Northern Greece Vacation: Off the Beaten Path to Corfu

A 14 day trip to Greece 
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Uninhibited history meets dramatic landscapes in the north of Greece, and it's done with a charming, laid-back style. Not many visitors come here, so tradition stays alive amid a time-warped atmosphere of tavernas, temples, oracles, Ottomans, Byzantines and Zagorichoria. So step off the beaten track and immerse yourself in highlights as this handcrafted journey will showcase the best of Thessaloniki, ancient Macedonia, Ioannina, Zagori and Corfu.

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Thessaloniki, Vergina, Pella, Naousa, Kalambaka, Meteora, Ioannina, Zagori, Dodona, Pindos, Vistra, Aristi, Corfu, Paleokastritsa, Pontikonisi, Kato Korakiana, Agios Martinos, Mount Pantokrator, Strinilas, Spartillas, Ipsos

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

 

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Thessaloniki – Stepping Into 3,000 Years of History

Colors spiral through a historical flower market, and traders still call out beside the Roman meeting place. Tavernas entice with their scents, while Byzantine churches entice you into a realm of artistic detail. Welcome to Thessaloniki, the gateway to northern Greece and an easy introduction to what the region is all about. Meet your guide, and after a short airport transfer, you go on an orientation walk, listening to how the city has evolved through Hellenistic, Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine eras. You can really feel that this is a city shaped by a myriad of cultures, not least the laid-back style that influences most places on the Mediterranean. Ease into the vacation this evening as you dine on the seafront promenade, with dusk coming gracefully over the Aegean.

What’s Included: airport transfer, accommodation, tour

Day 2: Thessaloniki – Byzantine Churches, Roman Agora and Seaside Tavernas

It is in the Upper Town, Ano Poli, where the best history has been preserved with most of it hidden behind dramatic city walls. Explore the Alaca Imaret, where Ottoman frescoes dance across a 15th-century ceiling and the Church of Osios David, where Christ is depicted in adolescent form, and the mosaics have survived 15 centuries. A Byzantine castle juxtaposes with the peacocks of Vlatodon Monastery, and then the White Tower leads you back downhill to the crypt of Saint Dimitrios. This evening your guide can show you traditional tavernas, where rebetiko music accompanies the seafood and mezze platters, and what remains of the Roman agora continues to host lively impromptu performances.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 3: Vergina to Kalabaka – Ancient Macedonian History and Alexander the Great

You are already in the Macedonia region, and today you will journey into ancient Macedonia to a time when Alexander the Great built a world power. First, it will be to Pella, the leader’s birthplace, where silver, weapons, and maps illustrate what was here 2,500 years ago. Move next to Vergina, the tomb of King Philip II packed full of gold and pre-Christian religious artifacts. Although only a little remains of these two Macedonian capitals, you will begin to understand how this land has histories far beyond Zeus and Apollo. Travel toward Kalabaka for a stop at a winery for a late lunch before the landscape becomes all mountain drama, and you glimpse monasteries in the sky.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 4: Kalambaka – Discovering the Mountaintop Monasteries of Meteora

Shards of mountain stretch skywards, shaped over millennia by the wind. Like a giant’s fingers, they dot the landscape, each one more ineffable than the next. Perched precariously on their summits you will find working monasteries where monks and nuns live in a place they believe is closer to God. There are over a dozen, and you will get to explore six of the Meteora monasteries, ascending the same paths used by monks for centuries. Glimpse inside to get a feel for monastic life, admire all of the panoramic vistas, and find yourself in the most dramatic of mountain settings. There are a lot of steps, and it can be tiring, but such living history would not be the same if it was easily accessible.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 5: Ioannina – Enlightenment Along the Lakeside

Step through the gate and walk behind Ioannina’s old town walls where the Ottoman and Byzantine architecture could have come from a fairytale. This quiet time-warped town was the center of the Greek Enlightenment, but today it is a place of small pleasures. Walk the narrow streets and listen to the tap-tap of a silversmith’s hammer. Follow the trails along a glassy lake, and then reenergize with a sweet wine made aromatic by herbs and flowers, sherbetia. Feel your heartbeat come down after yesterday’s mountain adventure, and then end your walking tour in the grand Byzantine castle. There will be a lot of time to rest today, and your hotel is perched on the lake, perfect for escaping the everyday pressures of home.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 6: Ioannina – Oracles and Temples in Dodona

The remains of Ancient Greece can be found all across modern-day Greece. Archaeological sites are all over, and they are best visited when they are not overrun by tour bus crowds. Those at Dodona suggest the size of a city that thrived from the eighth to second centuries BC. An ancient oracle lived here, and priests would answer questions by listening to the oak trees and watching how their leaves would fall. Dodona is still under excavation, but you can still get to experience one of the country’s largest amphitheaters, the grand Temple of Zeus, and a smorgasbord of other remains. After a day in Dodona, you will return to Ioannina and a second languid evening along the water.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 7: Zagori – Zagorian Cooking Workshop and Village Exploration

