics collection is so immense that a few examples are all that we will have time for. We also will try to see the Antikythera shipwreck finds because they are so special. There is the first known computer from around 200 A.D.

    We will return to the hotel, get our bags and take the metro to the airport. It is not feasible to try to drive there on a Friday. Athens is notorious for its unmanageable traffic and I once missed a plane because there was too much traffic for the taxi to get to the airport in time. The metro gets us there in 40 minutes quite comfortably. It is a long drive to the airport otherwise.

    Dinner-I suggest you just get something at the airport.

    We fly early this evening to the beautiful island of Kefalonia. On arrival, we have more than an hour’s drive to our hotel, a bit outside the town of Fiskardo in the north. Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands and it had a very interesting architectural heritage of Italianate and neo-classical buildings. Most of this attractive architecture was destroyed by earthquakes in the 1950’s and most towns had to be almost completely rebuilt. Fiskardo was mostly spared because of its geographic location and some geological anomalies. Our hotel lies above Fiskardo overlooking the Island of Ithaka and the mountains along the coast of the Greek Mainland. It has absolutely spectacular views. The owner is reputed to be an amazing host and the rooms are lovely. It is, however, a 20 minute walk to a pebble beach (Foki) and 40 minutes by foot into Fiskardo (3 and ½ km). We will have a couple of excursions from the hotel, but there is a taxi service available to and from town.

    Overnight: Agnantia Apartment Hotel, Fiskardo

  • Day 4 - Saturday, September 26, 2015 - Kefalonia

    Today we will have a day-long excursion in a traditional fishing boat which has been nicely refurbished (leaving Fiskardo at 09:30 A.M). I have been able to arrange that we will have the boat just to ourselves. Our host is Jamie Sterling who is a marine environmentalist and he will take us to little bays inaccessible by road. The boat is equipped with snorkeling equipment and Jamie will teach us about the marine life of the area. Anyone who does not want to snorkel can just stay onboard the boat. We will visit a small island (Daskalio-Asteris) mentioned in Homer’s “The Odyssey”. Jamie is also very knowledgeable about the mythological stories of the area. Lunch will be provided and we may visit a shipwreck. We return back to Fiskardo port and to our hotel. There will be some free time before dinner.

    Dinner at the Hotel-prepared by Myra, the owner. (INCLUDED)Ionian Islands

    Overnight: Agnantia Apartment Hotel

  • Day 5 - Sunday, September 27, 2015 - Kefalonia

    AM-Free

    A bit before noon we will leave by minivan for the Lake Cave of Melissani, a type of cenote with brilliant light effects just at that time of day. We will navigate the lake in small boats. Our next stop will be the lovely beach at Andisamos. We will then go on for lunch at the Paradise Beach Café in the pretty little town of Ayia Efimia. (Lunch at own expense)

    After lunch we will cross to the other side of the peninsula, first for the view over the much-photographed Myrtos Beach. Then on to the idyllic village of Assos, where we will explore the small village. Those who want can hike up to the top of the nearby Venetian castle for great views over Assos and the sea. Sunset on this coast is spectacular.

    We then head north past Ayia Ierousalim beach and return to Fiskardo. We will have dinner at a traditional taverna with Greek and Kefalonian specialties that the locals highly recommend. (INCLUDED)

    Overnight: Agnantia Apartment Hotel

  • Day 6 - Monday, September 28, 2015 - Kefalonia-Cross to Mainland-Olympia

    This morning there will be 2 options. You do not have to decide until breakfast.

    Option 1 -Spend the morning at the hotel enjoying the beautiful views. You can also walk at leisure down to the beach at Foki (approximately 20 minutes, or explore the little village of Tselentata where our hotel is located).

