Join author-filmmaker-mythologist Phil Cousineau on a journey to ancient Greece to visit many of the significant sites associated with two of Homer's greatest heroes, Odysseus and Penelope.
We will travel across the wine-dark sea to the world immortalized by Homer in the Odyssey, with a special emphasis on recent scholarship, archaeology, and a spate of extraordinary new translations, which gives long overdue attention to Penelope, Circe, and Calypso, Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera. We will visit sites such as the Corinth Canal, the citadel of Mycenae, Menelaion near Sparta, Kranai islet, Ancient Olympia, the mythic island of Ithaka, and Corfu (ancient Phaecia), as well as engage in lively discussions and Long Conversations. READ MORE
Phil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, storyteller and author of over 40 books including the national best-seller The Art of Pilgrimage, The Book of Roads, and Stoking the Creative Fires, winner of the Book of the Year Award from “Spirituality & Health Magazine.”
Those looking to take a deep and personal dive into Homer's epic poem of the Odyssey will not be disappointed. This trip includes time to stand on the actual ground representing key points in the story of Odysseus' 10-year journey back home Cielle Backstrom, Fairfield, IA
The daily long conversations with Phil Cousineau to relate to our personal mythos and journeys were eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint! Phil was a wonderful leader and managed to keep us all moving and excitedFrances Carbonnel, Elizabeth, CO
“Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for.”
— C. P. Cavafy
Take a journey 3,000 years back in time to the roots of classical Greece and forward to the modern Mediterranean of magnificent land and seascapes, splendid museums, and sublime cuisine.
This carefully and lovingly designed tour is the result of Phil Cousineau’s lifelong fascination with the Odyssey, and aims to combine visits to sites associated with Homer’s epic with readings and discussions that explore the too-long-neglected roles in the epic played by Penelope, Circe, Calypso, Nausicaa, Athena, and Aphrodite.
Our pilgrimage to Homeric Greece will be augmented by Phil’s innovative style of “The Long Conversation.” Each day will also be highlighted by talks and group discussions that evoke the spell of arguably the most influential story in Western civilization.
Our journey will begin in Athens with a welcome drink at our hotel and dinner at a traditional Greek tavern in the vibrant Plaka neighbourhood. We then visit the citadel of Corinth, long associated with King Sisyphus, her school of navigation, and the famous canal, which connects the Greek mainland with the Peloponnesus. Nearby are the ruins of Ancient Sparta, where Odysseus’ son Telemachus ventured to find news about his father from King Menelaus. We will also visit the Menelaion, a sanctuary that encouraged the worship of Menelaus and Helen into late antiquity, and the beautiful seaport of Kranai, from where, according to the poets, Helen and Paris left for Troy. Over a wonderful portside lunch, we will read from several different accounts of the infamous abduction, which ignited the Trojan War.
At Olympia we will learn about the relationship between athletics and spirituality, and the parallels between training for war and sports. Our visit to the melancholic beauty of this ancient site is designed to help us understand the significance of Homer’s vivid description in the Odyssey of the Funeral Games for Patroclus, often regarded as the first instance of sports writing in history.
From the seaport town of Patras, we take the ferry to “rocky, low-lying, mountainous” Ithaka, as Homer described the home of King Odysseus and Queen Penelope. During our three marvel-filled days on this mythic island we will visit what locals call “Homer’s School,” the ruins of a mighty Mycenean palace long associated with Odysseus and Penelope; the Loizas Cave, where fascinating artefacts have been uncovered; the Cave of the Nymphs, where Odysseus is believed to have hidden the gifts given to him by the Phaeacians; and the Archaeological Museum of Stavros. Every morning on the island we will read passages from several different translations, ranging from Alexander Pope to Robert Fitzgerald and Emily Watson, as well as poems and stories associated with the island.
After our stay on Ithaka, we continue to Ammoudia, the mouth of the River Acheron, where, according to legend, Odysseus took Circe’s advice and descended into the Underworld to meet with the soothsayer Tiresias. Nearby is one of the least visited and most mysterious sites in Greece, the Nekromanteion, the Temple of the Dead, where Persephone and Hades were worshipped, and pilgrims were led by a priestess through subterranean chambers to experience their own death and rebirth.
