By: Monica Pitrelli
My husband’s family are huge tour group folks. I’m talking18-days-on-a-bus-through-Italy tour group folks. My family – well, it simply wasn’t done. Over the years, we’ve heavily debated the pros and cons of the group tour. He and his clan tout the ease, price and comprehensiveness of tours, while me and mine wax about the individuality and whimsical nature of charting our own course sans guide and weeks of bus pals in your face.
Our light-hearted discussions have created little travel ruckus over the last decade … until Greece. Husband wanted to see the Greek Isles on a cruise ship and tour the mainland on a bus. I wanted to island hop by ferry and rent a car for the rest.
Like a good married couple, we compromised.
The Peloponnese and Central and Northern Greece:
Our six-day bus tour had a rocky start. The hotel in Athens was pitiful and the bus, freezing, but I have to admit – it was rather nice not having to think about car insurance, speed limits, petrol, maps and wrong turns. Besides, who knew if the roads would be in good condition (they were), well marked (they were) and easy to navigate (they were). Our guide was a jovial old Greek fellow, informative, well versed and easy to understand – which meant less time with our heads in guidebooks and more to see the lay of the land.
Admittedly, we saw a lot – the birthplace of the Olympic Games in Olympia, the acoustical wonder of the Theatre of Epidaurus, Greek mythology’s “navel of the Earth” at Delphi, Mycenae and the Tomb of Agamemnon (which, in fact, is not Agamemnon’s tomb) and the sky-high monasteries of Meteora. The small towns of Nafplion and Kalabaka are sinfully quaint – it was a shame not to be able to stay longer.
However, we also missed a lot – conversations with locals, making our own choices on our own time, good food – it pained me to eat at sub-par roadside rest stops with so many mom-and-pop shops dotting the countryside.
The verdict? A hung jury. Hubby recommends the tour because of the guide. I say rent a car, pick your own hotels and restaurants, and create your own adventure.
The Greek Islands:
Anchors up, two bottles of Mythos on the main deck and we retired to our cabin on an overnight ferry through the Aegean Sea. After stays on Mykonos and Santorini, Crete was the surprise sleeper hit of the holiday. Armed with a rental car and maps from our hotel, we spent four days crisscrossing Crete, soaking in the sun on romantic beaches, sampling olive oil and haloumi, exploring the Minoan Palace of Knossos, stumbling upon small-town festivals, and getting lost along the meandering coastal back roads.
The judgment? Unanimous. We agreed that bypassing the “12 islands in 5 days” cruise ship itineraries allowed us to see, feel and experience the Greek Islands in a way that we missed on the mainland.
Where to Stay? Crete’sfamily-owned Vergis Epavlis is a delightful bed-and-breakfast in the olive vineyards outside of Heraklion. Forget a room – you get half of the house!