Day 1: Join trip in Athens
Arrive in Athens. The city is a heady mix of ancient and modern, having been Greece's capital for only 200 years of its 3,000 year history. Located on the Plain of Attica, the scenery is amazingly varied, from pine-clad mountains to a beautiful coastline studded with small harbours.
Due to a number of flights arriving into Athens later in the evening, our welcome meeting will take place on the morning of day two. However, for those that arrive earlier our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7.30pm and there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Athens at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Athens International Airport (ATH), which is about one hours' drive, depending on traffic.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to visit one of the cafes in the colourful Psyrri district which offer traditional Greek cuisine of aubergines, tomatoes and cheese washed down with ouzo or raki.
As this trip concentrates on the scenic mountain regions of Meteora and Zagori, we plan to depart Athens tomorrow morning. If you haven't visited before, we highly recommend adding an additional night or two either at the beginning or at the end of your trip, in order to visit the Acropolis or explore some of the city's museums.
Day 2: Walk on the ancient Skala of Delphi; drive to the small fishing village of Galaxidi
A scenic drive northwest out of Athens this morning takes us through the largest olive grove in Greece to reach Delphi. Perched on the rocky slopes of sacred Mount Parnassos, Delphi was the perfect setting for mystery and religious prophecy, and was known throughout the ancient Greek world as the sanctuary of Apollo.
On arrival we'll take a short hike of around 30 minutes each way, following the ancient 'Kaki Skala' (Evil Steps) route, a well-made, cobbled path that zigzags up the mountainside. Our destination is the Kroki viewpoint to take in the spectacular Delphi mountainous vistas, with the green hue of the olive groves and the crumbling columns of the archaeological site far below us.
We aim to have a picnic lunch here before descending. We'll then have some free time, which you may wish to spend visiting the ancient site or the attached museum. The site's famous antiquities, including the Temple of Apollo, theatre, stadium and Marmaria Sanctuary are wonderfully picturesque, and the museum contains the much admired 'charioteer' - widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Bronze sculptures in the ancient world.
We'll continue in the late afternoon to the charming seaside village of Galaxidi. Once one of Greece's busiest and richest seaports, the now peaceful village has a number of impressive neoclassical stately homes that lend the seafront a quiet dignity.
Today's easy 3 kilometre walk is expected to take around one hour with 150 metres ascent and descent. In summer we may switch around to do the walk in the afternoon, when it is a bit cooler.
In Galaxidi, the hotels do not have a large number of rooms, so depending on bookings we may be in the Ganimede, the Miramare or the Epavlis Hotels. The hotel will be listed in your final pre-travel documents.
Day 3: Experience honey production at a bee farm; learn how to make traditional spinach pie
A hands-on day of food awaits us as we experience some of the delicious local produce that Greece is well known for.
Just 20 minutes along the coast outside Galaxidi, on the edge of a huge valley of wild thyme and olive groves, we come to a small honey producer. An interactive tour here will see us donning our beekeeping suits and learning not only about honey and the art of beekeeping, but also how this chimes into the local life in this part of Greece. We'll see the magic of the bees working, and we'll not only be able to try honey direct from the hive, but also different flavours (the thyme honey is a particular favourite). Through the tastings, we'll find out about how the activity of the bees gives different flavours to the final product. The passionate beekeepers will impart an immense amount of knowledge about all of the benefits that these tiny, amazing creatures have on our ecosystem.
After a morning visit we drive back to Galaxidi for a little lunch and free time - depending on the time of year it may be possible to have a swim - before our afternoon cooking class with the owner of the Ganimede Hotel. We will have tasted their excellent cooking at breakfast, and now it's our chance to try a local recipe. We'll most likely be making a spinach pie (spanakopita) today, covered with flaky pastry and stuffed with delicious feta cheese and spinach, although pitta bread or other items may appear on the menu. In the evening, we'll get to eat our creation along with a glass of ouzo and a tapas-style array of 'mezedes', such as olives, grilled peppers, fish or cheese.
