When the country of Greece is mentioned many of us immediately think of the pure white buildings with brilliant blue rooftops of Santorini. And that area truly is beautiful. But, there is another side of this intriguing country that is equally as picturesque with its crystal clear rivers, dazzling turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountain peaks and quaint villages. These are the places we love to sink our teeth into and love exploring! Last year we did one of those Caravan.com Costa Rica tours and got to see parts of the country that are full of locals and culture, it was great! We think the best way to experience a country is to go to these places, away from the popular tourist destinations, and that way, you can really experience your surroundings.
Within the mountain ranges of central Greece you will experience a traveler’s dream.
This was the Greece that I would be exploring on a 4×4 Jeep adventure tour with Tripology. For nine days they would be guiding fourteen of us on a jeep convoy from Athens through the the Pindus mountain range in central Greece. Their self-drive adventure tours are known for taking you on the roads less traveled, immersing you in the local culture and visiting remarkable sites around the world.
On this trip we would be driving on dirt roads with jaw-dropping cliffs, scenic switchbacks and alongside rivers, stopping in villages to talk with the locals, visiting UNESCO world heritage sites and marveling at the incredible vistas along the way. It would be a great addition to my list of the top things to do before you die.
Let the adventure begin.
At our meeting place, Alexandros Hotel in Athens, we were assigned our automobile for the week. Ours was a Jeep Compass equipped with a cb style radio, so we were able to communicate with the rest of the convoy.
There were four cars in this caravan, plus the lead car where our trusty guide Yoav resided. Each jeep had a number, 1 thru 4, on the back window so we were easily identifiable and could stay in chronological order.
There were three of us in car number four, affectionately named Aphrodites Ass since we would be driving in the rear. Jessica was a freelance writer and the owner of an innovative cast art company called Castoo, then there was my husband Peter and myself. An adventurous trio.
We got into our car, turned the CB radio on to the designated channel and popped in the Greek music cd that Tripology provided for the ride.
We were ready to roll.
After we were out of the bustle of Athens roadways Yoav got onto the radio to tell us mythological stories, historical city information and interesting Greek traditions. These stories, with a few jokes thrown in from the other cars, continued throughout all the days of driving.
I learned that Hermes is not just a handbag and Zeus had an impressive libido.
For the next week we drove through different terrains and also levels of anxiety producing elevations, reaching heights of 1600 meters (5249 feet). We even drove a 24km portion of the Acropolis Rally Championship Course, one of the toughest on the world rally circuits.
We were not quite as skilled as the professional rally speedsters.
Being there in the spring when the pretty red poppies and brilliant purple judas trees were blooming only added to the already stunning scenery.
There was more to this trip than just the adventurous and picturesque driving from one hotel to the next, though that could have easily been enough, we made many stops along the route to see the historical sites, visit the villages and, of course, eat the incredibly delicious Greek food.
Delphi Archaeological Site
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Delphi, 180 kilometers from Athens, was one of the first stops on this central Greece Jeep adventure. Not a shabby introduction.
This sacred archaeological site includes an impressive collection of monuments; the temple of Apollo, the Stadium, the Tholos at Athena Pronaia and ornate treasuries. According to mythology, after Zeus (the one with the remarkable libido) released two eagles from different ends of the universe, this is where they met which was then considered the center of the earth. If I was an eagle, I’d come here too.
There is a bit of a climb from the base of Delphi to the Stadium at the top of the site. But, it was worth every step.
Many times while traveling there is one point during a trip where a sense of gratitude overwhelms me, literally bringing tears to my eyes (and I swear that I am not a drop-of-the-hat cryer, my tears are almost always reserved for sappy Kleenex commercials and weddings).
That happened on the top of Niala Summit.
After parking the Jeep on the side of the road, I continued to climb to the peak on foot, away from the group. From the tippy-top it was a complete 360 degree view of natural, peaceful beauty with scattered spots of leftover snow.
Not a town or tourist in sight.
I sat a the highest point with a feeling of being completely blessed to be at that exact spot at that exact moment. This could quite possibly be my favorite place in the world.
