2011 Athens Greece

Mountain & Island Hikes in Greece plus Athens
September 3-19, 2011
On this exciting adventure we visit ancient Athens, National Parks in the scenic Pindos Mountains of northern Greece, and three picturesque Cyclades Islands in the blue Aegean Sea southeast of Athens. In Athens we explore the Acropolis complex to see the Parthenon, Temple of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom) and other historical buildings, tour the world famous National Archaeological and New Acropolis Museums to see the finest collection of Greek antiquities in the world, stroll through the ancient marketplace of Athens, and visit Delphi, one of Greece’s most inspiring archeological sites, located on the slopes of the Parnassos Mountains northwest of Athens. At Delphi, the center of the ancient world, we see the Sanctuary of Athena, Temple of Apollo (Sun God), and an ancient stadium and theater.

We explore the pastoral Pindos Mountains in the remote Zagoria region of northwest Greece. The Zagoria region has 46 ancient villages with a distinct and unique architecture and culture, linked together by a network of paths which are ideal for walking amid the superb scenery of the Pindos Mountains. We hike from village to village on these ancient stone paths and board in guesthouses in the village. We also hike through the 3,218 foot deep, narrow, rock walled Vikos Gorge in the Vikos-Aoos National Park and swim in the cool and crystal clear pools of the Vikos River. The Gorge is a unique refuge for bears, wild boars, birds of prey, and other wildlife.

We travel a short distance east to Meteora, a dramatically beautiful area characterized by impressive sandstone pinnacles which rise over 1,300 feet from the flat plain. Greek Orthodox Christians built monasteries on these high and protected places as early as 985 A.D. We hike ancient trails to visit two active clifftop monasteries and see how monks have lived and worshipped here for over 1,000 years.

We visit Mount Olympus National Park, characterized by the 9,577 foot tall Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the ancient Greek gods. We hike to the top of the rocky summit where Zeus (King of the Gods) supposedly hurled thunderbolts down against mankind. On this two day hike we lodge in a cozy mountain refuge and enjoy the serenity of the holy mountain.

We go island hopping in the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea that circle the sacred Isle of Delos. We first visit Mykonos, the glamour spot of the Cyclades and the gay beach capital of Europe. We enjoy the sunshine, beaches, boutiques, and cafes, and have the opportunity to meet other gay travelers. We visit the nearby Delos, an uninhabited holy island and one of Greece’s most priceless archaeological sites. We will see the Lion Terrace, Sanctuary of Apollo, House of Dionysus, a theater built in 300 BC, and more. Our boat transfer next takes us to Naxos, the largest and most fertile island of the Cyclades. This mountainous island is characterized by olive groves, vineyards and citrus orchards and the 3,280 foot tall Mount Zas. During our two day stay, we hike to picturesque Cycladian villages, visit old castles and Byzantine churches, and enjoy the beaches.

Day 1. Saturday (9/3). Depart USA/Canada/Australia
Day 2. Sunday (9/4). Arrive Athens, Greece
We arrive at the Eleftheros Venizelos International Airport in Athens, a city of 3.7 million people, clear customs, meet our transfer agent, and are escorted to the Philippos Hotel, located in the heart of the old city and only a two minute walk from the awesome Acropolis.

Early in the evening our Greek guide leads us on a walking tour of the Plaka, the scenic old city in the shadow of the ancient Acropolis, with narrow winding streets, old neoclassical mansions with red tilled roofs and balconies with flowers, Greek taverns with live performances, cafes, street salesmen, and tourist shops. We have a welcome dinner in a traditional Greek tavern and enjoy the ambience of this ancient city, the birthplace of democracy. (D)

