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/picnic lunch) and D=dinner.
Hania, Crete - 2 nights
Day 1: Friday 4 October4, Arrive Hania
- Tour commences at 7.45pm in the foyer of the Porto Veneziano Hotel
- Welcome Meeting
- Light Evening Meal
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 7.45pm in the foyer the Porto Veneziano Hotel, located in the heart of the old city of Hania. There will be a short welcome meeting followed by a light dinner in the old town.
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 BCE). 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. (Overnight Hania, Crete) D
Day 2: Saturday 5 October, Hania – Aptera – Hania
- Ancient Aptera
- New Archaeological Museum of Hania
- 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 visit to ancient Aptera, which overlooks Souda Bay and offers panoramic views across 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 reminiscent of the Cyclopean walls of Tiryns and Mycenae. We also see the remains of a small 1st-century BCE temple of Demeter, a theatre and vaulted cisterns of the Roman period – according to one source they were used for grain storage.
On returning to Hania, we visit the New Archaeological Museum, opened in state-of-the-art premises in April 2022. Highlights are an, as yet unpublished, assemblage of clay bull votive figurines and the famous “Master Sealing” a seal impression showing a male figure towering over a Minoan town by the sea – possibly Kastelli Hill near our hotel. We also make a quick visit to Shipyard Moro, a division of the Nautical Museum of Crete in order to see the Minoa, a full-size replica of a 16th-century, BCE Minoan vessel.
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. At the entrance to the harbour lies the Firka Fortress, built by the Venetians (1206-1669) to serve as a local garrison and later used for the same purpose by the Ottomans (1669-1898).
The remainder of the afternoon and evening will be at leisure. (Overnight Hania, Crete) BL
Heraklion, Crete - 3 nights
Day 3: Sunday 6 October, Hania – Eleutherna – Heraklion
- Arcadia Monastery
- Ancient Eleutherna Archaeological Site including the Necropolis of Orthi Petra
- The Museum of Ancient Eleutherna
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 (in myth, a birthplace of the sky god 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 the monks that lived in the monastery and farmers that worked the monastery’s extensive lands. The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance to Ottoman rule and in the revolt of 1866, provided refuge to nearly 300 guerrilla fighters and some 700 women and children.
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 BCE, 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 BCE) and spectacular gold and jewelled adornments from the Tomb of the Four Priestesses (c. 675 BCE), 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 7 October, Heraklion – Knossos – Zominthos – Heraklion
- Minoan ‘palace’ complex of Knossos
- Minoan ‘palace’ complex of Zominthos (to be confirmed in 2024)
- Traditional Cretan Dinner at the Brillant Gourmet Restaurant
Over the next two days we visit the most important Minoan archaeological sites. In the morning we set out for Knossos, the famous Minoan ‘palace’ complex on Crete. The site was excavated and reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans in the early years of the twentieth century. Evans’ reconstruction is controversial, but it does offer a vivid experience of how Minoan palatial complexes may have looked in the Bronze Age.
Evans 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. In the Iliad, Homer mentions the dancing floor that the craftsman Daedalus built for Ariadne at Knossos. It is also very possible that Homer’s description of King Alkinoos’ shining palace preserves a collective memory of Knossos (Odyssey 7.84-107).
In the afternoon, we hope to have special permission to visit Zominthos, a unique Minoan mountain site that is closed to the public and still under excavation. Zominthos is the best preserved of all Minoan sites. So far, 1800 square metres have been excavated, including an 80 room, three-story structure built with large, elongated stones and fragments of blue and red wall plaster. There have been astonishing finds including objects bearing the elusive hieroglyphic Linear A script. Indeed, excavators believe that they may find a Linear A archive with a sufficient number of texts to make decipherment a possibility. Zominthos is a remote site, 1200 metres above sea level, but in Minoan times on the direct route from Knossos to the cave on Mt. Ida (modern Mt. Psiloritis) where the god Zeus is said to have been hidden by his mother Rheia “under the secret places of earth” until he came of an age to challenge his father Kronos for supremacy of the universe. Like many other other Minoan centres Zominthos was destroyed by a violent earthquake.