Meteora, meaning ‘suspended in the air’ in Greek, is an amazing complex of six active monasteries that are strategically built on natural sandstone pillars. Established in the 1300s and perched on the pinnacles in Thessaly, worshippers came to be closer to God. No doubt.
Not only did we see these perched monasteries from afar, we got a little glimpse at the lives of the monks by stepping inside of one.
Throughout our 4×4 travels through central Greece we stopped at villages, sometimes two or three a day. These stops were not only a chance to sip on a Greek coffee or patronize some shops for trinkets, but also a time to immerse ourselves with the locals. Some of these villages were so small that they did not even register on the map and their names were more of a suggestion than an indication of a municipality. That just added to the charm.
Not only is Delphi an archaeological site, it is also a quaint village in central Greece. Though there is a more direct route to the town, the Tripology adventure took us through the more scenic, dirt switchbacks that boasted views of the blankets of olive trees down below.
That must be how Greek olive oil is so good, it is grown in beauty.
The modern village, whose population is only 1,500, made for the perfect base for exploring the Delphi Archaeological Site.
Each day of travel we stopped somewhere along the route for a coffee break. On one lucky day this recess was in the small village of Lidoriki, a town built at the foot of Mount Giona.
Here we drank frothy frappes with the locals, bought a full bag of fresh pastries for under a Euro and strolled around the cobbled streets.
Mega Holio would probably have been considered the most touristy of all the Greek villages, and I’m using the word “touristy” loosely, but we had arrived during shoulder season when the streets were sparse. The shop owners selling their homemade liquors and dried flower wreaths were happy to visit with those of us who were just traveling through.
We ended up at one of the local bars, chatting with the young owner and drinking a Mythos beer.
Hiladonia was a peaceful village whose vacant town center was the location for one of our picnic lunches. We walked down a narrow, overgrown path to get there, not passing a soul along the way.
Contrary to the lack of locals present, the homes were well-kept and the gardens flourishing.
There were several other adorable villages, too many to mention and each with their own character and charm.
You can’t possibly travel through Greece without mentioning the delicious Greek food, because it is some of the tastiest in the world. On this adventure we overdosed on all the Greek favorites and some other dishes traditional to the specific towns we visited. There was moussaka, tzatziki, sagnaki, pastitsio and of course plenty of Greek salad.
And there were even french fries, lots of french fries.
At a taverna in Agrafa, we were given a brief cooking lesson on how to make their special hamburgers that were a perfect blend of onions, bread, egg, parsley, salt, pepper, hot mustard and oregano. This style burger is traditional to the town and served with grilled tomatoes and onions. No bun!
Surely the absence of the bun purpose was not to save the carb calories.
Every dining experience was different, though all filled with tasty Greek foods. We were taken to eat at local tavernas where the entire family happily cooked for us, we indulged in pretty plated dishes at fancier restaurants where the cooks were dressed in white chef coats and we even picnicked on top of a mountain next to a tiny stone church where we each took turns ringing the bells.
No two eating spots were alike.
A few of the restaurants invited us into their kitchens, where we were engulfed in tempting aromas. In each kitchen, big pots were filled with the days menu and dozens of handwritten recipes were taped to the wall.
If it were appropriate, I would have dunked my head into every pot.
The maximum stay at any hotel was two nights, which gave us the opportunity to cover more land and therefore be saturated by more beauty.
Each hotel was as different as each dining spot.
Though all the lodging was ranked 4 to 5 stars, you must understand that the rating system for hotels in Greece is a bit different than that of the United States. Knock a star off when comparing Greek lodging to that in the US and chop off 1 1/2 stars if your comparable measurement is a place like Manhattan or Beverly Hills. With that said, all of these hotels were comfortable, clean and equipped with all the modern amenities.
Bonus: There was no camping with tents, nor hostels.
A favorite amongst the group was the Spa Hotel Montana, which was set on top of a hill in the ski town of Karpenisi. Maybe it was because of its heated indoor pool or its personal helipad. For me, it was the two-room suite with comfy bed.
By the time we returned to our starting point in Athens, the group felt like a little family. There is a special bond between people who share incredible experiences.
And this was one experience that all of us will never forget.
The Tripology motto is “go with your heart”. I am not sure if I went on this trip with my heart, but I certainly returned home with it full of incredible memories.