This summer we have been able to fulfill one of Xavi's most desired dreams: travel to Greece, cradle of our civilization and dream destination for any lover of archeology. And not only that, but also offers dream beaches and delicious cuisine. As it was our first trip to Greece we decided to visit the «great successes» essential for a first trip to Greece of fifteen days: see the best archaeological sites of the Peloponnesus, know the typical Greek postcard visiting two Cyclades Islands: Folegandros and Santorini, and end up touring the west of Crete. So, here you have the 15-day Greece travel guide with all the details.
Day 0: Departure from Barcelona at 11:30 p.m. and arrival in Athens at 3:30 p.m. local time
Day 1: Delphi, night in Patra (Peloponnese)
Day 2: Dimitsana, Stemnitsa and Olimpia, night in Olympia (Peloponnese)
Day 3: Nemea, Mycenae and Nafplio, night in Epidaurus (Peloponnese)
Day 4: Epidaurus, Corinth and Athens, night in Athens
Day 5: Acropolis of Athens and Monastiraki, night in Athens
Day 6: Athens and Piraeus, night in Piraeus
Day 7: Folegandros, night in Folegandros (Cyclades Islands)
Day 8: Folegandros, night in Folegandros (Cyclades Islands)
Day 9: Santorini, night in Santorini (Cyclades Islands)
Day 10: Santorini, night in Heraklion (Crete)
Day 11: Heraklion, night in Chania (Crete)
Day 12: Chania, night in Sougia (Crete)
Day 13: hiking through the gorge of Samaria, night in Sougia (Crete)
Day 14: Rethymno, back home from Heraklion (4 am)
Day 15: return to Barcelona (7 am)
Greece is close, but when we looked at flights every year to travel in August, prices were always impossible. So much so, that one year we did a trip to Russia and the other one Trip to china because the prices of these flights were more or less as expensive as travel to Greece. Anyway, this year we said that 2015 did not happen and we bought the flights in January, a few days after returning from the trip to the West Coast of the United States.
After much searching, we finally bought a direct flight from Barcelona to Athens with Aegean Airlines and we made the return from Heraklion in Crete with Vueling. The outbound flight was great and Aegean Airlines surprised us very pleasantly: the plane was new and comfortable, and they even gave us dinner. This surprised us because, on the other hand, checking in a suitcase was an extra payment. The one-way flight cost us € 110 per person, plus € 30 for a checked bag. The return cost us € 135 per person, plus € 20 for a checked bag that ended up arriving home 5 days later.
How to get around the Peloponnese
The first stage of trip to Greece consisted of tour the peloponnese peninsula to know the best archaeological sites in the region. To be able to visit the maximum of sites with the few days that we had, at the airport of Athens we rented a car for 4 days. We rent with Avis through Rentalcars. Renting a small car (they gave us a Smart 4 Four) cost us € 211, but we had to add a charge of € 24 to pick up the car at 4:30 am. After four days, we returned the car at the Athens downtown office. When you return it there, do not be surprised to have to climb the car on the sidewalk.
Between some things and others, we leave the Athens airport around 6 am. From there to Delphi (Delphi / Delfoi Δελφοί) there are just over 200 km: 130 km by highway and the remaining 70 km by a conventional road that crosses mountains and has some important curves. On the highway we pay three tolls: € 2.80, € 3.30 and € 3.85. On highways you can only pay by teletac or at the window. Although on the posters it says "All payment means" single You can pay in cash. By the way, in August 2015 the liter of unleaded gasoline in the Peloponnese and Central Greece was between € 1.52 and € 1.60.
Finally we arrived at Delphi at 8:15 in the morning and we were among the first to access the archaeological site. The entrance is just before the town of Delphi and there is not much place to park, so we recommend you get up early. We parked in battery in front of the museum and free.
The entrance to the enclosure costs € 6. If you also want to visit the archaeological museum, which is recommended by the famous statue of the charioteer and by the air conditioning, there is a combined ticket of € 9. We advise you to be there first thing in the morning, since after nine the groups arrive and in August from 9:30 hours the heat begins to be unbearable. Below you can see the map of the site.
The ruins of Delphi are famous for the oracle that in antiquity answered the questions of rulers from all over Greece and beyond. The oracle was Pythia, the priestess who could be consulted in the apollo temple. After making a donation and a sacrifice to the Greek god of light and music, the temple was entered and the question was asked. In front of a three-legged cauldron, the pythoness chewed bay leaves, aspirated the gases that arose from a crack in the ground and plunged into a trance during which the god Apollo spoke through her. Then the temple priests translated the incomprehensible screams and offered the answer, which was always somewhat ambiguous.
