This week’s travel dream: Four days in Homer’s Greece

One of the most rewarding spots is Thermopylae, where a small Greek army dealt a fateful blow against invading Persian forces in 480 B.C.

Ancient Greece isn’t a place to be glimpsed only in books, said Jeannie Ralston in National Geographic Traveler. A four-day road trip west of Athens can make any visitor witness to a Bronze Age–palace supposedly built by a Cyclops, to the birthplace of the marathon, and to the site of the “battle that changed the world.” Central Greece is littered with places “where a past rich in legends and myths provides context for the beauty and intrigue of the present.” Approach the adventure in the right spirit and you may discover that it doubles as a history lesson and “an invitation to connect with the back-to-basics lifestyle of the long-ago Greeks.”

Stop at the Corinth Canal on the way out of Athens to gape at its turquoise waters before arriving at Mycenae, a palace constructed nearly 4,000 years ago of limestone boulders only a one-eyed giant would seem fit to lift. Next, head south to modern Sparta, where ancient ruins are scarce but the city’s acropolis offers a dramatic sense of why the Athenians’ rivals settled here. “A rolling valley that once fed the war machine lies to the south,” and to the west are “the incisor-like, snowcapped Taygetos Mountains.” You’ve by then earned your first repose, so on the way into Kalamata along a road that’s been called “one of the most breathtaking” in Greece, linger at the Hotel Akti Taygetos, which has spartan rooms but “opulent” views of the nearby mountain ridge.

Olympia, Delphi, Marathon, and the “serene” harbor town of Galaxidi await farther down the road, and all offer a chance to imagine mythic moments from Greece’s past. One of the most rewarding such spots is Thermopylae, where, in 480 B.C., a small Greek army inflicted a fateful blow against invading Persian forces. Sulfur springs still flow from a mountainside, creating a “primitive water park where locals and savvy visitors splash under a 16-foot, steaming waterfall.” Greece’s ancient warriors refreshed themselves in the same waters, but no one yet has turned the site into an “official” tourist site. For an old battlefield, Thermopylae is “surprisingly fun.”

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

At the Hotel Akti Taygetos in Kalamata, doubles start at $116.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.