Ancient Wonders

    “I came to the Greeks early, and I found answers in them.
Greece's great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul.
We don't really act as if we believed in the soul's immortality
and that's why we are where we are today.
Edith Hamilton
Greece is worldwide known for its beautiful islands in all kinds of size and shape; these wonderfully shaped pieces of earth floating on the blue, crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea. But still, the beauty of Greece does not end there. There are plenty of hidden treasures in the Greek mainland to be discovered, closely bonded with the Greek nature and the huge ancient history of the country. These are the treasures waiting for you in this long journey through the main stations of the Greek mainland. Follow us!

Day 1: Kalimera, Greece!

Welcome to Thessaloniki, the “Nymph of the Thermaic Gulf”. Transfer from Thessaloniki International Airport "Macedonia" to our booked hotel.
2 overnight stays in Thessaloniki.

Day 2: Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and the “capital” of northern Greece. In 1997 it was nominated by UNESCO as the European Capital of Culture. We will visit Ano Poli, the highest point of the city, with the walls and the Byzantine fort. We will continue with a city tour and visit of White Tower, the landmark of Thessaloniki situated by the sea; the Rotonda; the Arch of Galerius (known as “Kamara” among the locals), as well as some important Byzantine churches: Aghia Sophia (8th century); the Monastery of the Vlatades (14th century); Profitis Ilias (14th century) and the Basilica of Aghios Demetrios (5th century) with the crypt discovered in the early years of the 20ieth century. The church of Aghios Demetrios is located north-eastern of the ancient agora in the present Aghiou Demetriou Street, almost in the center of the old city. Aghios Demetrios is the patron saint of the city, and thus the Basilica – built with dissimilar stones placed together – is the most widely known church in Thessaloniki and very important for the locals. The original building was built in about 413 A.D. by Leontius, the eparch of the Illyrian prefecture. The church was built in the position of an old chapel, dedicated to Aghios Demetrios the “Myrrh-streamer” (in Greek: Myrovletes). During the great fire of Thessaloniki in 1917, the monument was almost totally destroyed and later it was rebuilt with the remains of its original parts.
Afterwards, we will visit the old city part, known as “Ladadika” and after having lunch in the old city, our tour will end with visit to the new excellently designed Byzantine Museum.

Day 3: Alexander the Great: Pella & Vergina

If the history of Alexander the Great always fascinated you, then you will surely adore this visit. First stop of the day: Pella, capital city of the Macedonian State, where Alexander the Great was born. The archaeological site of the ancient metropolis includes the monumental palatial complex located on the northernmost hill of the city; the largest “agora” of the ancient world which was the city’s commercial and manufacturing center; two-storey private houses revealing the prosperity and wealth of ancient Pella. Two things are to be taken into account: the wonderful mosaic floors that used to decorate Pella’s luxurious houses and Hippodamus’ sophisticated urban design of the agora with the well-defined city blocks, paved streets, sidewalks, ornate water supply and sewage system.
Afterwards drive to Vergina. Although it is just a small village 75 km away from Thessaloniki, its name was written with golden letters in history, because the ancient city of Aigai came to light there. Aigai was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia and its cemetery contains the tombs of the royal dynasty and especially the tomb of the legendary King Philip II. The royal tombs were discovered in 1977-8 by the archaeologist Manolis Andronikos. The whole atmosphere in the underground building which hosts the museum of Vergina is mystic and leaves various feelings in the visitor’s heart. The tombs contained so many treasures, that everybody would wonder how luxurious the unfound tomb of Alexander the Great would be.
At the end of the day, drive to Ioannina and overnight stay at our booked hotel there.

Day 4 Epirus highlights: Dodona oracle and traditional Ioannina

Do you believe in prophecies? If you were coming from ancient Epirus, then you would definitely visit the ancient oracle of Dodona, so as to receive a prophecy from Zeus about your life and future. Unfortunately, today there are only remnants reminding the aura and mystical forces of the place. Dodona had the oldest oracle known in the ancient world and second in acknowledgement after the oracle of Delphi. Later on, it remained an important religious sanctuary until the rise of the Christian religion. The oracle was initially dedicated to mother Earth (Gaia), known as Dione, and later on to Zeus and Dione. The sacred shrine of the oracle was an oak tree with a spring on its foot. The predictions were made mainly by interpreting the rustle of the oak tree, as well as the flight of doves. The archaeological site of Dodona, which is not in a very good condition and still not totally brought in light, includes the remnants of several temples and the profane administrative building. In a very good condition still stands the theater, one of the largest of its style in Greece.
Next destination: Ioannina. The city of legends and traditions, of silversmiths and intellectuals is located in the center of Epirus together with its castle and Lake Pamvotis; a true jewel in the Greek alpine mainland. The history of the city, according to the archives, dates back to the 9th century. It is said that it was founded by Emperor Justinian. In the 13th century the city played an important role in the despotate of Epirus; during that time, it was the center of an economic boost which lasted for a lot of centuries. After a political agreement in 1430, Ioannina was given to the Turks. From the end of the 18th century till the beginning of the 20th century, the city was the center of Ali Pasha’s dominion. In that period of time, there was an enormous economic and cultural boom. The monuments of the city indicate its varied history. The castle, the monasteries with their wonderful frescoes, the mosques, the synagogue and the old manors will accompany us to a journey through time and history. Further drive through the Pindos mountain range with the lush vegetation to Kalambaka. 2 overnight stay at our booked hotel.

