15 Days /13 Nights
Optional Extensions include:
Aegean Island Cruise
*Itinerary can be customized according to number of days and inclusions desired.
*Itinerary order and inclusions are subject to change.
(Breakfast = B, Lunch = L, Dinner = D)
Day 1: USA / Thessaloniki
This afternoon, you will depart for an unforgettable and fulfilling spiritual odyssey to Greece!! (D on board)
Day 2: Thessaloniki
Welcome to Thessaloniki! Transfer to the hotel. En route, stop at the American Farm School for a visit. Enjoy a welcome dinner. Overnight in Thessaloniki. (D)
Day 3: Thessaloniki
Begin your private full day tour of Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is the capital of Macedonia and second largest city of Greece. It is here, the Apostle Paul first brought the message of Christianity (50 A.D.) and that Demetrius, a Roman officer died in martyrdom (303 A.D.), thus becoming the holy patron of the city. Thessaloniki was the second most important city of the Byzantine Empire, next to Constantinople, and is full of beautiful examples of Byzantine art and architecture. In the 15th century, it became a haven for Jews exiled from Spain. They became an important part of the city, both socially and economically, until the Nazi occupation in WW II and they were sent to concentration camps ending a period of four hundred years of Jewish influence. This period roughly corresponds with the occupation of Greece by the Ottoman Turks.
Your tour will take you to the main avenues and sections of this lively modern city. Large avenues, parks and squares, lines of trees that frame commercial streets with showy shop windows. Old houses, neoclassical buildings, stand side by side with modern dwellings. You will also see the Galerius Arch, and White Tower. See the City Walls, from where you have a marvelous view of Thessaloniki and the famous seaside promenades on the outskirts of the city, lined with many cafes and restaurants.
We will visit Moni Vlatadon, the location of the Jewish synagogue where Saint Paul preached and the site of the house of Jason where he stayed. Continue to the monastery of Osios David and see the remarkable fourth-century icon of the vision of Ezekiel. Return to the lower city and visit the Metropolitan Cathedral to venerate the relics of Saint Gregory Palamas. Then, walk past the ruins of the Agora. Return to the hotel to rest and freshen up before attending Vespers.
Arrive at the Basilica of Saint Demetrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, and venerate his relics. Also see the cell where he was imprisoned and the well where his body was hidden after his martyrdom. Overnight in Thessaloniki. (B)
Day 4: Thessaloniki
Liturgy in celebration of the Feast day of St. George. After Liturgy, enjoy a half day afternoon tour of Thessaloniki including the Rotonda, one of the oldest monuments in Thessaloniki also known as Agios Georgios. It was originally a Roman mausoleum, a Christian Church and then, a mosque. The interior is decorated with early Christian mosaics. Continue to Iera Moni Agias Theodoras and the ancient Churches of Agia Sophia and Acheiropoietos. Agia Sophia is the largest and most famous Byzantine Church in the city. Panayia Acheiropoietos, Church of the Virgin Mary Without Hands, is a 5th-century basilica and the only church from Thessaloniki’s early Christian days to have survived pretty much intact, without the restorations and renovations that have changed the characters of Ayia Sofia and Ayios Dimitrios. The church’s name comes from an early Christian icon of the Virgin and the faithful believe it was made by divine, not human hands. At some point, the icon was lost, but the Church’s name still commemorates it. The marble columns, with their elaborate “perforated” acanthus-leaf decorations, gives one a good idea of the Byzantine love of the elaborate. There are mosaics of floral and vine motifs interspersed with birds and 13th-century frescoes showing some of the 40 martyrs. The missing martyrs were probably obliterated when the church was converted to a mosque in the 15th century after Thessaloniki fell to the Turks. Overnight at the Mediterranean Palace in Thessaloniki. (B)
Day 5: Thessaloniki / Philippi / Kavala / Ouranoupolis
After breakfast, depart Thessaloniki for Philippi, a town whose history extends over five millennia and the site where Saint Paul established the first Christian church in Europe. Visit sites ranging from the Hellenistic through the Roman and Christian periods. See the ruins of the cell where Saints Paul and Silas were imprisoned. Also, visit fourth and fifth century Christian basilicas, and the Roman-era Theater. You will also visit the chapel of Saint Lydia, the first European Christian, and the site on the Zygaktes River where she was baptized. Drive past Amphipolis where Saint Paul continued his missionary activity and from which, Alexander the Great, began his regional conquests. Drive to Kavala (ancient Neapolis) and enjoy a city tour.
