An overland bus trip from Corfu to Meteora to Delphi.
After 6 months in Europe and the threat of “Winter Is Coming”, ever since the 13 degrees Celsius of Dubrovnik, we travel bugs continued on the eternal favourite longterm backpacker habit of chasing the sun.
This overland journey from Croatia took us through some exciting countries off the beaten track (for Europe anyway). We were reluctant to leave our authentic experiences in Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania. Thus, it was a month before we finally got to the Greek Islands. Sadly, the weather reports we had seen in the last month promising scorching 30 degrees heat were no longer current. It was now a balmy 18 degrees. Never mind, at least the tourist masses had gone home for the winter, and we enjoyed our leisurely travels without the usual crowds found at major attractions.
Island Life in Low Season
We arrived into Greece via boat from Albania to Corfu. It’s November; it’s officially low season and, it is Winter. Thus, even in Greece, it is getting cold. However, to our delight, this meant we travel bugs scored a 20 Euro beachfront room in Corfu’s most stunning and crowd-pleasing beach, Paleokastritsa Beach. Room prices are at least 100 Euro a night in high season on Paleokastritsa Beach. It pays to travel in low season.
Wow! A beachfront room with a view… and a kitchen. Lucky, as restaurants closed for the low season. Oh, we were hungry for a Greek seafood feast, but that would have to wait. In return, we had the town to ourselves! We loved it so much we extended our stay by a few more days. There was one mini market open to pick up supplies. We spent our days exploring the secluded beach and our late afternoons watching ocean sunsets from our balcony while indulging in wine, Mythos beer and Mediterranean snacks.
After the few days of pleasurable nothingness (Well, that’s what you do at beach resorts.) we desired more activity, so we hit the track to explore Greece further.
In our 20’s, we had spent many months working in the bars on the Greek islands. We indulged in Retsina wine on an epic scale while island hopping from Athens to Santorini to Crete to Rhodes. It was in the heyday of backpackers, not flashpackers, and it was cheap then!
Anyway, on this trip, we wanted to catch a few sunny days on a couple of new islands, but we mainly wanted to explore mainland Greece. Most people head for the islands, but those with an urge for geographic wonders and history head to Athens, Delphi, Meteora and the Peloponnese.
Thus, an itinerary was born.
Random aside on Greek Travel
It was surprising that after many years of providing tourist services to the masses, to find the Greek bus network chaotic. For example, we found it hard to find timetable information. Further, despite being an inferior service, the cost of local transport is expensive. Additionally, there is a limited train network. We can blame this 3rd World transportation on the Greek financial crisis as many do, but we are not here to discuss politics.
As intrepid travellers who had just spent 2 weeks traversing the length of Albania on bad roads and uncomfortable buses, we just added this to the cost of wanderlust and adventure seeking.
However, in contrast to buses, the ferries to the islands are easy to use and find timetable information. Though, during the low season services are less frequent.
Another observation and one worth noting are that many people including young people speak limited English. It is surprising as everywhere we went in Europe, we found most people spoke good English.
Though, everyone is friendly if you want to start a conversation.
If there is only one place in all of Greece we would go to it’s the mystical Meteora. This geological wonder, which is a spiritual sanctuary, is a special place and unique in the world. Monks settled the area in the 11th Century. They initially lived in the caves, but with the help of the people bringing supplies, they were able to build the Orthodox monasteries on huge rock pillars. Huge boulders surround the area, and the architecture and nature are extraordinary.
Unabashedly, we are rather lazy and often opt for a bus or taxi. But the trek up the mountain to the monasteries had us skipping with excitement at the epic views of both the natural wonders of the land and man-made wonders of the monasteries. We found we were the solitary hikers on the road up to the monastery.
We didn’t see many tourists during our stay in Meteora. However, we did see religious tourists. They were mainly Greek pensioner women travelling with their own priest or two in tow. It was the first time we had seen religious tourism on such a grand scale. It was an endearing sight. Later, in the afternoons, the Greek pensioners were in the coffee shops purchasing boxes full of delicious cakes. We joined in. We, also, finally got to eat our Greek seafood feast. The feasts we had in Meteora were some of the best in all of Greece.