Day 5 Meteora: Monasteries hanging from the cliffs

In Meteora we will have the chance to visit one of the most extraordinary sites in Greece. Meteora is considered as one of the most beautiful areas in the Greek mainland (also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List) and is famous for its six monasteries built on top of rock towers; we will visit two of them and enjoy the absolutely breathtaking view. In such a place, we can just feel that we are literally approaching the holy heavens.
Except for monasteries, the region of Meteora has also a very interesting museum. The Natural History Museum & Meteora is located in Kalambaka and contains a rich collection of birds and mammals, as well as a comprehensive mushroom museum, the first of its kind in Greece. The presentation of the qualitative collections through dioramas depicts exactly the natural terrain where the wild animals live in and where the mushrooms grow. Afterwards, we could also have the chance to apply what we learned about mushrooms at the museum; truffle hunting in the wonderful forests of Kalambaka would be a perfect and unique experience for us! Dogs will help us find the truffles “hidden” in the forest and then we will taste the mushrooms we collected in a delicious pasta dish.

Day 6: Delphi, the Navel of the Earth

Delphi: the most prestigious and authoritative oracle in the Greek world, as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. Delphi is known for its theater, its ancient ruins and of course the Temple of Apollo with the Oracle, where Pythia predicted the future with equivocal sayings. Delphi has been characterized as “the Navel of the Earth”; according to the Greek mythology, Zeus is said to have let two eagles fly from the eastern and western extremities, and the path of the eagles crossed over Delphi where the “omphalos” or navel of Gaia was found. After visiting Pythia, we will drive to Antirio, cross the Rio-Antirio hanging bridge and arrive in Olympia. Overnight at our booked hotel.

Day 7: Ancient Olympia & Olympic Games

The archaeological site of ancient Olympia: a worldwide symbol for unity, peace and good sportsmanship. We will have the chance to walk through the area where athletes trained for the Olympic Games and admire the Temple of Zeus (once hosting the nowadays nonexistent Statue of Zeus, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world), the altar of the Olympic flame, the Stadium and the Museum.
After leaving the sacred grounds of Olympia we will drive to Sparta. Overnight stay at our booked hotel.

Day 8: Sparta & Byzantine Mystras

After a tour in the city of Sparta, the motherland of Leonidas who fell bravely in the battle of Thermopylae against the Persians (480 B.C), our day continues with a drive to magnificent Mystras.
The “wonder of Morea”, as it is known, was built as an amphitheater around the fortress erected in 1249 by the prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. The city was reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks and the Venetians and finally abandoned in 1832, leaving only medieval ruins standing in a beautiful landscape. Afterwards, drive to Nafplion. 2 overnight stays at our booked hotel.

Day 9: Nafplion: the pearl of Argolis

Nafplion was the first capital of modern Greece and is widely known as one of the most idyllic and romantic Greek cities. Today we will have the freedom to discover Nafplion at our own disposal. We can take a walk through its picturesque streets with the wonderful buildings; visit the Archaeological Museum and the Komboloi Museum in the center of the old city; admire the fortified islet of Bourtzi standing on the background and offering an amazing view, while drinking our coffee or having lunch at one of the numerous cafés and taverns.
 After a walk through the streets of the city we could also visit a traditional ouzo distillery. Karonis distillery has been continually operational for the last 145 years. Apart from ouzo, the production highlight of the distillery, we can also taste tsipouro, masticha and cherry liqueur
 For the ones in good shape, Palamidi Castle is totally recommended. In order to reach it we have to climb all of its 999 steps carved into the rock. The castle where the most important hero of the Greek Revolution Theodoros Kolokotronis was imprisoned is absolutely worth our time and energy; the view from above is breathtaking!