Dinner and overnight in Ouranoupolis. (B, D)
Day 6: Ouranoupolis / Mt. Athos (Men) /Ouranoupolis (Women)
Men: Depart on a scheduled ferry to Mt. Athos to St. Paul Monastery. Mt. Athos is an Orthodox spiritual center since 1054. Mount Athos or Agion Oros, as it is locally know, has enjoyed an autonomous statute since Byzantine times and is the oldest surviving monastic community in the world. The Holy Mountain, which is forbidden to women and children, is also a recognized artistic site. The monasteries (about 20 of which are presently inhabited by some 1,400 monks) had an influence as far afield as Russia, and its school of painting, influenced the history of Orthodox art. It occupies the best part of the Athos peninsula in Halkidiki. According to the legend Panagia, the Virgin Mary and Mother of God, was sailing accompanied by St John the Evangelist, on her way from Joppa to Cyprus to visit Lazarus when the ship was blown out of course to then pagan Athos. It was forced to drop anchor near the port of Klement, close to the present monastery of Iviron. The Virgin walked ashore and, overwhelmed by the wonderful and wild natural beauty of the mountain, she blessed it and asked her Son for it to be her garden. A voice was heard; “Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved”. Since that moment, the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Mother of God and is out of bounds to any other women. Great Lavra is the leading monastery on the Holy Mountain, today. It was founded by Athanasios, who although from a very rich family, entered the Mountain as a peasant, intending to lose his identity. Up to that time, the few monks who had already settled there were living either in communities, or as hermits, under a leader who they called Protos (The First). Today, there are 20 monasteries of which 17 are Greek, one Russian, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian. There are also 12 Skites (similar to monasteries but much smaller), a large number of Kellia (large farm houses), Kalyves (smaller houses), Kathismata (small houses for a single monk) and Hesychasteria (hermitages or caves in desolate cliff faces, for the most austere hermits).
Women: Drive to the monasteries of Agios Arsenios and Agiou Ioannou Prodromou in Halkidiki for a visit. Later in the afternoon, visit Nea Moudania, the second-biggest town in Halkidiki and one of the country’s biggest fishing ports. Visit the 2000 seat amphitheater and the Basilica that sits on the top of the hill. Afterwards, the women will return to Psakoudia.
Men: Overnight on Mt. Athos. Women: Dinner and overnight in Ouranoupolis. (B, D)
Day 7: Ouranoupolis / Mt. Athos (Men) /Ouranoupolis (Women)
Men: Mt Athos.
Woman: AM liturgy at Ormylia Monastery followed by a visit the medical facility there (pending confirmation). Ormylia Monastery is of the most famous and largest women’s monasteries in Greece today; it has well over 100 nuns from all over the world. It is a dependency of the Simonopetra Monastry on the Holy Mountain, and its beautiful chanting style is directly influenced by its men’s monastery counterpart. The monastery is well known, especially abroad, for its medical center, and for this reason many pilgrims are interested in visiting this center. It is not in continual operation, and its main purpose is as a center for medical conferences and to host a revolving team of volunteer Greek doctors who perform free preventative exams on locals. The medical center it is located near the monastery.
Men: Overnight on Mt. Athos. Women: Dinner and overnight in Ouranoupolis. (B, D)
Day 8: Ouranoupolis or Mt. Athos
Men: Mt Athos.
Women: Drive to Ouranoupolis to embark on a scheduled cruise at 10:30 a.m. around Mt. Athos. From afar, you will see the beautiful Byzantine Monasteries and glimpse at the monks walking around or performing their tasks. After the cruise, enjoy some free time in Ouranoupolis to shop and have some lunch. There are many shops with icons and other items that have been made by the monks on the Holy Mountain. Then, drive back to Ouranoupolis.
