Excellent 4 day history tour: an in-depth review
Greek mythology always fascinated me as a child -and it still does; and when I stumbled upon this excellently-reviewed tour on Viator while planning for my long-awaited, post-Covid-19 vacation, I booked it. With this detailed review, I hope to present my transparent opinion. However, kindly remember that this review is based on my recent experience and different individuals might feel differently.
Pick-up from the hotel:
I was picked up in a mini-van near my hotel, and was brought to the meeting point after picking-up a few more guests. My big luggage was taken care by the person in-charge and tagged accordingly. From there on, we (all my fellow tour-mates) traveled in a nice tourist bus with our guide. Small feedback for Viator and Chat Tour/tip for future travelers, I contacted Chat Tours for my pick-up location and was promptly replied. I am not sure what would have happened if I didn't do so. So something to keep in mind during your booking.
The bus was not a local transport bus, but rather a tourist, long distance type bus. As a tall person, I welcomed the comfortable leg-room. The air-conditioning was robust and I felt comfortable even while coming back from a 36 degrees Celsius temperature local tour outside. The scenes outside (covered later on) were majestic and the (clean) big windows of the bus allowed to enjoy these views, and to even record videos and take plenty of photographs. Note that in our bus no toilet was there but it was never needed as we made refreshment stops. While the Greek roads were good, the bus still had to climb mountainous roads - while going to Meteora and Delphi, and also had to do long planar stretches of hundreds of kilometers, and no troubles were encountered- the bus was in excellent shape.
The scenic route:
Remember, this is neither an island hopping tour nor a sight-seeing tour, but rather a tour with its core in history. However, Greece is a very beautiful country and has diverse landscape and flora. I love nature and am a hobby/semi-professional photographer. While traveling, I barely could sleep in the bus as I was constantly in awe looking through the window. Sometimes there was a long coast-line, sometimes there were mountains, most of the times- both. All the tour-sites are located in the remote regions and offer plenty of photo-opportunities.
The bus driver:
Connected to the previous points, the bus driver was the one who actually made the above points possible. Every day's itinerary required 100 km+ travel on varied terrain and he did it skillfully. Thanks Mikas (sorry for the wrong spelling and pronunciation), you did a nice job.
All sites and museums covered in this 4 day tour are excellently maintained by the Greek government. Since there was a tight schedule, we didn't spend a lot of time on each site and museums, but it was plenty enough. There was sufficient time to stay with the tour guide and learn about the place, chill a bit - like running an Olympics race at the Olympics stadium in Olympia, and take decent amount of photos. To put it simply- enough time as a tourist or hobbyist to know decently about a place, but not enough if you want to learn in-depth for your Masters or PhD (in that case you need plenty of hours and in-fact days). You can read about each site and museum online in-detail.
The tour guide:
Perhaps the most important here. The tour guide is supposed to play a pivotal role in these types of tours. Before I begin, I must tell you that the Greek government has a very strict policy and examination criteria in officiating tour guides as they present the country's history. This was told to me by a local guide in-progress from another day tour I did in Athens previously. Thus, not anyone can be a official guide, it is a lengthy and tough process.
The tour guide on our trip, Joy, is not only an experienced tour guide but also a historian. While visiting the sites, she presented us with the historical facts in chronological orders while keeping them interesting. Since it was a hot summer, on outdoor sites she would move us from tree shade to tree shade while talking about the place. It was simply amazing how she made the mythology and history come alive not only by introducing the facts, but also by giving a glimpse of human psychology, the role of evolving language (and linguistics) played at the time, the role of climate and geography, etc. Since considerable amount of time was spent on the road, she would point out at different sites from the bus and tell us history about it. She is clearly passionate about the history and there were times when I would ask/bombard her with my personal questions about the Greek history and she would answer them patiently, in-depth with equal enthusiasm. Since it was a bilingual tour (English and French), she would switch flawlessly between the two languages.
Cheers Joy- you are amazing!
Since there was an option to select the type of lounging, different people got different options. I can only tell about my lounging. All 3 nights were spent at different Hotel Amalia chain of hotels. The hotels were 4-5 star and well-maintained. My rooms were quite decent. There were 2 occasions when I had troubles and one was sorted out pretty quickly. The hotel staff was very courteous. Every hotel had a pool, and 2 out of 3 nights I enjoyed a good dip after long sightseeing and sitting in bus. The hotels followed a Covid protocol (more about it later), so that was a good thing for me. While the time spent was limited in all hotels due to tight schedule (approximately 12 hours each), it was time well-spent.
The hotels we stayed served us breakfasts and dinners. It was always a buffet except one night when it was a 3 course dinner. The serving staff was always polite. The lunches were supposed to be self-purchased at the stops made by the tour. All 4 restaurants on 4 different days were quite decent. The staff there was always hospitable and warm, and served nice, local and decently priced food. In one of the previous reviews here I read that the cooking oil was a problem and I beg to differ as most of the food I ate was cooked in local olive oil (maybe Chat tours changed the restaurant, I don't know).
I am a vegan and I don't have an easy time getting food based on my dietary requirements globally. I was pleasantly surprised that the Greek cuisine can be made vegan easily. I had happy shares of food in all places and would tap my tummy after a good meal. However, if I am a bit more critical here and would say that there is a small room of improvement here to be made (compared to the other aspects of this tour). Eating similar food for lunch and dinner could use some creativity. Same things for the restaurants, where 'removing' an item from a cuisine makes it vegan but keeps the price still high as if it was a non-veg item needs some working around. Don't get me wrong here- it is not a problem with this tour (or with Greece), but something I encounter in daily-life while eating outside. During this entire vacation, I carried 2 emergency cans of vegan food with me which were gladly never opened.
So good job here as well to both the hotels and the restaurants (with a bit of feedback due to limited menu). A 8 on 10, in point system.
The Covid-19 protocol:
During the tour, Greece was a green-zone (very low level of risk). Travelers were supposed to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result. Most of the fellow travelers were vaccinated so that was encouraging. The face mask was mandatory indoors so we had them on while we were sitting inside the bus, in a restaurant, in museums or shops, and in hotels (except when in open air like around the pool or while eating). The hotels were following quite strict rules. The towels and slippers provided were plastic packed. The TV remotes (never used) were also plastic wrapped. There were hand sanitizers at obvious places. In buffet system, there were plastic shields and the staff served the food one required. I also saw the staff disinfecting surfaces after use in the dining area and the pools. Conclusion, I was quite happy with the protocol followed. Best of luck Greece! I wish that everyone there stay safe and healthy.
Value for money:
A very subjective point. I will just say that for me this tour was decently priced. While not cheap, the amount of things it offered (all points above) justified the price for me and I wouldn't mind paying similar price for future tours with similar package content.
I was traveling solo, but thanks to my fellow tour-mates, I never felt left out. While most of the travelers were from the US, the group was still heterogeneous and there were people from everywhere of different age groups. Everyone was very friendly and after spending 3-4 fun-filled days together it was tough to say them good-bye. Thanks a lot all of you - you are amazing! I wish you best of luck again for your future. See you!
The Greek hospitality:
The conclusive point of this long review. This tour was one of my items of my first (geeky) Greek vacation. I genuinely enjoyed the famous Greek hospitality both before and during this tour. I definitely look forward in future to visit Greece again.
- Thanks for reading this in-depth review. I wouldn't had have felt justified if I wrote anything less.
Ash_T, Jul 2021