Tonight we shall enjoy a traditional Cretan banquet at the Brillant Gourmet Restaurant. (Overnight Heraklion) BLD
Day 5: Tuesday 8 October, Heraklion – Phaistos – Heraklion
- Minoan ‘palace’ complex at Phaistos
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum
This morning we drive inland to the Minoan palace complex at Phaistos with its evocative view over the Messara 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. Like Knossos, the complex at Phaistos also dates to about 1900 BCE, but here we see the original ground plan of a Minoan palatial complex without the overlay of Arthur Evan’s reconstructions. Phaistos remained the same throughout several cycles of destruction and rebuilding until it was abandoned in about 1400 BCE.
In the afternoon we visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, 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). (Overnight Heraklion) BL
Nauplion - 2 nights
Day 6: Wednesday 9 October, Heraklion – Athens – Piraeus – Corinth – Nauplion
- Morning flight from Heraklion to Athens (A3325 0935-1030)
- Lunch at Jimmy and the Fish Restaurant, Piraeus (by the sea)
- Ancient Corinth: Archaeological Site & Museum
This morning we fly from Heraklion 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’. The first thing that catches the eye are the monumental surviving columns of the early Greek temple of Apollo. (This will make a fascinating comparison with the much later temple of Apollo when we visit Bassai.) Just north of the temple was the Asklepion, a healing centre dedicated to Asklepios, the son of Apollo and a theatre.
However, 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 BCE), it was ideally placed for trade and commerce. Corinth had established a colony at Syracuse by 733 BCE, and at Kerkyra (modern Corfu) by 709 BCE. Corinthian pottery from as early as 800 BCE is found at Ithaka and Delphi. After 550 BCE, 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. In a telling masquerade, the goddess Athene claims to be a merchant seeking bronze in exchange for his cargo of iron and interestingly 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 and 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 7: Thursday 10 October, Nauplion – Epidauros – Mycenae – Nauplion
- Theatre and Sanctuary of Asklepios, Epidauros
- Fortress City of Mycenae: Treasury of Atreus & Acropolis
- Afternoon at leisure in Nauplion
Yesterday we spoke about an Asklepion at Corinth, this morning we travel to Epidauros, the oldest healing centre in Greece. Ritual healing was already practised at Epidauros in the Mycenaean age and by the 6th-century BCE it was the most important sanctuary of Asklepios in the Greek world, famous for the range of procedures and therapies it could offer. Asklepios’ sanctuaries were set apart in locations chosen for their beauty, tranquillity and abundance of water. There is evidence that priests and workers remembered the most successful remedies and in so doing developed a body of medical knowledge. There were eventually over 700 Asklepieia across the Mediterranean.
In myth, Asklepios was the mortal son of the god Apollo with a woman called Koronis, Homer says that he was was taught the healing art by Chiron, “the most richteous of the centaurs (Iliad 4. 219). But when Asklepios used his skill to bring the dead back to life, Zeus was angered that the distinction between human beings and divinity had been breached, struck him with a thunderbolt and cast him into Hades. Ultimately Zeus had a change of heart and made him a god. By 600 BCE Asklepios was worshipped as a divinity along with his daughter Hygieia, goddess of health.
The ancient Greeks associated Asklepios with Dionysos, the god of theatre, and saw theatre and music as critically important for health and healing both in the individual and in society. Consequently, there is almost always a theatre near, or included in, a sanctuary of Asklepios. The spectacular theatre at Epidauros, famous for its acoustics and with a capacity for 14,000 spectators, is possibly the best conserved in the world and is still used for musical, poetical and theatrical performances.
Next, we travel to Mycenae, described by Homer as ‘rich in gold’. Mycenae gave its name to the Mycenaean civilisation; the supposed time period of Homer’s stories of the heroes and the Trojan War. 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 Clytemnestra 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
Pylos – 2 nights
Day 8: Friday 11 October, Nauplion – Lerna – Messene – Pylos
- The House of Tiles, Lerna
- Ancient Messene
Early this morning we depart Nauplion for Messene via Lerna, famous in myth for the story of Herakles’ (the Roman Hercules) battle with the lethal Hydra, a venomous monster with the terrifying ability to regenerate multiple heads. At Lerna, we will stop at the remarkable Early Bronze Age site of the ‘House of the Tiles’, ca. 2200 BCE, a complex building predating the earliest Minoan structures on Crete. Among the finds were clay sealings for a large number of storage jars, boxes, and baskets. In the same area were found large quantities of pottery. The building was destroyed by fire and never re-built.