Ioannina is also a gateway to Zagori, a region of dramatic snow-clad mountains and villages hidden in gorges. Every season is different here with a white landscape giving way to blooming hydrangeas and peonies, and then fall colors that carpet the hills. About 40 villages dot the landscape, each preserving traditional stone structures and old monasteries. One of these is Aristi, where you join a local chef foraging and picking ingredients from the hillside. It is farm to table in two hours here, the chef teaching you the basics of Zagorian recipes, including the region’s famous pies. Through the cooking class you will settle into local culture and what it means to live in such a remote place, where there are mule paths rather than roads and art is integral to almost everything.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Days 8 – 9: Zagori – Unwinding and Exploring the Zagorichoria

Your three nights in Zagori are spent in Aristi, one of the largest of the villages and one best set up for tourism. It is remarkably quiet out here, even on the central square, making for three days getting away from the world. After the cooking class on day seven, days eight and nine are kept flexible and can be tailored to your preferences with your local guide. The hiking options are endless, from full-day adventures towards peaks to short walks between villages. There are some superb half-day hikes that work for most fitness levels and families, giving you a sense of the region’s landscapes and culture, particularly when you walk between villages within the national park.

Some spots you will not want to miss include the monastery of Pagia Spiliotissa, a trail along the Voidomatis river, and the village of Vitsa. But there really should not be a prescribed itinerary here. You must be flexible so you can accept invitations from villagers, or stop to chat on village squares. You must respect the weather, which can be unpredictable in this mountainous corner of Greece. And you will find that the main Zagori highlight is the region’s easy-going, traditional atmosphere, which encourages you to slow down and feel your time gracefully slipping away.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 10: Corfu – Mythological History in Old Town Corfu

After escaping the world, you will be back to old-world bustle today, a catamaran taking you across the turquoise waters to Corfu. Corfu is an island that has fallen out of favor now that Santorini and Mykonos have become in vogue, but the island is vast and rugged and worthy of a visit. Villages mark the mountains, and historical towns dot along the coast as stony trails lead you through olive groves while small sandy beaches can wile away many an afternoon. Think of a quintessential Greek island, and it would likely not be Corfu, but in the place of blue window shutters and domes, there is an island that bursts with its own unique history.

Arrive in the old town and travel between the two forts, your guide escorting you to your historical hotel. You will be just steps away from the promenade and not much further to the beach, but the location is best because you are amid a fully pedestrianized zone. Go exploring with your guide, first to the 13th-century fort and a fabulous Doric-inspired church. Admire Porta Sopranza and a pair of winged lions and then check out the peculiar cubist architecture before wandering into Achillion Palace, where tales of Pompeii merge into aristocratic villas and lush local gardens. After the full historical tour, you will also know where to drink and dine in the old town, including some of the tavernas loved by locals.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 11: Corfu – Reliving Homer’s Odyssey on a Private Tour

Much of Homer’s Odyssey centers on Corfu, the island of the Phaeacians where Odysseus ended up shipwrecked before returning home to Ithaca and his wife, Penelope. He was escaping the nymph Calypso and her island trap of Ogygia, washing up on shore at Paleokastritsa Bay. Part myth, part fable, and part ode to Ancient Greece, Odyssey is a story made believable when you are touring Corfu. With a classical guide alongside, you can visit various island points mentioned in the epic poem, including Nausicaa’s place of discovery and the Pontikonisi islet. It’s a private island that mixes myth with local village life, including a sumptuous lunch overlooking olive groves.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 12: Corfu – Jeep Adventure Across the Island

Today’s jeep tour will hit Corfu’s major highlights. Explore the traditions of countryside villages, comparing places like Kato Korakiana and Agios Martinos to what you experienced in Zagori. Ascend to the island’s highest point, where a monastery provides stunning 360-degree views over Corfu. Stop at a vineyard and taste the tradition, and then descend to the coast with lunch in the village of Strinilas on your route. On the way back, there will be a chance to hike some stony trails, relax on sandy beaches, and dip your feet into waters so blue they struggle to be photographed. Over the course of the day, you will discover an island of rich history and superlative landscapes, along with a series of small culinary treasures.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 13: Corfu – Best of Local Corfu Food Tour

It will be a relaxed final day as you tour the Old Town on a food tour, tasting how traditional roots meet with Venetian and Italian influences. Sample the many specialities at an open-air market, including spinach and cheese pie plus the ubiquitous loukoumades, a honey-dominated style of donut. Meet a local chef and discuss the changing tastes while sampling all manner of cheeses, hams and cold seafood plates. Go searching for the island’s best olive oil and get a little indulgent with all the locally made butter and cream. It will be three hours packed full of tasting, leaving the afternoon free to walk it off in the old town. Like many of your other evenings, you can end the day on the promenade, or at a terrace on Spianada Square.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 14: Corfu – Departure

After 14 days in Greece and one last leisurely morning, you will fly out from Corfu’s international airport to connect with your flight home.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast

Price

Price 

Please inquire for a custom quote. The price is customized based on final accommodation choices, travel dates, and other custom preferences.