The following itinerary describes daily activities which may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, road conditions, flight and ferry schedules. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch (on several days this will be a boxed lunch) and D=evening meals.
Hania, Crete - 2 nights
We begin our journey on Crete, a mysterious land that gave birth to Europe’s first civilisation. In the stories of Greek myth, this civilisation, called the ‘Minoan’ after the legendary King Minos, belongs to the Golden Age. Homer says that Crete had 100 cities and sent 80 ships to the Trojan War when Odysseus could only manage 12 ships from Ithaca and all the surrounding islands including Kefalonia! Crete figures large in Homer’s Odyssey; his hero Odysseus claims to have visited on the way out to and home from Troy. He even masquerades as the younger brother of the Cretan king.
Our first destination is the beautiful city of Hania in Western Crete. Hania is built on an earlier settlement that Homer calls Kydonia, and this name is also found in the Mycenaean Linear B tablets (1100 BC). The powerful city of Kydonia was a leader in resisting successive invaders, Romans, Arabs, the Venetians, and the Turks. During their rule, (1205-1669), the Venetians changed the name to La Canae – the channel – from which comes the modern name Hania. But even today, the province around Hania retains the ancient name, Kydonia.
Day 1: Friday 11 May, Arrive Hania
- Airport transfer for participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
- Evening Orientation Talk & pre-dinner drinks
- Light Evening Meal
Our tour commences in Hania. Those arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight will be transferred by private coach to the Porto Veneziano Hotel, located in the heart of the old city. If you are travelling independently to Crete, ASA can arrange a private transfer for you, or you should take an officially marked taxi to the hotel. There will be a short welcome meeting before a light evening meal in the old town. (Overnight Hania, Crete) D
Day 2: Saturday 12 May, Hania – Aptera – Hania
- Monastery of Agia Triada of Jagarolon
- Ancient Aptera
- Shipyard Moro, Nautical Museum: featuring the reconstructed Minoan ship Minoa
- Welcome Lunch at Tamam Tavern
- Orientation walk of the old city of Hania, visiting the Venetian fortification and old Venetian and Ottoman quarters
- Time at leisure
We begin this morning with a brief visit to the Agia Triada Monastery located on the Akrotiri Peninsula. Two Venetian brothers who had adopted the Orthodox faith built this large church in the 17th century. During the 19th century the Ottoman occupation of this monastery, as in many across Crete, played an important role in maintaining Greek identity by educating the local student population in the Greek language and way of life.
Nearby we visit ancient Aptera, which overlooks Souda Bay and offers panoramic views of the plain of Armeni to the White Mountains. ‘Aptera’ means wingless; the city got this name from a mythical story about a singing contest between the dangerous bird-women, the Sirens and Zeus’ daughters, the Muses. When the Sirens lost the contest, they shed their feathers, turned white, and fell into the sea. Much of the area remains unexcavated but we will see the impressive fortified city walls and substantial remains from the Roman period. The city walls are reminiscent of the Cyclopean walls of Tiryns and Mycenae. One can also see the remains of a small 1st-century BC temple of Demeter, a Roman theatre and the enormous vaulted cisterns of the Roman period – according to one source they were used for grain storage.
On returning to Hania we visit the Shipyard Moro, a division of the Nautical Museum of Crete. The exhibition features ancient naval architecture including the Minoa, a full size replica of a 16th-century Minoan vessel. With ships like these, the Minoans built a powerful and wealthy international trading empire.
Lunch will be served at the Tamam Tavern, a delightful Turkish restaurant housed in a former hammam. The afternoon is dedicated to exploring the beautiful architecture and narrow streets of the Venetian harbour district and the maze of narrow streets in the Splantzia/Daliani District. The remainder of the afternoon and evening will be at leisure. (Overnight Hania, Crete) BL
Heraklion, Crete - 3 nights
Day 3: Sunday 13 May, Hania – Eleutherna – Heraklion
- Arcadia Monastery
- Ancient Eleutherna Archaeological Site including the Necropolis of Orthi Petra
- The Museum of Ancient Eleutherna (opened June 2016)
Today we drive 23 kilometres southeast of Rethymnon to the fortified Arcadia Monastery, which sits on a high fertile plateau on the northwest side of Mount Ida (legendarily the birthplace of Zeus). As early as the 16th century the monastery was a place for science and art with a school and a rich library. It was also noted for its rich production of olive oil and wine produced by over 100 monks that lived in the monastery and over 200 farmers that worked the monastery’s extensive lands. The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule providing refuge to nearly 300 guerrilla fighters and some 700 women and children in the rebellion of 1866.
Next we visit Eleutherna, an ancient city-state that lies a few kilometres from the Arcadia Monastery. Eleutherna was a major city in 900-600 BC, the crucial period for the final crystallising and preserving in writing of the Homeric poems. Burials at Orthi Petra confirm Homer’s account of funeral rituals and in particular, the Warrior’s Tomb confirms the practice of revenge killing of captives described at Iliad 22.163-77. Rich finds from the excavation are on display in the new museum including a perfectly preserved bronze shield from Warrior’s Tomb (c.700 BC) and spectacular gold and jewelled adornments from the Tomb of the Four Priestesses (c. 675 BC), including a series of intricate gold brooches, one depicting a male god flanked by two lions and another showing animal combat very like that described at Odyssey 19.225-31.
Mid-afternoon we continue our journey to Heraklion, the capital of Crete. Our boutique hotel is located in the heart of the city. (Overnight Heraklion) BL
Day 4: Monday 14 May, Heraklion – Phaistos – Matala – Heraklion
- Minoan ‘palace’ complex at Phaistos
- Lunch at the Scala Fish Tavern, Matala
This morning we drive inland to the Minoan palace complex at Phaistos with its magnificent view over the Masara Plain. According to myth, Phaistos was founded by Rhadamanthys, brother of King Minos, both of whom ultimately became judges of the dead in the Greek Underworld. The complex at Phaistos dates to about 1900 BC, the basic footprint remained the same throughout several cycles of destruction and rebuilding until it was abandoned in about 1400 BC.
In Minoan times, Matala was the port of Phaistos where Zeus is supposed to have come ashore in the form of a great white bull with the Phoenician princess Europa on his back. Minos and Rhadamanthys are their offspring. In the late afternoon we return to Heraklion for an evening at leisure.
(Overnight Heraklion) BL
Day 5: Tuesday 15 May, Heraklion – Knossos – Heraklion
- Minoan ‘palace’ complex of Knossos
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum
- Traditional Cretan Dinner at the Brillant Gourmet Restaurant
There is a land called Crete in the middle of the wine-dark water,
a handsome country and fertile, sea girt,
there are innumerable peoples in it and ninety cities.
Language with language mix there together….
and there is Knossos, the great city, the place where Minos
was king for nine year periods, and conversed with great Zeus. (Odyssey 19.172)
Knossos is the largest and most famous Minoan ‘palace’ complex on Crete. The site was excavated and reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans in the early years of the twentieth century. Later Greeks thought that the Knossos complex, with its three-storied maze of corridors and rooms, was the labyrinth where the Athenian hero Theseus killed the Minotaur. At Iliad, Homer mentions the dancing floor that the craftsman Daedalus built for Ariadne at Knossos. It is very possible that Homer’s description of King Alkinoos’ wonderful palace preserves a deep, collective memory of Knossos (Odyssey 7.84-107).
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the world’s great museums with marvellous finds from all over Crete. The displays cover a span of 7,500 years, but the museum is most celebrated for its collection of beautiful and sophisticated objects from the Minoan civilisation, including frescoes from Knossos, the distinctive faïence figurines of the snake goddess and the mysterious Phaistos disk. Other exhibits include a Boar’s Tusk Helmet that exactly matches Homer’s description of the helmet worn by Odysseus in the Iliad (10.261-65).
Tonight we shall enjoy a traditional Cretan banquet at the Brillant Gourmet Restaurant. (Overnight Heraklion) BD
Fira, Santorini - 2 nights
Day 6: Wednesday 16 May, Heraklion (Crete) – Fira (Santorini)
- Morning High-Speed Catamaran from Heraklion to Fira, Santorini
- Museum of Prehistoric Thira
- Time at leisure
This morning we take the Hellenic Seaways Flying Cat to the volcanic island of Santorini, known as Stonghyli (the Round One) and Thira in classical antiquity. The island was blown apart by a catastrophic event in the 17th-century BC, one of the largest in the history of the earth. The Thira eruption would have generated a huge tsunami and pyroclastic flows that travelled a hundred kilometres over the sea. Tephra from Thira has been found in the Nile Delta and the Black Sea. It is no accident that gods of subterranean fire (Hephaestus), thunder and lightning (Zeus), and tsunami and earthquake (Poseidon) figure so large in Homer! It was just such a storm that scattered the Greek fleet on the way home from Troy and left the Aegean ‘blossoming with dead men’. There are numerous submerged towns and villages in Crete and around the Mediterranean. Indeed, Plato famously imagines an island called ‘Atlantis’ completely swallowed by the sea.
