Most people picture the whitewashed cubist houses and the caldera of Santorini or the cosmopolitan flare of Mykonos. But there is another side of Greece — the “real” Greece as I call it. Places where old-world charm still exists and where locals live out a peaceful existence in harmony with their surroundings.
Our group (we were referred to as “the fitness group” by the locals) arrived in Athens in the morning of June 6th, and had some time to visit the Acropolis and take in the atmosphere of the city. We were pretty exhausted after our overnight flight, but the excitement of being in Greece kept us going. We met for dinner that evening at a little restaurant near the historic Plaka district. In true Greek fashion, the food here was kept in large steam tables and we could choose what we wanted. The fresh grilled seabream (tsipoura) was excellent and we finished up the evening by doing some of our own Greek dancing.
The next morning, we got in a great workout on the top of Filopappou Hill, southwest of the Acropolis. The view there was stunning! The city and the ruins of the Parthenon were literally at our feet, and we could hear the sounds of a distant clarinet and the occasional ringing of church bells. Our post-workout breakfast at the hotel was well deserved – especially the fresh fruit and wonderful thick yogurt with honey.
Our next stop was Nafplio on the southern Peloponnese mainland. It’s a beautiful town – full of bougainvillea and Venetian inspired architecture. The best way to see the city and the surrounding countryside is from the top of the Palamidi fortress, so that evening we hiked to the top. From below, it seems almost impossible that there are stone stairs (999 of them according to legend) leading up the cliffside. You can barely see them and they seem pretty steep! But once you get on the path, it’s actually very manageable. The climb felt great and it was good to get in some more movement after a few hours of driving earlier in the day.
Workouts in Nafplio were done before breakfast at a local park and playground. It was a great spot with lots of options for pullups and inverted rows. The neighbourhood dogs must have heard me say “down dog”, because when we did our yoga-inspired moves, a few came running to check us out. They were friendly and loved our company. We also provided some entertainment for a few locals…
Theodoros, our excellent driver, took us to see the 4th century BC theatre of Epidavros (where we just had to try some stair sprints and bear walks) and the nearby healing centre of Asciepieon — complete with ruins of its ancient hostels and gymnasium. The natural environment of the region was thought to be important for the treatment of patients, especially with its surrounding mountains and lush vegetation. We also visited Mycenae, an incredible archeological site dating from 1600BC.
Upon leaving the mainland, we flew off to the Eastern Aegean island of Ikaria. I’ve blogged about this traditional island plenty of times, so I will only say that it’s a destination that has to be experienced to be believed. The smells of lavender, rosemary and pine are everywhere. It’s a wonderful mixture of mountains and sea, with incredible beaches, forgotten hiking trails, quiet villages and strong local customs.
Our island workouts were mostly done on the beach (which we had all to ourselves), on the terrace and near the waterfront. And we had a few great partner workouts using the Lebert Buddy System. Combined with all the hiking and daily activity, the morning workouts were just perfect. We had most of the day to explore and really get a feel for the island.
Hiking around Greece is an incredible adventure. That’s when people realize that Greece isn’t just barren rock islands with whitewashed houses. There is so much pristine nature, and the mountain breezes make temperatures just right. One morning found us hiking from the shore almost to the top of the island, to a tiny village called Agios Dimitrios. We followed a gorge and made our way past incredible vistas, rivers and waterfalls — and came out several hours later to this tiny hamlet nestled in the mountains. After an iced coffee, we continued up to the next village of Christos where we ate an incredible (and well deserved) lunch at the taverna just off the village square. The walk back was long, but leisurely.
Additional adventures included our cooking class, led by the wonderful Thea Parikos. We made tzatziki, zucchini fritters, Ikarian soufiko (like a ratatouille), and lamb chops done in wine. We visited a local winery (locals swear by it and attribute it to their healthy aging), stopped off at a beekeeper’s honey production facility, visited the monastery of Theoktistis, soaked in the natural mineral hot springs of Levkada, and spent a bit of time on the south part of the island. The south has some incredible hidden beaches, and we managed to spend a bit of time at Seychelles, likely the best undiscovered beach on the island.
One more thing before I go to the rest of the pictures…
If you are interested in joining me on the next active travel adventure in Greece, we still have a few spots left for September 2014 (but time is running out).
Visit www.travelsbynature.com for more information on the trip, and please don’t hesitate to contact me. Remaining spots will be filled and there won’t be another opportunity until mid 2015.
View more pictures by clicking here and check out the video below!