The ruins of apollo temple, therefore, they form the nucleus of the archaeological site. You can perfectly see the base of the temple and several columns of the entrance. Around it, the remains of a whole series of additional buildings that cover the steep slope of the mountain are extended. These were added little by little throughout the nine centuries of use of the sanctuary. If we start the visit from the top to go down quietly, first we will see the stadium. Here the races of the pite games were celebrated, similar to the Olympians but dedicated to the god Apollo.
As music and the arts were also sacred to this god, below is a theater, with capacity for 5000 people. If we go down the steps next to the entrance of the temple, we will see the row of columns where the athletes trained to participate in the games. You can also see the base of the sphinx column, although the sculpture that crowned it is in the annex museum. On the other side there are the remains of several buildings built by donors to show their gratitude to the oracle, but also to show their power to all the visitors who received the sanctuary.
This was also the function of treasures, buildings similar to small Greek temples where the spoils of wars that were dedicated to Apollo were kept. One of these is still standing in this area. Next to this treasure there is a conical stone on the ground: the gnome. According to legend, Zeus threw this stone here to mark the center of the world. Therefore, Delphi was considered the "navel" of the world and, in addition to the temple of Apollo and his oracle, this sacred stone was protected. The road that goes down to the entrance passes next to a series of small buildings in ruins that are from the time of Roman domination.
Once outside the archaeological site, there are still other places of interest. If we follow the road westbound, we will see the remains of a fitness center Built by the Romans. And beyond, you can see the remains of a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Pronaia, responsible for protecting the sanctuary of Delphi. Several peoples, such as the Persians and the Celts, tried to plunder the riches that were kept in Delphi, but the defenders always managed to repel them.
On the other hand, the visit to Delphi is not complete if you do not visit the Museum, since the sculptures of the archaeological site are preserved here. For example, the sphinx that we mentioned before, but also the temple pediment figures and various riches that the kings of Antiquity donated to this spiritual center. Finally, the charioteer sculpture, the bronze representation of a young winner of the chariot races, who still crosses his eyes with you throughout the centuries.
A good friend recommended a tavern in the town of Delphi, one kilometer from the ruins and in front of the BP gas station. The Tavern To Patriko Mas it is a traditional restaurant that has a terrace with some impressive sights to the sea and to a field of olive trees. Eats very well and also opens the kitchen at noon. With the early morning and the kick that we found in the ruins, at that time we were already starving and we went there without hesitation. On the terrace it was great because it ran a very good cool. We ask dolmakia fish (€ 6.50), fried feta with dough brick (€ 7.50), a spectacular musaca (€ 8) and roasted lamb with lemon sauce (€ 11). We recommend it. By the way, the bread is paid separately (€ 1) and you can ask for tap water because they do not charge it and it is very good.
In principle we were going to spend that night in Olympia, but seeing the distances and that we would hardly have slept the night before, we decided to stop to sleep at an intermediate point. It was a wise decision because to Patra We arrived very fair of energies.
To go from Central Greece where Delphi to the Peloponnese is in the direction of Olympia, it is best to cross the bridge from Antirrio to Rio. The toll is € 13.80, but it's worth it.
When searching on Booking where to sleep in Patra, we found a 4 * hotel with a pool for € 48. When you enter the hotel Astir You have the feeling of traveling back in time and returning to the seventies. The hotel is just as it was built and looks worn out over time. We hardly looked at the rooms because the only thing that interested us was the pool, and although it is not the pump and has chlorine to kill even the bathers themselves, the dip felt great. Also, the room was clean and the wifi worked quite well.
First day gasoline: € 17 (€ 1.60 / liter) and € 26 (€ 1.52 / liter).
That day we left Patra behind to get into the Deep peloponnese. It took us about three hours to reach Dimitsana on a road with very sharp curves in some sections. It shows that it is a less touristy area because almost all indications of the road are only in the Greek alphabet, so a GPS It is quite essential.
Dimitsana (Δημητσάνα) It is a small medieval town embedded in the mountain formed by stone houses. The main road crosses it and from there several streets that go up and down the slope. The highlight is the house of patriarch Gregory V, which was closed, and both churches.
This town is famous for being near the trails of the Lousios canyon that lead to Aimylon monastery, a monastery located on the mountain that when we saw it in photos reminded us of Hanging Temple of China. Leaving Dimitsana and in the same direction at Hydroelectric Museum (Open Water Museum) there is a sign indicating that in that direction the "Lousios Paths" or trails of Lousios began. We continue driving for a while on an increasingly narrow and worse road. We headed towards the bottom of the canyon, but we didn't see many indications of where the trails began.