At the Museum of Prehistoric Thira we can see material excavated from the Late Bronze Age site of Akrotiri, a ‘Bronze Age Pompeii’ buried and preserved by the volcanic eruption. The frescoes from Akrotiri are wonderfully celebratory in their observation of plants and animals, and especially of marine life. Conspicuously absent, here and on Crete, are depictions of warfare, images glorifying kings and leaders, and obvious differentiation in status between men and women.
We spend two nights at the El Greco Resort Hotel. In addition to its own restaurant, the hotel is within walking distance of Fira’s many restaurant’s and cafés. (Overnight Fira) B
Day 7: Thursday 17 May, Santorini
- Minoan Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri
- Private Cruise of the Santorini Caldera
- Group Dinner in Oia
Today we visit the site of Akrotiri itself. We will be able walk the streets and experience what was once a beautiful and highly prosperous, sophisticated urban centre with multi-storied houses, shops, and an advanced sewage and drainage system.
Following some time at leisure for lunch in the village of Fira, we take the cable car to the foot of the cliffs where we embark on our excursion to the Santorini caldera, the sunken crater of the volcano. We shall have the opportunity to walk to the rim of the crater, sail around the islet, view its hot springs, and experience close up the majestic volcanic cliffs.
This evening there will be some time to explore the picturesque village of Oia with its white painted houses, vivid blue roofs and doors, narrow streets and stairways. There will even be time to drop into the iconic Atlantis Bookstore, ranked the best bookstore in the world by National Geographic. Our evening meal at a restaurant overlooking the caldera will be the perfect place to bask in the famous, golden Oia sunset. (Overnight Fira) BD
Nauplion - 2 nights
Day 8: Friday 18 May, Santorini – Athens – Piraeus – Corinth – Nauplion
- Morning flight from Santorini to Athens
- Lunch at Jimmy and the Fish Restaurant, Piraeus (by the sea)
- Ancient Corinth: Archaeological Site & Museum
This morning we fly from Santorini to Athens. Following a seafood lunch at the port of Piraeus, we journey by coach to Nauplion via Corinth. Homer tells us that Corinth is the birthplace of the Bellerophon, the hero who tamed the winged horse Pegasus and killed the Chimera (Iliad 6. 155-202). In Corinth we visit the site of the ancient city at the base of the rocky Acrocorinth, described in the Iliad as ‘the luxurious’.
It was trade that made Corinth’s fortune. Commanding the Isthmus connecting northern and southern Greece and access to the east and west (paved in the 7th century BC), it was ideally placed for trade and commerce. Corinth had established a colony at Syracuse by 733 BC, and at Kerkyra (modern Corfu) by 709 BC. Corinthian pottery from as early as 800 BC is found in Ithaka and Delphi. After 550 BC, nearly every structure at Delphi had Corinthian terracotta roof tiles and Corinthian silver coinage was circulating in Southern Italy. The Odyssey reflects the excitement and danger of this new world of trade and exploration. For instance, the goddess Athene masquerades as a merchant seeking bronze in exchange for his cargo of iron, while the olive trunk that Odysseus uses to blind the Cyclops is estimated to be the size of the mast of a ‘cargo-carrying ship’ (Odyssey 1.184, 9.322).