    Option 2 - The local hiking group has formalized and upgraded 3 trails in the Fiskardo area. Around 9 in the morning I will take whoever wants to go on the Cypress Forest Hike (4.7 km) which starts by the hotel, explores our little village of Tselentata, then heads through cypress forests (this is the very green part of Kefalonia and the Ionian islands are much less dry than the image we have of Greek islands (many of which are barren and hardly-watered). The trail comes to the abandoned settlement of Spilovouna. There are rock-roofed caves where in ancient times people worshipped Pan and the Nymphs. We visit the lovely town of Fiskardo, before returning along the coast to the beach of Foki, below our hotel. This is a pebble beach with perfect crystal-clear waters lined by olive trees. We can stop here before heading up to our hotel. The walk takes 2 and ½ hours with breaks and some exploration.

    We leave the hotel by van around noon today to travel to the little port of Poros in the southeast of the island of Kefalonia. We will take the 13:45 ferry to Kyllini. (presuming the ferry schedule stays the same) At Kyllini we will be met by our transport for our exploration of the Peloponnesus. I have tried to approach the planning of this part of the tour so that we will not have overly long distances to travel in any one day, have time to see some of the most interesting places, (without trying to see everything), and to have free time available most places to really enjoy what is more than half mostly unvisited Greece.

    Fishing BoatNot long out of Kyllini we will pass the Frankish Castle of Chemoutsi (c. 1220 A.D.) which dominates the village of Kastro below. It was the finest and largest Latin building in Greece. We continue on to Olympia, the home of the Olympic Games for 1000 years. When we think that the modern Olympic Games were revived in 1898, it gives us reason to pause. Every four years the almost constant wars of ancient Greece would cease and the whole Greek world would compete at this site. It was not only an athletic event, but also a religious/spiritual festival, and a cultural celebration of plays, music, and literature. It also was the location of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Zeus and especially of the gold and ivory statue by the master sculptor Phidias it housed.

    On our arrival at Olympia , a Unesco World Heritage site, we will have an unhurried visit to the site and the late afternoon lighting should be lovely. The surrounding countryside is extremely peaceful, despite the deluge of tourists.

    We will then drive to our hotel which is on the outskirts of Olympia village. This will leave us a little outside the very touristic developments. It is possible to walk into town, although it is a bit of a trek.

    Dinner on own

    Overnight: Olympion Asty Hotel 

  • Day 7 - Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - Olympia - Bassae - Stemnitsa - Dimitsana

    After breakfast we will visit the spectacular Archaeological Museum of Olympia. The collection of bronzes here is the largest in the world. Dedicative tripods are to be seen, honouring winners of the Olympic events. There are many votive figurines and sculptures. It contains the sculptures and friezes from the Temple of Zeus. The museum houses the world-famous “Hermes” by Praxiteles (330 BC). This is the only original work by probably the most accomplished artist of his time to survive, so that most of what one sees of his works are later copies.

    After the museum we will drive along small mountainous roads past parasol pines, cypresses, and oleander to the barren mountain site of the temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae (another UNESCO world heritage site), built in 430 B.C. to thank “Apollo the Helper” for saving the population of the town of Figaleia from the plague. It was designed by the architect of the Parthenon, the famous Ictinus. It sits in a wild mountainous location, far from anything. It is currently a little less dramatic to see as it has been covered over by a gigantic tent structure for restoration work. Damage from earthquakes and water have taken their toll. However, it is well worth the visit. It is the first known use of Corinthian columns in a temple structure. We will spend about an hour at the site.