Finally we arrived with the car to the bottom of the canyon and crossed a bridge that crossed a shallow river. We parked the car at a bend and asked a Dutch lady who had installed the Campervan there in the middle. He told us that a few meters away there was a sign that marked the trail start. We walked to the bridge and a small sign said that there was an hour's walk up a mountain path to the monastery. In the end we abandoned the idea of traveling the road, because we did not notice that the path was well signposted later. In addition, at noon the thermometer marked 42 degrees, which made the walk a total madness.
So we changed the plans and decided to bathe in the Lousios River, just a few meters above the bridge. The water was cold, but with the heat it was, the little bath suited us very well.
Once refreshed, we decided to return to Dimitsana, but instead of turning around where we had come (20 minutes) we decided to continue on the road by GPS indication and it took almost an hour to arrive. After lunch we follow the route to visit the villages of Stemnitsa (Στεμνίτσα), Karitena (Καρύταινα) and Andritsena (Ανδρίτσαινα), but it began to flood in such a way that we aborted the mission and followed the route to Olympia. There are days when, you don't know why, but the plans don't end up coming out.
Dimitsana is an hour and forty minutes from ancient Olympia. As we abort the plan to visit the rest of the towns due to the torrential rain that fell, we ended up arriving ahead of time. On the other hand, it was sunny and hot in Olympia, so we could visit the archaeological complex and the Museum which closes at 8pm.
The ruins of Olympia are famous for being the point of historical origin of the Olympic Games which, in antiquity, were celebrated in honor of God Zeus. And the games were held here because this was one of the most important centers of Zeus worship in ancient Greece. The temple housed the statue of Olympian Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, sculpted by Phidias, with gold and ivory ornaments. In addition, Olympia has its own legends, such as the king pelops, who managed to marry the daughter of King Enomao of Pisa by defeating this in the car race, and then ended up dominating the entire peninsula still bears his name: the Peloponnesus.
During the time of the Roman domination of Greece, the games opened to the entire Mediterranean and representatives from many other villages participated. In addition, several Roman emperors financed the construction of new buildings and the expansion of existing ones.
This international sports competition regained its validity after seventeen centuries of oblivion in 1896, when the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. At present, the Torch of the Olympic Games is still lit in the ruins of Olympia, and more specifically in front of the remains of the temple of hera.
As in Delphi, after visiting the ruins of ancient Olympia it is essential to explore the Museum annexed. Here all the statues that were found in the archaeological excavations of the site are preserved, in addition to the temple pediment statues from Zeus, which are spectacular. There is also a model which allows us to see how ancient Olympia should be in its time, which is very useful because the current state of the ruins leaves a lot of work to the imagination.
The archaeological complex of Olympia is open from eight in the morning to eight in the afternoon. The entrance to the archaeological complex costs € 6, the same as the museum. If you want to visit both, the combined ticket costs € 9. On the other hand, the Museum of the history of the Olympic games of Antiquity and that of the history of the excavations in Olympia have very rare schedules. We leave you in this photo:
On the recommendation of our friend Helena, we stayed at the Hotel Pelops, a hotel located in Archaia Olympia, fifteen minutes walk from the archaeological complex. The hotel is great, has new facilities, a king-size and comfortable bed, and a full buffet breakfast. Although it does not have a swimming pool, guests can use the Europa hotel which is on the outskirts of the town (you have to go by car or walk 20 minutes up).
Helena also recommended the coffee shop Aegean restaurant from the center of town, but if you go in summer, we recommend you to dine in the garden of the Hotel Europa, in the The Garden restaurant. If possible, reserve a table near the viewpoint at half past eight in the afternoon so you can enjoy a spectacular sunset.
We had dinner there, but as we went without prior reservation, we had one of the most remote tables. Even so, we really enjoyed the food. By the way, they have a letter in Spanish, although it is not quite well translated. You can book a table by writing to this address: [email protected]
Second day gasoline: € 20 (€ 1.54 / liter).
That day we left Archaia Olympia towards Epidaurus but stopped along the way to visit the archeological sites of (Archaia Nemea / Αρχαία Νεμέα), Mycenae (Mykines / Μυκήνες) and the beautiful town of Nafplio (Nafplio / Ναύπλιο).
The first stop was Archaia Nemea (Αρχαία Νεμέα), two and a half hours from Archaia Olympia. Unfortunately, the GPS took us on the shortest route (166 km) that was not the fastest, since we returned to eat much of the happy curvy road. It is best to take the E55 and then the E65 because, although they are more kilometers (189 km) they have fewer curves and it takes a little less on top.