In the afternoon we drive to the pretty harbour town of Nauplion. It was named after Nauplios, son of the god Poseidon and grandfather of the more famous Nauplios who, in revenge for the execution of his son Palamedes, ignited false signal fires that caused the Greek fleet returning from Troy to shipwreck on the rocks of Euboea. (Overnight Nauplion) BL
Day 9: Saturday 19 May, Nauplion – Mycenae – Nauplion
- Fortress City of Mycenae: Treasury of Atreus & Acropolis
- Afternoon at leisure in Nauplion
This morning we travel to Mycenae ‘rich in gold’. We enter the stern citadel through the monumental Lion Gate and visit Grave Circle A where Schliemann found the famous gold mask that he believed was the death mask of King Agamemnon himself! It was from Mycenae that Agamemnon set out to join the Greek armada against Troy. It was also the scene of his murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra and his nephew (her lover) Aigisthus. From high up on the citadel, with panoptical views of the surrounding countryside, she certainly would have seen Agamemnon coming! When we meet Agamemnon in the Underworld, he condemns his Clymnestra but praises Odysseus’ faithful wife Penelope, saying that her story will be “a thing of grace for the people of earth” (Odyssey 24.191-203).
We shall return to Nauplion at midday for an afternoon at leisure. (Overnight Nauplion) B
Olympia - 1 night
Day 10: Sunday 20 May, Nauplion – Arcadia Plateau – Olympia
- Olympia: Archaeological Site
- Lunch at Barba Fostis Tavern
- Olympia Museum
Today we visit ancient Olympia and its excellent museum, where we will see the famous metopes and pediments from the Temple of Zeus and the Hermes with the Infant Dionysus by the late classical sculptor Praxiteles.
We can form a vivid idea of the nature and conduct of athletic events at ancient Olympia from Homer’s description of the funeral games for Patroklos at Iliad 23. Held in honour of Zeus, king of the gods, the traditional foundation date for the games was 776 BC. The Greeks thought that the spectacle of intense physical competition involving beautiful human bodies would be as delightful and pleasing to the gods as it was to them.
Because it was truly a Panhellenic occasion in which all the Greek city-states participated, a sacred truce was announced before each of festival to allow visitors to travel safely. During the truce, wars were suspended, legal disputes and executions were forbidden.
Pheidias’ gold-and-ivory cult statue, one of the wonders of the ancient world, was housed in Zeus’ temple, but has not survived. Pausanias tells us that the seated god was so huge that if he had stood up, he would have taken the roof off. Sadly the statue has not survived. Outside the sanctuary were sports structures, thermal baths, and lodgings and accommodation for guests. (Overnight Olympia) BLD
Argostoli, Kefalonia - 2 nights
Day 11: Monday 21 May, Olympia – Patras – Kyllini – Poros – Argostoli, Kefalonia
- Archaeological Museum of Patras
- Ferry from Kyllini to Poros, Kefalonia
- Orientation walk of Argostoli, Kefalonia
We depart Olympia early this morning and continue north to the port of Patras. Modern Patras is Greece’s third largest city, and the capital of Western Greece, in the northern Peloponnese.
On arrival we visit the Archaeological Museum of Patras. Opened in 2009, its shiny metallic domes and contemporary buildings make up the country’s second largest museum. The museum’s exhibits cover the period between 3000 BC and the 4th century AD and come from the city of Patras, as well as the surrounding areas of southern and western Achaia. The exhibition is divided into three themed halls – Private Life, Public Life and the Cemeteries. The most prominent among the artefacts are the ones dating to the Mycenaean (including a significant collection of Mycenaean swords) as well as the Roman period.
Following lunch at a local restaurant we continue to Kyllini, situated in the westernmost part of Elis and the Peloponnese. From the port of Kyllini we make the crossing by ferry to Poros, a picturesque small town located in the southeast of Kefalonia.
On arrival we transfer by coach to Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia. Overlooking the island’s main port, the town is located on the east coast of a peninsula surrounded by wooded mountains. An orientation walk along the cobbled promenade, which skirts the harbour, leads us past small tavernas, and cafes to the Argostoli Square. The beautiful architecture of Argostoli was severely damaged in the 1953 earthquake; most of its Venetian architecture was lost. The town was rebuilt soon after, following the original street layout, and it is still in a constant stage of expansion. Nearby, we also view the Drapano Bridge, also known as the De Bosset Causeway. This 900-metre long stone bridge connecting Argostoli with Drapano was constructed in 1813 during the period of British rule (1809-1864).
Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands, is believed by some scholars to be Odysseus’ homeland of Ithaca rather than the neighbouring island that is known as ‘Ithaca’ today. Homer does mention Kefalonian warriors fighting with Odysseus at Troy and many of Penelophe’s suitors are from Kefalonia, but scholars have tended to explain this by saying that Kefalonia was a general name for the whole group of Ionian Islands, including Ithaca. Our visit will give us an opportunity to discuss this fascinating question. (Overnight Argostoli, Kefalonia) BL
Day 12: Tuesday 22 May, Kefalonia: Argostoli – Mazarakata – Poros – Skala – Razata – Argostoli
- Mazarakata Mycenaean Cemetery (from above)
- The Tholos Tomb at Tzannata
- Roman Villa at Skala
- Optional walk to the Cyclopean Walls of Ancient Krani, Razata
We begin our tour of Kefalonia with a visit to Mazarakata village, where we may view (from above) the Mazarakata Mycenaean Cemetery. Consisting of 17 chamber tombs, this is the largest Mycenaean graveyard on the island. They are of great significance as the tombs were found unplundered.
The Mycenaean tomb at Tzannata, located near the village of Poros, is the largest known beehive-shaped or tholos tomb in the Ionian Islands. The tomb, which is considered to be a royal grave, contained golden jewellery, royal seals and precious stones. There have been claims that this was the burial place of Odysseus himself!
Following some free time for lunch in the village of Skala, we visit the remains of a 3rd-century Roman villa. The villa features some remarkably well-preserved mosaics depicting the sacrifice of a bull, a motif we will have seen many times in the course of our journey.
Three kilometres east of Argostoli lies the ancient citadel of Krani. Part of the mighty Cyclopean fortifications, dating from the 7th or 6th century BC, survive to this day and are considered among the best extant specimens of Greek military architecture. One level down are traces of a temple dedicated to the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, according to an inscription found in the area. Access to the walls is on foot only (approx. 1.5kms). (Overnight Argostoli, Kefalonia) B
Vathy, Ithaca (Ionian Islands) - 3 nights
Day 13: Wednesday 23 May, Kefalonia – Vathy, Ithaca
- Short boat trip on Melissani Cavern-Lake
- Drogarati’s Cave
- Ferry from Kefalonia to Ithaca
- Time at leisure
- Optional evening readings and discussions of the Odyssey
Caves are important in ancient religion and in Homeric poetry. They are often considered to give access to a divine realm and to the land of the dead. This morning we depart Argostoli and travel by coach to Melissani, a stunning underground lake located northwest of Sami. The caves are part of an extensive network of largely uncharted underground channels through which water flows across the island to the sea. The Melissani Cave roof collapsed in ancient times, allowing sunlight into its clear waters and creating an ever-changing range of blue and green hues in the 32-metre deep lake under the roof opening. It is said that the cave and lake take their name from the nymph Melisanthi, who loved the God Pan – half man and half goat – and who drowned herself in the lake when Pan rejected her love.
An excursion by small boat offers breathtaking views of this natural phenomenon. Those claiming the actual home of Odysseus was Kefalonia rather than Ithaca even point to the cave as being Homer’s famed ‘cave of the Nymphs’, one of the distinctive landmarks that Athena conjures up to convince Odysseus that he is back in his homeland after twenty years away from Ithaca. (Odyssey 13.344-351).
Nearby we also visit the Drogarati Cave, discovered 300 years ago after a strong earthquake created an entrance. The cave is 150 million years old and features a large room with magnificent white and red stalactites and stalagmites, formed and coloured by chalk, limestone and the rock’s iron content.
Following lunch at a local restaurant we take the ferry from Kefalonia to Ithaca. After checking in to our boutique hotel, the remainder of the afternoon is free for you to explore the charming port of Vathy. In the early evening we shall gather for some readings and discussions of the Odyssey. (Overnight Vathy, Ithaca) BLD
Day 14: Thursday 24 May, Ithaca: Villages of Anogi, Stavros and Exogi
- Archaeological Museum of Vathy
- Navy and Folklore Museum of Ithaca, Vathy
- Monastery of Panagia Kathariotissa, Anogi
- Prehistoric Menhirs, Anogi
- The Church of the Dormition of the Virgin, Anogi
- Stavros Archaeological Museum
- Optional County walk to the archaeological site of the Palace of Odysseus, Exogi
I am Odysseus son of Laertes, known before all men for clever and crafty designs,
my fame goes up to the heavens. My home is sunny Ithaka.
There is a mountain that stands tall, leaf-trembling Neritos,
and there are other islands settled around it, lying very close to one another.
