Our tour will discover the architectural gems of ancient Greece and facets of the 2,300-year Jewish existence within Greek culture. The tour begins in Thessaloniki, a port that is not usually on the tourist map but which JR's 2016 tour found fascinating. The city was once 75% Jewish, and continues through timeless roads and beautiful scenery, to Athens, where we conclude our journey.
This is a repeat of the 2016 JR tour which was voted the best yet. This was largely due to our incredible guide Rania, who is as well-versed in the Jewish history of Greece as she is in its general history, as well as in current politics and culture. She is also a caring and attentive organiser. We are delighted that she will be leading and guiding this tour.
The tour is for eight days with an optional extension to stay in Athens to meet the community over Shabbat.
Thursday 18 May
Arrival at 10pm (Ryan Air leaving 4.20pm from Stansted) at Thessaloniki airport where we meet with guide Rania who on the way to our hotel gives an overview of the city and its Jewish history. Check in to Hotel Mediterranean Palace. Plenty of good restaurants nearby that stay open late!
Friday 19 May
In the morning Rania leads a Jewish walking tour, visiting the Square of Jewish Martyrs and the ceremonial Synagogue Lezikaron followed by a presentation at the Jewish Museum where we learn about a community that once had 50 synagogues and was called MOTHER OF ISRAEL and was home to famous Jewish mystics, legalists, poets and rabbis. We tread the quarters of the city that were once wholly Jewish while also seeing archaeological sites going back to Roman and Hellenic times. We return to our hotel in time to freshen up and walk to the Monastiriot Synagogue for Shabbat prayers and then enjoy a Shabbat kosher meal at the Astoria Hotel.
Saturday 20 May
Optional synagogue service followed by a sit down Kiddush with the rabbi. Rest of the day free to explore the city.
Dinner at Palati Taverna with traditional Greek music.
Sunday 21 May
We head for Vergina where the unearthing in 1977 of the richly extravagant tombs of King Phillip 11, father of Alexander the Great, became as famous as the Dead Sea Scrolls. We continue to Veria where we visit the town’s rich Christian heritage and absorb its Jewish quarter with its unique setting and the atmosphere that still prevails at the natural river mikva.
We spend time learning about the community of 900 who perished from caretaker Evi Meska in a beautifully preserved renovated synagogue that she looks after with consuming passion. We stay at the Aeges Melathron Hotel in Veria.
Monday 22 May
We leave Veria for a three-hour drive to Ioannina. We visit the medieval Jewish cemetery, the oldest in Greece, the Kal Kadosh Yashan Synagogue and, inside the castle and the ancient cobbled streets of the former Jewish Kastro quarter which has a moving Holocaust Memorial. We will arrange to meet with the small current Jewish community with free time afterwards in this delightful city. We stay at the Epirus Palace Hotel.
Tuesday 23 May
We have a picturesque drive to Kalambaka seeing breathtaking towns and villages. We dine and stay at the Amalia Hotel.
Wednesday 24 May
We set off for Portaria, on the way marvelling at the Enesco Meteora site of the famous 13th century Byzantine Monasteries suspended on granite rocks. You might have seen them in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. We continue to the beautiful village of Portaria in the Pilion mountains where we stay at the Hotel Despotiko.
Thursday 25 May
We leave our hilltop retreat for Volos which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and looks out on a charming bay. We learn about a Jewish community that dates back to the 6th century, whilst visiting the Synagogue and walking through the Jewish neighbourhoods.
Following our visit we head for Athens. On arrival we see the Beth Shalom Sephardic Synagogue and the Romaniot Synagogue and visit the Jewish Museum. We will invite members of the Romaniote and Sephardi community to address us during the last group evening meal. Overnight at the Titania Hotel.
Friday 26 May
Check out from hotel for those leaving on Friday. Today's tour includes The Acropolis, Constitution Square, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, Theatre of Dionysus and stroll through the Plaka historic area of Athens. The tour formally ends in time for late afternoon homeward flights.
Extending Your Stay
For those who wish to stay in Athens on Friday and Saturday nights, advice is given on hotels near the synagogue and Shabbat meals. We will contact the synagogue for security clearance but travellers make the booking independently.
Friday 26 May
Meet the young Chief Rabbi of the Athens community and afterwards attend the Kabbalat Shabbat service. Those who wish will dine together in the kosher restaurant.
Saturday 27 May
The opportunity to go to synagogue and/or visit the historic Monastiraki district and the many sites and museums in Athens.
Sunday 28 May
Continuation of Athens sight-seeing and return flights home.
The cost of the 8-day tour is £1,495.00 per person sharing a double or twin room (the cost reduces to £1,295.00 pp if the group reaches 25+ people). This includes hotel B&B plus five evening meals and three lunches (included usually when travelling across Greece), all transport within Greece, guides and museum fees. The single supplement is £395. International flights are arranged and paid for by participants.
This trip is for Jewish Renaissance subscribers only. Those who are not yet subscribers can join for £29 for a year, which will include a free copy of the July 2016 issue which has an in depth study of Jewish Greece.
The trip is organised in association with West End Travel.