We continue our journey across the Peloponnese to the impressive, wonderfully preserved, little-known site of ancient Messene. Messene has a unique history in that for close to four hundred years, the region was under total Spartan control. From about the 750’s BCE the Messenians anticipated what was coming. There is evidence that tomb-cults flourished in the area in an attempt by the local population to stress their ancestral links to the land and claim it as their own. It was a hopeless cause. Spartan dominance is already apparent in the Iliad when King Agamemnon (brother of the King of Sparta) offers Achilleus rulership of seven cities on the Messenian Gulf as an inducement to re-join the fighting at Troy (Iliad 9.149–153).
The Spartan conquerors did not permit the Messenians to dwell in cities, depriving them of cultural autonomy and the ability to organise. It perpetuated the savage enslavement of their descendants, known as the Helots. In 420 BCE, the ancient historian Thucydides writes: “Most of the Helots were the descendants of the old Messenians that were enslaved long ago…” (1.101.2)
Spartan control was ultimately broken by the Theban general Epaminondas at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE and the new capital city was founded in 369 BCE. It is said that the city walls, the most stupendous in Greece, were completed in just 85 days. Epaminondas’ freeing of the Messenians and construction of their new city was designed to ensure Sparta never rose as a martial power again. It was also an expression of the Classical ideal that Greek citizens should never be slaves to other Greeks.
In the late afternoon we drive to the charming fishing village of Pylos, overlooking the Bay of Navarino, scene of the Battle of Sphacteria in 425 BCE when it is recorded that for the first time ever, Spartan warriors surrendered alive. (Overnight Pylos) BL
Day 9: Saturday 12 October, Pylos – Methoni – Pylos
- Neo Kastra (Ottoman Castle), Pylos
- Pylos Archaeological Museum
- Methoni Castle & Island of Bourtzi
- Time at leisure
Pylos and the surrounding area are rich with Homeric associations. It was on one of the beautiful beaches of this coast, possibly Nararino Bay, that Odysseus’ adult son Telemachos, accompanied by the goddess Athene, made landfall having sailed from Ithaca. The shallow sea-shore of Nararino Bay would offer an ideal anchorage for a Bronze Age ship. Telemachos arrives during the grand sacrifice of a hundred oxen (a hecatomb) to honour the sea-god Poseidon. He is cordially received by King Nestor who gives him a detailed account of the Greek departure from Troy and the homecoming of the warriors at the end of the war, but King Nestor can tell him nothing about the pressing question of his father Odysseus’ eventual fate (0dyssey. 3 .80-220; 248-312).
Two castles protect Navarino Bay, one is built on the Bronze Age acropolis, the other Neo Kastro, an Ottoman castle constructed in 1573, is a now a superb museum; an evocative setting for a display of artifacts from the wider Messenia region. These include objects from prehistoric to Roman times, and of special interest for us are the fragments of frescos from Nestor’s palace, an abundance of jewellery, animal figurines and ceramics from the miraculously unlooted Mycenaean tombs of Voidokilia and Koukounara and, of course, the linear B tablets. The castle also hosts a display of underwater antiquities from shipwrecks around the Peloponnese and submerged settlements.
From Pylos we continue to a small peninsula on the southwestern corner of the Peloponnese to visit the castle town of Methoni. There has been a city on this small peninsular since ancient times. Scholars identify it as the site of the town of Pedasos mentioned by Homer in the Iliad as one of the seven towns offered by Agamemnon to the angry Achilles in order to induce him to return to battle. Homer calls Pedasos “rich in vines”, a description recalled in the modern name. (In Greek myth, Methoni was a daughter of Oineus, the King to whom the wine-god Dionysos gave the secret of wine-making.) Methoni was fortified in the 4th century BCE and it was on these ancient ramparts that the Venetians built the castle of Methoni in 1209. The Venetian castle is celebrated as the most beautiful in Greece. It occupies the whole cape and even the small island of Bourtzi, which is connected to the mainland via a small stone arched bridge, has been fortified.