Men: Overnight on Mt. Athos. Women:Dinner and overnight in Ouranoupolis. (B, D)
Day 9: Ouranoupolis or Mt. Athos / Ormylia / Ouranoupolis
This morning, the women will pick up the men returning from Mt. Athos and all will all go to Ormylia Monastery for a visit. Afterwards drive back to Ouranoupolis for dinner and overnight. (B, D)
Day 10: Ouranoupolis/ Beria / Kalambaka
Depart for Kalambaka in the AM. Today, a good part of the day will be spent driving to Kalambaka. You will pick-up your guide en route. On the way, stop in Beria where St. Paul once preached. See the Byzantine mosaic commemorating the event. St. Paul retreated to Beria after he was accused in Thessaloniki of “turning the world upside down”. Paul did not stay long for his enemies were pursuing him. However, he left Timothy and Silas behind as Beria had a synagogue and a congregation of Jews. They were needed there to explain the Gospel to the converted Jews. Depart for the incredible Meteora Monasteries. A rare geological phenomenon created these looming rocks which thrust skywards from the plain of Thessaly as if striving to come closer to God. There, perched on top of these unusual and seemingly un-scalable rocks, you will discover the world famous Meteora Byzantine Monasteries. Of the original twenty-four monasteries, only seven remain today. Your amazement at how these monasteries are positioned so high up is only matched by their magnificent splendors. A belief is that St. Athanasios (founder of the first monastery here) did not scale the rock, but was carried here by an eagle. Ascend the great granite rocks to visit the Byzantine monasteries perched way up high. They contain unique frescos, priceless icons, relics and many other religious treasures. Dinner and overnight in Kalambaka. (B, D)
Day 11: Kalambaka
Visit some of the Meteora Monasteries. The Monasteries are spectacularly perched atop rocky pinnacles in Thessaly, the Meteora monasteries are among the most striking sights in Greece. The name Meteora is Greek for “suspended in the air,” which perfectly describes these six remarkable Greek Orthodox monasteries. The sandstone peaks were first inhabited by Byzantine hermits in the 11th century, who climbed up the rocks to be alone with God. The present monasteries were built in the 14th and 15th centuries during a time of instability and revival of the hermit ideal; the first was Great Meteoron (c.1340) and there were 24 monasteries by 1500 A.D. They flourished until the 17th century but only six survive today; four of these still host monastic communities.Dinner and overnight in Kalambaka (B, D)
DAY 12: Kalambaka / Athens
This morning depart for Athens.
Enjoy an afternoon orientation tour of Athens. Admire the striking contrast between breathtaking monuments of a glorious past and modern elegant structures of Athens. Drive by the major sites of the city including the Roman Temple of Olympic Zeus, the Panathinaikon Stadium (site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Parliament House on Constitution Square. See views of government buildings and elegant structures of the 19th century. Drive along the main boulevards of the city such as Panepistimiou Avenue and see the Catholic Cathedral, the Academy, the University and the National Library.
The major sites you will be visiting are the Acropolis and its’ Museum. The Acropolis was the most important religious center of Athens. It dates back to the 5th century B.C. The monuments of the Acropolis date back from the prehistoric period to the end of Antiquity. The Propylaea is the glorious entrance to the Acropolis and was erected between 437 and 432 B.C. It was the work of the famous Athenian architect Mnesikles. The Temple of Athena Nike (Apeteros Nike) was erected to the south of the Propylaea, about 420 B.C. to commemorate the victories of the Greeks over the Persians. The architect of this temple was Kallikrates. This site is so unique and the temple has existed on this very spot since prehistoric times. On the left is the Erechtheion and straight ahead, the Parthenon. The Parthenon is one of the masterpieces of the world. The beauty, harmony, and grace of this monument leaves a lasting impression on everyone. You will notice that the columns of the Parthenon have a slight curve in the middle that gives the impression that they are bending slightly under the weight. The secret of its harmonious look is that none of its columns are absolutely straight. This temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena and was built of white marble from Penteli. Under the Parthenon of the classical times, there are the remains of the monumental Ur-Parthenon and the archaic temple dated in the late 6th century B.C. The architects of the Classical