Four Labours of Heracles
Original, exciting and enriching package tour that breaks new ground, with visits to the sites of four of Heracles's legendary labours as well as to other prominent archaeological, historical and natural...
This original, exciting and enriching programme breaks new ground as it includes visits to the sites of four of Heracles‘s legendary twelve labours, two of the mythical entrances to Hades (the Underworld of the ancient Greeks) as well as to other prominent archaeological, historical and natural monuments in the Peloponnese, such as fabled Mycenae, the Pyramid of Hellinikon, the Byzantine Citadel of Mystras and the magnificent caves of Diros. Being in the Peloponnese we would not fail to include genuine and charismatic local food as well as delectable local wines.
The Labours covered are the following:
> Labour One: The Nemean Lion. Location: Ancient Nemea
> Labour Two: The Lernaean Hydra. Location: Ancient Lerna
> Labour Six: The Stymphalian Birds. Location: Lake Stymphalia
> Labour Twelve: Cerberus. Location: Cape Taenaron
> Entrances to the Underworld: Lerna and Cape Taenaron
*The names Hercules (Latin) and Heracles (Greek) refer to the same hero. The latter is the original Greek name and is thus used throughout this site.
Points of Interest
Arrival at Athens international airport and transfer to the hotel. Welcome dinner.
Following arrival at the airport the previous day, the transfer to the hotel in Athens and the overnight stay, we are off to an early start to lake Stymphalia with a short stop en route for photographs at the 6.3 kilometre long Corinth Canal, which was cut in the 19th century to link the Aegean with the Ionian seas, the Peloponnese thus effectively becoming an island.
We proceed through scenic countryside to lake Stymphalia which is situated in the high mountains of northern Peloponnese. Lake Stymphalia is part of the ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected areas in the EU as well as home to the Stymphalian (‘Sixth Labour’) feat of legendary Heracles. The Stymphalians were man-eating birds with beaks of bronze and sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victim.
We will stop at the exemplary Environment Museum where, following a short but fascinating museum tour, our specialist guide will present the myth from a beautiful vantage point overlooking the lake. We will then drive to Ancient Nemea, the location of Heracles’s bare-handed slaying of the terrifying Nemean lion (‘First Labour’). We will also visit the ancient site and its famed sanctuary of Zeus, its museum and impressive stadium. The site was excavated in 1974 by Dr Stephen G. Miller, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, whom we will meet during our visit. Dr Miller will introduce the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games which, like the Olympic Games, take place every four years – but with the significant exception that they are always conducted at their birthplace in Greece and are open for all to participate.
Lunch at Nemea will be accompanied by the (indispensable !) local deep-ruby wine of the Agiorgitiko variety from Nemea’s fertile hills, one of Greece’s most renowned wine regions. We will then proceed to the attractive coastal town of Nafplio with its huge castle crowning the imposing hill above the charming Old Town. This full and satisfying day will reach its pleasant and fitting end with the welcome dinner at a traditional taverna.
Day’s distance and time summary (all values approximate and depending on prevalent conditions): Driving km: 228 Driving hours: 3.7
The day starts with a visit to the Neolithic and Mycenaean citadel of Tiryns (the birthplace of mythical hero Heracles), followed by the renowned Bronze Age city of Mycenae, a UNESCO World heritage site. Mycenae was the city of King Agamemnon, with its Cyclopean walls, the Lion Gate and spectacular archaeological findings.
We then drive south through the Argive Plain to the little-known Pyramid of Hellinikon, a mysterious structure of uncertain use dated to the 3rd millennium BC. Lunch at the attractive nearby village of Kefalari, where the waters welling from the spring central to the village have been attributed by ancient geographer Strabo to be an outflow of Lake Stymphalia we visited the previous day.
Our next destination is Lerna, where Heracles fought and killed the dreaded Hydra, a nine-headed monster that ravaged and terrified the region (‘Second Labour’). Lake Lerna was a bottomless swampy lagoon of 4.7 km in diameter but became nearly extinct both as a result of climate change as well as drainage. A remnant small lake can still be seen. We will visit the little archaeological site of Lerna where important findings were brought to light and the proceed back to our base out Nafplio. The day’s price includes dinner at the hotel.