Following lunch at a local taverna in Methoni we return to Pylos where the remainder of the day is at leisure. (Overnight Pylos) BL
Olympia - 1 night
Day 10: Sunday 13 October, Pylos – Nestor – Kyparissia – Bassae – Olympia
- Mycenaean site of the ‘Palace of Nestor’
- Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae
This morning we travel to the Mycenaean site identified as Homer’s “Palace of Nestor” at “sandy Pylos”. The first traces of the ancient Greek city of Pylos and the fabled palace were unearthed in 1939, a discovery that has changed our understanding of Aegean prehistory. The 3,200-year-old ruins that Homer describes as “the glorious dwelling of the king” are the best-preserved Mycenaean palace complex ever excavated in Greece. It was a magnificent two-story structure with elaborate frescoes, inlaid floors and all the indications of a luxurious lifestyle including the warm baths and fine clothes described in the Odyssey (3.465-8). The palace supported a developed textile industry and perhaps the sweet wine aged for 11 years that King Nestor serves at Odyssey 3.390-92, is a memory of the famous honey-wine of Mycenaean Pylos. Indeed, archaeologists have discovered a separate building that functioned as a wine cellar with ceramic wine storage jars and thousands of drinking vessels. One of these jars was labelled with the symbol for “wine with honey”. We know that at Pylos wine was flavoured with herbs and flowers and that the palace was also the centre of a sophisticated perfume industry. The Linear B tablets provide a unique window into these and many other aspects of life at Pylos and in so many ways, confirm the narrative of the Odyssey; not least in the record of banquets as well as sacrifice and offerings to Poseidon and other gods. Almost eight decades later the discoveries continue, showing what an exceptional place ancient Pylos once was.
From Nestor’s palace we journey north to the charming seaside town of Kyparissia where we enjoy lunch at a local tavern. In the Iliad, Homer lists Kyparisseeis as one of the cities that combined to send ninety ships to fight at Troy under the leadership of King Nestor (Iliad 2. 593). The Roman poet Ovid has a story that Kyparissos was a beautiful boy who was transformed by Apollo into a Cypress (Kyparíssi) tree. (Metamorphoses 10.106-42).
From Kyparissia we head inland through the Arcadian mountains to the Temple of Apollo Epicurius (Greek Epikourios), “the helper” at Bassae (or Vassae—Greeks pronounce “B” as “V”). We are now in Arcadia a domain of Apollo, the god of order, music, clarity and light. As we are now aware, Apollo, father of Asklepios, is also associated with healing and the epithet “the helper” is sometimes said to refer to his power of deliverance from plague.
The temple, built 420-400 BCE by Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon, is the most unconventional but also one of the best preserved in Greece. Its dramatic, remote location recalls the traditional description of Apollo as the one “who shoots from afar”, the god of the “lyre and the bow”. Again, we remember that it was at the festival of Apollo that Odysseus strings the great bow with the same ease and expertise that a musician would string a lyre. With the blessing of Apollo, Odysseus takes his revenge on the suitors, at last restoring rectitude and order in his household (Odyssey 21). The temple at Bassae is now covered by a permanent protective roof. (Overnight Olympia) BLD
Argostoli, Kefalonia - 2 nights
Day 11: Monday 14 October, Olympia – Kyllini – Poros – Argostoli, Kefalonia
- Olympia: Archaeological Site
- Olympia Museum
- Ferry from Kyllini to Poros, Kefalonia
This morning 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 and said to have been founded by Heracles, the traditional foundation date for the games was 776 BCE. 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. Pausanias tells us that the seated god was so huge that if he had stood up, he would have taken off the roof. Sadly, the statue has not survived. Outside the sanctuary were sports structures, thermal baths, and accommodation for guests.
At midday we journey north 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.
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 “men of Kefalonia” fighting with Odysseus at Troy, but scholars sometimes 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.
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. The cobbled promenade which skirts the harbour, leads us past small tavernas, and cafes to the Argostoli Square. (Overnight Argostoli, Kefalonia) BL
Day 12: Tuesday 15 October, Kefalonia: Argostoli – Mazarakata – Sami – Razata – Argostoli
- Mazarakata Mycenaean Cemetery
- Short boat trip on Melissani Cavern-Lake
- Optional walk to the Cyclopean Walls of Ancient Krani, Razata
We begin our tour of Kefalonia with a visit to Mazarakata village, where we explore the Mycenaean Cemetery. Consisting of 17 chamber tombs, this is the largest Mycenaean graveyard on the island and is of great significance as the tombs were found unplundered. However, most of the the grave goods were donated by the Swiss born British governor De Bosset to the Museum of Neuchâtel, Switzerland in 1814, where they are still held.
