Day 1: Chania
Our Greece adventure starts in the historic port town of Chania at the western end on Crete’s northern coast. Chania, which will be our base for the first part of the trip, has a tranquil old harbor, a Venetian Quarter and a lively, colorful atmosphere. Your guides will meet you at the Chania airport at 2:00 p.m. and we’ll transfer to our hotel near the old Venetian center. After settling in, you’ll explore the town on foot on a guided visit, taking in 4000 years of history from the Minoan period to World War II. Note: Depending upon air travel schedules, a pre- or post-trip overnight in Athens may be necessary to make air travel connections. Overnight: Chania.
Day 2: Samaria Gorge and Sougia
Today we’ll transfer to Samaria Gorge for a hike in Europe’s longest and one of it most spectacular gorges. It is located in Samaria National Park in the National park of Samaria, in the White Mountains in West Crete. The path descends in a shady pine forest, dropping steeply and crossing the river before reaching the deserted village of Samaria. The trail then follows the river bed while the river itself goes underground for a stretch and then re-emerges, and then crosses back and forth across the river before bringing us out in the village of Agia St. Roumeli and the sea. After a swim and picnic lunch we’ll take a 45 minute boat ride to the quiet village of Sougia. The Samaria Gorge hike is quite challenging and we will offer an alternate hike and outing from among three options: a hike through Agia Irini Gorge, which is smaller than Samaria but rivals its famous neighbor in beauty, followed by a visit to and swim in Sougia; a hike from Sougia to the ancient city of Lissos through the small but impressive Selinous Gorge with a visit to historic sights and a dip in the cove; or a hike in the lowest part of Samaria Gorge. We all transfer from Sougia back to Chania. Overnight: Chania.
Day 3 Katholiko and Aptera
Today we’ll enjoy a culturally oriented walking and touring day. We’ll depart from the hotel after breakfast for an 18 kilometer transfer from Chania to the Akrotiri Peninsula northeast of Chania, where the beautiful Katholiko Monastery is located. Katholiko, dating back to the 11th century, is the oldest monastery on Crete. The monks residing and worshipping there abandoned it about three hundred year ago due to recurring pirate raids. The monastery, built into the sides of a ravine, contains a church dedicated to Agios Ioannis Xenos, or St. John the Hermit, the founder of the monastery, who lived and died in the nearby cave that bears his name. The church itself is carved into mountain, and its facade lines up with the slope of the mountain. The bridge across the ravine, and some buildings of the old monastery, are still preserved. The view is amazing. En route to Katholiko we pass by Agia Triada Monastery, after which we leave the minibus for a lovely walk, first passing another Monastery (Gouveneto), arriving at Katholiko on foot. After visiting Katholiko we descend through a small, beautiful gorge to the Cretan Sea. On our way back to Chania we’ll stop briefly at Agia Triada and travel from there to the ancient city of Aptera near Souda bay. Aptera dates back to Minoan times and was taken over by the Romans around 65 BC. The Romans constructed public baths, cisterns and a theater. From there we move to the high mountains for lunch, after which we return to Chania through the beautiful Theriso Gorge. This afternoon there will be free time to relax or to pursue other activities: we are currently investigating sea kayaking and bicycling options for either here or for our time in Santorini. This evening we will seek out a taverna with Greek music and dancing, so don’t forget to pack your dancing shoes. Overnight: Chania.
Day 4: Hike Mount Giouhtas (Zeus’ Head) and Tour Knossos Palace
We’ll transfer from Chania to the quaint village of Archanes, where we’ll climb up sacred Mount Gioughtas (Zeus’ Head). This is a small mountain (811 meters) with nice views to Mount Ida (west), Mount Dicti (east), Messara Plain (south) and Heraklion and the Cretan Sea (north). The ascent from the village will take us about two hours and the descent will take about an hour. Gioughtas is a bird sanctuary and we’ll likely be able to see the Griffon vulture and other big birds of Crete while there. We’ll also have a chance to explore Archanes.
After today’s hike we’ll transfer to the outskirts Heraklion for a private tour of the famous, and somewhat controversial, Knossos Palace. Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete. It is considered to have been the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization and culture. The site has been extensively “restored”, making it perhaps more understandable to visitors, though the restoration itself is very controversial. The site was first settled about 7000 BC and grew over time from the 19th to the 16th centuries BC to consist of an immense palace, residences for officials and priests, homes for ordinary citizens and burial grounds. It was allegedly also the home of the legendary King Minos. The Palace is also associated with the myth of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur. The city of Knossos remained important through the Classical and Roman periods, although its population shifted to modern day downtown Heraklion during the 9th century A.D. We’ll spend the night in Heraklion in order to be able to catch the public high speed catamaran to Santorini in the morning. Overnight: Heraklion.
Day 5 Santorini
Today we’ll travel to the beautiful Island of Santorini by high speed catamaran, departing Crete at 9:45 a.m. Santorini, also known as Thira, is seen by many as one of the most spectacular islands in the world. While large ships to Santorini (pop. 7,000) dock at the port of Athinios, many small ships arrive in Skala, a spectacular harbor that's part of the enormous caldera (crater) formed when a volcano blew out the island's center sometime between 1600 and 1500 B.C. To this day, some scholars speculate that this destruction gave birth to the myth of the lost continent of Atlantis. Like an enormous crescent moon, Santorini encloses the blue waters of its caldera, the core of an ancient volcano. Its two principal towns, Fira (Thira) and Oia (also transliterated as Ia), perch at the summit of the caldera; as you approach by ship, you’ll be able to look far up the cliffs to whitewashed houses. We’ll transfer to our hotel and spend the afternoon either relaxing and exploring Thira, or going on a hike on the crater rim from Fira to Oia. The hike starts in Fira; we’ll walk past whitewashed houses and through narrow winding alleys to Imerovigli and then on the cliff top path to Oia, accompanied on our left by the breathtaking view of the Nea Kameni islands. Overnight: Fira (Santorini).
Day 6 Nea Kameni; Ancient Thira and Profitis Ilias Monastery
We’ll board a caique, or wooden fishing boat, and travel 15 minutes to the island of Nea Kameni, where we’ll explore the volcano and enjoy the views of what once originated the legend of Atlantis. A half hour hike up the crater leads you to views of Santorini and the caldera’s cliffs. We’ll hike back down to the caique and sail to Palea Kameni, where we can swim in the water heated hot springs, or perhaps indulge in a mud bath. After lunch we’ll Transfer by minibus to the top of Profitis Ilias and walk from there to Ancient Thira, ruins on a high rocky headland. This evocative, beautiful site offers cliff top views on three side of Santorini and the neighboring islands. The extensive group of ruins contains structures from many different periods, including Roman, Byzantine and Greek ruins. Take in the view from the large Terrace of the Festivals. This is where naked boys danced to honor Apollo. We’ll then walk the short distance to Perissa where we can relax and go for a swim. Time permitting, we may also visit the Boutari Winery. Overnight: Fira (Santorini).
Day 7: Depart
We’ll transfer five miles to the Santorini Airport for the return flight to the U.S. We’ll plan on arriving at the airport by 9:00 a.m. Some may wish to transfer to Athens by boat. Depending upon air travel schedules, a post-trip overnight in Athens may be necessary to make air travel connections.