Day 3. Monday (9/5). Athens – Delphi – Athens
Today we travel north for about 100 miles in our private van through the picturesque countryside to visit Delphi, located in a spectacular setting on the slopes of the rocky Parnassos Mountains overlooking a wide valley filled with olive trees. Delphi was the site of the prehistoric Delphic oracles, the Temple of Apollo, as well as the Pythian Games, the predecessor to the Olympic Games. For over 1,600 years pilgrims throughout Greece and the ancient world traveled to Delphi to seek advice from the oracle. An eternal flame burned in the Temple of Apollo and at the nearby 7,000 seat stadium, every four years athletes throughout Greece came to compete and honor Apollo. We will visit the Sanctuary of Athena, Temple of Apollo, theater, stadium and the museum. On our way back to Athens we visit the picturesque town of Aracahova, a ski resort high in the mountains. We return to our hotel in Athens for the night and have the opportunity to visit gay venues after dinner. (B,L)
Day 4. Tuesday (9/6). Athens – Ioannina
In the morning we visit the Acropolis and the New Acropolis Museum with our cultural guide. The Acropolis, or City on the Hill, is located on a flat topped rock which rises 490 feet above Athens and includes inspiring 5th Century BC temples and monuments to their mythological gods. The Acropolis is dominated by the Parthenon, a marble Doric temple; the Propylaia, an entrance monument; the small Temple of Athena Nike; the impressive Erechtheion monument, and other historical structures. After lunch we head for the airport and fly to Ioannina in the Pindos Mountains in northern Greece and the gateway to the Vikos-Aoos National Park. Our private van takes us to Monodendri, an enchanting stone Zagorian village near the Vikos Gorge and high in the mountains at an elevation of 3,477 feet. We lodge at the luxury Zakadas Guest House which has 21 rooms, some with fireplaces and jacuzzis. The hotel has a restaurant, satellite TV, DVD, wi-fi internet access, a gym with a sauna and offers massage. We have time to explore the village and enjoy the amenities of the hotel before dinner at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Day 5. Wednesday (9/7). Vikos Gorge
The wild and unspoiled Vikos Gorge is the heart of the Vikos Aoos National Park, which is characterized by scenic deciduous and coniferous forests that provide habitat for wolves, fox, roe deer, chamois, brown bear, lynx, and other wildlife. The Vikos River flows through the12 mile long and 3,218 foot deep gorge which is characterized by steep slopes and rocky cliffs. Today we hike along the river with its turquoise pool and spectacular cliffs on both sides as we follow ancient paths through the majestic gorge to the Village of Papingo, another traditional stone Zagorian village, located on the north end of the gorge. We lodge at the comfortable Dias Guesthous. (B,L,D)
Day 6. Thursday (9/8). Papingo – Mount Gamila
Today we begin our hike in the Pindos Mountains which are covered by beech on the lower slopes which give way to pines at higher elevations and then to alpine tundra at the highest elevations. These forests provide habitat for many of the same animals present in the Vikos Aoos National Park. We hike for three hours to the Astraka Refuge located at an elevation of 6,396 feet on the 8,134 foot tall Mount Gamila. After lunch we take a leisurely hike across the grassland to the first of the Dragon Lakes and enjoy grand vistas of nearby peaks and the valley below. We return to the Astraka Refuge and enjoy the warmth, hospitality and comraderie of other world travelers and a sky filled with brilliant stars at night. (B,L,D)
Day 7. Friday (9/9). Astraka Refuge – Meteora
Today we begin our hike in the Pindos Mountains which are covered by beech on the lower slopes which give way to pines at higher elevations and then to alpine tundra at the highest elevations. These forests provide habitat for many of the same animals present in the Vikos Aoos National Park. We hike for three hours to the Astraka Refuge located at an elevation of 6,396 feet on the 8,134 foot tall Mount Gamila. After lunch we take a leisurely hike across the grassland to the first of the Dragon Lakes and enjoy grand vistas of nearby peaks and the valley below. We return to the Astraka Refuge and enjoy the warmth, hospitality and comraderie of other world travelers and a sky filled with brilliant stars at night. (B,L,D)
Day 7 (9/7/01).
Today we hike back down the mountain to the village of Papingo, have lunch and are escorted by our private van 112 miles east to the town of Kalambaka in the foothills of Meteora, an area characterized by massive sandstone rocks which rise dramatically to heights of over 1,300 feet from the surrounding plain to form rock pinnacles with sheer cliffs. Beginning in the 11th century Greek Orthodox Christians built monasteries on the top of these protected sandstone pillars. Our lodge, the Hotel Famissi, located in the shadow of Meteora, has a bar, restaurant and a garden with a great view to the Meteora. (B,L,D)
Day 8 Saturday (9/10). Meteora – Litochoro
In the morning we following ancient well-trodden paths used by monks for over a thousand years and wind our way through the tall rock towers and up the sides of the rock formations to visit two of the cliff top monasteries, the Meglo Meteora and the Varlaam. The Meglo Meteora is the oldest, the biggest and the most important among the monasteries of Meteor. The Varlaam, the second largest monastery in the Meteora complex, was built in 1541. In the afternoon we drive 94 miles east to Litochoro, a small picturesque and hospitable town on the eastern slope of Mount Olympus and with great views of the mountain. We lodge in the comfortable and stylish Guesthouse Papanikolaou near the main square. (B,L,D)
Day 9. Sunday (9/11). Mount Olympus National Park
