DAY 1 – ATHENS
You should arrive at the airport for your flight to Athens, transferring to the excellent quality four-star Hotel Divani Palace Acropolis for one night, with breakfast. The hotel is superbly located in a quiet residential area, nestling below the rock of the Acropolis, just a few minutes’ stroll from the new Acropolis Museum and the Plaka district with its atmospheric tavernas and traditional shops. All rooms are air-conditioned with balcony, satellite TV, safe, mini-bar and hairdryer. There’s a small pool, a lobby bar, a top-class open-air rooftop restaurant with great views of the Acropolis and in the basement you can even see an exposed section of the ancient city walls.
DAY 2- ACROPOLIS
This morning you have a walking tour of Athens, visiting firstly the Acropolis, so fittingly one of the great ‘Wonders of the Ancient World’. Ascending the hill you soon experience the Parthenon itself – its blindingly white marble columns with their perfect symmetry and balance completely dominate the skyline.
We also visit the new Acropolis Museum with its amazing glass floor displaying ancient houses, streets and even an olive press below. Exhibits include superb sculptures and an incredible series of carved pediments from the temple of Athena. We then explore the picturesque old district of Plaka. This area dates from when Athens had shrunk to no more than a village below the Acropolis by the end of the 18th century. It is utterly charming, being crammed with neo-classical mansions, balconies overflowing with geranium pots and twisting cobbled lanes line with homely tavernas, their tables spread across the street.
After some free time for lunch we leave Athens and drive north past Mt. Pendeli, from where the marble of the Parthenon was quarried and drive through Thebes, before starting the ascent of Mt. Parnassus, site of the Delphic oracle. We stay at the centrally-located simple three-star Acropole or Fedriades, with dinner.
DAY 3 – DELPHI
Delphi is simply amazing, with a unique wealth of monuments dedicated to Apollo. The setting has an extraordinary natural beauty, in a series of terraces overlooked by the lofty crags and cliffs of Mt. Parnassus, with birds of prey soaring on the thermals above. As we enter the sacred sanctuary you’ll see the treasuries which were crammed with gold, silver and all kinds of precious objects donated by grateful city-states after having had the benefit of the god’s wisdom.
Overlooking it all is the superb temple itself and below, in an underground chamber, was a geological fault which probably emitted mind-affecting vapours from deep within the earth. This was where the oracle relayed the god’s thoughts and wisdom, which were always open to several interpretations – in return for a fee!
The adjacent museum has some of the finest exhibits in the country, including the spectacular, full-size ‘Charioteer’, a masterpiece of ancient bronze sculpture and one of only a handful ever recovered intact. In the afternoon we drive westwards, passing through a timeless Greek landscape of tiny isolated villages, olive groves and rolling hills. We cross the huge spans of the amazing new Rio bridge connecting the mainland with the Peloponnese and continue southwards to the site of ancient Olympia, where we stay for one night at the excellent three-star superior Best Western Europa. Beautifully situated on a quiet hillside, the hotel features low-rise buildings set in lovely gardens, an open-air pool and an excellent restaurant where we take our included dinner.
DAY 4 – OLYMPIA
The ancient Olympic Games were as major an occasion then as they are today – though hopefully cheaper to stage! Taking place every four years, the stadium had a staggering capacity of 45,000, an enormous number and a clear indication of the event’s importance. All military conflicts ceased for the duration and huge rewards were conferred on the winners, whilst penalties for cheating included fines, bans and public embarrassment – how little has changed!
Events included the discus and javelin, sprinting and wrestling. The Olympiad continued for about 1,000 years and we’ll experience a fascinating tour of the site, also visiting the excellent museum housing numerous extraordinary finds. This afternoon we experience the spectacular wild and mountainous landscape of the Peloponnese, driving through the province Arcadia, known as the land of the god Pan and woodland nymphs in antiquity. In the afternoon we arrive in the small town Nafplion, our base for the next three nights at the four-star Amphitryon Hotel, with breakfast.
DAY 5- MYCENAE & EPIDAURUS
Nafplion is one of Greece’s loveliest seaside towns, crowned by two massive castles built by the Franks and Venetians and attacked in turn by the Ottomans and the Greeks themselves during their War of Independence. In fact, Nafplion was chosen as Greece’s first modern capital in 1825 before it was moved to Athens five years later. The town has kept an air of quiet sophistication, with a beautiful pedestrianized waterfront promenade, lined with comfortable cafés and tavernas, a marble-paved main square and lots of fascinating boutiques and galleries set between the neo classical red-roofed houses.
This morning we visit Epidaurus, birthplace of Asclepios – the god of healing, and whose sanctuary here became the greatest centre of medicine in the Classical world. The ancient Greeks believed that one should be healthy in both mind and body, so the plays and music performed here in the acoustically perfect theatre played an integral part in the therapeutic process. We then visit Mycenae, entering the imposing citadel through its magnificent 3,300 year old Lion Gate, where you can still discern the pivot holes carved for the door hinges. We return to Nafplion in the afternoon, with the rest of the day at leisure to explore this delightful town.
DAY 6- NAFPILION FREE DAY
Of course Greece, whilst being renowned for its ancient sites, is equally famous for its stunning islands, so today we offer an optional trip visiting two of the most beautiful: Spetses and Hydra. Spetses is the most southerly of the Saronic Islands, just a few hundred metres from the Peloponnese coast. Its pine-covered low hills lead down to a really attractive main town, full of narrow alleyways, charming houses, shady squares and waterfront restaurants around the old harbour. There are very few cars allowed on the island so horse-drawn carriages remain a popular way to get around.
As our boat rounds the headland you get your first glimpse of one of the most attractive anchorages in the entire Aegean: Hydra’s lovely harbour, full of traditional ‘caiques’, whilst ascending the hill behind them is row upon row of opulent mansions, once owned by rich shipping families. Most streets are too narrow or steep for cars, so take some time and wander where your feet take you, enjoy a coffee, and absorb the unique atmosphere that is the Greek islands.
Please note this boat cruise runs from April to November and is weather dependent.
DAY 7 – ATHENS
Today we say goodbye to Nafplion and head back to Athens, via the Corinth Canal, for our last night at the Divani Palace Acropolis. The afternoon is at leisure: how about some shopping in the nearby flea-market? The centre of the city is within walking distance, with Constitution Square and the opulent Hotel Grande Bretagne where Churchill stayed. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by the elite National Guard, ‘skirted’ in the instantly recognisable national costume and opposite is Athens’ best kept secret, the extensive National Gardens, full of winding sandy paths, hidden grottoes, pergolas and shady ponds.