Day 1 - Dubrovnik
Dobro Dosli! Welcome to Croatia, a place of sunshine, sand and scenery; home to chic cities, coastline, charming cobblestone towns, World Heritage sites, and a thriving food and wine scene. The undisputed jewel of the Dalmatian Coast, Dubrovnik is a beautiful white stone town surrounded entirely by city walls, easily covered on foot. Although it experienced devastation during the war in the early 1990s, the restored old town remains as charming as ever. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm – check with reception to confirm the time and place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please have these on hand. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive on time, you may wish to arrive a day early. If you have time why not head out to one of the Elafiti Islands. There's Lopud, a quiet island with lovely hikes, clean beaches and a ruined castle. Kolocep is a sleepy enclave that boasts walks for every fitness level, while Sipan is the most populated of the isles and reputedly has the most hospitable inhabitants. There are also many monuments to explore in the city proper, including the 15th century Rector's Palace, monasteries with cloistered gardens, and fine baroque churches with copper domes. The main pedestrian promenade, once a shallow sea channel, is now paved with glistening white limestone, in stark contrast to the warm red terracotta roofs. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful city. A walk along the city walls of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame is not to be missed. As there is not much time in Dubrovnik on this trip you may want to consider arriving a few days earlier.
Day 2 - Kotor
Leave Dubrovnik behind and take a private transfer to Kotor on the Montenegrin coast (approximately 3 hours). This 5th-century World Heritage-listed city is set on a secluded bay, with towering peaks surrounding a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. In its crooked alleyways, get lost and mingle with the locals. When you arrive, head out on a short orientation walk, checking out the 12th-century Cathedral, the South Gates, and the Armoury Square. Later, perhaps take a cruise on the Kotor Fjord – the longest fjord south of Scandinavia – and visit an island with a church that's almost as big as the island itself! In the evening the city walls are prettily lit up to provide a unique night-time perspective.
Day 3 - Shkoder / Tirana
After breakfast, drive across the border into Albania. If you think you know Albania, think again. This addictive country has myriad faces. In the rugged north the Alps are so fierce they're deemed 'accursed', while the south enjoys one of Europe’s least known and most beautiful coastlines. A unique mixture of cultures and customs, Tirana is filled with craziness, from its traffic to its nightlife, but on its doorstep are mosques, citadels, Ottoman architecture, and a stunning dose of the medieval Balkans. The real surprise of Albania is the people. Their warmth to strangers is infectious and you’re bound to find yourself swapping stories over a glass of raki or three. Our first stop is the city of Shkoder (approx 3 hours drive from Kotor). Here you will have time to explore Rozafa Castle. The site was occupied by a fortress since Illyrian times, however most of what can be seen today is of Venetian origin. Depending on road conditions and volume of traffic it will be another 2 hours to Tirana. On arrival, take an orientation walk to get your bearings. Tirana is the capital of Albania and its biggest city, but it's still small and compact, with architectural influences from Italy and Turkey. Recently many buildings have been painted to alleviate the Soviet block feeling that pervaded. Many upgrades have been made all over town, such as new parks and wide pavements, a process that's still on-going. Perhaps take a cable car ride up Dajti Mountain for breath-taking views of the city below.
Day 4 - Kruja / Tirana
Today, take a half-day trip to the mountain village and former Albanian capital of Kruja. Kruja was the last stronghold of Skanderbeg's (the national hero of Albania) army until the Ottomans took over the entire country. There is plenty of time to explore the citadel and the famous bazaar area. Perhaps pay a visit to the excellent ethnographical museum housed inside the fortress. You’ll then return to Tirana after lunch. Tirana is dotted with many museums. You can't miss the National History Museum – just look for the gargantuan mosaic on the facade that represents the development of Albania's history. The main sight in Tirana is the 1821 Et'hem Bey Mosque, right on the city's main square. Closed under communist rule, the mosque resumed as a place of worship in 1991. 10,000 people attended the reopening and the event was considered a milestone in the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania. Take a look at the frescoes outside and in the portico that depict trees, waterfalls and bridges – motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. Remember to take your shoes off before entering the inner room.
Day 5 - Berat
Travel by public bus to Berat, the town of a thousand windows, one of the few towns of Albania that escaped being razed to the ground to make way for apartment blocks. The old Mangalemi district has recently been inscribed on UNESCO's world heritage list. Enjoy an afternoon guided tour of the town and the looming fortress, the kala, built during the 13th century and still inhabited. The walk to the castle is steep and slippery so better bring some proper footwear with you. The views from the top across Berat and the Osum river valley are well worth the effort though.
