Take a hike in Greece's scenic and historic regions

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NEW YORK -- This year the three major hiking areas in Greece -- the Pindus Mountains in the north, Mount Olympus in central Greece and the island of Crete -- each have at least one guided tour for clients to follow.

a donkey A new self-guided or guided walking program on the Ionian island of Cephalonia also is available. Classic Adventures of Hamlin, N.Y., will explore Hidden Greece, the Zagoria, which is a hiking trip in the Pindus Mountains of northern Greece.

The 11-night program begins in Athens May 29 and offers a challenging tour along marked but remote mountain trails. The special beauty of this area, at roughly 8,000 feet, is the preservation of old village life.

Anyone in good shape can do this trek, said trip leader and company owner Dale Hart. He has spent 26 years in Greece, is well-versed in Greek history and provides hikers with rich historical and cultural information along the way. Hikers carry only day packs and travel between four and seven hours a day, spending nights at hotels and inns. One night is spent in a mountain hostel.

Following a welcome dinner in Athens, hikers fly the next day to Ioannina, then transfer to the Zagorian village of Monodendri to visit an abandoned, 600-year-old monastery perched high above the Vikos Gorge.

Highlights along the way include Papingo and neighboring flora-rich Vikos-Aoos National Park; glacial Lake Drakolini; Zagorian villages such as Tsepelovo, Vradeto and Kipi, and Vlachian villages such as Vovoussa and Metsovo, center of the Vlach culture.

The tour cost of $2,289 per person includes breakfast and dinner daily, transportation within Greece, luggage transfers, maps and orientation materials. Air fare to Greece is additional.

Hellenic Adventures is offering a 10-night hiking tour which starts on June 17 in Athens and goes to the fabled Mount Olympus and Pelion. The Minneapolis-based company noted that participants will hike two to five hours per day and the exertion level is rated as easy to moderate.

Two nights, with guided sightseeing of Athens, is on the itinerary, before driving overland to visit the Ossios Loukas monastery, the craft village of Arachova and then Delphi for a two-night stay. From Delphi, travelers will hike in the foothills of Mount Parnassus, then drive to Pallopanagia to walk and visit the Korycian Cave.

From Delphi, hikers drive to Litohoro, a small town in the foothills of Mount Olympus. For the next two days they explore the "king of Greek mountains," Mount Olympus. En route to Litohoro, there will be a tour around the peak-top monasteries of Meteora.

One night at Mount Olympus will be spent at a mountain refuge, from which hikers will walk down and take a motorcoach to Volvos and travel up to the village of Makrynitsa on Mount Pelion, one of the loveliest of mountain settlements.

More than 20 villages are located on these slopes, some hidden in ravines, others spread along beautiful beaches, and there will be time for swimming, as well as excursions to the picturesque villages of Hania, Zagora and Tsangarada. The tour spends its last afternoon and night in Athens.

Prices per person, double, are $2,995 for groups of six to nine travelers, $2,695 for 10 to 14 participants. Costs include first class and tourist superior class hotels (plus one night refuge lodging), most meals, sightseeing, local transportation and the services of a tour leader.

Hellenic Adventures also offers a nine-night walking tour, with departures on Sept. 9 and 18, covering Crete, the Samarian Gorge and Santorini. Travelers stay for a night in Athens, with a sightseeing tour of Old Athens and the Acropolis before flying to Santorini for a three-night stay, including tours of excavations at Akrotiri, and the village of Oia.

Following a ferry ride to Iraklion in Crete and a tour of the Knossos and the Archaeological Museum, transfers are made to the port of Chania. Two easy hikes are scheduled from Chania to the foothills of the northern slopes of the Lefka Oraa, a perfect initiation to the White Mountains, the villages and lush orange groves of western Crete.

A full day is spent hiking through the 11-mile Samarian Gorge -- the longest in Europe -- as it wends its way through pine forests.

The final night of this tour is spent in Athens, with a farewell dinner. The package is priced per person, double, at $3,130 for groups of six to nine passengers, $2,830 for 10 to 14.

Uniquely Europe, a division of Europe Express, takes clients to the Ionian island of Cephalonia for six nights, with Thursday departures during May, June, September and October, for self-guided or guided walking tours on its Greek Isle Experience program.

On Cephalonia, the terrain makes for easy to moderate hikes, with daily distances of three to seven miles, lasting between two and five hours. The island offers a diverse natural habitat for many species of flowers including 50 types of wild orchids, as well as a wide variety of birds. On the sands of the southern shores, sea turtles mate and lay their eggs, while in the north, caves shelter the Mediterranean seal. Lastly, at the top of Mount Ainos live herds of Cephalonia's famous wild horses.

Next stop is the village of Assos, with the first day's walk (two hours) along trails fanning out from the town. There is some fine walking on the island: from Assos by trail to a 16th century Venetian fortress; from the village of Maganos on a country road to Fiskardo, one of the prettiest fishing ports in Greece; from Lourdas outside the island's capital of Argostoli, a two-and-a-half-hour beach hike.

The cost per person, double, for self-guided arrangements is $1,390, and the guided tour price is $1,690. Prices include roundtrip air from Athens to Cephalonia, accommodations with private facilities and balcony overlooking the bay, daily breakfast and dinner with wine, one barbecue, two cocktail receptions, entrance fee to selected sights, detailed route notes and maps, and transfers.

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