There is Doulichion and Same, wooded Zakynthos, but my island lies low and away,
last of all on the water toward the dark, with the rest facing east and sunshine,
a rugged place, but a good nurse of men;
for my part I cannot think of any place sweeter on earth to look at. (Odyssey 9.19-28)
We begin the day with a visit to the small archaeological and folklore museums in Vathy. The archaeological collection includes everyday objects from all over the island dating from prehistoric to Roman times. Of special interest are some locally made vases from about 800 BC. The Folklore Museum has a fascinating collection of furniture, clothes, and tools, including a fully assembled bedroom that illustrate life on Ithaca from the 19th century to the present.
On our island tour we begin with a visit to the Monastery of Panagia Kathariotissa with its wonderful views over the whole island, the almost entirely deserted village of Anogi with its remarkable menhirs and, after collecting the key from a remaining resident, the 12th-century church of The Dormition of the Virgin with its beautiful frescoes.
At the Stavros Archaeological Museum we will see a collection of objects, including a set of fragmentary bronze tripods found in a cave at Polis Bay, that are often cited as evidence that Ithaca is in fact the true homeland of Homer’s Odysseus.
Finally after lunch at Stavros, we will embark on an optional cross-country walk from the village of Exogi to the archaeological site known as the Palace of Odysseus. The walk is a wonderful experience, but travellers need to be aware that it involves a steep downhill route of about 2.6 kilometres along ancient cobbled goat tracks. Some of the landmarks on our walk can be identified with locations in the Odyssey, such as Hill of Hermes, Polis Bay, Rheithron Harbour and Melyandrios Spring. (Overnight Vathy, Ithaca) BD
Day 15: Friday 25 May, Ithaca: Villages of Lefki, Frikes and Kioni
- Church of Saint Nicolaos of Xenon (the Foreigners) with its celebrated icon attributed to El Greco, Vathy
- Island tour of Lefki, Frikes and Kioni villages
- Farewell to Ithaca: Dinner at Sirines (Sirens) Yacht Club
Today we begin with a visit to the picturesque Church of Saint Nicolaos of Xenon, located in the old town of Vathy. Within, a rare Byzantine icon of Jesus Elkomenos (Jesus in Pain) is attributed to El Greco.
Our island tour takes us to the beautiful northeastern coast of Ithaca, with stops at the seaside villages of Lefki and Frikes. On the way, we visit secluded beaches and take the opportunity for an optional swim in the Ionian Sea. At the picturesque fishing village of Kioni, there will be time at leisure to lunch at one of the harbour side restaurants, to shop and to explore.
This evening we dine at the Sirens Restaurant-Yacht Club located near the harbour in Vathy. (Overnight Vathy, Ithaca) BD
Ioannina - 2 nights
Day 16: Saturday 26 May, Ithaca – Astakos – Arta – Ioannina
- Morning Ferry from Ithaca to Astakos
- Orientation tour of Arta, including the Byzantine Museum Church of the Parigoritissa (Consolation) and the medieval bridge over the Arachthos River
We depart Ithaca early this morning, and take the ferry across to Astakos in the province of Epirus in Northern Greece with its awe-inspiring Pindus mountain range and prominent Byzantine and Ottoman influences. In Homer, Epirus is the home of the Thesprotians, good friends to Odysseus (Odyssey 16. 316-320).
Following some time at leisure for lunch, we continue north to the pretty town of Arta, built on the site of the 7th-century BC colony of Ambracia. In 338 BC Ambracia was occupied by troops of the Macedonian king Philip II. In 294 BC the city passed into the hands of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who made it his capital. As a member of the Aeolian League, Ambracia was besieged and captured by the Romans in 189 BC. It later became a free city of the Roman Empire. We take a short orientation tour of Arta viewing the Byzantine Museum/Church of Panagia Parigoritissa (Consolation) with its breathtaking architecture and marvellous frescoes and icons. We also have refreshments at tearooms overlooking the famous medieval bridge on the Arachthos River.
Departing Arta, we begin our pilgrimage to the Greek oracles of northern Greece and spend the night in the capital and largest city of Epirus, Ioannina. (Overnight Ioannina) B
Day 17: Sunday 27 May, Ioannina – Dodona – Ioanninaa
- The Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona
- Archaeological Museum of Ioannina
- Lunch at Myrovolos Restaurant
- Walking tour of Ioannina Old Town
Unrecognised, in beggar’s disguise, Odysseus prepares Eumaios and later, Penelope for his homecoming by saying that he has news from the King of the Thesprotians:
Odysseus has gone to Dodona, to listen
to the will of Zeus, out of the holy deep-leaved oak tree
for how he may return to the rich countryside of Ithaka,
whether in secret or openly, having been by now long absent.