    We will continue our drive through several small mountain villages. We will stop for a break in the village of Andritsaina. We will then continue on to Karitania, where there is a perfect little castle (A.D. 1254). We will have lunch in the atmospheric village of Stemnitsa, with its collection of stone houses and buildings (at own expense). There will also be time to wander and appreciate this unusual place and its superb setting. This village looks down over the Lousios River gorge. There are 18 churches, some picturesque and some very old here. Stemnitsa was famous through the centuries for its metalwork and there is now a school for gold and silversmiths and shops that sell its products. Local sweets are appreciated.Theatre at Epidaraus

    It is not far from here to Dimitsana, which is our destination for today. It is a dramatically-sited village looking down on the gorge below. It is remarkable for its solid stone edifices. We should arrive in time to have several hours free. There are three very famous monasteries in the area, and I can arrange transportation for those who would like to visit. The “Philosphou” is reached by crossing an old stone bridge over the Lousios River, a distance out of town. Dimitsana at one time had over 90 water-mills, that powered many factories. There is now a Water Mill Museum for those that would like to see this unusual memento of the past.

    Our hotel here is in a series of 18th century stone buildings, not far from the central square and with lovely views from some rooms. We will have dinner together this evening. (INCLUDED)

    Overnight: Archontiko Deligianni

  • Day 8 - Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - Dimitsana - Mystras

    Today we can leave Dimitsana at about 11:00 AM. That leaves time to visit the town, do some hiking or just relax. We have about a 2 hour drive to Mystras, so we will arrive there in the early afternoon. We will check into our hotel, and then you can have lunch on your own in Mystras village.

    Our hotel, Pyrgos of Mystras is a small luxury hotel in an 1850’s mansion with views over the countryside and in the shadows of Mount Taigetos.
     
    We will head on foot to the site of Mystras, a Byzantine ghost city. It was the capital of the area in the Byzantine period, and it was a centre of scholarship, finally clinging on as a last vestige of the Byzantine Empire for 3 years after Constantinople fell. This is a UNESCO world heritage site and very evocative of the period. There are beautiful old Byzantine churches, a lower and an upper town, and the Palace of the Despots is being restored . Significant additional restoration work is taking place.

    You can return whenever ready to the hotel, and there will be free time again, before we meet for dinner together. (INCLUDED)

    Overnight: Pyrgos of Mystras Hotel

  • Day 9 - Thursday, October 1, 2015 - Olive Oil Museum, Kardamyli, Oitilo, Diros Caves, Geroliminas

    TSantorinihis will be a very interesting day to say the least with a lot of stops along our way. Mystras is quite near Sparta, one of the great city states of ancient Greece. It was famed for its militaristic organization and heavily-structured society. The Athenians said it would not leave much in the way of monuments and long-term effects on the culture of the world because, as a society, it put so little value on culture and education. In fact, there is very little to see here, and we will mostly give it a miss. However, we will stop for about an hour at the rather unique Museum of the Olive and Olive Oil Production in Sparta. This is a relatively new and very well-organized museum. The olive and olive oil were essential to nutrition, care of the skin, lighting and were used in religious ceremonies, and the development of the Mediterranean area goes hand in hand with advances in olive oil production. This is a very interesting sidebar to our trip.

    From here we cross the Taigetos range through a very beautiful mountainous area again and run down the western coast of the middle “prong” (the Mani peninsula) of the three “prongs” that jut into the sea on the southern coast of the Peloponnesus. We are in the Outer Mani here, descending toward our destination for this evening, the Inner Mani. The Maniates were famous all through history for their indomitable spirit, always holding out against would-be masters, and their feuds with their closer neighbours.

    We will stop for a nice coffee break and snack and a walk in the lovely seaside town of Kardamyli. From there we descend the coast to Oitilo where there is a very famous little fish restaurant in an old stone port building. I was directed here once by a hotel owner nearby and the night I went the staff of the French Embassy in Athens, (ambassador included) were dining there. The owner asked how we found our way and that was when I learned that for fish-loving Athenians this can be a destination in itself. (and it is not a short drive from Athens). We will have lunch here (INCLUDED)

    From there we will visit the nearby Diros Caves. These caves contain underground lakes and waterways, and we go in small boats through the cave system. Although highly-commercialized, this is a beautiful experience as they have lit the stalactites and stalagmites.