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. Mid-morning we 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 who claim 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 mentions to convince Odysseus that he is back in his homeland after twenty years away from Ithaca. (Odyssey 13.344-351).
Following lunch in a local taverna in Sami, we travel to the ancient citadel of Krani. Here we visit the mighty Cyclopean fortifications, dating from the 7th or 6th century BCE, 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. Access to the walls is on foot only (approx. 1.5kms). (Overnight Argostoli, Kefalonia) BL
Vathy, Ithaca (Ionian Islands) - 3 nights
Day 13: Wednesday 16 October, Arogostoli, Kefalonia – Skala – Sami – Vathy, Ithaca
- Roman Villa at Skala
- Drogarati’s Cave
- Archaeological Collection of Sami
- Ferry from Kefalonia to Ithaca
This morning we visit the remains of a 3rd-century Roman villa at Skala. 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.
Nearby is 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 some time at leisure for lunch we visit the Archaeological Collection of Sami. Opened in 2021, this new museum features an exhibition “Sami: a historic port of the Mediterranean”, and includes exhibits from the Neolithic era to Roman times.
In the late afternoon we take the ferry from Kefalonia to the port of Pisaetos, Ithaca, and then journey by coach to our hotel located in the heart of the picturesque port of Vathy. (Overnight Vathy, Ithaca) B
Day 14: Thursday 17 October, Ithaca: Villages of Anogi, Stavros and Exogi
- Archaeological Museum of Ithaca
- 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 there
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 BCE inscribed with early examples of the Greek alphabet.
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 18 October, 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
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. (Overnight Vathy, Ithaca) B
Ioannina - 2 nights
Day 16: Saturday 19 October, 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 rich Byzantine and Ottoman influences. In Homer, Epirus is the home of the Thesprotians, good friends to Odysseus (Odyssey 16. 316-320).
The Corinthians captured Ambracia in 625 BCE. Three hundred years later, in 295 BCE, King Pyrrhus of Epirus made Ambracia the capital of his kingdom. Considered one of the greatest generals of antiquity, he fought the Pyrrhic War (280–275 BCE) to help the Greek city of Tarentum against the Romans. He was initially successful, but Plutarch quotes him as saying ‘If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.’ This gave rise to the expression ‘Pyrrhic victory’.
We take a short orientation tour of Arta viewing the Byzantine Museum/Church of Panagia Parigoritissa (Consolation), ca. 1290, 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 Oracle of Dodona in northern Greece and spend the night in the capital and largest city of Epirus, Ioannina. (Overnight Ioannina) B
Day 17: Sunday 20 October, 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. 296-301)
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 BCE. 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). Most interesting for us is the display of lead tablets on which those seeking advice scratched questions addressed to Zeus.
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 21 October, 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 an evocative structure near the confluence of the Kokytos (Lamentation) and Acheron (River of Woe) where Odysseus was said to have raised the shades of the dead at Odyssey 11. 25-28. The archaeologist Sotirios Dakaris thought that this was the Acheron Nekromanteion, mentioned by Herodotus, where the ancients performed rituals based on those described by Homer in the belief that by these means they could also speak to the dead. Dakaris’ interpretation seemed to be confirmed by the discovery of a complex of underground corridors in which hundreds of late 4th century BCE vessels were found, as well as several terracotta figurines of Persephone. The most striking feature of the site is a subterranean, vaulted ‘crypt’ with walls over three metres thick. Dakaris theorised that that those seeking to communicate with the dead were predisposed to an “otherworldly” experience by an initial passage through the labyrinthine corridors, by making sacrifices and submitting to purifications, and by the consumption of hallucinogenic lupines and beans. However, this view is now strongly contested on the basis of new studies of the site.
We also 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 rose up 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 22 October, Corfu – Paleokastritsa – Corfu
- Old Fortress
- St. Spyridon Church
- Lunch at Alipa Restaurant with spectacular views of the beautiful beach rich with Homeric associations
- Walk to Paleokatrisa Beach and board private boats to explore Paleokastritsa Bay including Nausikaa Cave
- Kanoni and the Monastery of Vacherna
Corfu has been subject to repeated invasions in her long history and gradually became an island of fortresses. The earliest defences on the site of the Old Fortress date from about the 6th century AD (CE). The Venetian Old Fortress was designed in the mid 1500’s and never succumbed to the Ottomans. It now houses the Public library.
