Firms offer alternative plans

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NEW YORK -- In contrast to the leisurely island-hopping vacations for which Greece is known, new escorted tours from Hellenic Adventures, Minneapolis, and Cross Country International, Millbrook, N.Y., promise vacationers a workout in the mountains.

A 10-night, soft-adventure plan from Hellenic Adventures, Village Voyages and Mountain Wilds: The Unwritten Interior of Greece, explores this rugged region.

Although activities are strenuous, Hellenic Adventures president Leftheris Papageorgiou describes the program as "high end," with 16 a la carte meals, bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Group sizes are limited to between eight and 14 people.

After the first night in Athens, the itinerary visits the Papingo region, where travelers prepare themselves for the week ahead with a 3,600-foot mountain hike to the Pindos refuge and a trek to glacial Dragon Lake. The plan lasts seven to nine hours.

The next day features a six- to eight-hour, 1,700-foot hike into the Vikos Gorge, the second-longest gorge in Europe.

"I start them with the most challenging [excursions]," Papageorgiou said. "What I tell people is, if you can walk at a fast pace for four miles and not run out of breath with your muscles aching, then you can do what we are asking you to do."

The tour visits the relatively untraveled Agrafa region, where guests stay two nights in the village of Pertouli, spending a day either horseback riding or mountain biking in the morning, followed by canoeing on Tavropos Lake in the late afternoon.

During the tour's three-night visit to Mount Pelion and the surrounding peninsula, travelers stroll through villages characterized by winding, cobblestone streets.

"It is really one of my favorite itineraries," Papageorgiou said, adding that he spent his boyhood summers at Mount Pelion.

"Even the Greeks," Papageorgiou said, "are just recently becoming aware of [Agrafa]" as a destination. "The vast majority of foreign tourists never heard of it and never go there."

The land-only price for the tour is $2,750 per person, double, plus tax. Commission starts at 10%.

Cross Country International, a walking and horseback- riding tour operator, added Greece this year with two treks, the Crete Walk and the Culture Walk.

The operator also offers an inn-to-inn trail ride along the Mount Pelion peninsula.

All Cross Country tours are commissionable at 15%.

The walking tours are priced at $1,050 per person, double, land only.

The Crete Walk features seven nights' accommodations and treks into two gorges.

The Culture Walk, which travels through the center of the southern Peloponnese region, offers six nights' accommodations and explores the 13th century Byzantine fortress of Mystras.

Someone in average physical shape will be challenged by either tour, according to Karen Lancaster, president of Cross Country International.

On the Crete Walk -- the more physically challenging of the two, she said -- guests trek through the Samaria Gorge, Europe's longest at eight miles.

"It's enormous and spectacular, like a Grand Canyon of Greece," Lancaster said.

The seven-night Aegean Sea Trail Ride tour includes swimming and horseback riding. One departure remains, Oct. 20, priced from $1,595 per person, double, land only.

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