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Northern Greece Visit to Meteora and beyond

Hi Everyone!
I enjoy Rick Steves shows, audio guide on phone and guide books so I am surprised and almost worried that he has nothing on Northern Greece. Last April we rented car and did the Athens, Delphi Peloponnese and Santorini. It was amazing but we couldn't get to Meteora. The monasteries look amazing so when we had a business opportunity to travel to Europe in November we decided to go back to Crete for warmer weather and Northern Greece to see more of the country. We have to end in Paris for business. We are traveling on Oct 30th (arriving afternoon of the 31st) til Nov 13th in Greece then go to Paris til the 16th. Our itinerary is:
Athens 2 nights
rent car then drive North about 4 hrs to
Kalambaka (Meteora) stay 2 nights to see monasteries
drive along the way to Ioannina , Epiros then end up in Kastoria
Kastoria 1 night
Drive along the way to Agios Germanos then to Edessa
Edessa 1 night
from Edessa go to see Pella to end up in
Thessaloniki 3 nights use as base
See Thessaloniki sights and Vergina and Dion
Return car in Thessaloniki and fly to Crete
Crete 4 nights car there stay in Heraklion

fly to Athens to connect to Paris for business
I wouldn't choose November. I wish the business convention was on October 14th instead but its not so I have to go on the trip early November. I am hoping we will still have some decent weather especially in Crete although I know it can be variable. I don't mind a jacket but just hope I am not freezing. I am just wondering why Rick Steves has nothing on this part of Greece. It makes me feel there must be something wrong with going here if Rick hasn't done it! I had to go to Lonely Planet for information and just google places to see. If anyone has any feedback it would be much appreciated. We loved driving all over the Peloponnese in that it was part of the fun so I am not thinking of the driving as a waste. The winding roads were an adventure!

Thanks in advance for your feedback

Posted by
25613 posts

I went to Ioannina about 20 years ago and found it very interesting. It had quite a Turkish vibe at that point. I took public transportation so can't comment on road conditions. The Greek drivers did seem to have a cavalier attitude about passing on blind curves, and I would go to great lengths to avoid driving after dark.

I assume you've checked for estimates of driving times.

Posted by
6933 posts

Looks like quite a trip in the works! Sicily, for us, was a similar situation . . . although Rick made a Sicily video years ago, his Italy guidebooks have never included much Sicily info . . . just a very limited "best of." The Lonely Planet guidebook wound up being a fabulous resource for sights, lodging, and finding Modica, a wonderful "back door" town.

I really want to check out the Greece Lonely Planet info you mention. How much of what their book describes for Northern Greece are you not able to fit into your itinerary at this point? A lot, or are you fitting in the majority of what Lonely Planet describes over your two weeks?

Kaeleku's Rila suggestion in Bulgaria sounds appealing, too!

Posted by
17 posts

Wow! You guys are great!
Acraven thanks for the info on Ioannina. As to Greek drivers...all I can say is that I am a Native Northern NJ/NYC driver. Last April when my husband and I drove in Athens and throughout the Peloponnese we were prepared because of everything on the internet about Greek drivers but what we found was that Athens is no different and actually a bit easier then NYC driving. What was fun is all the varied twists and turns in the roads once your away from Athens but we actually barely encountered other drivers on the road. When we did my husband pulled over quickly to let them pass so they never had the need to pass us harshly. We figure we are in a foreign country and don't want to speed but they can so we should respect that and move over to let them by. That worked and we never had a problem. We used google maps all the way to plot out journey including the times so my husband is using google maps again...I told him your suggestions of and he said he will check it out. Thanks!

Kaeleku you have given me some great tips! We already did Delphi on our last trip back in April but I didn't know about the monastery of Hosias Loukous! it's about 1.5 hrs off the path to Meteora but its reasonable to do as we make our way up that day so I think we are adding that to our trip. My husband had the Leonidas monument for the way up but I am not as thrilled about that stop so this sounds better! I also love your "dark horse" suggestion! Going into Bulgaria to see Rila Monastery looks amazing but my husband is telling me our rental car price might double if we changed to Hertz (we are currently using Athens Car Rental) as he isn't sure we can get cross border with our current rental. We are already paying an extra 250 euro to drop off car in Thessaloniki but its still much cheaper then Hertz. He is thinking maybe we could just rent a separate car for one day from Hertz in Thessaloniki to cross the border, otherwise the entire price could be double. We checked your suggestions for Kavala and it looks like about 1 hr 45 from Thessaloniki and Xanthi about 2 hr 25 min. so we will see that sounds great too...I think its great to have the car so we can just see where we want to go and when. As to Mount Altos I am not particularly happy with the no female aspect so I think they can just keep that one. Its a big world as you said and I appreciate your encouragement! I just kept thinking why doesn't Rick Steves go here? But I am so glad to get this feedback from you!

Cyn: I just did google search Northern Greece and the Lonely Planet Website popped up from there I clicked around and read what I could. I also go onto Trafalgar and see what itineraries they have listed.... That's how I initially found Meteora. I also put a search into google of "self drive tours for Northern Greece" and we got Kastoria to Agios Germanos Then when the names of places start coming up on my searches I input them into google images and see if I like what I see. That's how I found Pella, Dion and Vergina (ancient sites and Edessa famous it the waterfalls look incredible! I do all these searches and my husband then plots the course on google maps and uses expedia for hotels. He likes his expedia points what can I tell you! I also usually watch a Rick Steves video about a place that also gets me wanting to go there and that really helped make the Peloponnese trip easier. I am so glad I posted as I am happy to hear all the ideas because I can easily miss something. Thanks again!

Posted by
2257 posts

Hi Deb,

You will love Meteora. Double check the days that the monasteries are open. Some are not open every day only certain days. We drove there from the Athens airport. It took us about 6 hours but we got caught in rush hour traffic in Athens and stopped for a bite to eat along the way. You plan to pick up the car in Athens and drop off in Thessaloniki. Sometimes that is more expensive than picking up and dropping off at the same location. You might want to find out what the drop off charge would be as it might be prohibitive. Perhaps it would be advisable to adjust your schedule and drop off the car in Athens and fly to Crete from there. Have a great time.

Posted by
17 posts

Thanks Mary! You are right they are charging us 250 euros just to return car in Thessaloniki but the ride back down to Athens would be long and since we had a flight planned to Crete that we don't want to miss we would have to leave the day before and stay overnight in Athens at the Holiday Inn Airport hotel to be sure not to miss the flight...with all that considered I decided to pay the 250 euros and go to Thessaloniki Airport instead as time in this case was more precious to me then money. We are saving alot with the Athens Rental car company we used vs. Hertz which was double but they don't have the cross country ability have to stay in Greece with their cars.
I will look into the days the monasteries are open. I think there is a different schedule starting in November.
Can you share with me about how the walk was to get to the monasteries. How many did you get to see? I want to do as much and push as hard as I can but I do have bad knees. I got injections again and am using a recombent bike to exercise 30 mins a day to prepare but it can be tough. . I used a cane to go up the Acropolis and Delphi last April. I made it all the way to the Stadium in Dephi which was far and climbing back down was tough on me but I am very determined to not let it stop me...I might be slow (part of the reason I stopped going with tour groups...I was always last) but I am still gonna go.