We continue to the 16th-century church of Agios Spyridon, a fine basilica with magnificent frescoes. The church also holds the remains of St. Spyridon, Corfu’s patron saint and also patron saint of potters. His body, brought here from Constantinople in 1453, is paraded through the town on festival days.
Corfu’s unique location, close to Italy and with privileged access to the Adriatic, gives it a different character to the rest of Hellas. It was celebrated in antiquity for its abundance of fruit trees and flowers and was identified with the idyllic kingdom of the Phaiakians, Homer’s Golden Age land where the trees and vines bear all year round and are never spoiled; where there is no winter and fertile gardens are watered by unfailing, crystal clear spring-water. The kingdom of the Phaiakians is Odysseus’ final destination before his homecoming. He is hospitably received, first by the princess Nausikaa who happens upon him on the sandy bank where he has spent the night in the shelter of two intertwined bushes, and then by her parents, King Alkinoos and Queen Arete (Odyssey 6. 135-180 and 7. 139-134).
As it happens, the Phaiakians are marvellous sailors and the King agrees to outfit a ship and convey Odysseus home to Ithaca. But first, he hosts a lavish farewell banquet in Odysseus’ honour and it was here that Odysseus tells the story of his adventures. After a long night of story-telling Odysseus says his farewells and makes his way to the Phaiakian ship, a magical ship responsive to human thought. As she slips between realms, Odysseus sleeps and does not wake up even when the sailors gently carry him onto the beach of his longed-for homeland. But the world never be the same again for the Phaiakians; Alkinoos’ people have incurred the the Poseidon’s enmity for their part in Odysseus’ homecoming. Without warning, Poseidon stuns the living ship to stone as it re-enters the harbour.
Today we will visit some of the places on Corfu that are identified with these episodes in the Odyssey. Mid-morning our coach will take us through forests of olive trees to Paleokastritsa (Old Castle). We will lunch at the celebrated Alipa Restaurant with its panoramic views. Later, we will embark in small boats on our own exploration of the bay with its rock formations and caves, looking for the place where the shipwrecked Odysseus might have made safe landfall after his epic swim. In particular, we will visit the translucent Nausikaa Cave, named after the young princess who not only gives Odysseus some clothes but, in what must be the most gorgeous bath in all of literature, washes the crusted salt from his hair and body and soothes with oil his rough and swollen skin. Lawrence Durrell is not the only one who is sure that “Odysseus must have met Nausicaa at Paleokastritsa; it is not possible to believe otherwise.”
Our final port of call is Kanoni and the atmospheric 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). (Overnight Corfu) BL
Day 20: Wednesday 23 October, Corfu
- Archaeological Museum of Corfu
- Guided walking tour of Venetian Old Town
- Afternoon at leisure in Corfu Old Town: option to visit the Byzantine Museum and the Corfu Museum of Asian Art (inside Palace of St Michael and St George)
- Farewell Dinner
This morning we visit the newly renovated Corfu Archaeological Museum to see, among other things, the oldest stone pediment in Greece from the western pediment of the temple of Artemis at the ancient city of Paleópolis (590-80 BCE). The monstrous Gorgon Medusa, flanked by panthers is a fearsome figure. We remember that it was fear of encountering the Gorgon head that led Odysseus to cut short his conversation with Herakles in the Underworld (Odyssey 11. 633-35.)
Heading west to the Venetian old 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. We will come across majestic architecture, including the splendid Liston arcade, and remarkable museums, including the Byzantine Museum and Museum of Asian Art, that are a testament to the rich intellectual and artistic life of the island.
After some time at leisure, we enjoy a special evening meal at a local restaurant where we talk far into the night and after many wonderful feasts together in so many places, like Odysseus, we too say our farewells. (Overnight Corfu) BD
Day 21: Thursday 24 October, Tour ends in Corfu
- Tour concludes in the morning
- At leisure/Check out
Our tour ends in Corfu after breakfast. In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to Corfu Airport. B