The Glory That Was Greece: The Classical Sites
Lovers of art, antiquity, and mythology journey to Greece to make a pilgrimage to its great archaeological sites. Here, at Delphi, Olympia, and Epidauros, the gods of Olympus were revered, Euripides' plays were first presented, and some of the greatest temples ever built still evoke the genial atmosphere of Greece's golden age (in spite of 2,500 years of wear and tear). Take this tour and you'll learn that it's not necessary to be a scholar of history to feel the proximity of ancient Greece.
Days 1-2: Athens
Begin at the beginning—the Acropolis plateau—where you can explore the greatest temple of Periclean Greece, the Parthenon, while drinking in heart-stopping views over the modern metropolis. After touring the ancient Agora, the Monument of Lysikrates, and the Odeon of Herod Atticus, finish up at the National Archaeological Museum (check opening hours).
Day 3: Sounion
Sun and sand, art and antiquity lie southeast of Athens in Sounion. Here, the spectacular Temple of Poseidon sits atop a cliff 195 feet over the Saronic Gulf. Pay your own respects to the god of the sea at the beach directly below or enjoy the coves of the Apollo Coast as you head back west to the seaside resort of Vouliagmeni for an overnight.
Day 4: Eleusis and Corinth
Heading west of Athens, make a stop at Eleusis, home of the Sanctuary of Demeter and the haunted grotto of Hades, god of the Underworld. Past the Isthmus of Corinth—gateway to the Peloponnese—Ancient Corinth and its sublime Temple of Apollo beckon. Head south to the coast and Nafplion; en route, stop at a roadside stand for some tasty Nemean wine.
Days 5-6: Nafplion, Tiryns, Mycenae, Epidauros
Set up base in Nafplion—a stage set of Venetian fortresses, Greek churches, and neoclassical mansions—then set out to explore the mysteries of forgotten civilizations in nearby Tiryns, Mycenae, and Epidauros. North is Tiryns, where Bronze Age ramparts bear witness to Homer's "well-girt city." Farther north is Agamemnon's blood-soaked realm, the royal citadel of Mycenae, destroyed in 468 BC. Then take a day trip east to the famous ancient Theater at Epidauros, where a summer drama festival still presents the great tragedies of Euripides.
Days 7-8: Olympia and Bassae
After your third overnight in Nafplion, head west via either Argos (with helpful train connections) or Tripoli (by car on the E65) to Olympia—holiest site of the ancient Greek religion, home to the Sanctuary of Zeus, and birthplace of the Olympics. Walk through the olive groves of the sacred precinct; then get acquainted with Praxiteles' Hermes in the museum. Overnight here and then make a trip south to the remote Temple of Apollo at Bassae.
Day 9: Delphi
Head north through verdant forests of the Elis region to Patras or nearby Rion for the ferry or bridge across the Corinthian Gulf; travel east along the coast and overnight in chic Galaxidi, with its elegant stone seafarers' mansions. The final day, set off to discover Delphi, whose noble dust and ancient ruins are theatrically set amid cliffs. Despite the tour buses, it is still possible to imagine the power of the most famous oracle of antiquity. From here, head back to Athens.
Island-Hopping: Cyclades to Crete
Cyclades to Crete
There is no bad itinerary for the Greek islands. Whether you choose the Sporades, the Dodecanese, or any of those other getaways floating in the Aegean, the leading isles in Greece differ remarkably, and they are all beautiful. But when the needle may fly off the beauty-measuring gauge when it comes to the Cyclades. It might be possible to "see" any of these famous islands in a day: the "must-see" sights—Byzantine monasteries, ancient temples, Minoan mansions—are often few. Still, it is best to take a slower pace and enjoy a sumptuous, idyllic, 14-day tour. Planning the details of this trip depends on your sense of inclusiveness, your restlessness, your energy, and your ability to accommodate changing boat schedules. Just be warned: the danger of sailing through the Cyclades is that you will never want to leave them. From these suggested landfalls, some of the most justly famous, you can set off to find other idyllic retreats on your own.
Days 1-2: Mykonos
Jewel of the Cyclades, this very discovered island manages to retain its seductive charm. Spend the first day and evening enjoying appealing Mykonos town, where a maze of beautiful streets are lined with shops, bars, restaurants, and discos; spend time on one of the splendid beaches; and, if you want to indulge in some hedonism, partake of the wild nightlife. The next morning take the local boat to nearby Delos for one of the great classical sites in the Aegean. Mykonos is one of the main transport hubs of the Greek islands, with many ferries, boats, and planes connecting to Athens and its port of Piraeus.
Days 3-4: Naxos
Sail south to Naxos—easily done in summer, harder in other seasons. Plan on arriving from Mykonos in the late afternoon or evening, and begin with a predinner stroll around Naxos town, visiting the Portara (an ancient landmark), the castle, and other sights in the old quarter. The next morning, visit the Archaeological Museum; then drive through the island's mountainous center for spectacular views. Along the way, visit such sights as the Panayia Drosiani, a church near Moni noted for 7th-century frescoes; the marble-paved village of Apeiranthos; and the Temple of Demeter. If you have time, stop for a swim at one of the beaches facing Paros, say Mikri Vigla.
Days 5-7: Paros
Go west, young man, to Paros, where the large spaces provide peace and quiet. Paros town has delights profane—buzzing bars—to sacred, such as the legendary Hundred Doors Church. But the highlight will be a meal in the impossibly pretty little fishing harbor of Naousa or, on a morning drive around the island, a visit to the lovely mountain village of Lefkes. Then spend an extra night of magic on the neighboring isle of Antiparos, where off-duty Hollywood celebs hang out and bliss with all the white sands, pink bougainvillea, and blue seas.
Days 8-9: Folegandros
This smaller isle is not only beautiful but, rarer in these parts, authentic. It boasts one of the most stunning Chora towns; deliberately downplayed touristic development; several good beaches; quiet evenings; traditional local food; and respectful visitors. The high point, literally and figurately, is the siting of the main town—set on a towering cliff over the sea, its perch almost rivals that of Santorini.
Days 10-12: Santorini
Take a ferry from Folegandros south to the spectacle of all spectacles. Yes, in summer the crowds will remind you of the running of the bulls in Pamplona but even they won't stop from you gasping at the vistas, the seaside cliffs, and stunning Cycladic cubist architecture. Once you've settled in, have a sunset drink on a terrace overlooking the volcanic caldera but you'll also find many view-providing watering holes in Fira, the capital, or Ia, Greece's most-photographed village. The next day, visit the extensive prehistoric site at Akrotiri and the Museum of Prehistoric Thera; then enjoy a third just swimming one of the black-sand beaches at Kamari or Perissa.
Days 13-14: Crete
Despite the attractions of sea and mountains, it is still the mystery surrounding Europe's first civilization and empire that draws many travelers to Crete. Like them, you'll discover stunning testimony to the island's mysterious Minoan civilization, particularly at the legendary Palace of Knossos. Along these shores are blissful beaches as well as the enchanting Venetian-Turkish city of Hania. From Heraklion, Crete's main port, there are frequent flights and ferries back to Piraeus, Athens, and reality.
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