    We are now not far from the port town of Geroliminas, in the true Inner Mani. The hotel where we are staying is one of the centrepieces of this trip. I found this small elegant hotel when I was exploring by car for future trips. There was a sign that said “Historic Hotel”. The Kyrimai Hotel is a stone former port warehouse building that stands right on the main wharf of the old port. It has been lovingly converted into a hotel. It won an award as the best historic hotel on the water in Europe. I started by booking it 10 months ahead because there were only enough rooms left for our group. At that, only one room with a sea view was available that far ahead. It is still worth staying here as the views are mostly from the balconies and not from the rooms themselves and this little place nears perfection. The interior vaulted dining room is beautiful and in good weather one can dine on the terrace of the hotel overlooking the sea.

    Dinner on own (there are several small restaurants in the little port village of Gerolimenas)

    Overnight: Kyrimai Hotel, Geroliminas

  • Day 10 - Friday, October 2, 2015 - The Inner ManiSifnos

    AM-Free

    PM-We will leave in the early afternoon for a circle tour of the Inner Mani. This is a stark area, the very tip of the Mani peninsula surrounded by the “wine dark sea”. We will visit a couple of villages with wonderful examples of Maniate tower buildings. People built these towers to defend themselves against their rival neighbours, in a continuation of their long-renowned independent, ferocious instincts. These are very picturesque villages. At the tip of the peninsula is the reputed entry to the underworld so famous in mythology. One could actually visit the entrance, but we would have to hire a boat to take us there. It is unlikely we will do this but if people were interested we could try to arrange it. This is where Theseus travelled to the underworld to bring Persephone back to her mother, the Goddess Demeter. Orpheus descended to bring back Eurydice. We continue now up the East coast of the Mani the “shadowy side” before crossing the peninsula and visiting the well-preserved stone structures of the centre of the town of Areopoli. We have lots of time here for exploring on foot, having a nice coffee or alcoholic beverage and just enjoying the atmosphere.

    We return to the Hotel Kyrimai, having circled the bottom of the peninsula

    Dinner-Kyrimai Hotel (INCLUDED)

    Overnight: Kyrimai Hotel

  • Day 11 - Saturday, October 3, 2015 - Gerolimenas to Nafplion, Wine Tour Nemea Region

    We will leave early this morning by van, and this will be the longest road travelling day of the trip. We will, however, get to Nafplion via a rather picturesque route by lunch hour. We can take a break at Githion the old port city of ancient Sparta. Helen and Paris stopped here on their way to Troy. We will check into our hotel in Nafplion, just back from the port, and within easy walking distance of the whole old city. Nafplion was the capital of newly-independent Greece for a short period of time.

    Take a lunch break and then after a couple of hours we will leave for a wine-tasting (INCLUDED) in the Nemea wine- producing area. There are some amazingly good wines made from the local agioritiko varietals. There are several brands which have won international awards and this will be a fun afternoon in a very pretty area.

    We return to Nafplion and the evening will be free. DINNER ON OWN

    Overnight: Grande Bretagne Hotel, Nafplion

  • Day 12 - Sunday, October 4, 2015 - Mycenae, Epidauros, Hermioni, Hydra

    We will set out early today and stop by the roadside just to have view (no visit) of the walled Mycenean town of Tiryns. From there, we go on to Mycenae, the capital of the Mycenean civilization which ended in 1200 B.C. or so. This was a very militaristic society and the citadel is really what remains. Considering that this Hydra Marinasite is over 3500 years old there is a fair amount to see. One enters through the famous lion gate, and we will visit the Citadel, the administrative centre and dwelling place of the royal family. There are fascinating “tholos” or beehive tombs where the royals were buried. Some of the beautiful pieces we saw in the National Archaeological Museum come from the graves here. The discoverer of these ruins (Schliemann) got completely carried away and started saying that the funeral mask he found must be that of Agamemnon. However, some of what was felt to be myth was in fact probably truth, and this place evokes a haunted feeling of a strong and quite bloody past. There is an adjacent small museum and we will make a short visit here as the most spectacular finds are in Athens, but there are some interesting explanations of the site and these are quite useful to understand the experience.