Legend has it that, in ancient times, Nemea suffered the attack of a huge lion. Just a semi-divine hero the size of Heracles He could kill him, and he did so in the first of the twelve famous works.
In addition to this legend, the Antiquities in Nemea celebrated every two years the nemeos games, some athletic tests in honor of Zeus very similar to those of Olympia. Today, in the ruins of Nemea stands out above all the temple to Zeus, which researchers at the University of Berkeley strive to conserve. Unfortunately, apart from several Doric columns of the temple and some bathrooms for athletes, very few recognizable remains of ancient Nemea remain in this archaeological site. Even so, the enclosure of the stadium, which is a little beyond the archaeological site.
On the other hand, it should be noted that since 1996, the Society for the recovery of Nemean games organizes in Nemea some international athletic tests that recreate those of ancient times. The following games will take place from June 11 to 12, 2016. More information here.
The entrance to the site and the museum costs € 3, and the entrance to the stadium that is about 500 meters is worth € 4. The site and museum hours are from 8 to 20 hours. There is free parking at the door and is usually not very crowded.
From Nemea to Mycenae (Mikines / Μυκήνες) there is only 20 minutes by car. Mycenae It is famous for the ancient walled city of the legendary Agamemnon, of which only the Gate of the Lions and the king's grave, which is quite spectacular.
The ruins of the citadel of Mycenae They are at the top of a hill and their foundations have been there for three thousand three hundred years. This is the citadel that gives its name to the Mycenaean civilization, the people of the Achaeans who star The Iliad from Homer.
As you climb the slope to the entrance, the walls of huge, well-fitted rocks are surprising. And then one gets dumbfounded before the famous Gate of the Lions, with a lintel formed by two huge rocks that must weigh tons. In addition, the figures of the two lions are the oldest monumental sculpture in all of Europe. Unfortunately, once the door is crossed, the remains of Mycenae leave a lot of work to the imagination. To facilitate this, next to the lockers of the enclosure they sell some maps of the drawn citadel as it should be in 1300 B.C.
It is interesting to see the enclosure of royal tombs, he megarón wave throne room, and then wander to the far corner, where you can see the stairs that went down to the Water reserve.
At Museum Annex you can see many objects found in the site. Apart from an endless number of vessels, on the lower floor the treasures that were found in the great royal tomb that is going down the hill. Among these, several swords and gold beads stand out, but above all the so-called «agamemnon mask», The golden funeral mask that is really unknown what king it represents.
Finally, do not forget to visit the treasure of Atreus, which is what this royal grave is called. The entrance penetrates the hill with a large stone corridor that ends in a huge door. Inside, a round and now empty room with a dome 13 meters high. And a small door that leads to the room where the king's tomb was surely kept.
Admission is € 8, although it is free for EU students, and entitles you to visit the archaeological site, the museum and "the treasure of Atreus." The treasure is about 500 meters before reaching the archaeological site and has a small parking lot at the door.
The town of Mycenae is two kilometers from the ruins and we stop at a tavern on the road called Mycinaiko, you will recognize it because it has a sign announcing quite large wifi. They have menus of dishes combined for € 7 -9 € and the food was simple but good.
The last stop on the route that day was in the pretty town of Nauplia. It is considered one of the most romantic from Greece and its Venetian style houses They invite you to stroll through the old town. In addition, the entire old area is very well maintained and there are many cuckoo bars and restaurants where you can sit and eat or have a drink.
You can leave by car in the port area (Bouboulinas street) which is free. From there you can take a walk along the pier and see the Bourtzi fortification In the middle of the sea. We continue parallel to the sea and enter the town to make a technical stop in the Antica Gelateria di Roma (Pharmakopoulouuna, 3), an ice cream shop where Italian ladies serve delicious ice cream. In addition, if you sit on the stools of the small place, they will serve you a glass of water and some Italian cookies (€ 2 per cone).
Nafplio also has two fortifications: the Akronaplia fortification (free entry) and the Palamidi fort. To access the latter you can climb the 999 steps "of the death" that leave the church of Agios Andreas or climb with the car. We opt for this second option. The entrance to the fort costs € 4, but it is very well maintained and from there there are very beautiful views of the sea and the city.
If you do not have a car you can also get on the city tour bus that costs € 5, it runs from April to September from 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon and passes every hour.
Although Nafplio is a very beautiful population and it would be worth staying for sleep, we prefer to spend the night in Epidaurus to be able to visit the theater first thing.