Day 4: Drive to the mountainous Zagori region via Nafpaktos Castle and the ancient theatre of Dodoni
Today we drive to Monodendri, one of the characterful villages in the mountainous, remote region of Zagori. Until the 1950s there were no roads in this part of the country, meaning that each village has retained its traditional appearance and cultural heritage. An endless network of hiking trails takes visitors over photogenic stone bridges and paths that are hundreds of years old, and the jewel in the region's crown is undoubtedly the immense Vikos Gorge. Carving its way through the Vikos-Aoos National Park - itself a haven for nature lovers - the gorge is one of the deepest in the world and scarcely visited by most tourists who flock to Greece for its ancient sites or golden beaches.
En route to this gem of a region, we will visit the Venetian castle at Nafpaktos. Proudly standing guard over the bay of Patras, the castle has kept its defensive position here since before 400BC, playing an important role in the Peloponnese War before changing hands many times over the following centuries between the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire.
Another stop en route is at the ancient theatre of Dodoni. A major spiritual place in ancient times, Dodoni was known as the sanctuary of Zeus. Pilgrims would come from around the ancient world to consult with priests and glimpse at the future. Nowadays its an unassuming site, off the tourist trail but with an immense archaeological value. The imposing amphitheatre dominates the scenery, while other ruins pepper the surrounding landscape.
After a short visit here, we continue into the mountains to Monodendri, situated at just over 1,000 metres altitude.
Day 5: Walk the Vradheto steps to viewpoints over the Vikos Gorge; discover Zagori's famous stone arch bridges
The Pindus Mountain range has created somewhat of a hikers paradise in this corner of northern Greece. The dramatic scenery of craggy mountains, forested peaks stretching into the distance and tiny villages dropped into the gaps is undoubtedly spectacular. What makes the Zagori area so distinctive, though, is the fact that each of the 48 Zagori villages were remote even from each other until relatively recently. The stone bridges that are typical of the region were the main route to connect the inhabitants, and even today you're more likely to cross paths with a goat than a car.
Today we explore one of the best trails in the region, hiking from Vradheto to Kapesovo via the stone steps of Vradheto, built in the 16th Century. It took craftsmen weeks to carve thousands of pieces of limestone to create this ancient skala, which until 1974 was the only way to reach the town. The high point of the trip will be at the Beloi viewpoint, 1,400m, over the deep Vikos Gorge.
From here, we'll walk down the Vradheto steps to Kapesovo for lunch.
We'll drive back to Monodendri via the village of Kipi, which is particularly renowned for the stone bridges found in the area. We'll walk over several of them, including the Plakidas Bridge, with its three elegant stone arches, and the Kokkorou Bridge, which dates back to the 1750s.
Today's easy 8 kilometre walk is expected to take around 3 hours with 150 metres ascent and 375 metres descent.
Day 6: Half-day rafting on the Voidomatis river; short walk into the gorge from Vikos village
Driving north this morning we head in the direction of the Albanian border, towards Kleidonia, a small village on the Voidomatis river. Here, we are picked up by our rafting guides and taken to the river, where a morning of rafting awaits. We'll be provided with waterproof 'booties' (shoes), a wetsuit and safety gear, and in early spring long-sleeved and windproof suits are provided. The 6km rafting route is perfect for beginners, and over the next three hours we'll take on some exciting Grade 2 rapids, intermittently passing under stone bridges and flanked by small waterfalls in the lush natural setting.
Ending at another photogenic bridge, we'll get changed (facilities are provided) and visit the cafe for a warming hot drink.
We'll drive to Vikos in the afternoon, and take a beautiful walk that leads us from the top of Vikos gorge actually into the canyon itself, towards the Voidomatis springs where the river comes to life.
This afternoon's easy 3.5 kilometre walk is expected to take around 2 hours with 300 metres ascent and descent.
In the unlikely event that we have fewer than four people on a departure, instead of rafting you will take an exciting 4x4 journey through the pine forest, visiting Zagori's most outlying villages that still do not have tarmac road access. Please see the 'included activities' information for more details.
