The historical boundaries of Thrace have varied over the centuries, but ancient Greeks referred to Thrace as western Turkey, southern Bulgaria and northeastern Greece. When one thinks of Thrace, the epic exploits of Alexander the Great, the mysterious monasteries of Mount Athos and Meteora, and the eternal home of the Gods on Mount Olympus spring to mind. We journey to amazing Thrace to connect with the roots of Western Civilization.
Northern Greece offers a dramatic range of terrains and cultures. With beaches to rival the islands, and historical sites equal to those in the capital, the region is teeming with ancient Roman amphitheaters, towering monasteries, Byzantine castles, and medieval old towns. This 10-day tour includes no less than 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and an optional 4-day extension to Athens includes two more in the Acropolis and Delphi.
Assuming you start from the United States, leave your home city today on an overnight international flight to Thessaloniki, Greece. When searching for flights online, use the airport code SKG for Thessaloniki. You will be departing from Corfu (CFU) after the main tour, or from Athens (ATH) if you participate in our optional extension. Please time your arrival for no later than 4:00pm on May 16 in order to participate in the welcome festivities. For those who wish to arrive a day early, please indicate this on your reservation form so that we can reserve a room for you at our Thessaloniki hotel. (Meals Aloft)
Your flight arrives in Thessaloniki, Greece sometime today. After collecting your luggage and going through customs, you will meet a driver who will transfer you to our centrally located hotel. The afternoon is free to rest up from jet lag or do a little exploring on your own. This evening our group meets for the first time in the hotel lobby for a meet-and-greet cocktail hour before proceeding to a restaurant in the area for our Welcome Dinner. Overnight in Thessaloniki. (Dinner included)
For several centuries, Thessaloniki was the second most important city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople (since renamed Istanbul). As the primary trade route crossing from Central Europe across the land bridge to Turkey and the Far East, Thessaloniki became a cultural and architectural repository of many foreign influences. There are no less than 15 sites of such historical importance that UNESCO named them a collective World Heritage Site. These include the ancient City Walls, the Arch of Galerius and Rotunda, the Vlatades and Latamou Monasteries, several medieval churches, and the 14th century Byzantine Baths. After visiting the city’s most important sites, we will also take a walk along one of the country’s most famous seaside promenades lined with many cafes and restaurants. Overnight in Thessaloniki. (All Meals)
This morning travel about 90 miles southeast of Thessaloniki to the village of Ouranoupoli on the border of the autonomous state of the Mount Athos peninsula. Inhabited since ancient times, Mount Athos is known for its monastic traditions with 20 monasteries representing Greece and many other countries, including Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Serbia. Isolated from the rest of the world, Mount Athos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site open to men only, and only 10 non-orthodox men receive permits every day. This makes setting foot on the mountain logistically impossible on this tour, but we will see the monasteries from the sea during a day cruise. Overnight in Ouranoupoli. (All Meals)
This morning we drive along the coast of the Aegean Sea and the Strymonian Gulf to the small city of Kavala, founded in the 7th century. We stop here briefly to tour the Old Town and have lunch. Continue on to Philippi, famous as the small Macedonian center where King Philip II enlarged the local goldmines and amassed a fortune that bought him an army, which eventually enabled his son, Alexander the Great, to conquer most of the known world. After touring this newly inscribed UNESCO Site, we return to Thessaloniki for a free evening and another overnight stay. (All Meals)
After an early breakfast, we check out of our hotel and begin a day of adventures in amazing Thrace. Our first stop is the small town of Vergina, known as the ancient city of Algai where King Philip II was assassinated and where Alexander the Great was proclaimed his successor. Discovered in 1976, the undisturbed, un-raided site includes an extensive royal palace as well as several rich tombs, including that of Philip II. Our second stop will take advantage of views of Mount Olympus, notable in Greek mythology as the “home of the Gods.” We continue to Kalambaka, the town where the Monasteries of Meteora are located. Upon arrival, the rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight in Kalambaka (Meteora). (All Meals)
In ancient Greek, the word “Meteora” means “in the Heavens above” or “suspended in the air.” The monasteries of Meteora have become world-famous for being built on the side of natural stone columns several hundred feet high. Caverns in the area that had been inhabited as early as 50,000 years ago were taken over by monks during the Middle Ages. When attacks from the Turks became frequent in the 14th century, the monks began to construct their perilously-perched monasteries. In all, there are 24 different monasteries, of which only six are still in use today. We will visit several of the sites before returning to Kalambaka for another overnight stay. (All Meals)
We depart Kalambaka this morning and drive to the lakeside city of Ioannina for a brief tour and lunch. Continue with a short drive to Igoumenitsa pier. Take a 2-hour ferry ride to Corfu, an island in the Ionian Sea in the northwesternmost corner of Greece. After checking in at our hotel, take an early evening stroll through the Old Town to enjoy the scene and stop at a lovely restaurant for dinner. Overnight in Corfu. (All Meals)
Beginning in June every year, the isle of Corfu attracts thousands of tourists looking for the perfect summer holiday, so we will beat the crowds by a couple of weeks. Settled as early as 730 BC, Corfu is bursting with historical treasures and natural delights, from monasteries and castles, to ruined temples and Venetian fortresses, to lush forests and idyllic sandy beaches. On our full-day sightseeing tour, we will see a little bit of everything with plenty of time to just enjoy the scenery and relax by the water. Overnight in Corfu. (All Meals)
Today enjoy a free morning and afternoon to relax by the hotel’s pool or down on the beach, or perhaps spend the day exploring more of Corfu on your own. There are many small islands just offshore and nearly as many small towns just a short distance from our hotel. This evening our group gathers once more as Toto Tours hosts a Farewell Dinner. (All Meals)
The tour officially ends after breakfast this morning. We provide a transfer to the Corfu Airport for departing flights. If you wish to extend your stay in Corfu, or take our optional extension to Athens, please indicate these on your reservation form so that we can make arrangements for you. (Breakfast)
After breakfast we check out and continue souto toward Athens, stopping mid-way to visit the most important sanctuary of the ancients – Delphi. During a fully guided tour of this site’s incredible monuments, we might learn the secrets of the Great Oracle, or run a footrace in the ancient stadium, or even dare to take center stage at the great amphitheatre for a dramatic moment. We continue to our Athens hotel in late afternoon, and the remainder of the day is free. (All Meals)