    From here we head to the site of Epidauros, a healing centre in ancient times. People came from all over the ancient world to be treated here. The setting, in pine forests, definitely has a peaceful feel to it. You find one of the first ever known hotels in the ancient world, the Temple itself, and we learn of how early dream interpretation was used in the healing arts. The very good small museum of the site has early surgical instruments. But, the most impressive thing here is the wonderful Theatre of Epidauros, almost completely preserved. It is famed for its acoustics. One can stand at the centre of the stage and light a match or tear a piece of paper and be heard perfectly in the very back rows. It is marvel of acoustic engineering from 330 B.C. Theatre served a healing role in ancient Greek times. The play was to bring you to a height of intense emotion , causing a catharsis that would facilitate insight and be helpful to the psyche.

    We proceed to the little port town of Hermione to take a “flying dolphin” (the hydrofoil) to the island of Hydra. Hydra is a beautiful place, whose town sits amphitheatrically around the perfect harbour. The local historical and architectural society ensures that all renovations and construction projects are in harmony with the architectural style of the town. This is one of the only places in the Mediterranean that does not have cars. There are a couple of garbage and utility trucks for essential sanitation and delivery services. Otherwise, transportation on the island is by foot, donkey, or water taxi. There are many beautiful old mansions that belonged to shipping company owners. Our well-appointed hotel is in the heart of the old town and has easy access everywhere.

    Dinner together- A lovely restaurant with a gorgeous view. Weather permitting we will sit outside. (INCLUDED)

    Overnight: Angelika Hotel, Hydra Town

  • Day 13 - Monday, October 5, 2015 - Hydra

    AM-After breakfast, I will take people on a walk along the north shore of the island. Swimming off the rocks not far from town is a special experience. There are some lovely little villages and some small beaches along the way. We will cross over the lower edge of the spine of the island to descend from above through the village of Hydra. We will take the whole morning for this walk, which will be a leisurely one. For anyone who would prefer not to have any uphill climb, they can continue where we branch off back along the same seaside route. This walk will serve as an orientation to the island. Anyone who would prefer not to go on the walk can just stay behind.

    Afternoon and evening Free

    Dinner on own (Lots of restaurants to be found)

    Overnight: Angelika Hotel, Hydra Town

  • Day 14 - Tuesday, October 6, 2015 - Hydra Town, Transport to Island of Koufonissi.

    AM-FreeHydra

    We will leave on the hydrofoil closest to lunch hour for Piraeus (Athens’ port) to connect with the Blue Star ferry for our trip to Koufonissi. The ferry to Koufonissi leaves Piraeus at 17:30 and arrives at 02:00 the next morning. Greek ferries have unusual times for arrival and Koufonissi is served infrequently during the off-season. This is also the advantage of going here. Koufonissi is a small island, reminiscent of what one would have found many decades ago in visits to Greece. It is one of the Lesser Cyclades (also known as the back islands), a series of small islands not far from Naxos. In fact, there are 2 Koufonissis: Pano Koufonissi (Higher Koufonissi) where we will stay, which has about 350 inhabitants and Kato Koufonissi (Lower Koufonissi) which is barely inhabited. Pano Koufonissi has a very small town, and beautiful beaches. This will be a place just to relax and enjoy yourselves. I have been able to convince the hotel owner of a new hotel (rated on Trip Advisor as by far the best accommodation on the island) to stay open past his normal closing time of September 30. This is specially for us and he has been very helpful in the planning. On arrival we will check in to the hotel and our Tuesday night, (really Wednesday early morning) will be at this pretty little hotel.