So he is safe, as you see and is now coming back. He is very close at hand…. (Odyssey 19.287)
This morning we travel inland to the sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, the oldest oracle in Greece. In prehistoric times it was a shrine of the Great Earth Mother. Homer says that the focus of the oracle was Zeus’ holy oak tree and that barefoot priests called Selloi lay on the ground to receive the god’s communication from the rustling of the leaves and branches. Achilleus prays to Zeus of Dodona to protect his dear friend Patroklos in battle (Iliad 16.233-35). The territory of Dodona sent twenty-two ships to fight at Troy.
The first, small temple to Zeus of Dodona was built at the beginning of the 4th century BC. In the next two hundred years the site was embellished with other monumental buildings and finally, a stone theatre larger than the one at Epidaurus.
Late morning we return to Ioannina to visit the Archaeological Museum. The collection covers a wide time span from the first appearance of humans in Epirus during the Lower Paleolithic, 250,000 years ago, to late antiquity in late Roman times (3rd century AD). Great emphasis is placed on the artefacts from the sanctuary of Dodona which are exhibited in a hall devoted to one of the greatest sanctuaries of the Greek world.
With a history going back to Hellenistic times, Ioannina is now a thriving university town with a local artisan industry in exquisite silversmithing and jewellery making. Following time at leisure and lunch at a lakeside restaurant, we take a guided tour of the old town set within the impressive fortifications of Ioannina Castle. (Overnight Ioannina) BL
Corfu - 3 nights
Day 18: Monday 28 May, Ioannina – Nekromanteion Acheron – Igoumenitsa – Corfu
- Nekromanteion Acheron
- Tour of the River Acheron by varkakia (small boats)
- Picnic lunch at the springs of the Acheron
- Ferry from Igoumenitsa to Corfu (late afternoon)
Today we visit the famous Nekromanteion (Oracle of the Dead). In antiquity, Theseus and Herakles were said to have descended to the Underworld from here. It was also believed that the shades of dead could be brought into communication with the living if the prescribed rituals were correctly performed. The ritual was based on the description of Odysseus’s sacrifice to raise the shades of the dead at Odyssey 11.25-28. The dead, ‘the thirsty ones’, have forgotten who they are, but memory and speech are temporarily restored to them when they drink offerings of blood, wine and honey. Odysseus makes his sacrifice at the place where the Underworld rivers of Pyriphlegethon (Fiery) and Kokytos (Lamentation) meet the Acheron (River of Woe).
We will take a boat trip down the Acheron River; however there will be no fire or lamentation for us. Our modern trip will be a scenic cruise past flocks of longhaired sheep and nesting nightingales. Later, we will picnic on the banks of the Acheron at its source, a place where the countless clear, crystal subterranean springs give rise to the beautiful river. No wonder the Ancients thought the Acheron came from the Underworld!
In the afternoon our journey continues north along the coastline to the port town of Igoumenitsa where we take the ferry across to the Island of Corfu. (Overnight Corfu) BL
Day 19: Tuesday 29 May, Corfu – Kynopiastes – Paleokastritsa – Corfu
- Archaeological Museum of Corfu (due to reopen in 2017)
- Walking tour of Corfu’s Old Town
- Kynopiastes village & the Olive Museum
- Paleokastritsa Monastery
Corfu’s unique location close to Italy and its privileged access to the Adriatic give it a somewhat different character to the rest of Hellas. The ancient Greeks identified Corfu (ancient Kerkyra) with the idyllic kingdom of the Phaiakians where the naked, shipwrecked Odysseus was given food, clothing, and finally, transport home to Ithaca. It was in the Phaiakian palace that Odysseus told the story of his adventures.
Naturally, Corfu has inspired a rich mythic tradition. One of several foundation stories is that Corfu gave refuge to the nymph Makris when she was being persecuted by Hera for rearing Zeus’ bastard child, the infant Dionysos. In gratitude, Makris bestowed prosperity and fertility on their island. Makris’ cave became a place of blessing where Herakles is said to have sought purification. It was also said that Jason and Medea consummated their marriage in Makris’ cave, lying on the Golden Fleece and bedecked with the flowers for which Corfu is famous.