In the morning we drive to the small cluster of buildings referred to as Prionia, the starting point at an elevation of 3,608 feet, for the hikes on the 9,577 foot tall Mount Olympus located in Mount Olympus National Park. Mount Olympus which has eight distinct small peaks, is characterized by thick forests of oak, beech, cedar, and pine on the lower slopes and alpine tundra and rocky slopes above the forest. The Park provides habitat for deer, boar, badger, wildcats, and many other species. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and god of the sky and thunder, who often cast thunderbolts down on humanity. Today we hike only to the Spilios Agapitos Refuge at an elevation of 6,888 feet. The cozy log cabin style lodge located on a flat and surrounded by pine trees, has a restaurant, fireplace, bunk-style beds, and accommodates up to 100 hikers from all over the world. In the evening we enjoy the ambience of the international hiking lodge and rest up for the climb tomorrow. (B,L,D)
Day 10. Monday (9/12). Mount Olympus – Litochoro
We follow a zigzagging trail to the main summit of the mountain, climb the Skolio peak of Olympus and enjoy spectacular views to the blue Aegean Sea, the picturesque farmland and tile-roofed villages 9,577 feet below, as well as the mystical world of Zeus and the other gods who call Mount Olympus home. After the summit climb, we return to the refuge for snacks and drinks and then hike back down through the forest to Prionia and are then driven to the Village of Litochoro and the comfortable Guesthouse Papanikaolu. (B,L,D).
Day 11. Tuesday (9/13). Litochoro – Thessaloniki – Mykonos (via Athens).
Today we leave the mountains behind and head for the warm weather and sunshine of the Cyclades Island in the blue Aegean Sea southeast of Athens. We drive about 60 miles to the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, and fly to Hora or Mykonos Town on the Island of Mykonos and are transferred to the Petasos Town Hotel. Mykonos Town, with its narrow streets and alleyways, cube-shaped brilliantly painted white houses perched on the hillside, bougainvillea around every corner, blue domed churches, windmills, and sandy beaches is the archetypal picture of a Greek island. The trendy town is full of cafés, restaurants, music bars, art galleries, and fashion salons. Mykonos has a large gay population and a diversity of gay venues. We have the afternoon free to relax on the warm sandy beach or explore the town. We lodge at the stylish 18 room Petasos Town Hotel located in the heart of town and close to the beach.(B,L,).
Day 12. Wednesday (9/14). Mykonos – Delos
In the morning we catch a small boat to the historical Delos, a small, uninhabited island about a mile southwest Mykonos. Delos was the mythical birthplace of the gods Apollo and Artemis and in the 8th century BC a shrine for Apollo was built here. Delos became a major pilgrimage center and an annual festival of art and sports was held on the island to honor Apollo. With our cultural guide we will explore the ruins which cover a large area. Highlights include the Terrace of Lions, large marble statues of lions guarding the Sacred Lake, the birthplace of Apollo; a theater built in 300 BC; the House of Dolphins and Dionysos and their beautiful mosaics; and the Sanctuary of Apollo. We return to Mykonos for a free afternoon to enjoy the ambience of the island. (B,L).
Day 13. Thursday (9/15). Mykonos – Naxos
In the morning we are transferred via boat to Naxos Village on the pastoral island of Naxos, a lush mountainous island characterized by the 3,280 foot tall Mount Zas towering over olive groves, vineyards, citrus fruit orchards and wonderful beaches. Upon arrival we check into the Astir Naxos Hotel, a luxury hotel with all the amenities and close to the beach, and then head out for a hike. On our hike we will see numerous Kouros statues, giant 6th century BC statues of youths, in numerous locations on our way to the Village of Ano Potamia, a traditional picturesque Cycladian village on the mountain above Naxos Village. We will explore Venetian medieval castles and towers, old Byzantine churches, windmills and have fantastic views of Naxos Village, surrounding towns and the port. Our hike continues to the Village of Halki where we visit a distillery that produces Kitron, a local alcoholic drink. We tour the distillery and sample the brew. We return to our hotel and the afternoon is free to relax on the beach or explore the town. (B,L).
Day 14. Friday (9/16). Naxos
In the morning we hike to the Village of Filoti located on a steep hillside in a beautiful verdant valley near Mount Zas. This area is famous for its olive groves and little Byzantine churches. Filoti, a traditional Cycladian village, has white washed houses with flat roofs, narrow flowered streets and a cobblestone square surrounded by cafes and taverns. After lunch we head back to our hotel and have the rest of the afternoon free. (B,L).
Day 15 Saturday (9/17). Naxos – Athens
Today we return to Athens via boat and arrive by about 3 PM and are escorted to the Philippos Hotel near the Acropolis. We have the rest of the day free to relax or explore the city. (B,L,D).
Day 16 Sunday (9/18). Athens – City Walking Tour
In the morning we visit the National Archaeological Museum, one of the world’s most important museums, with our cultural guide to see the highlights of ancient Greek art. We will see bronze statues of Poseidon and Zeus as well as sculptures and artifacts from the Mycenaean civilization of 1,500 B.C. After lunch we explore Athens on foot. We walk to Syntagma or Constitution Square, the heart of Athens, to see the Greek Parliament Building, prestigious hotels, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the changing of the Guard. We continue to the 908 foot tall Mount Lycabettus (Hill of Wolves), a pine forested park in the center of Athens. From the top we have fantastic views of the Acropolis, City and Aegean Sea. We return to our hotel. Farewell Dinner tonight. (B,L,D).
Day 17. Sunday (9/19). Depart for Home
In the morning we will be transferred to the airport for our flights home.
Due to the fluctuation in international currencies, the cost is priced in Euros and converted to U.S. Dollars based on the current exchange rate. Therefore, the actual cost of the trip will be based on the exchange rate when the trip is purchased and on the number of participants.
Trip Cost Based on Double Room Occupancy as of February 2, 2011
4-5 pax: 3,830 € ($5,265)/person