The most special occasion of our time in Meteora was the religious ceremony that was on during our time there. The Madonna icon had travelled from Mt Athos for a blessing (Ah, that explains the busloads of Greek pensioners). For 2 whole days, priests sang, prayed, hymned and gave non-stop sermons with the church bells ringing a few times an hour. Loudspeakers throughout the town broadcast the prayers and sermons. It added an extra surreal and spiritual atmosphere to an already spiritual place. We couldn’t have planned our visit at a better time.
Delphi, The Oracle & tear-worthy Mountain Gorge views
We caught an early morning bus that transported us directly from Meteora to Delphi. It was actually two buses, but that’s incomparable to the five buses (all in one day) we later experienced when we travelled from Delphi to Patra.
The drive was a windy, majestic mountain drive which gave us hours to stare out of the bus window and contemplate. At first, we found it irritating that the bus took a 20 or so minute detour off the main road. It climbed up windy mountainous roads full of potholes just to go to a village and then… no one gets on or off! We eventually realised by the third village detour that we have a lot to learn. We had been given a free tour through rural Greece and seen a slice of local life. And, for these poor villages with their bad roads and dilapidated houses, this bus is a lifeline.
We were expecting some majestic ruins in Delphi. We had seen the pictures ever since we had studied Ancient Greek history in school. But no picture came close in resemblance to the majesty of the ruins, the enormous mountains, the spectacular gorge with views from Delphi Town all the way down the Pleistos Valley and to the Adriatic Sea.
The thing that’s interesting to note about Delphi is the thousands of years old Tourism industry. Ancient Greeks considered Delphi the centre of the world. Delphi had tourism as far back as 500 B.C.E. when pilgrims from all over Greece came to visit The Oracle of Delphi. (Thus, one could speculate that Greece is one of the pioneers of tourism. Did we 20th-century travel bugs really think we were the first travellers?) In fact, one of the first travel guides ever written was ‘Guide to Greece’ by Pausanias in the Second Century A.D.
Incidentally, the revered fortune-teller and high priestess The Pythia who relayed the words of the God Apollo sat in front of a gas emitting chasm and told fortunes! Kings would not start a war unless first visiting The Oracle, a marriage would not go ahead without consulting The Oracle. The Oracle was the word of the Gods!
The Sanctuary of Apollo and the Delphi Archaeological Museum kept us occupied for days. Though, many tour buses do the sights in a day. They arrive in the morning and leave by the early afternoon, at which point we always had the place to ourselves. In between touring the majestic UNESCO World Heritage sites we drank fine strong Greek coffee and ate Greek cakes and drank in the views over the valley.
We didn’t want to leave, as we were pleasantly surprised by the accommodation quality. Though, our experience has usually been that you do get more value in low season. Our comfortable room included a balcony with expansive views across the valley. We hence sat on our balcony nightly enjoying the majestic sunsets.
Our journey continued on to Peloponnese and Athens where we saw more ruins, churches and ate more delicious Greek food. Beyond doubt, we were blessed to travel in low season. Low season travel is less crowded, less sweaty and a lot cheaper! You should definitely try to take a trip at this time if you can.
Make sure you Don’t miss –
- The picturesque Medieval Old Town
- The old fortress of Corfu Town
- Paleokastritsa Beach
- The spectacular rock formations of Canal d’ Amour
- Sanctuary of Apollo
- Delphi Archaeological Museum
- Church of Agios Nikolaos and its amazing views
- Temple of Athena – the awe-inspiring columns that remain of this spiritual sanctuary are one of our favourite ruins in Greece.
- Great Meteoron Monastery – the biggest monastery in Meteora
- Moni Agias Triados with the most extraordinary views
- Kalambaka Old Town & delicious Greek food feasts
- The unspoilt village of Kastraki