    Dinner-On the Ferry at own expense

    Overnight: Hotel Myrtos, Koufonissi

  • Day 15 - Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - Koufonissi

    AM- Sleep in-Time on Own

    PM-In the afternoon, after a late lunch, I will take those who want to go on an unhurried walk along the east coast of the island and to the prettiest beaches ending up at the perfect little bay of Pori. There is a great little café at Pori, which we can stop at if it is still open.  Return on foot overland to the hotel.

    Dinner-Together-INCLUDED

    Overnight: Myrtos Hotel, Koufonissi

  • Day 16 - Thursday, October 8, 2015 - Koufonissia

    Option 1 - Your whole day can be free. Do whatever you want in this idyllic little paradise.

    Option 2 - Whoever wants to go can come on an excursion for a few hours leaving relatively early. We will take the local boat service if it is still running or I will hire a boat to take us to the sister island of Kato Koufonissi. We will go to a lovely beach here and swim and then hike to the main port before coming back. If it is sunny, we will need sunscreen and hats. (EXCURSION COST INCLUDED)

    Dinner on own

    Overnight: Myrtos Hotel, Koufonissi

  • Day 17- October 9, 2015 - Koufonissi to Santorini

    KoufonissiWe depart early this morning by small local ferry (the Skopelitis Express) to the island of Naxos, one of the largest of the Cyclades islands. Here we will catch the ferry coming from Piraeus to the island of Santorini. This ferry gets us to Santorini for 3:15 in the afternoon.

    We will transfer to our hotel in Imerovigli. Imerovigli is a town near Fira, the capital, which can actually be reached on foot from our hotel along the path overlooking the caldera (45 minutes or so). Imerovigli is much less spoiled than Fira town. Tourism has taken its toll on Santorini, but despite this it is truly one of the most spectacularly beautiful and other-worldly places in the world. It is basically the remnant of a giant volcano. In one of the most major eruptions of a volcano in history in the 1600’s B.C., it rose from the sea, and the island is the shape of the rim of this volcanic crater. Earthquake activity and volcanic eruptions over the centuries have caused parts of the crater wall to fall into the sea and the sea has flooded the crater creating the incredible view over the sea from the edge of the caldera. In the centre are the islands of Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni. These are heads of the volcano which surfaced in later volcanic eruptions. Our hotel sits right on the edge of the caldera with a spectacular view. There are some of the most luxurious (and expensive) hotels in the world here. Ours is, I think, good value for the money, yet has a prized location and amazing service, with a super special home-made breakfast served daily.

    Dinner together (INCLUDED) - at a restaurant overlooking the caldera.

    Overnight: Remezzo Villas

  • Day 18 - Saturday, October 10, 2015 - Santorini

    Today we will take a boat excursion around the Caldera, visiting the volcano itself and walking up to the current crater on the islet of Nea Kameni. We will swim in the hot springs, heated by natural vents from the volcano depths off the side of the Kamenis. Then we head to Thirassia, a small island that was formerly part of the crater. We can climb up to the top or stay down at the little port. The view is quite special from the top. We will lunch here. (not included) We then continue on to Oia, a picture-perfect Cycladic town, with a great view of the caldera, but invaded by tourists when cruise ships arrive. We then return to Imerovigli. (EXCURSION INCLUDED)

    Dinner on own.

    Evening Free.

    Overnight: Remezzo Villas

  • Day 19 - Sunday, October 11, 2015 - Santorini and on to Chania, Crete

    AM-Option 1- Free AM

    Option 2- I will take anyone who wants to go to the fascinating Minoan village ruins at Akrotiri. Discovered in 1967 by a local farmer, this is a well-preserved Minoan town. There are 2 and 3 story homes still standing. The area has been roofed over to protect it. The Minoans had a very peaceful and prosperous society and it may have been the volcanic eruption on Santorini that spelled the sudden end of Minoan civilization.