6-8 pax: 3,265 € ($4,488)/person

9-11 pax: 3,130 € ($4,302)/person

Single supplement: 380 € ($522)

Cost Includes:
• 12 nights hotels and traditional guesthouses and 3 nights in mountain refuges.

• Airport transfers to/from Athens International Airport.

• Domestic flights: Athens-Ioannina, Thessaloniki-Mykonos (via Athens).

• Boat tickets: Mykonos-Naxos, Naxos-Athens.

• Transfers by private AC bus.

• Breakfast on days 2 through 17,

• Lunch on days 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, & 16

• Dinner on days 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, & 16.

• American and Greek English-speaking tour directors throughout the trip.

• English-speaking cultural guides at the Acropolis, National Archeological Museum, monasteries in Meteora, and Delphi.

Cost Does Not Include:
• Personal expenses

• Drinks and alcoholic beverages

• Gratuities to Greek guides

• Travel insurance

• Airfare to Greece

• Lunch on Days 1, 2, 11, 12, 13, 14, & 15

• Dinner on Days 1, 3, 11, 12, 13, & 14

Land Cost Does Not Include: Airfare to and from Barcelona, Spain; airport transfers; airport departure taxes; dinner on Day 13 and lunch on Day 15; and alcoholic or other beverages with meals.
In terms of difficulty, the trip is rated moderate to strenuous as we hike in mountainous terrain with elevation gains and losses of about 2,000-3,000 feet, and hike to a maximum elevation of 9,577 feet. We have three full day (6 hour) hikes and five half day (2-4 hour) hikes.
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