Welcome to Greece!
It felt so good to finally board a plane for the first time in two years. Even better that we were all going somewhere sunny and fabulous like Greece.
On arrival in Athens we were whisked away to a local deli in the city centre for a tasting session of some delicious Greek meze. We were all a bit tired from the early flight but soon woke up when very strong traditional digestifs of Raki and Mastika were brought out for us to try! For most, the utter revelation was tasting pistachio butter for the first time. Unlike the grimaces of the shots these spoons provoked groans of ecstasy! We were excited to meet the pistachio producers on Aegina island later in the week!
Our centrally located mid-range hotel, Acropolian Spirit, has spectacular Acropolis views from most of the rooms and from the rooftop restaurant (which has a convenient sliding roof for cooler nights!) There we were treated to a traditional menu inspired by the Ancient Greeks, which we had to eat Ancient Greek style, just with spoons and knives, as they believed using a fork was an insult to the god Poseidon (who carried a trident!) Dish after dish emerged of amazing cheese, seafood and meat. No wonder the Ancient Greeks wore draped robes - our waistlines had already expanded considerably!
Athens: city of contrasts
On our first day we were introduced to the breathtaking sights of Athens. A short walk from the hotel was the looming rock of the Acropolis, which really does give you goosebumps when you see it in the flesh. Our guide gave us a detailed history of the many buildings and smaller temples that make up the ancient city, culminating in the Parthenon - built in the 5th century BC, it was the ultimate symbol of power.
We squeezed through the tiny alleyways of the atmospheric Plaka and Anafiotika neighbourhoods, past Roman forums and other impressive historical structures, straight into the beating heart of modern Athens. Flea markets sold a wide array of attractive goods and the local meat and fish markets were a photographer’s dream!
After lunch in a local tavern, we had a short bus tour around Athens with an obligatory photo in front of the stadium where the first modern Olympic Games took place. Then we headed along the coast to the impressive temple at Sounio and although it was a bit chilly in March, we could imagine the breathtaking sunset that occurs here every night in summer.
After ticking off the city highlights, it felt good to get out in the countryside to the picturesque Peloponnese Region, which is a short bus journey from Athens. Acheon winery is a family run business and we walked through the olive trees and the vineyards in the warm sunshine before stopping at a beautiful viewpoint for a picnic. Over more delicious local fare we learnt about how the wine is produced and enjoyed a glass or three!
After lunch we headed to Diakopto to board the historic "Odontotos" train, which crosses some of the most beautiful scenery in Greece. Odontotos is not just a train. Built 120 years ago, it was designed to be incorporated into the natural environment and not put a strain on the ecosystem of the gorge. The whole train was full of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ as we disappeared into tunnels cut into the steep rock and alongside the fast flowing river and waterfalls. There were plenty of people hiking along the alpine trails through the gorge too.
At the end of the line is Kalavrita, a ski resort region with a very authentic feel, with old squares, churches and boutique shops and tavernas. The food was some of the best we had tasted in Greece (and there was stiff competition for that crown!)
Time to do a little island hopping! Catching a ferry from Pireaus we arrived at a weekend favourite of Athenians - Aegina island. Here we visited a local pistachio grower (most people here own pistachio trees) learning about the hard work it takes to get the nuts off the tree and into a saleable state! We then tasted every combination of pistachio products known to man - including the aforementioned incredible pistachio butter, flavoured nuts, liquor, cakes, biscuits, sweets and even beauty products. We all went a bit pistachio crazy! Our taverna lunch accompanied by a bottle of ouzo, was only surpassed by the azore sea which was lapping beneath us! A picture perfect setting!
Aegina is known for attracting artists and writers and a walking tour around the coast of the island showcased modern sculpture (plus a quick dip in the sea for some) before it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland!
Our final night in Athens was spent, like the rest of the trip, eating incredible food and drinking under the stars, with fabulous company and our local friends, who were now more like family.
About Betis Travel
Betis Travel started as a friendly, family run business in Thessaloniki nearly 50 years ago. Their ethos remains to always deliver a personal service, a can-do attitude and they work hard at forging long lasting relationships with their trade partners.
Betis Travel aims to take their visitors beyond mass tourism and to uncover the hidden delights of visiting this beautiful country.
They offer journeys that get ‘under the skin’ of the destination, connecting clients with local people so that they can truly experience Greek culture. In their words: “We are always here to remind you that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination”. If you would like more information about Betis Travel and their wide range of trips around Greece, please get in touch with The Adventure Connection team: email@example.com
A special thank you to our sponsors and partners on this trip: