This fall, 32 ladies from The Netherlands set out to explore the hidden gems of Northern Greece. From cultural highlights to wine-drenched wild bear tracking to a WW2 fortress and mushroom liquor tastings. It was an unforgettable journey led by a Dutch baker with a travel bug: The one and only, Maarten G. Verhoef.
“In the beginning there were some omens that our trip wouldn’t go as expected, starting with our flight being delayed for 3 hours. However, after a good night’s sleep, we started the next day, exploring Thessaloniki: with its many historic buildings and monuments and its beautiful archway, all worth our visit.
The archaeological sites in Pella and Vergina were very impressive, and such a privilege for us to get acquainted with the history of Greece through the royal tombs and all the findings from many centuries BC. Of course, history was so long and detailed it was hard to keep up with our knowledgeable guide Vaso, but we got an amazing insight through these cultural and historical highlights.
The crown found in King Philip’s tomb, located in the museum of Vergina.
One word for our natural experience that followed our days of history: overwhelming!
We enjoyed the Meteora mountains so much, especially when the skies cleared up from the clouds and the scenery was revealed -after we took our whimsical photographs amidst the fog. We were able to visit an impressive Byzantine monastery which seemed to hang right from the top of the bizarre rocks, and we dressed in long skirts seemingly from another century concerning the traditions.
The monastery arched on top of Meteora rocks. “Meteora” in Greek signifies this that floats in the air.
By this time, we had gotten to know our driver Nikos and our guide Maarten! How many times we laughed uncontrollably with Maarten, and with them as a special couple! You never got bored with them, and we always felt safe on the road.
Maarten in front of the entrance of King Philip’s tomb, in Vergina.
The drive to Kastoria was a challenge with all the bending roads, but the scenery was beautiful and our hotel Logas offered such an amazing view. We encountered a few issues, but nothing that Maarten wasn’t prepared to tackle!!
The view of the lake in Kastoria, our walk through this authentic town, and our great dinner with the local delicacies made up for much of our discomfort from the driving. But, the highlight of the evening: our meeting with an old friend of someone from our group, in the central square of the town! What a coincidence!
The following day, we visited the Bear shelter of Arcturos and then had a walk through the forest “in search of traces and bears in the wild” with Maria, our guide from Callisto. Our time with Maria offered images from beautiful forest landscapes, we saw bears up close and became acquainted with the work of the research team of Callisto, while we were also given an unforgettable touch when a herd of sheep was so well protected from bears by their watchdogs that we were also unwelcome to take a step!
A brown bear inside the Bear shelter, run by Arcturos.
Another memorable visit was the one to the winery Karanika where we tasted excellent Greek wines – comparable to champagne- and relaxed in the company of the Dutch couple who run it, Laurens and Annette.
The drive to our next location was nothing like the previous drives! Totally worth it! Nikos always found a cute place for us to stop for coffee or lunch, with the best being in the waterfalls of Edessa!
The waterfalls of Edessa
The area around Northern Greece, once you have left behind the urban landscape of Thessaloniki, is mountainous and varied. A 2h boat ride on Lake Kerkini, near our hotel Erodios (=heron), yielded many beautiful pictures of Flamingos and Pelicans. Some of us still laugh at the day with the question that came up on “how to get on a boat with a tight skirt?”!
After an early nature walks the next morning, something completely different was on the program: a visit to Roupel Fortress on the Greek-Bulgarian border. Here the Bulgarian-German army was stopped in 1941, by the Greek army due to the kilometer-long underground fort Roupel. We were amazed when we heard from soldiers about the history of this fort and its role in WWII.
Nikos’ emotional explanation of this story gave us goosebumps and the tour inside the underground fortress (which is now a museum) has made a deep impression on many of us.
At the end of our trip, we headed to the middle finger of the Chalkidiki peninsula: Sithonia. Wow, how beautiful!!! What beautiful beaches and what a clear blue turquoise sea. We had a wonderfully relaxing stay at the Athena Pallas resort. Also, during a 3-hour boat trip around Athos, we listened to the rich history of this area with the many monasteries where only men are allowed and women can only look from the boat at the medieval buildings!
All in all, it was a vacation to remember!
Very varied due to the mix of history, culture, nature, and relaxation and a mix of all sorts of landscapes, urban, picturesque villages, mountains, lakes, agricultural areas such as cotton fields, olive groves, vineyards, and of course, the sea. We enjoyed the beautiful weather (sunny almost every day) and the pleasant temperatures. But most of all, we enjoyed Maarten and Nikos so much. And how we laughed uncontrollably !!! Especially that lovely evening when Nikos tried to teach us how to dance sirtaki to the Greek music, after the delicious meal!
Thank you Nikos for the way you participated in our trip and … thank you for making us feel safe with you!
Thank you Maarten: you were our guide and our cookie baker! Thank you for all the fun. You were the icing on our cake!
Last but not least, we thank all participants of “Vrouwen van Nu”. Together you have made this a memorable journey. Fortunately we all came home unscathed. We all took good care of each other. Thank you! Looking forward to next time!”
-Rini van der Wel and Riet van der Werff
Text by: Rini van der Wel and Riet van der Werff in Dutch – translated to English by Dimitra Christidi
Most Images by: Maarten W Verhoef
Organized by Natural Greece. & Novi Travel.