History-loving clients might have ticked off the Acropolis, Olympia and Delphi, but Greece also offers a treasure trove of lesser-known archaeological sites for them to explore. Abra Dunsby reports.
Famed for a history that spans more than 4,000 years, Greece offers an embarrassment of archaeological riches for clients to discover. If they’ve already marvelled at the Acropolis or wandered through Olympia, agents needn’t worry: there’s plenty more to recommend to history buffs planning a visit. From ancient walled cities to crumbling palaces, we round up some of Greece’s lesser-known sites to impress clients with, offering tips from the experts about how they can best be incorporated into a holiday.
High above the vertical sandstone cliffs of Meteora sit 6 of the 24 original ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries, built here in around the 11th century to ensure isolation for its monks. Clients can reach the Unesco World Heritage Site by train from Athens, which takes around five hours. The monasteries are best discovered on foot, though it’s also a popular area for climbers to explore. G Adventures takes clients to visit the monasteries with a guide, as part of its Best of Greece escorted trip. Clients joining the trip will also visit other lesser-known Greek sites including the Acronafplia in Nafplio, an ancient castle in the walled old town that dates back to the Bronze Age; and the archaeological sites of Mycenae and Tiryns, two important cities from the Mycenaean civilization era.
“Meteora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Greece,” says Sofia Montezo, Europe product manager at G Adventures. “The word Meteora means ‘suspended in air’, which perfectly describes the overwhelming rock formations of the area and the monasteries found on top of these inaccessible sandstone cliffs. For the best experience, visit between April and June to soak in the amazing views and avoid the summer crowds.”
Book it: G Adventures’ 15-day Best of Greece trip will take clients from Athens to Santorini. Prices start from £1,949pp excluding flights.
While many clients will have visited the Acropolis of Athens, the beautifully preserved acropolis (pictured right) on the popular island of Lindos also warrants their attention. Clients enter via an ancient gate, where on the first level they’ll see the Castle of the Knights of St John, built in 1317. On the second level they can marvel at the remains of the Temple to Athena Lindia, then, after climbing a majestic staircase, they can wander through stunning remains from the 4th century, taking in sweeping views of the Aegean.
Julie Franklin, agency sales manager at Mark Warner, says: “Clients can walk through the cobbled streets full of market stalls and Greek restaurants, then enjoy the views from the Acropolis of Lindos perched on a cliff top. The site is a 35-minute drive from Levante Beach Resort, making it an easy day trip. Out of peak season, the island is quieter, so for adults looking to explore, I’d recommend May and June or September and October as the perfect times.”
Book it: Mark Warner offers one week at Levante Beach Resort from £609 per adult and £539 per child.
On the sun-scorched island of Crete lies Knossos, the site of a historically important palace of Minoan civilization and the island’s largest Bronze Age archaeological site. It’s also connected to various legends, including the myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.
“Don’t leave without taking a stroll along the paved streets of this small town to get a feel for how the Minoans lived,” says Lauren Ross, product and commercial manager for Europe at Travel 2. “The site is made up of a number of small houses, a central court, a palace and a cemetery, so there’s plenty to see. I’d suggest clients hire a car, to travel between the historical sites of the island with ease.”
Ross recommends that clients looking to explore the sites stay at the five-star St Nicolas Bay hotel, which is located a mile from the town of Aghios Nikolaos and its Archaeology Museum, and is a 20-minute drive away from the Minoan palace.
Book it: Seven nights’ B&B at St Nicolas Bay start from £1,499pp,including flights, car hire, and a complimentary UK lounge pass. Valid for travel on October 11
Founded 2,500 years ago, the walled city of Ancient Messene is a short drive from Kalamata and offers plenty for history fans to absorb. There’s a huge stadium – one of the largest in Greece – a large agora, temples, tombs, an ample gymnasium, plus the massive ruins of Arcadia Gate.
Clare Tobin, chief commercial officer at Olympic Holidays, says: “Ancient Messene is one of Greece’s best-kept secrets. The site is extremely well preserved and tends to be less busy than others. It is also very accessible – only 40 minutes’ drive away from Kalamata.”
Book it: Olympic Holidays is offering seven nights at the Elite City Resort in Kalamata on a B&B basis from £400pp based on two travelling. The package includes flights from Gatwick, and departures are available on May 13, 2018.
Known as “the Minoan Pompeii”, the bustling town of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini was destroyed and covered in a thick layer of ash in around 140BC, when the island’s volcano erupted. Luckily, the residents had enough time to escape, but archaeologists have unearthed the town’s frescoes, mosaics and other artefacts. Clients will have the opportunity to walk along streets and squares, visiting preserved dwellings, churches and workshops along the way. Intrepid offers a new trip that combines discovering Greece’s ancient charms with the allure of travel by ship.
Wendy Smith, Intrepid’s adventure cruising and polar product manager, says: “Greece is an incredible destination to visit for those wanting to soak up both ancient and new cultures. Discovering the ancient sites and charming villages by yacht ensures that clients are able to see a variety of archaeological remains while still enjoying the laidback feeling of exploring the idyllic Greek islands by sea.”
Book it: Intrepid’s new Cruise the Hidden Gems of Greece eight-day tour includes dining beneath the Temple of Poseidon, exploring Akrotiri, visiting the Byzantine church complex in Paros and touring the ancient Unesco-listed site of Delos by yacht. Prices from £2,455pp.
Dudley der Parthog, director of Sunvil Greece, suggests history loving guests consider a stay in Tolon, which he dubs “the ideal resort for a break that combines history with the quintessential Greek seaside holiday experience”.
The small mainland resort in the North Peloponnese offers a range of sites within easy reach including the Ancient Mycenae; Epidavros with its magnificent amphitheatre; Nemea, which was home to one of the four Panhellenic games; and Argos, with its range of historic buildings and sites including an ancient Greek theatre and an Ottoman temple – all of which are within a short drive.
“There’s even Assini just over the headland, so close you can walk to it, which features an ancient acropolis and from where, according to Homer, a Mycenaean fleet was launched to do battle in the Trojan War,” adds Parthog.
Tolon also offers a wide choice of resort-based accommodation, a long and safe Blue Flag beach, and plenty of cafes and tavernas to choose from.
Book it: Sunvil offers a seven-night holiday at the Lido Apartments in Tolon on a self-catering basis for £459pp, based on two sharing a studio. The price includes flights and transfers.