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Cities of History; Mountains of Myth: Thessaloniki, Dion & Mount Olympus

June 26 - July 2



To study the vast history of what has been done is useless, except to inspire the vast array of what we might do.

– Anonymous


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Program Details

A great family adventure, suitable for all ages and many fitness levels.  We’ll start this retreat touring the beating heart of European history, the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, known as Salonika in Ottoman times, and one of the last major cities where Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths mixed and prospered.  In three nights and two days we’ll experience epochs of history, visiting Roman agoras and palaces that sit on the same streets where Paul orated his Letter to the Thessalonians.  Those orations gave birth to a movement, first persecuted and martyred, then embraced by Roman culture, and fostered in 7th century Byzantine churches of worship which remain standing and continue to host the Christian faithful in worship.  We’ll pass up the narrow, pedestrian streets of Salonika’s 18th century Upper Town, overhung with the enclosed balconies of small and nestled homes beautifully maintaining their Ottoman architecture and style.  We’ll visit Thessaloniki’s protective walls, dominating the hills above the city as they’ve done since the 3rd century.  And we’ll tour the modern 20th century city, where the imprint of great Jewish civic leaders and planners responded to the aftermath of WWI and the city’s Great Fire of 1917 by recasting the city’s center into fashionable pedestrian boulevards, public squares, and rich markets that still burst today with fresh fish, meats, produce, and the noise of community commerce.

We’ll also enjoy the modern city, tasting unique pastries, sitting at eclectic cafés, and feasting together on two fantastic dinners, all of which draw from cuisines mixing the histories above to produce a culinary style that earned Thessaloniki the rare UNESCO title, “A City of Gastronomy.”

We’ll leave Thessaloniki on our third morning and drive south to the coastal plain below the Mount Olympus massif.  In Dion a professional historian will guide us through the Archeological Park of Ancient Dion, a beautifully preserved Hellenistic site where Zeus was venerated.  Dinner by the sea and an evening in the mountain village of Litochoro will ready us for the next phase of the retreat, when we awake next morning to climb Mount Olympus, and visit firsthand where Zeus and his fellow Olympians lived.

The Mount Olympus hike is a marvel of flexibility.  With a major trail section easily circumvented by car, a luxurious mountain refuge below treeline only 3 hours from the parking trailhead, and upper sections of the trail steep but safe to just a few vertical meters below the summit, this trek allows customized itineraries for a variety of fitness levels, ages and desires.  Enthusiastic trekkers can join Richard on the lower trail from Litochoro along the Enipeas Gorge and its waterfalls.  At the automotive trailhead in Prionia, they’ll join Heidi and the participants who chose the more relaxed route.  Then we’ll leave the motor transport and make the three-hour hike to the beautiful Zolatas Refuge, where—nestled in the final forest at 2060m—hot meals, cold beer, cool wine, and comfortable beds await us.

Our next day is a day to relax, enjoy the refuge’s accommodations with a coffee or evening wine while looking down at the coastal plain below just as the Olympian Gods did in ancient times.  Or the more intrepid, with hiking in their blood, can take an extra trek to the Plateau of the Muses and return.  The next morning, on our final Olympus day, participants can again opt to stay at the refuge, or climb above treeline along a steep trail to Skala, where some might stay to enjoy the panorama of the Aegean from 2,882 meters, while the more adventurous climb the final section of trail to reach Mytikas, the mountain’s true summit, only 36m higher, but a world away.

After summiting, the Mytikas and Skala groups will rejoin, descend to the refuge, and together we’ll all celebrate our final night with a great meal and an evening under a galaxy of stars.  The next morning we’ll descend to Prionia and motor transport, then to the airport for early afternoon drop-offs, hugs and departures, reminded from our seven days together of not only the high span of our world’s geography, but the wide span of our human history.

Program Length: 7 Days, 6 Nights

Minimum Participants (for program confirmation): 6 by March 26th 2024.

Maximum Participants: 16

Lodging Venues:

  • Fri, Sat & Sun, Thessaloniki: Downtown four-star hotel, walking distance from waterfront & our tour sites. (Double occupancy.  Single rooms available for supplement of $150 per night.)
  • Mon: Litochoro Mountain Village: Modern pensione on village square near bakeries and trailhead.  (Double occupancy, with single option available for supplement of $75.
  • Tues, Wed & Thu, Zolotas Refuge, Olympus National Park: This is not a hotel, but a luxurious mountain refuge.  Meals are delicious, well-prepared (with vegetarian, vegan & kosher options), but served from fixed menus at standard times.  Sleeping is primarily albergue (dormitory) style, with guests needing to provide some sundries.  Some partnered-bunks available for couples on a first come first serve basis.  Generators turn off at 10 pm, and either a headlamp (or your cell-phone, which will likely not have coverage, but can work as a flashlight) are helpful.

Participant Requirements:  Participants should feel comfortable walking during city tours, and during the retreat’s minimum Olympus hike, approximately 3 hours and 1,000 vertical meters on well-marked, and firm trail. (As detailed above, other legs of this trek are more challenging, but optional.)

Equipment Needed:

  • Good hiking shoes, (and for those who may choose any of the more challenging trail options, dedicated hiking boots are suggested.)
  • The refuge provides blankets & pillows, but for under-bedding people can either bring a light sleeping bag or pay a small fee for the convenience of refuge-provided sheets.
  • A light rucksack capable of bringing personal items, such as toiletries (and if chosen, the optional sleeping bag mentioned above) up to the Olympus refuge. (The pack needs to carry no food & minimal water if you’re only taking the short hikes, as these are available along the trail and/or at the refuge after only short hikes.  For those taking the longer or extra hikes, increase pack-capacity accordingly)
  • Due the Zolotas Refuge’s power limits (few outlets, and generators not running 24/7) we recommend those who feel totally “cell-phone-dependent” bring portable rechargers

Weather & Clothing:  This retreat includes two days of city touring and one day at seaside during a time of year likely to be warm enough for shorts & swimming; and then three days at high-altitude where rain and cold are possible, and significant wind likely.  Pack a range of clothing to deal with the times and ranges of the tour.

Supplements & Discounts Available

  • $60 Group Signup Discount. (5% per person for every group of 3 or more who sign up together.)

Payment Currency: $USD$


Next Steps?


June 26
July 2


Thessaloniki & Mount Olympus