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Review: Motorhome Escorted Tour of Greece

Specialist Holiday

Greece

Under the olive trees - a motorhome tour of Greece

  • By SilverTraveller margaretm_1

    2 reviews

  • Sep 2014
  • Husband

39 people found this review helpful

It was not an auspicious start! The rain poured down in sheets as we drove slowly through the town looking for our first campsite. We were in San Marino, the oldest and smallest, republic in the world where the tour started. Our group escort, enveloped in a long plastic cape and wellies, splashed through the mud to say hello and deliver our welcome pack, before showing us to a pitch under the dripping trees with a beaming smile. At the campsite meal that evening, we met the other members of the group. There were sixteen motorhomes and one caravan and their owners were mostly retired couples like us.



The next day we took the bus from the campsite directly to the town of San Marino which is on top of a hill. Despite grey skies we spent a pleasant hour exploring the Salita all Rocca, one of three castles overlooking the town and wandered through the narrow streets gazing at the Kalashnikov rifles for sale in some windows! Yes, they were real but it began raining again so we decided that the purchase of umbrellas would be a better buy. We bought two very large multi-coloured umbrellas and threw our wind-battered folding ones in a nearby bin. The next day, the real adventure began. Following the directions in the tour booklet, we drove to Ancona, aiming to arrive at 4pm, but at six-thirty there was still no sign of us boarding, as crowds of foot passengers emerged and milled around us waiting for their coaches to be unloaded.. Suddenly the loading crew blew whistles and gesticulated franticly and it was our turn to go up the ramps, and we were on board. Amidst a tangle of cables and plugs we managed to electrical connections to keep our fridges cool during the twenty-four hour crossing, and made our way to our comfortable cabins.



Despite our late arrival in Patros the following evening, it was still light and an easy drive took us to Camping Kato Alissos, a country campsite, in time for a lovely meal on the patio of the Olive Tree restaurant. This meal along with about eleven others during the tour, was included in the initial cost. The campsite tavernas provided a variety of dishes, though Greek salad was nearly always the first course and became a source of amusement, as the weeks went by, and the plates seemed to get bigger and bigger!



In the morning I walked down to the small pebble beach. The sun shone, the blue sea was calm and for one moment, I wanted to stay there forever. “If the rest of the tour is going to be like this I’m really looking forward to it,” I thought. Reluctantly we left this idyllic spot and set off towards Olympia. On the way we detoured to visit a Frankish castle called Chlemoutsi on the western most headland of the Peloponnese. We also stopped at the port of Killini where we watched the ferries going out to the islands of Zante and Kefalonia. With all this extra exploring, we were last to arrive at Camping Alphios where two long, narrow pitches awaited us with no room for awnings, but space in front to put our chairs. As is common in many European countries, campsite pitches were often small but most had an adequate electricity supply, though it could be intermittent at times. The next morning we walked down the hill to the stadium at Olympia, to meet our guide. Two less mobile group members shared a taxi for this short journey. The guides on all our excursions spoke good English and their knowledgeable descriptions brought the ancient sites to life. Despite the fact that all these places were in ruins, the guides’ enthusiasm was infectious. We saw the place where the first Olympic flame was lit and entered the athletic stadium. The first athletes, all male, had to run naked. My husband, a runner in long ago school days, couldn’t resist running the 200 metre track to loud cheers from his mature audience but fortunately didn’t feel the need to strip off, despite the heat. When women were eventually allowed to take part, they had to run clothed with one breast exposed!



The days were well organised with three days on each campsite with a coach or boat trip on the second day and a rest day on the third. This gave us ample opportunity to catch up on washing, shopping or just lounging on the beach or by the pool. Wifi and mobile phone signals were available on all campsites but was sometimes restricted to one area, i.e. near the office. Wifi was also slow at times when too many campers wanted to use it at once.



Our trip to Monevissia was another highlight. It was a strange rock fortress off the coast, known as the Gibraltar of Greece. It’s joined to the mainland by a causeway and we had to leave our coach and squeeze into a small local bus to cross this and enter the lower town through a narrow archway. Surrounded by strong seawalls, the narrow streets had small tempting shops selling jewellery, local honey and food. Sadly the upper town inside high walls, was closed for renovation. The houses with cool dark rooms facing inwards, had sea-facing patios and several had been turned into hotels. We stopped at the Hotel Moravia and had delicious café frappes with ice-cream, sitting under a Tamarisk tree. As the weeks went by, my diary became crammed with other highlights. At Ancient Mystras near Sparta, we climbed to the top of the site. Below us were the Palace of the Despots, the Cathedral of St Dimitrios with fragile frescos still visible on its walls, and the Monasteries of our Lady Pantanassa. Many other remains were still being excavated.