    At the same time Akrotiri was destroyed, life in the flourishing palace cities of Crete, (like Knossos), seemed to suddenly stop. The frescos from Akrotiri are truly amazing, and they have been moved back to Santorini after many years of being housed in Athens at the National Archaeological Museum. The frescoes and many beautiful ceramics and bronzes are now housed in the Museum of Prehistoric Thira in Fira town. We will return from the Akrotiri site to the museum and back to our hotel.

    FREE TIMEChania

    We will have a late lunch today together (INCLUDED) as we will be “in transit” over dinner time.

    We will transfer to the port to take the MegaJet at 17:40 to Crete. It is shortly under 2 hours on this high speed catamaran to Heraklion, the capital of Crete. We will be met at the airport by our van which will take us the 2 hours to Chania. Chania is a beautiful Venetian-style port city in Western Crete. It has a very lovely waterfront. Our hotel is right on the port with views from many of the rooms. You will be able to walk through the old city streets and along the waterfront promenades, especially in the morning. It has an active nightlife and beautiful architecture.

    Overnight: Alcanea Boutique Hotel, Chania, Crete

  • Day 20 - Monday, October 12, 2015 - Chania to Milia, Crete
      

    We will leave at 11:00 A.M.for Milia Mountain Resort in the southern interior of western Crete and arrive for lunch. (There will be time in the morning to enjoy Chania’s old town). This is a destination in itself. The resort appeared in National Geographic’s list of the best eco-resorts in the world. The men who conceived of this resort rebuilt a more-or-less abandoned 17th century Cretan mountain village with their own hands. Each room was built of the local stone in traditional style. The rooms have fireplaces (which we may well need at night). It sits near a chestnut forest (the area even has a yearly chestnut festival). They are self sufficient in every way, and produce their own olive oil, wines , and raki. Their cuisine is based on ingredients grown on the property or is sourced from local producers . By staying here we can experience the rural mountain Cretan life of the past. There are many places to hike and they actually have bread baking classes if anyone is interested. I recommend viewing the two short videos on their website: miliamountainresort.gr .

    A couple of hours before sunset I will take anyone interested on a walk through the Milia region. (2 hours) You can also do this on your own, as the resort provides hiking route maps. This is an easy walk.

    Dinner-Milia Mountain Resort (INCLUDED)

    Overnight: Milia Mountain Resort, Milia, Crete

  • Day 21 - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - Milia, Crete

    AM-Free to explore, relax, etc

    For anyone interested, I will arrange a trip to the beautiful beach and nature preserve at Elafonissi. This is a tiny islet about 45 minutes from Milia by road, which boasts pink sand and is protected by an environmental agency. It is worth the trip, but it may be more tempting just to stay at the mountain resort before returning home. (This excursion would be at your own expense)

    Afternoon-After lunch, I will take anyone interested on a 4 hour hike through the nearby Gorge of Polyrhynnia. It is probably best to do this together in case anyone has difficulty.Crete

    Dinner-Milia Mountain Resort (INCLUDED)

    Overnight: Milia Mountain Resort, Milia, Crete

  • Day 22-Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - Milia, Crete and trip Home

    We will leave early this morning to return to Chania airport to fly to Athens.

    This will allow people to make connections home the same day.

    Note: For those arriving earlier or staying after the tour, I would recommend highly the following museums in Athens that we do not have time to include on our trip.

    1.       The Benaki Museum- A superb private collection which has carefully chosen-pieces from antiquity but which also includes an overview
     of Greece in the pre- and post- independence periods.