temple, constructed and decorated between 447 and 432 B.C. (the Golden Age of Perikles), were Iktinos and Kallikrates. The Parthenon housed the golden ivory statue of Athena, work of the famous sculptor Pheidas. This statue had as a final destination the Great Panathenaea procession, depicted on the frieze of the temple. The statue of Athena with the interior made of wood and the naked parts of ivory stood inside the Parthenon. The dress and the helmet were made of removable hammered plates of gold. This statue of Athena armed and holding a two-meter high ivory statue of Nike (Victory) in her right hand was lost during the first years of the Byzantine period. Our knowledge of its existence comes mostly from ancient sources. The Erechtheion was built in 420 – 406 B.C. on the most sacred part of the Acropolis – the place where the goddess Athena caused her most sacred emblem, the olive tree, to sprout. In later years, the invading Persians destroyed this tree. Legend has it that the tree miraculously grew again when the Persians were finally driven away. The Caryatids, the figures of maidens that supported the roof of the south porch of the temple, are copies. The Areios Pagos is the most ancient court of law. Here was the seat of the first aristocratic parliament of ancient Athens. It is from this spot, as we learned from the bronze tablet at the base of the rock, that Saint Paul delivered his first sermon to the Athenians, in 51 AD. The Pnyx was the gathering place for the citizens of ancient Athens. They gathered here in order to hear the famous orators.
In the New Acropolis Museum antiquity meets contemporary architecture. The building houses approximately 4,000 treasures – archeological finds related to the Acropolis as well as many beautiful marbles of classical Athens. Among the important pieces to see is the Moschoforos (the Calf Bearer), the Kores, the sculptures from the decoration of the Parthenon and the Caryatids. The museum is situated at the foot of the Acropolis in the heart of the city, right next to one of the most picturesque pedestrian paths in the world. The building was designed by Bernard Tschumi, Dean of the School of Architecture at Columbia University, in such a way as to present the antiquities which were found on the site during the excavation of the foundation and to incorporate the famous natural light of Greece. There is a feeling and sense of being outdoors reflecting the fact that most of the exhibits were outdoors during their ancient lives. Visitors also have a clear view of the Parthenon while viewing many of the exhibitions in the museum emphasizing the connection between the Parthenon and the museum. Overnight in Athens.
DAY 13 : Athens
This morning enjoy a half day tour of Corinth where St Paul visited. Drive along the seaside highway past the Scaramanga ship-building yards viewing the isles of the Saronic Gulf, to the Corinth Canal. Enjoy the breathtaking views of your drive. The Corinth Canal is a manmade canal built to join the Aegean with the Ionian seas. Continue to the ancient town of Corinth where St. Paul lived and preached for two years making the New Testament come alive. Corinth inspired many of Paul’s writings. Visit the Temple of Apollo, which stands on a low hill overlooking the extensive remains of the Roman Agora. You will visit the Bema, the public platform where St. Paul had to plead his case when the Corinthians hauled him in front of the Roman governor, Gallo in A.D. 52. Stop at Cenchrea, the port of Corinth, where St. Paul had his hair cut because of a vow and then set sail from the harbor concluding his 18-month stay in Corinth.
This afternoon, enjoy a day of leisure to shop or take in the sites in Athens. Overnight in Athens. (B)
DAY 14: Athens
After breakfast, meet your escort in the lobby of the hotel and transfer to the pier to take a hydrofoil to Aegina, the island of St Nectarios. Upon arrival, the tour of the island will include the Holy Trinity Monastery to venerate the relics of St Nektarios, Afaia Temple and Agios Minas Monastery. Enjoy lunch on your own at the quaint fishing village of Perdika at one of the many fish tavernas on this picturesque little harbor. Aegina is also known for the pistachio nuts grown there so don’t forget to pick some up. Transfer to the pier for your hydrofoil back to Athens. Transfer to the hotel by motorcoach. This evening, drive to the town of Kalyvia for a traditional Greek dinner. Kalyvia is a town in the outskirts of Athens that has delicious lamb on the spit!!! Order the lamb chops by the pound! Dinner is on your own and is not included. Return to Athens. Overnight at the hotel. (B. D)
DAY 15: Athens / USA
This morning, after breakfast depart for the Athens Airport for your flight home. (B)