From our campsite in Delphi, we could sit on a cool balcony in front of our vans and look at the panoramic view of small towns and villages in the valley below and the Gulf of Corinth in the distance.



Our three nights in Athens were completely different and driving in a large city was a great shock to the system at first after the quiet, country roads we had been driving on. En-route we stopped to take photographs of the Corinth Canal but afterwards had to concentrate to find Camping Athens with its entrance on the side of a six-lane highway. We were relieved to have a coach tour organised for the next day, with lunch in a fish restaurant in Piraeus afterwards. The crowds around the Acropolis and the Parthenon made it difficult to hear the guide’s commentary so I read my own guide book instead. Afterwards, deciding that there were only so many priceless relics one could admire in a day, I slipped away to the coffee shop in the basement of the archaeological museum. The next morning we shared a taxi with another couple and went to Hadrian’s Gate near the Plaka, a shopping area in the old part of Athens. We had a quick look at the Temple of Zeus, and then went to do some window-shopping in the Plaka. I couldn’t resist buying several necklaces and decorated bars of olive oil soap, and enjoyed an hour just meandering. Many buildings in the main streets of Athens are covered in graffiti, but this part of the city seems to have escaped. All over Greece we found the road signs also painted over, so that it was even more difficult to read the signs. A visit to the Pelion peninsula with a five night stay in Camping Sikia Fig Tree near Volos, was a welcome break from travelling. A coach tour took us up into the mountains to visit small villages that were quiet and peaceful at this time of year. Tsagkarada had a thousand year old plane tree and Makrinsa some shops, where I bought local honey and two pots of cherry preserves. Then,down and down we went on the winding road to the coast, where Agios Ioannis was a lovely place for lunch in a family owned taverna close to the beach. After our meal we were given local apples to take away. Feeling adventurous one day we took our van off site and drove to the farthest point of the peninsula. We had to leave the van and walk to the small port of Agia Kyriaki along a narrow, harbour road. We dawdled along, beside the moored fishing boats and tried not to trip over a collection of feral kittens sunning themselves on the flagstones. This holiday never ceased to surprise us with the variety of places we visited. The Meteora Monasteries near Kastriki, were built on the top of sandstone rock pinnacles rising above 400 metres from the valley below. Originally, monks carved shallow steps in the rock and then used rope ladders to reach the top. Goods and building materials were hoisted up in baskets with a hand driven winch at the top. We were able to use more modern steps with a safety rail along the walls to visit two of the monasteries that are still inhabited, but it was still a steep climb. Nowadays, winches are still used in some places but are driven by electricity. Our final five days were spent on the island of Corfu, whose vegetation was much greener than mainland Greece. We went, by coach to the Achillion Place and Mon Repos, an imposing house, now a museum, where the Duke of Edinburgh was born. A visit to Albania the next day provided a sharp contrast. We went by ferry from Corfu Town to Saranda on the Albanian coast, followed by a short coach drive to a smart hotel on the seafront for morning coffee. Then it was a two-hour journey through the mountains to the hilltop town of Girocastra. We passed sprawling, Roma gypsy encampments and small villages that looked deserted from the coach. When we arrived at the edge of town, a fleet of taxis was waiting to take us to the castle towering over the town. I would like to have walked, both for the exercise and the chance to look at the shops, houses and their inhabitants but I think our time was limited. The castle, supported by UNESCO, was a museum full of old tanks and guns. Our guide gave us an interesting account of its’ history but seemed obsessed by the politics of his country and kept describing all the former leaders as paranoid. A drive to the Museum of Traditional Albanian life followed, and then we were taken to a local restaurant for lunch. I was disappointed that there was not time for a look at the town itself and on the way home I came to the conclusion that it had a been a long way for a good lunch. Still, I could tell my friends I had been to Albania! Our final journey ended in San Marino where it had all begun, with a farewell meal. Despite certain difficulties, mainly to do with the organisation of boarding and disembarking Greek ferries over which our intrepid tour escorts had no control, it was a wonderful tour.



Conclusions Well organised tour for motorhome owners. Suitable for less mobile adults but not wheel chair users. Excellent for guided visits to historical sites. Tour escorts ensured daily events ran smoothly and kept everyone informed of any changes to itinerary. Longest driving distance between campsites, 112 miles.

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