    2.       The Cycladic Arts Museum- It has an extensive collection of Cycladic sculpture. (and is not far from the Benaki)

    3.       The Byzantine Museum- A well-presented history of Byzantine church art and history of the Byzantine Empire.

    4.       Lalaounis Jewellery Museum-This small museum has a beautiful collection of jewellery.


INCLUDES

-21 nights’ accommodation in carefully chosen hotels
-21 breakfasts
-3 lunches ( 1 on excursion with Jamie Sterling in Kefalonia, 1 at the special fish restaurant in Oitilo, 1 in Santorini)
-11 dinners (1 in Athens, 2 in Kefalonia, 1 in Dimitsana, 1 in Mystras, 1 in Gerolimenas, 1 in Hydra, 1 in Koufonissi, 1 in Santorini, 2 in Milia, Crete)
  (Three evenings are also in transit, so these would not be evenings out)
-All walking tours
-Entry to all sites and all museums included in the itinerary
-Metro passes (unlimited) in Athens (For those that arrive on the same flight, I will buy the passes for you at the airport; for those that arrive at
  other times if you buy your metro pass at the airport I will reimburse you)
-Airfare from Athens to Argostoli, (Kefalonia), and from Chania, (Crete) to Athens
-All Boat transportation (Ferries and Hydrofoils)-Kefalonia to the Mainland, Hermione to Hydra, Hydra to Piraeus, Piraeus to Koufonissi, Koufonissi
  to Naxos and on to Santorini, MegaJet Santorini to Crete
-Land Transportation- (Private air conditioned van) Argostoli airport to Fiskardo, Fiskardo to Poros port, Kyllini port to Olympia, Olympia to
  Dimitsana(via Bassae, Andritsaina, Karitaina, Stemnitsa), Dimitsana to Mystras, Mystras to Gerolimenas (via Sparta, Langada gorge, Kardamyli,
  Oitilo, Diros), Gerolimenas to Nafplion, Nafplion to Hermione (via Mycenae and Epidaurus), Santorini port to hotel, hotel to Santorini port,
  Heraklion to Chania, Chania to Milia Mountain Resort and Milia to Chania Airport

-Excursions:
1. Excursions Ionian Discoveries boat tour (private) with Jamie Sterling out of Fiskardo, including captain, guiding, snorkeling equipment, lunch.
2. Excursion by private van on Kefalonia to Melissana Caves, Andisami Beach, Ayia Efimia, Myrtos Beach, and Assos town
3. Excursion into Diros Caves
4. Half day circle tour of the Lower Mani in private van.
5. Wine tasting excursion in Nemea
6. Excursion by boat from Pano Koufonissi to Kato Koufonissi for a hike on the island and pick up by boat at the end.
7. Excursion by boat in the caldera at Santorini to the volcano, the hot springs, the island of Thirassia and the town of Oia.
8. Transportation to the Minoan discoveries at Akrotiri in Santorini and from there to the Museum of Prehistoric Thira and back to hotel
- Greek Music evening in Athens (Entry covered, Drinks at own expense)

NOT INCLUDED

-Airfare to Athens and return
-Non-alcoholic beverages (except at breakfast)
-Alcoholic beverages
-All lunches except the 3 mentioned above

NOTES

Activity level - moderately active. Hikes are all voluntary. Must be able to walk for 3 to 4 hours at a time, but do not need to participate in any hiking.

Weather - Warm to hot. It may start to cool in October. Cooler in the mountains in Arcadia on the Mainland and in Crete at the Mountain Resort. This trip is planned to start with the most northerly places first, finishing with the most southerly (to maximize the weather change over the 3 weeks). It can be windy and there can even be rain some years

Money - Euros

DETAILS

For itinerary details contact Donald Smith at: donalex.smith@gmail.com or travel-alchemy@tnt21.com

For bookings contact Susan Hickling at : susan@hanovertravelplus.ca Tel: 1-800-265-5515

COST

-$5090.00 CDN based on double occupancy
-Single supplement $950.00 (This year there will be very few single accommodations available because of the small hotels, however there may be a couple of very nice
  people who would be willing to share
-Deposit $750.00 CDN at booking
-Balance due July 15, 2015
-Cancellation-refund of all monies up to 30 days before departure (minus $200.00 cancellation fee and any airfares purchased in your name within Greece)
-Refund of 50% of monies paid from 29 to 14 days before departure
-No refund less 14 days before departure

 

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