Day 7: Drive to Kastraki (Meteora) via Ioannina; sunset walk towards the monasteries
We'll leave mountainous Zagori this morning, driving to the town of Ioannina en route to Kastraki. Ioannina is a quiet town on the banks of Lake Pamvotis. With a network of charming lanes, outdoor tables spilling onto narrow walkways and the ruins of a castle dotted around, it has a certain character to it. Its university adds liveliness, with Greek students milling around the cafes and the lakeside promenade during term time. We'll have free time here to explore, and there is the opportunity to take the taxi boat across to Pamvotis Island to discover the picturesque fishing community here.
In the afternoon we continue to unearthly and beautiful Meteora. The name itself means 'suspended in air', and on arrival we can see exactly why. Strange pinnacles of rock shoot up into space, dominating the landscape. Beautiful and odd, these sheer stone needles would be worth a visit in themselves, but it is the audacious set of Byzantine monasteries, balanced on their tips, that is the real draw. Dating back as early as the 1300s, this is one of the largest collections of Greek orthodox monasteries and certainly fitting of the title 'suspended in air'.
We should arrive in time for the chance of a sunset walk with our Tour Leader. In summer this is around 8.30 or 9pm, but could be as early as 5pm in winter.
Day 8: Free day in Meteora; optional scrambling, hiking, biking or rock climbing tours available
After a busy trip so far, we have a full free day here in Meteora to explore. It's an adventure playground, well known for its rock climbing and scrambling, both of which are on offer and run by one of the excellent specialist companies in the area. These three-four hour trips have routes that are accessible for anyone from total beginners to experienced climbers, and are lead by experienced guides.
There are also many bike paths and trails which can be undertaken by mountain bike on a 2.5 hour trip, again with experienced guides and all equipment included. Alternatively, you could choose to visit a range of the area's monasteries on e-bike, using the power behind the bike to transport you up the hills, leaving you at leisure to enjoy the views as you climb the pinnacles. These guided tours last 4.5 hours and include entrance to several monasteries.
Alternatively, the group vehicle is on hand to take you up to one of the monasteries, should you wish to visit. Megalo Meteoron or Varlaam are two of the most well-known, dating back to the 1300s and the 1500s respectively.
Day 9: Hike to Agia Triada monastery
Originally settled by cave-dwelling monks in the 1100s, Meteora has a long religious history. Until the early 1900s, access to the monasteries was by rope basket - you would be hauled up the mountainside along with food and other goods, in a precarious basket supported only by long ropes that, would, of course, occasionally break. Nowadays there are paths, roads and steps to the top, which we will be exploring today. We aim to walk from Kastraki to the monastery at Agia Triada. Although the monasteries look pretty vertical, the last push to the top is the only real steep part of the walk, with a final ascent of about 150 metres.
If the monastery is open, we will visit it on arrival. Alternatively, we have planned to visit at least one of the monasteries while we're here (any other visits will be at your own discretion - it does cost to enter them but it's only a small sum of a couple of euros). After admiring the views, we will set off back the way we came and have the afternoon free to relax, or perhaps do another walk in the area.
The moderate 9 kilometre walk will take approximately 3.5 hours, with 500 metres of ascent and descent.
Day 10: Drive to Athens via Thermopylae; enjoy a traditional evening meal
We'll take the bus back to the capital today, via Thermopylae, site of the epic battle where the Spartans, lead by King Leonidas, valiantly tried to fight off the invading Persian army. Found referenced in popular culture, such as in the Hollywood film 300, Thermopylae is well known in Greek history and mythology, and is a fascinating end to our journey throughout northern Greece.
On arrival into Athens, we will head out into the city for a final meal, at one of the traditional rustic tavernas in the well-known Plaka area at the foot of the Acropolis. Dining on some more delicious Greek food, we'll reflect on the past ten days.
Day 11: Trip ends in Athens
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Athens.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Athens at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Athens International Airport (ATH), which is about one hours' drive, depending on traffic.