My Epic Road Trip To Mainland Greece
We chose mid March for our road trip in Mainland Greece and in my opinion, it was the perfect time to be in Greece. It was just the beginning of spring and the trees and flowers were in bloom all over the country, making a wonderful spectacle of themselves everywhere we went. The weather was absolutely perfect and yet the subtle signs of winter had still lingered, like the stunning snow capped mountains and the cool evening air throughout the country. It was just the very beginning of the season so we were able to enjoy the sites without having to fight the crowds and we were thankful for that. We are adventurers at heart so we chose to cover as much territory as we could in the little time that we had. We wanted to see Greece, feel Greece, experience the country and it’s colorful people, taste the local Mediterranean cuisine and bask in the beauty of it all. We had a week and we were bound and determined we were going to make lasting lifetime memories on our Mediterranean adventure.
Day One – ATHENS
We decided to spend the first night in Athens before beginning our adventure. We would return to Athens at the end of our trip and climb the Acropolis! It was tough finding our car at the airport, but we finally did and headed for the city center. We were having trouble with the GPS, as most of the locations were in Greek, but we quickly learned how to navigate our way through the streets of Athens. We were excited and couldn’t wait to explore the city. We chose the beautiful King George Hotel which is conveniently located in Syntagma Square and within walking distance to the Acropolis and all the major sites in Athens. It was a beautiful hotel in a perfect location. We decided to venture out into the square to look for a local place to eat. We found a family restaurant and decided to have a Gyro. The lamb is slowly cooked to perfection on a vertical rotisserie.. It is one of our favorites! When the family saw how excited we were to be there and try the gyro, they gave us samples of all of their dishes! Everything was amazing! They were proud of their family recipes and wanted to share them with us. It was an excellent example of the warm and welcoming Greek and Mediterranean hospitality.
Day Two – CORINTH AND NAFPLIO
The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel with a dreamy view of the city and the Acropolis before heading to Corinth. On the way to Corinth, we passed the Corinth Canal which was quite impressive. The canal is a strategic navigational route which connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf. It is one of the oldest canals of this type in the world. It is a ship route through the Isthmus of Corinth. Corinth is the gateway to the Peloponnese Peninsula and during the Roman period it was a very wealthy city state boasting two major ports.
Heading on to the archaeological site of Corinth, we were sidetracked when we saw the impressive acropolis of Acrocorinth (Upper Corinth) high above the city. We immediately headed up the trail and hiked up to the commanding fortress which was built in the Middle Ages. It was well worth the hike! The lush green fields were carpeted with vibrant red poppies and the view of Corinth and the turquoise blue water of the Gulf was spectacular. As we were heading back down the trail, it started to rain a bit. The stones were slick, but we made our way down and continued on to the archaeological site and museum of Corinth. If the ruins could only tell the story of their history and how the Apostle Paul preached the gospel to the people of Corinth here. We read in First and Second Corinthians how he addressed the church of Corinth. It was a very emotional moment for me to be here in this place where it all happened and to imagine what it must have been like all those years ago, as the Gospel was first spread throughout the country and beyond.
We admired the landscape on the way to Nafplio with beautiful vineyards, green pastures of grazing sheep, and vibrant pink and white blossoms of the cherry and almond trees in bloom. Nafplio is a seaport town in the Peloponnese and is one of the most beautiful and romantic towns in all of Greece. It was also the first capital of Greece. The Venetian architecture is dreamy with its hidden squares, charming narrow streets, quaint little boutiques and shops, enchanting sidewalk cafes and tavernas. One can immediately see the Italian influence in this charming town. We walked along the harbor and admired the Venetian Bourtzi Castle in the middle of the harbor, as a multicolored double rainbow appeared before us. We stayed in the heart of Old Town in a small place called the Xenon Inn located in the Syntagma Square. The location was ideal and we were within walking distance to everything.
