|Piraeus, Cape Sounio, Ossios Loukas, Delphi and Mount Parnassus
Lying at the innermost point of the Saronic Gulf just outside
Athens, and connected to the centre by the metro, Piraeus
is the city’s main port. Ferries leave on a regular
basis for the Islands (see the information on the Greek Islands).
The area surrounding Athens, known as Attica,
is characterised by tranquil beaches, and the pinewoods
and thyme-covered slopes of Mount Parnes, Hymettus and Pentelico.
As one travels northwest, towards the interior, the landscape
combines fertile plains planted with cotton and tobacco, and rugged
mountains with unspoilt villages and winter ski resorts.
69km east of Athens, crowning Cape Sounio is a towering
promontory which dominates the landscape for miles around.
Here stand the superb ruins of the Temple of Poseidon,
built in the fourth century BC, commanding magnificent views over
the sea and islands. The Apollo Coast, a highly
urbanized tourist area stretching from Piraeus to Cape Sounio,
is dotted with exclusive resorts
such as Glifada (17km/11 miles from Athens) and
Vouliagmeni (24km/15 miles from Athens), offering
marinas, well-kept beaches, modern hotel complexes, seafood taverns
and luxury-class restaurants and nightclubs. North of Cape Sounio
is Rafina, Athens’ second port, with ferry
connections to Euboea and some of the Greek Islands.
Northwest of Athens, close to the town of Livadia, stands the
wonderful monastery of Ossios Loukas. Within
the monastery complex one can visit the 11th-century Church
of St Luke, noted for its impressive Byzantine mosaics,
and the 13th-century Church of the Virgin, built
by Cistercian monks who occupied the monastery during the Middle
Ages. Livadia, built into the foothills of Mount
Helikon, was well-known in ancient times for
the Oracle of Trophonios Zeus, the Springs
of Forgetfulness (Lethe) and Memory (Mnemosyne)
to the north of the town.
176km northwest of Athens, Delphi can be reached
by road via Livadia and Arahova. This is the site of the
well-known Oracle, where rulers of ancient Greece came
for many centuries for moral and political guidance. The complex
of treasury buildings, plinths and the foundations for the 4th-century
BC Temple of Apollo are set on the steep rocky hillside,
overlooking olive groves and the Sanctuary of Athena,
known as the Marmaria (marbles). A steep uphill
climb from the Temple brings one to the theatre, offering stunning
views over the entire site, and further uphill lies the ancient
stadium. The Delphi Museum contains a brilliant
collection of finds from the site.
Many visitors to Delphi stay overnight in nearby Arahova,
a beautiful hillside town renowned for its cheese,
formaela. On the other hand, a short distance southwest of Delfi,
on the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinthia,
lie the seaside towns of Itea and Galaxidi, offering
hotels, restaurants and beaches. A regular bus connects Athens
and Itea, passing through Arahova and Delphi en route.
Close to Arahova, on the main road from Athens to Delphi, lies
the southern slopes of Mount Parnassus, which
towers 2457m over the Gulf of Corinth. Through winter (December
to April) the mountain hosts many well-equipped ski resorts,
and the area is quite popular with hikers during spring and autumn.