Gods, Heroes and Romantics

Gods, Heroes and Romantics is a unique trail of adventure in the classical world. A journey into history, myth and legend, in which we will -

  • Swim the Hellespont, like Leander and Byron
  • Climb Mt Olympus, to the throne of the Gods

and, travelling from Istanbul to Athens:

  • Explore ancient Byzantium – and modern Istanbul
  • Walk the ruined walls of Troy
  • See the Temples and site of the Oracle at Delphi
  • Visit the astonishing landscape and monasteries of Meteora
  • Roam through the Acropolis in Athens
  • Watch the sun go down over the Aegean at the Temple of Poseidon (Cape Sounion)

… and on the final evening a very special dinner in the Plaka to celebrate the journey we have made together – a feast worthy of the Gods, Heroes and Romantics in whose path we have travelled.


Day One
Byzantium. Constantinople, Istanbul. Where east meet west. Where Europe meets Asia. And where our Gods, Heroes and Romantics odyssey begins.

Early in the 20th century, Agatha Christie came here; as did Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, and Mata Hari. And, later, James Bond in From Russia With Love.

But before them came the Frenchman Louis Marie Julien Viaud, who under the pseudonym Pierre Loti published Aziyadé, the memoir of an affair conducted in the city. A later ‘memoir’ by Viaud, Madame Chrysanthème, set in Nagasaki, became the basis of Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly.

Day Two
Today is a day for exploring Istanbul; a day to visit the Pierre Loti Café, where Viaud used to wait for his mistress (although many now think Aziyadé a boy), as well as the mosques and palaces that tell the history of this fascinating city:

  • The Hagia Sophia, which was once the world’s largest cathedral; then converted to a Mosque after the city fell to the Ottoman Turks on May 29th 1453, who renamed the city Stamboul or Ýstanbul
  • The Sultan Ahmet or ‘Blue’ Mosque, which caused a scandal when it was completed in the 17th century because it had as many minarets as al-Haram, Mecca's Great Mosque. To make amends, the Ottoman Empire paid for a seventh minaret to be added to Mecca.
  • The Grand Bazaar, one of the largest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 streets and 3000 shops
  • The Topkapi Palace, the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1465 to 1853

Day Three
After a leisurely breakfast, depart Istanbul for Eceabat, on the European side of the Hellespont; lunch on the way in a Turkish tavern.

At Eceabat we'll take the ferry across to Çanakkale where we will be welcomed by Hüseyin Uluaslan, the Hellespont’s most experienced guide, who has been enabling adventurers to swim the Hellespont for over 40 years.


Day Four
Most of today is set aside to visit Troy, (a picture of the site is above). We will have a guided tour of this iconic landscape over which gods and heroes battled. There will also be plenty of time to explore on our own – or relax in the shade with a drink and a book.

Late afternoon we'll go down to the beach and Hüseyin will show us on how to use the currents to our advantage in our swim across the Hellespont.

Day Five
Today - The Hellespont! We will swim from Akbas – Sestos, in the same direction as Leander set out each night to cross the Hellespont to Hero.

You are free to swim in any way you like, with or without flippers, swim just part of the way, or travel across in the boat if you prefer. It’s not a competition.

From Sestos we’ll return by boat to Çanakkale – and prepare for a celebratory dinner in the evening.

Day Six
We leave after breakfast to travel down to the Turkish-Greek border, where we'll meet our Greek guides who will take us on to Thessaloniki, often described as Greece’s hippest city – but with a history that reaches back to 316BC.

We will have time to explore the old part of town, as well as the taverns, ‘ouzeries’ and restaurants that abound in the old neighbourhoods, to get a flavour of life in Salonika.

Day Seven
In the morning we head out to Olympus, home of the ancient Greek gods. At the village of Litochoro we will meet our guide to the mountain. We’ll have a detailed presentation of the program, as well as lunch and time to stock up on food for a picnic the next day.

From Litochoro we drive up to Prionia, from where we trek though the fir forests at the base of the mountain to the Spileos Agapitos refuge (about 3 hrs).

Day Eight
Today we climb Mt Olympus, hiking the mountain peaks that make up the ‘Plateau of the Muses’ of the gods.

Our expedition will take us right to the summit of Olympus, from where we will be able to look out over the ancient land spread before us, just as legend tells us Zeus, the supreme deity, the 'father of gods and men' (as Homer calls him) surveyed all before him so many thousands of years earlier.

Rising early, we will make our way up to our first conquest, Skala peak at 2.882 m. From there we will continue our way on a well-defined route till we reach Skolio peak at 2.911m.

The photo below, by Richard Carey, shows what it looks like on the walk up to the summits

Olympus, home of the Gods

Via a traverse, we will then make our ascent of Mytikas (2.917m.), the highest peak in Greece. Atop the mountain we will rest and enjoy a picnic lunch whilst communing with the gods.

Reinvigorated, we'll make a careful descent and by late afternoon we will have regained our bus and be heading towards Meteora. We’ll spend the night in the nearby village of Kalambaka.

Day Nine
We spend today in the astonishing landscape of Meteora

Perched on rocks rising from the plains of Thessaly, the monasteries of Meteora (meaning literally ‘hovering in the air’) are a marvel of engineering set on top of a marvel of nature; one of the most miraculous sights in the world.

The monasteries were built in the 15th and 16th centuries by monks seeking to escape brigandry and lawlessness during the Turkish occupation, and atop these vast pillars of rock helped to preserve Hellenic culture and traditions.

One of the monasteries, Ayia Triada, featured as a location in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only

As afternoon turns to evening we’ll travel south through Thessaly to Delphi.

Day Ten
From our hotel close by, we will be at the sacred site early to contemplate and explore the extraordinary history of Delphi, to which men traveled for over 2000 years to have their questions answered by Apollo’s priestess Pythia.

We'll walk throughout the site, as well as visiting the museum which houses the famous bronze statue of the Charioteer dating from the 5th century BC.

Charioteer, Delphi Greece

In late afternoon we board our bus for our final destination: Athens.

Day Eleven
In the morning we head for the Acropolis, where we'll explore the entire site, including the Parthenon, the Erechtheum, and the Theatre of Dionysus.

Acropolis, Greece

After lunch and a break we set out for the Temple of Poseidon, at Cape Sounion, at the southernmost tip of the Attiki peninsula.

We'll visit the Temple and see if we can find the column on which Byron carved his name, before watching the sunset from the spectacular promontory high above the sea.

Sounion Greece

From Sounion we'll return to Athens and the Plaka for a special farewell dinner.

A dinner to celebrate the amazing days we have spent together.

Days in which we have swum the Hellespont like Leander and Byron. Climbed Mt Olympus, the home of the Gods. Travelled through the magical landscape of Meteora to the sacred site of Delphi. And watched the sun set over the Aegean at the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion.

Days that will live in our memory for the rest of our lives.

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