We crossed the square and found a romantic little taverna owned by a local family. The family was delightful and so welcoming, as they immediately took us to the kitchen to show us all of the homemade dishes they had to offer. Of course, the Greek Mama was back there cooking away, but stopped what she was doing to greet us. Each and every dish was a work of art from the moussaka to the grape leaves. Every dish was a Mediterranean culinary masterpiece made with love! The Greeks take such pride in their cooking with fresh local ingredients and have such a passion to share it with others. We thoroughly enjoyed every moment. We strolled through the charming narrow streets, window shopping and admiring the dreamy little boutiques and shops. We found a gelateria and got some wonderful gelato before heading back to our room. This was a sweet and delicious way to end a perfect day.
Day Three – Nafplio and Delphi
The next morning we decided to visit the Fortress of Palamid strategically situated high above Nafplio. We explored the fortress and made our way to the lookout point with a spectacular view of the Argolic Gulf and the majestic snow capped mountains surrounding Nafplio. We felt like we were on top of the world and took a moment to breathe it all in, before we parted from Nafplio. The archaeological site of Mycenae is about 30 minutes from Nafplio and well worth the visit. This was the location which King Agememnon commanded the Greeks during the Trojan war.
Crossing the Rio-Antirrio Bridge was a highlight. It is one of the longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges in the world. This bridge is an engineering feat, crossing the Gulf of Corinth. It is 9,540 feet long and links mainland Antirrio to Rio on the Peloponnese Peninsula. The scenic coastal drive was beautiful and we explored a few of the little charming seaside towns along the way. As we ascended to Delphi, the view was spectacular! The village, situated on Mount Parnassus and overlooking the Gulf of Corinth was charming and the view was spectacular. Again, we felt like we were on top of the world!
We had a breathtaking view from our balcony at Hotel Nidimos and had fun exploring the village. We crossed the street for dinner at a local family restaurant on the view. The food was incredible! We were so pleased that we ordered almost everything on the menu! We wanted to try everything! Again, we were experiencing a Mediterranean culinary work of art and we wanted to savor every moment of it! The two brothers working there were so happy that they brought the Greek Mama out from the kitchen to greet us. It was a night to remember!
Day Four – Delphi and Olympia
The archaeological site in Delphi is definitely one of the most famous historical sites in Greece. Continuing on, we ascended Mount Parnassus and headed for Olympia. The archeological park is exceptional. It was amazing to walk through the site and imagine what it must have been like here when the first Olympic Games took place around 776 BC. We strolled through the city center and browsed in some of the local shops. We had a collage of colorful and tasty Mediterranean dishes (mezze) for dinner in the town center and decided to head back to the hotel to rest. Tomorrow was a big day and I would finally see Meteora!
Day Five – Meteora
I woke up in the morning with great anticipation! The day had finally come and we were headed to Meteora. Meteora had been on my bucket list for some time now and I was excited. The drive was beautiful, as we drove through the Greek countryside, admiring the lush vineyards, rustic olive groves and the dreamy Mediterranean terrain. We drove through a remote hillside village and stopped off for a fresh homemade meal at a local family taverna. We could taste the fresh ingredients on our palate, as we looked from the balcony over the pastures of grazing sheep and goats and the groves of gnarled and ancient olive trees. Finally, in the distance, we approached Meteora, hidden in the mountains of Thessaly and the village of Kalabaka. It was like nothing we had ever seen with spectacular rock formations with monasteries perched high above and tethering on these magnificent narrow rock pillars. It did not disappoint, in fact it was even more impressive than I had imagined. Today there are six functioning Greek Orthodox monasteries on the rock formations, but there were originally twenty four monasteries built in the Middle Ages. How could they build these magnificent monasteries on these rock pillars? It was simply spectacular.
We immediately headed up to the lookout point before the sun set and found that a group of people had already gathered for the same reason. There we were, all gathered together on the cliffs, united and sharing in a fleeting moment of God given beauty. As the sun slowly set, we saw the last moments of daylight fade away, parting with brilliant red and orange colors over the lush green valley below beyond the rock formations. All I could do was sigh and bask in this moment of sheer beauty and thank God that He had allowed me to see this in my lifetime.