This morning we will visit the Corfu Archaeological Museum to see the famous Gorgon Pediment from the Temple of Artemis, the oldest stone pediment in Greece (590-80 BC). It depicts the monstrous Gorgon Medusa flanked by panthers in the manner of the Lion Gate at Mycenae. Medusa is an apotropaic figure intended to protect the temple. Also depicted are Medusa’s offspring, the hero Chrysaor and the flying horse Pegasus.
Next we will take a guided walk through the Old Town of Corfu beginning on the Esplanade, the centre of modern Corfu planted with palms and eucalyptus by the French and sporting an English cricket pitch. From here we visit the Old Fort and the 16th-century church of Agios Spyridon, which houses a relic of the island’s patron saint. Heading west to the Venetian town, we come to a maze of tiny streets with markets, coffee shops, and houses where real Corfiotes live. The hillside area known as Campiello, with its little squares, washing lines strung across narrow alleys, steps and curved streets is especially reminiscent of Venice. The New Fortress still bears the insignia of the Venetian Republic.
In the afternoon we visit the picturesque village of Kynopiastes for an out-of-season guided visit to the Olive Museum housed in the old oil mill of Paipetis. The oil mill was in operation from the end of the 19th century until the 70s. Indeed, more than one thousand such mills existed on Corfu until the 1950s. The owner has agreed to open the museum especially for our group. It will be a unique insight into a traditional way of life.
The olive tree was the goddess Athene’s gift to Athens; it figures constantly in the Odyssey. Olive trees flourish in Alkinoos’ orchards and the women in his palace sieve the golden oozing oil. Olive trees grow in the Underworld; Odysseus’s axe has an olive wood handle, he clung to an olive tree to avoid being sucked into the whirlpool of Charybdis, and he blinded the Cyclops with a sharpened olive tree trunk. The Phaiakians leave Odysseus’ marvellous treasure by the trunk of an olive tree. Best of all, Odysseus and Penelope’s marriage bed is fashioned from the trunk of a giant olive tree with its roots deep in the island soil.
We end the day with a drive through forests of olive trees and cypresses to the large Byzantine monastery complex dedicated to the Virgin Mary of Paleokastritsa (Old Castle). Dating from 1228, the monastery, which was built on top of a remote hill, provides gorgeous views of the island and the sea. The complex features a church decorated with fine frescoes and the famous icon of the Virgin, a museum with rare Byzantine icons, and a traditional olive oil press. (Overnight Corfu) B
Day 20: Wednesday 30 May, Corfu
- Achilleion Palace
- Paleópolis site of the famous Temple of Artemis (time permitting)
- Kanoni, Monastery of Vlakherna
- Farewell Dinner
This morning we visit the neo-classical Achilleion Palace (1890-91) built as a summer retreat for Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Situated amidst orange and lemon groves the villa, with magnificent views over the countryside, was intended to be a recreation of the Phaiakian palace on Scheria. It was also a memorial to Elisabeth’s beloved son Rudolf, whom Elisabeth identified with the great warrior Achilles, hence the many statues and motifs associated with Achilles. The Dying Achilles forms the centerpiece of the formal Italian garden.
Time permitting, we make a brief visit to the ancient city of Corfu, known as Paleópolis, and site of the famous early 6th-century Temple of Artemis. The famous Gorgon Pediment, today displayed in Corfu’s archaeological museum, once adorned the western side of this ancient temple.
Our final port of call is to Kanoni and the beautiful Vlakherna Monastery of Panagia (Holy Virgin), which is linked to the land by a narrow causeway. From a distance we may also view the islet chapel of Pondikonisi. Only accessible by small boat, this monastery is said to be the petrified Phaiakian ship, turned to stone with all its crew as Poseidon’s punishment for conveying Odysseus back to Ithaca (Odyssey 13.153-164).
Tonight we enjoy a special evening meal at a local restaurant where we talk far into the night, say our farewells, and ‘put our hands to the good things that lie before us’. (Overnight Corfu) BD
Day 21: Thursday 31 May, Tour ends in Corfu
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour ends in Corfu. In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flights will be transferred to the Corfu Airport for their flight back to Australia (via Athens). Alternatively, you may wish to extend your stay in Corfu. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B