Day’s distance and time summary (all values approximate and depending on prevalent conditions): Driving km: 87 Driving hours: 1.6
We stop at the fascinating museum of Natural History at Lygourio, with its rich collection of local and regional fossils and its diverse and informative exhibits, before reaching the Sanctuary of Asklepios, the God of Healing, at Ancient Epidaurus. The site, set in a peaceful yet powerful scenery that might be a main constituent of its legendary therapeutic qualities, features the best-preserved ancient theatre in Greece, acclaimed for its superb acoustics and its perfect proportions, the latter related also to the mathematical ratio of the Golden Mean. We then proceed to the lovely seaside town of Palaia Epidavros and its ancient yet recently-discovered, charming little theatre. Lunch and return to Nafplio for a free afternoon to explore this lovely town with its seaside promenade and vibrant market. The day’s price includes dinner at the hotel.
Day’s distance and time summary (all values approximate and depending on prevalent conditions): Driving km: 94 Driving hours: 2.0
We leave Nafplio and the Argolid to drive through the high plateau of Arcadia and into Laconia, past the city of Sparta to Mystras. We visit the Byzantine citadel of Mystras (UNESCO site), the capital of the mediaeval Despotate of the Morea (as the Peloponnese was also named) and ranking amongst the most important of all Byzantine sites.
An atmospheric synthesis of its city walls, a castle, the Palace of the Despots and an impressive array of finely decorated monasteries and churches Mystras richly rewards the visitor with its impressive riches. Dinner at a traditional taverna.
Day’s distance and time summary (all values approximate and depending on prevalent conditions): Driving km: 140 Driving hours: 2.5
We descend from Mystras to legendary Sparta, capital of mighty warrior kings like Leonidas (of Thermopylae fame), to visit its Roman theatre, the ancient acropolis and the small but fascinating archaeological museum. We then drive the short distance to Menelaion, an extended Mycenaean settlement identified with Homeric Sparta and the palace of Menelaos, brother of king Agamemnon husband of Helen of Troy.
The olive tree, olives and olive oil have been central to Greece and indeed, to the psyche of the Greeks since the ancient times, so we have included a visit to the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil before our onward journey to Areopolis of Mani, the rugged and wild southernmost part of Greece, where we will spend the night following dinner at a traditional taverna.
Day’s distance and time summary (all values approximate and depending on prevalent conditions): Driving km: 60 Driving hours: 1.2
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We drive to the Diros Caves complex, part of an underground river, of which about five kilometres have been exposed. Guided accessibility is provided by small boats as well as on foot (part of the tour being on land) through narrow passageways with spectacular formations of stalagmites and stalactites whilst archaeological research has shown that the caves have served as places of worship in Palaeolithic and Neolithic times.
We then proceed over the barren, forbidding but strangely attractive region of Mani to Cape Taenaron (Matapan), the southernmost point of mainland Greece and the Balkans. Taenaron is a legendary entrance to the Underworld (Hades) and the site of the Heracles’s labour with Cerberus (‘Twelfth Labour’). We park at the end of the road and take the 45-minute, 2.5-km walk to the lighthouse to admire the seascape at the ‘end of the world’. Return to our base at Areopolis for dinner at the hotel and a well-earned overnight rest.
Day’s distance and time summary (all values approximate and depending on prevalent conditions): Driving km: 89 Driving hours: 2.5
Leisurely return to Athens for our farewell dinner and our last overnight stay in Greece.
Day’s distance and time summary (all values approximate and depending on prevalent conditions): Driving km: 272 Driving hours: 4.5
- Accommodation at specially-selected, European standard high-class city and country hotels, basis bed and breakfast and double sharing. Single occupancy subject to supplement.
- Lunch (some packed) and dinners, including welcome dinner on the first day and the farewell dinner on the last one
- Greek airport transfers on first and last day of tour
- Welcome and farewell dinners
- Expert, licenced Guide accompanying the group throughout the duration of the tour
- All tour legs by air-conditioned coach
- Archaeological site and museum tickets
- Bottled mineral water daily during the tours
- Free use of power packs for recharging mobile phone and portable devices on the move
- Hotel porter and restaurant gratuities
- Air travel to and from Greece
- Personal travel insurance.
- Coach driver and guide gratuities
- Visas and travel document and formality costs
Points to note
The tour is accompanied by an expert, licensed guide who is fluent in English. Transport is by air-conditioned coach, accommodation is at specially selected high-class hotels, whilst the price also includes daily breakfast, lunch and dinner, Greek airport transfers, bottled mineral water daily, museum and archaeological site entrance fees and hotel porter and restaurant gratuities. The price is basis double-room sharing.
The programme does not include flights to and from Greece and personal travel insurance. An example of how to obtain travel insurance can be found here.
The final applicable price will depend on the number of participants of the tour.