We stayed in a family owned bed and breakfast at the foot of one of the striking rock formations. The family was welcoming, colorful and charming. We made our way through the narrow streets of the little neighborhood by foot to the city center and found a wonderful local restaurant. The waiters and staff were delightful and the food was so incredible that we ordered every dish on the menu just so we could taste it all. For dessert, we headed to a Greek bakery down the street and picked up some freshly baked Greek pastries. My favorite Greek pastry is the Greek Custard Pie (Galaktoboureko) which is a golden, crispy filo pastry with semolina custard and honey syrup poured over the top. I was delighted that they had it! It was a perfect way to end the perfect day.
Day Six – Veria – Thesaloniki
The next morning, we woke early and drove back to the viewpoint to catch the sunrise. This time we had the whole place to ourselves to bask in the beauty in peace and tranquility. The sunrise was outstanding with a display of beautiful vibrant colors and rays of light over the rock formations and the valley below. As we sat there and soaked it all in, I thought to myself, this must be what the Garden of Eden looked like. It was a moment we will remember for a lifetime.
All good things must come to an end and we parted from Meteora, but not before we returned to the same bakery and bought some Greek pies for the way. These delicious crispy golden filo pies were filled with cheese and spinach and were seasoned to perfection. We were later thankful that we had them with us, because we had a long drive ahead through remote and stunning mountain territory. We ascended the snow capped mountains on our way to Thessaloniki. We even saw some snow and a European wildcat as we approached the mountain peak.
We drove for miles without seeing a soul and when we were almost out of gas, we saw a sign that said Veria. Veria was the city of Berea mentioned in the New Testament where the Apostle Paul had preached the gospel! Unlike the people of Thessaloniki, the Jews here received the word in eagerness when he spoke in the synagogue according to scripture. It wasn’t on our itinerary, but God had another plan! After getting gas, we headed to the Synagogue of Paul and discovered a quaint and charming little Jewish neighborhood. As we were entering the synagogue, we met Evi, a Greek woman who had a heart for the Jewish people and restoring the synagogue of Paul and the old Jewish neighborhood. She was full of life and you could see she spoke from her heart, as she explained everything to us. She wasn’t Jewish, but it was her life’s mission to have the synagogue and Jewish community restored to remember its rich history and pay tribute to the Jews of Greece. We also knew in our hearts this was a Divine appointment. It was here that Paul preached salvation in the synagogue all those years ago.
The people of Berea were more open-minded than the people of Thessalonica. They were willing to receive God’s message and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. Many of them became believers, and quite a number of them were prominent Greek men and women. Acts 17:11-12
We know from Scripture that there was a Jewish population in this Macedonian town of Berea from the time of Paul until 1943. On May 1st, 1943, 300 Jews of Veria were rounded up and locked in this synagogue for three days without food or water. They were then deported to Auschwitz. Some 136 Jews took refuge in the mountains, but when they returned, they found their homes occupied. This was the end of the Jewish population in Veria. Evi’s dream was to give tribute and remember the Jewish community that once lived in Veria. This touched us beyond belief. We parted from Evi, but we knew that this would not be the last time we would return to Veria.
The drive to Thessaloniki was breathtaking, as we were witnessing the first signs of spring upon us. The fields were covered with colorful blossoming almond, cherry, peach and plum trees. Spectacular pink, lavender and white flowers on the trees were everywhere and looked almost like a painting. Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and is on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. It was here that Paul preached the message of salvation and faith to the Thessalonians and later wrote two letters of support and encouragement to them in First and Second Thessalonians.
