Go beyond the isles to see a lesser known side of Greece, where mighty mountains soar and myriad civilizations have left their marks on both land and culture. Join a private guide in Thessaloníki to explore ruins and relics from the Romans and Macedonians, Byzantines and Turks. Then journey to the Pindus peaks in the country’s rugged northern reaches, home to dramatic canyons and quaint stone villages rich in history. Step back in time to the era of the ancients on private tours of the Meteora monasteries, Delphi, and Eleusis; and enjoy free time to soak in the ambiance of incomparable Athens.
Arrive in Thessaloníki, Greece’s second largest city, and transfer to your downtown hotel overlooking Aristotelous Square. Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city’s mazelike streets, which hold an intriguing jumble of modern buildings, Roman ruins, domed Byzantine churches, and Ottoman-era minarets. Or just relax on your hotel’s elegant terrace, taking in views that reach to Mount Olympus on a clear day.
Eat your way through Thessaloníki on a food tour of the city, widely recognized as Greece’s gastronomic capital. Stroll a centuries-old market abuzz with vendors and shoppers, and sample the bounty of edibles—from cheeses and olives to pastries and ouzo—before continuing to a nearby restaurant for a lunch of local specialties. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure, and dine on your own this evening at one of the many tavernas in Ano Poli, or the “upper town,” where a Byzantine wall threads through picturesque lanes.
Take a private tour of Thessaloníki that includes the city’s iconic white tower, the Arch of Galerius, and Agia Sofia. Visit the archaeological museum to peruse its Macedonian and Hellenistic relics, including the impressive collection of ancient jewelry and pottery. Then travel overland to Vergína, site of ancient Aigai—the first capital of the kingdom of Macedonia. Explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, descending into the royal tombs to see unearthed treasures buried with former kings. Continue to Zagori in the Pindus Mountains, and settle into Aristi Mountain Resort & Villas, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World designed in the traditional stone-and-slate architectural style of the region.
Today you’ll explore the traditional villages of the Zagori region. Scattered throughout the foothills of the Pindus, these villages were flourishing trading posts in the Ottoman era, linked by ancient mule paths and charming arched stone bridges. Stroll the cobbled lanes of Dilofo, Kipi, Koukouli, and Vradeto—the highest village in Zagori—and see the breathtaking Vikos Gorge from several perspectives. Then return to the lodge and take a private tour of a nearby 16th-century monastery—an experience reserved exclusively for National Geographic travelers. Gaze at stunning frescoed walls, and climb the bell tower as you learn about the solitary monk who founded this small hermitage hundreds of years ago.
Journey to the Zitsa wine region, celebrated for its sparkling whites. Visit the Domaine Glinavos to learn about the history of the winery and take a private tour of the vineyards, production areas, and cellars. Then enjoy a tasting, complete with food pairings. As an alternative to the vineyard visit, opt to join a guided trek, followed by a rafting excursion along the Voidomatis River (additional cost). Back at the lodge, dine on delicious northern Greek fare on the patio while taking in panoramic views of the surrounding cliffs and valleys.
Travel to Kalampáka, our base for exploring the incredible monasteries of Meteora—a World Heritage site. Built atop sandstone megaliths that rise some 1,200 feet from the valley floor, the monasteries served as naturally fortified sanctuaries for monks during the tumultuous decline of the Byzantine Empire. Set out on a half-day private tour to discover Meteora’s cave chapels and grand courtyards adorned with stunning frescoes, and take in panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Spend an evening at leisure in Kalampáka.
Visit the Monastery of the Prophet Elias, where the Greek Revolution against the Ottomans began in 1821. Continue to your hotel, perched in the mountains overlooking Delphi. The next day, step into an ancient world of myths and legends during a private tour of the Delphi archaeological site, the center of the Earth according to Greek mythology. Explore the breathtaking ruins of the theater, stadium, treasuries, and altars—all perched dramatically on the forested slopes of Mount Parnassós. Then travel to Eleusis and enjoy a private tour of the ruins before heading to Athens for an afternoon at leisure. Fly home the following day.