Day 10: Mycenae: visiting Agamemnon’s Kingdom

At Mycenae we will visit Europe’s oldest fortress and the stage for Iliad, one of Homer’s bloody epic poems. It all started in Aulis, where King Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia, so that the Greeks could sail to Troy. After Agamemnon’s return from the Trojan War, Clytemnestra gave order to murder her husband. Her children Elektra and Orestes in turn assassinated their mother, to revenge the murder of their father. The story of Atrides’ dynasty has inspired the famous Greek tragic writers Aischylos, Sofokles and Euripides, whose tragedies and their modern adaptations are still being played in theaters all over the world. Among the Lions’ Gate, the Palace and the “Treasure House of Atreus” we will feel the myth and maybe… a light shiver running down our spine?
After discovering the secrets of the sinful Greek dynasties, further drive to ancient Nemea, the place where one of the most important ancient Greek sport festivals was instituted: the Panhellenic Nemean Games. The archaeological site includes the stadium of Nemea, which could host 40,000 spectators, and the sanctuary and temple of Nemean Zeus. Part of the latter was being reconstructed till 2013.
For the end of the day, there is a “delicious” surprise for you, as we will visit Domaine Skouras. The story of the winery started in 1986 with an emblematic wine, Megas Oenos, which became synonymous with George Skouras. Today, Megas Oenos is one of the wines with a consistent presence in the world of European wine, with a proven ageing ability, rivalled only by very few Greek wines. Some of the Greek varieties cultivated at Skouras winery are: Roditis, Alepou, Moscofilero (all pink-skinned grape varieties, but usually used in white wine production), as well as reds like Agiorgitikoand, more recently, Mavrostifo of Argos, an old and almost extinct variety of the region. In addition, cosmopolitan varieties are also cultivated at the winery, such as Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot.


Day 11: Epidaurus & Ancient Corinth

And as we were talking about ancient Greek tragedies, how about visiting one of the greatest theaters ever built in history? The ancient theater of Epidaurus is really a wonder of architecture because of the absolute uniqueness of its acoustic. It is worth wondering how architects of ancient Greece managed to create such an architectural masterpiece using the knowledge and machinery of that time. The theater dates back to the 4th century B.C. and still hosts theatrical plays for 14,000 spectators.
Epidaurus was an ally of the Athenians and later of the Corinthians. The famous Asclepieia, athletic games and music competitions, were held here every 5 years. Thousands of musicians and athletes from all over Greece came to Epidaurus to participate in those games. Apart from the theater, the most important historic monuments in Epidaurus are: the Temple of Asclepius which dates back to the 4th century B.C. and was designed and built by the architects Theotokos and Thimotheos; the Healing Temple Asclepieion, designed for250 patients (70.92 m x 9.42 m); the Library, later built by the Roman emperor Antonios and his successors; the Gymnasium (69 m x 53 m).
Before continuing on, we will also visit Melas Olive Oil Domain, where we will acquire all important information about olive oil, the basic ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, as well as the history and the biological products of the domain.
Further drive to Ancient Corinth, the richest port and largest city in Ancient Greece. Its strategical location on the connection between Peloponnese and the mainland of Greece made the city a powerful commercial center near two seaports. The city is also very famous in the world of Christianity as one of the main stops of Apostle Paul during the journeys he made to spread the word of Jesus. On our way to Athens, we will have the chance to cross the famous CorinthCanal: until 1893, seamen had to travel around the rugged shores of Peloponnese to land e.g. in Sicily. The spectacular cutting through of the Isthmus between the Saronic and the Corinthian Gulf clearly reduced the sea routes from Athens to the Mediterranean Sea. The builders blew up the rock at a length of 6.34 km, dug 60 m deep in the earth and created a shipping channel 24.5 m wide and 8 m deep. 3 overnight stays at our booked hotel in Athens.

Day 12: Athens highlights

Hungry for culture? Firstly we will take a tour through the historical center of the city, visit the archaeological sites found in literally every corner and wonder around in the parks of the center, such as the National Garden. The first part of the tour ends underneath the Acropolis, the landmark of Athens. On the more than 2,500 years old Greek monument, we can admire the remnants of a glorious era: the marble Parthenon, the magnificent Propylaea, the delicate Erechtheion with the Caryatid Porch… The strong feelings of history become even stronger at the foot of Acropolis, as another absolute museum highlight is waiting for us after lunch: the NewAcropolisMuseum, which is included in the list with the 10 most beautiful museums in the world and opened in 2009 under the oversight of the Swiss architect Bernard Tschume. In the museum we can find 300 statues and metopes, as well as 4,000 other smaller objects from the archaic period, the classical antiquity and the late antiquity, displayed till 2009 in the Old Acropolis Museum on the hill of Acropolis or – because of lack of space – in magazine photos. The new museum is really a “must” for every museum fan!
After so much historical information running through our mind, what could be better than a walk on Philopappos Hill and afterwards through the narrow, stone-paved paths of Plaka? A tavern with delicious Greek food will mark the end of the day, where we will be able to comment on our experience during this wonderful journey.

Day 13: Marathon & Cape Sounion

Marathon is a highlight for the visitors of Athens and Attica province. The place is worldwide famous for its great battle where Athenians defeated the Persian army in 490 BC. The name of the athletic long-distance endurance race, the “marathon”, comes from the legend of a Greek runner, who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been miraculously defeated.
Last stop of the day: the magnificent CapeSounion. Cape Sounion is only 45 miles (70 km) away from Athens and thus the perfect destination for a sunny, lazy afternoon. The Temple of Poseidon, whose half of the Doric columns are still standing, is perched on a rocky hilltop overlooking the sea and offers a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Aegean sea.

Day 14: “Adio, Ellada!”

If there is time before your flight, it would be a good idea to wonder through the streets of Monastiraki and buy some souvenirs. Otherwise, transfer to Athens International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos” and flight back home. Adio and see you soon!

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