Day 6 - Lake Ohrid
Travel by private bus to Ohrid in Macedonia, a drive of about 3 hours, situated on a lake with the same name. Europe’s oldest lake, and one of the oldest human settlements in the world, Ohrid has a wealth of historic sites and religious monuments to discover. Ohrid is an eternal town, a magical hill whose primordial pulsation links ancient and modern times forever. The town is said to have once been home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year, earning it the nickname “the Macedonian Jerusalem”, while historical excavations date back to Neolithic times. Despite being a World Heritage site for over 30 years, the town remains under the radar of visitors. Get your bearings on an orientation walk around Ohrid, maybe picking up a bargain or two in the vibrant Old Bazaar. Then embark on a scenic cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Ohrid, ringed by mountains, attractive villages and beaches, and take in the views of the town and the surrounding scenery while afloat.
Day 7 - Lake Ohrid
At 34 kilometres long, 14 kilometres wide, and over 300 meters deep, all shared between Albania and Macedonia, there’s plenty of vast Lake Ohrid to explore. Today is free for you to discover the area. There are many churches and monasteries to visit, but one of the most popular is the Macedonian Orthodox Church of Sveti Jovana Kaneo, situated on a rocky outcrop above the town, overlooking the lake. Past the church you can wander around to the back of town, exploring the old walls and fortress, and admiring the views of the lake. The Sveti Naum Monastery is also a great option, lying on the shores of the lake south of town, with well-kept grounds that are home to peacocks. The ancient Tast Samoil’s Fortress stands on the top of Ohrid Hill and looks across the town, while a 2,000-year-old Roman theatre was uncovered near the Upper Gate – in summer it’s again being used for concerts and performances. During your time here you may also want to try one of the endless number of hikes found in the mountainous Galicica National Park, sampling some of the flora, fauna, and spectacular views.
Day 8 - Skopje
This morning hop onto public bus to Skopje, Macedonia's capital city (approximately 3 hours). In Macedonia’s political and cultural centre, walk past Byzantine domes, Turkish baths, and also newly built neo-classical buildings and grand monuments (aimed to bolster national pride), sampling gozleme and tasty baklava along the way. The 30 mosques, innumerable caravanserais and hamams that fill its winding streets are a testament to Skopje’s Ottoman past. Take a step back to those times with a visit to the Daut Pasha Hamam, or journey through the humbling Holocaust Museum to learn how Macedonia suffered during this tragic chapter of history. Get lost in the narrow lanes of Caršija, Skopje's most atmospheric neighbourhood, or take in the stone bridge over the river Vardar – an iconic sight that acts as a handy connection between Macedonia Square and the Old Bazaar. Perhaps visit the Museum of the City of Skopje, housed in the old Railway Station, which is itself a unique piece of history. Its unusual, part-ruined exterior is a result of the 1963 earthquake. The large clock on the outside of the building is frozen at 5:17, the moment the earthquake shook the city.
Day 9 - Matka Canyon / Skopje
Venture out to Matka Canyon, a deep ravine cut into the Suva mountains by the Treska River, 15 kilometres southwest of the city. This area is home to several medieval monasteries, caves, and over 70 species of endemic butterflies. There is the option to explore the canyon's sights by boat. One of the monasteries worth exploring is St Andrew's Monastery, which contains many superb frescoes of great artistic importance. There is also Vrelo cavern, a water-filled cave with incredible stalagmites and unchartered depths – it's speculated to be the deepest underwater cave in the world. Alternatively, you can take one of the many nature walks in the canyon, or up to tracks that hug the ridge high above the valley. In the late afternoon, take a local bus back to Skopje, with the remaining part of the day free for you to continue exploring this exciting city. Perhaps take the Mount Vodno cable car to the giant 66-metre high Millennium Cross, mainly for the views back down across the city. For dinner this evening head to the Old Bazaar, or the restaurants in the Debar Maalo area.