We stayed at the upscale Met Hotel, which is a beautiful hotel located in the harbor. The Met is a very modern hotel with a wonderful spa and rooftop pool overlooking the vibrant city of Thessaloniki. The coffee shops and restaurants were packed with locals sitting along the waterfront, socializing and enjoying the view. It was fun to explore the city center which was alive and full of shops, tavernas, cafes and more. The Loulouladika flower market was delightful with a variety of vibrantly colored flowers everywhere and the surrounding area had hip and secret garden cafes, rooftop bars, and charming tavernas. After exploring the city center, we had dinner at a picturesque waterfront cafe. We headed back to the Met Hotel for a relaxing massage in their beautiful spa and a dip in the pool.
Day Seven – Athens
We probably should have planned another night somewhere in between Thessaloniki and Athens, but our schedule didn’t allow for another night. It was a long drive, but it was beautiful with charming seaside villages and the strikingly blue turquoise water of the Aegean Sea. We stopped and visited the village of Dion and the archaeological park. Alexander the Great honored Zeus here before beginning his campaign with the Persians. The Olympic games were also held here. It was the religious center of Macedonia at one time. The park boasts two ancient theaters, a Roman bath complex, a marketplace, public buildings and nature trails. The Museum holds very interesting archaeological findings from ancient Dion and the surrounding area. We saw a stunning view of Mt. Olympus from a velvet green pasture with sheep grazing, so we stopped and snapped a shot. Mt. Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece at 9,570 feet above sea level.
After a long drive, we were back in Athens at last! This time we stayed at the magnificent Hotel Grande Bretagne in Syntagma Square. After checking in, we headed up to the exquisite rooftop restaurant with a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the city. It was so dreamy and romantic that we didn’t want to leave, but we couldn’t wait to get out and explore Athens. We strolled down the colorful shopping streets, full of charming sidewalk cafes, bars and tavernas. The ruins were beautifully lit up and beautiful as we strolled through the narrow streets towards Plaka. We found a cool new rooftop restaurant, full of locals with a spectacular view of the Acropolis and the city. We ordered mezze, stared out at the spectacular view and soaked up the local Mediterranean vibe. After leaving the restaurant, we found a local taverna with live Greek music so we slipped in for dessert and enjoyed the band.
Day Eight – Athens
We headed to the Acropolis first thing in the morning, but were distracted by the enticing aroma of fresh baked Greek pastries. The line was long with locals, so we knew it had to be a great bakery. We had some delicious pastries and a cappuccino to give us some energy for our climb up the archaeological site. The Parthenon was magnificent, dominating the Acropolis. It was hard to grasp that this structure has been standing since the 5th century BC. It was built and dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos. Gazing down below, one can only imagine what it must have been like for Paul to preach the Gospel in such an environment and to deliver his moving sermon to the council at the Areopagus. After a busy day of touring the Acropolis, we decided to walk through the charming hillside neighborhood of Plaka with it’s quaint little boutiques, shops, sidewalk cafes and tavernas. The narrow cobblestone streets were enchanting and picturesque and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring Plaka.
Greek cuisine is the best and healthiest in the world. All the ingredients are fresh and pleasing to the palate. There’s nothing like a colorful table full of small local dishes (meze). The tastes explode in your mouth with the fresh local spices and ingredients. We chose a rustic taverna on the hillside and sat outside. Again, we ordered almost everything on the menu just to savor the moment and enjoy our final Greek dinner. It was our grand finale and we were in the mood to savor every last moment of our Mediterranean adventure. Soon the Greek dancers dressed in the traditional costume showed up for a photo with us and invited us inside to see the show. It was electric, as they danced about the room, interacted with the crowd and brought joy to everyone there. As we made our way back down the narrow cobblestone road, we passed a taverna with amazing and enticing Greek music blaring inside. We barely hesitated outside the door and the doorman ushered us inside. We found ourselves sitting in the front row, hanging on every note of the bouzouki and listening to the best Greek music we had ever heard! You could feel the excitement in the room, as we all were celebrating the incredible skill of the band. They played well into the night, bringing joy to all who were present. No one wanted to leave. What a perfect way to end a perfect vacation!
It was an epic road trip that we will never forget. Our hearts yearn to return to Greece one day soon for more adventures. It was truly a trip of a lifetime.