Day 10 - Dihovo / Pelister National Park
A 3-hour public bus ride will take you to Pelister National Park, the oldest national park in Macedonia. Located in the Baba Mountain massif, it’s a perfect location for a walk, taking in fresh, crisp and clean air in a beautiful landscape with views that go on for miles. The surroundings are known for their ancient Molika pine trees. It’s also home to rare species like bearded eagles and lynx, along with wolves and bears. You’ll enjoy a homestay tonight in a wonderful restored traditional house, built in the typical Macedonian stone-and-wood style. There are nearby natural rock pools for swimming in the River Sapungica, which runs through the village. Enjoy a great wine tasting experience tonight – the owner produces his own prize-winning wine, and you’ll get to taste it while trying many local delicacies, including homemade bread, jams, and salami.
Day 11 - Kastoria
Travel with taxi to the border with Greece and then hop on our private transfer to Kastoria. This medieval town sits on the western shore of Lake Orestiada, in a valley surrounded by limestone mountains. Kastoria is full of interesting Byzantine churches and Ottoman-style architecture, including old distinctive villas from the skin and fur trade times. Once you arrive you’ll take an orientation walk along the labyrinthine lanes, with time to walk along the lakeside, where boats bob, Dalmatian pelicans and ducks make iridescent ripples on the water, and coniferous trees and mountains surround in the distance. Later, consider visiting the unspoilt Spilia tou Drakou, or Dragon Cave, one of the most impressive caves in Greece, and see stalactites and underground lakes in this mysterious natural wonder once believed to be a gold mine guarded by a sleepless dragon.
Day 12 - Litochoro
Enjoy a free morning in Kastoria. Perhaps visit the Neolithic lakeside village and reconstruction at Dispilio, which gives you a real feel for life in a village in the middle of the 6th Millennium BC. After lunch transfer by private vehicle to the town of Litochoro at the base of Mt Olympus. Upon arrival head out on a short orientation walk to familiarise yourself with the surroundings. Head down to the beach at Pláka for some well-deserved relaxation and a dip in the Aegean Sea before tomorrow's hike. Perhaps have dinner in one of the fish tavernas lining the sea shore, and indulge in some traditional dishes.
Day 13 - Mt Olympus National Park
Mount Olympus, Greece's first national park, is the highest mountain in Greece and the second highest in the Balkans, with a height of 2918m. The mountain is famous in Greek mythology as it is the dwelling of the twelve Olympian gods, headed by Zeus. Mytikas peak was the gods' meeting place, and Stefani peak was the Throne of Zeus from where he was said to have displayed his mighty power by throwing thunderbolts. Head out for a hike along the lush forested ravines and ridges of the mountain - there are several options from 3 to 6 hours depending on weather conditions and the group's fitness level.
Day 14 - Athens
Head to the heart of Greece, and the centre of the ancient world. After arriving and transferring to your central hotel, there's much to be seen in the ancient capital of Greece, vibrant and refreshed following the 2004 Olympics, yet still retaining so much visible history. Named after the goddess of wisdom, Athens has a weighty history that spills out over the modern city, represented most dramatically by the ancient Acropolis, where you can enter the Pantheon and enjoy fabulous views over the city. The birthplace of Western civilisation, Athens has an amazing array of historic sites to explore, including the National Gardens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the original Olympic Stadium. Another highlight is the renowned changing of the guard at Syntagma (Parliament) Square. Afterwards, perhaps tuck into a delicious dinner of Greek cuisine and a shot (or two) of ouzo.
Day 15 - Athens
Today you'll have more time to explore Athens. You might like to take part in one of our Urban Adventure day trips, such as 'Taste of Athens' or 'Markets, Ruins and Ancient Athens'. As this is a combination trip, your leader and the composition of your group may change at this point. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary. You're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. In the evening after the meeting, why not head out for some gyros and ouzo with your new travel companions?
Day 16 - Syros
Today travel by metro to the port of Piraeus, then catch a relaxing scenic ferry to Syros (approximately 4 hours). In the heart of the Cyclades, Syros offers a rare opportunity to see the islands as the Greeks do. Also known as Syra, the island features typical whitewashed houses, farms, terraced fields and gorgeous sandy beaches. Upon arrival on one of the Aegean's most underrated islands, discover abandoned windmills, ancient ruins and charming villages on a network of stone-paved tracks that crisscross the island. Syros is also home to delicious sweets – take a wander through the main town of Ermoupolis, home to gorgeous neoclassical mansions and 19th-century tenement blocks, and try the hazelnut, almond or honey-filled wafers or the fruit-flavoured jelly from one of many one-room shops. You'll have plenty of time to explore tomorrow, so perhaps kick up your feet at a waterfront cafe and watch the setting sun turn the houses pink.
Day 17 - Syros
Take a walk through the fortress-like town of Ano Syros, which offers great views of the Aegean Sea. Wander the narrow alleyways, pass handmade-souvenir shops and keep an ear open for traditional Rembetiko music floating out of the family-run tavernas. Enjoy free time to further explore Syros at your own pace. Perhaps hire a bike in town and cycle to the various archaeological sites on the island, or you might prefer to simply hole up on a beach for the afternoon. Outside of Ermoupolis are many small tranquil coves, while the most popular beaches are on the southern side of the island. While some are sandy and others pebbly, all boast crystal clear waters for swimming in. In the evening, take taxis to a remotely located taverna in the rugged northern part of the island to sample delicious local specialities during an included meal, all while watching the sun set over the Aegean Sea.
Day 18 - Mykonos
Today board a two-hour ferry to Mykonos, a beautiful island named in honour of Apollo's grandson. Mykonos is legendary both in ancient and modern times. Known in ancient Greek mythology as the battlefield where Zeus fought the Gigantes, today the island is best known for its decadence, style, and nightlife. Join your leader for a walk through the maze-like old town and be captivated by the quintessential Greek Isles vista of squat white houses brightly juxtaposed against the cerulean sea. Browse the chic galleries and boutiques, follow flower-lined paths past age-old churches and tiny restaurants to secluded, sandy beaches, and spend the afternoon soaking up the rays and splashing in the water. As the sun sets, join the group for a picnic dinner of local specialties. Your leader will know the ideal spot to sit back and enjoy an Aegean sunset.
Day 19 - Delos / Mykonos
This morning you will take a half-day trip out to the nearby island of Delos. One of the most important archaeological and mythological sites in the Greek Islands, a sacred area that was once the political and religious centre of the Aegean, Delos is considered to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. A living museum, the wealthy built mansions in the town that developed around Apollo’s sanctuary, decorating them with luxurious frescoes, mosaics and statues. The island is overflowing with archaeological finds like the Terrace of the Lions and the Sacred Precinct, with many more still being uncovered. Later on today you might like to head to one of Mykonos' many beaches, which are some of the nicest in Europe. Take a short bus ride to the pumping Paradise or Super Paradise beach bars, or perhaps find a quieter spot to relax along the beautiful coastline. You could also check out the 19th-century House of Lena or the Aegean Maritime Museum in town. This evening you could make your way to the village of Ano Mera and seek out a tavern for a seafood dinner or perhaps wander down to Little Venice, where colourful balconies hang precariously over the sea.
Day 20 - Santorini
Take a ferry and wind up this Greek adventure on the southern island of Santorini (approximately 3 hours). Renowned for its spectacular natural beauty, Santorini is one of Europe's tourist hotspots, the home of the iconic image of the Greek islands – whitewashed, blue-domed buildings clinging to the cliff face with sparkling water in the background. Discover the hilltop ruins of Ancient Thira and its fascinating Prehistoric Museum, as well as the archaeological site of Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement that gives an insight into how the people here lived before the eruption. Check out the range of restaurants and shops in the island's capital, interchangeably called Thira or Fira. If you have time while you're here, perhaps head to one of Santorini's volcanic beaches, such as Red Beach or the black beaches of Perissa, Vlhada, Perivolos or Agios Georgios. Be sure to try some of the island’s delicious food – the nutrient-filled volcanic soil makes the ingredients grown here full of flavour.
Day 21 - Santorini
In 1500 BC a volcanic eruption sank the centre of Santorini, forming one of the most significant geological formations on the planet – the awe-inspiring caldera. The spectacular natural beauty of this caldera is what makes Santorini such a special place. Today make an excursion along the crater rim, starting in Thira town and walking through little villages all the way to Oia, passing steep cliff faces and experiencing breathtaking views along the way (approximately 2.5–3 hours of walking). If you have time, you might also like to take a half-day trip to the island's volcano and hot springs in the centre of the lagoon. Or perhaps visit one of the island’s wineries – the vines here are cultivated in a very unusual way, with the plants being pruned to form a low basket shape that sits on top of the volcanic soil to protect the grapes from strong winds. On the last evening of your adventure, rub shoulders with friendly locals in packed pubs and cafes, sipping a cocktail as you witness a magnificent Santorini sunset.
Day 22 - Santorini
Today your Greek Islands adventure comes to an end. There are no activities planned and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. You might want to extend your stay to see all Santorini has to offer. We are happy to book additional accommodation, subject to availability. Please enquire at the time of booking.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
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