The final stop of our own odyssey will be Corfu, the Homeric island of Scheria, Island of the mythical Phaeacians, those magical masters of the sea, and the last stop for Odysseus on his long and winding way back home to Ithaka. We will visit the Palaiokastritsa Beach, where the shipwrecked Odysseus was rescued by the princess Naussica, who escorted him to the palace of her parents, the hospitable King Alkinoos and Queen Arete, who built a magical ship for the final leg of our hero’s journey back to Ithaka.
We welcome you to join us on this journey to connect with the mythic power of the ancient gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters, as rendered by Homer, the Blind Bard of Samos, and be graced with all the magic and haunting beauty this mythic world has to offer.
Mon, Apr 18
Arrive Athens (D)Read more
You will be met at Athens International Airport and transferred to our hotel in the heart of Athens. Depending on your arrival time, you will have an opportunity to explore this ancient city on your own. Athens, the capital and largest city in Greece, dominates the Attica periphery. One of the world’s oldest cities, it is full of myths, mysteries, and legends. Steeped with a rich history that spans around 3,400 years, the city is home to many sacred ancient sites, monuments, and landmarks. A fusion of old and new, Athens is also a cosmopolitan metropolis buzzing with lively activity and vibrancy. If you arrive early enough, we recommend a visit to the National Archaeological Museum, founded at the end of the 19th century to house and protect antiquities from all over Greece, thus displaying their historical, cultural, and artistic value, and which features many artefacts associated with the Homeric epics, such as the golden Mask of Agamemnon, the bust of the Minotaur, and the Aphrodite of Cnidus.
In the evening we will gather at the hotel for a welcome drink before walking as a group to the Plaka district for our Welcome Dinner at the Palia taverna Kritikou, with a splendid view of the Acropolis and Lycabettus. We will get to know our tour leader and fellow travellers as we savour traditional Greek cuisine and admire the stunning views of ancient Athens.
Athens; Corinth Canal; Mycenae; Sparta (B, L)Read more
Enjoy a traditional Greek breakfast followed by the first of our Long Conversations: “Epic Storytelling in Classical Athens.” Afterward, we take our coach to the Peloponnesus, crossing the astonishing architectural marvel of the Corinth Canal, begun by the Roman emperor Nero, who abandoned the project, which was finally resumed in 1881 and completed in 1893. After a short stop at the canal we visit the ancient citadel of Mycenae and its neighbouring museum, with its cyclopean walls and history of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Here, we will spend the morning exploring the archaeological site with a very special guest, Agamemnon Dasis, the great-great-grandson of the man who lodged the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (discoverer of Troy) when he excavated Mycenae in 1876.
After our tour of the citadel we will visit the nearby tholos or beehive huts, then lunch at Agamemnon’s restaurant and hotel, La Belle Helene, named after Helen of Troy (included in tour price). Over the years many luminaries have stayed here, including André Malraux, Stephen Spender, Jack Kerouac, Rebecca West, Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf, Carl Jung, Freya Stark, and J. K. Rowling.
Sparta; Menelaion; Gytheion; Kranai Islet (B, L)Read more
After breakfast at the hotel, we gather for a morning discussion based on Phil’s book, Who Stole the Arms of the Venus de Milo? The famous statue was inspired by the story of the torrid love affair between Paris, the prince of Troy, and Helen of Sparta, the tale that has inspired more art than any other one from classical times, and which will prepare us for our visit today to the ruins of the palace she shared with King Menelaus. For it was here that the Trojan prince Paris, enchanted by the goddess of love, Aphrodite, came to seek out Helen, regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world, who was likewise under Aphrodite’s love spell. To catch a glimpse of the importance of these mythic figures, we will visit one of the most unusual sites in Greece, the strange pyramid-shaped Sanctuary of Menelaus and Helen, where they were worshipped as gods for centuries, and according to Pausanius, were buried there.
We will enjoy a traditional lunch (included in tour price) either in Sparta or Gytheion, depending on our timing. After our intriguing morning, we will visit Gytheion, the ancient seaport for the war-hardened Spartans, and today a beautifully preserved town, then visit the Kranai islet. According to legend, this was the port from which Helen and Paris sailed for Troy, their tryst igniting the most famous war in history.
After breakfast at the hotel, we gather for a morning discussion about the curious relationship in the ancient world between athletics and warfare, as embodied at Ancient Olympia. Considered a national shrine for the ancient Greeks, the site housed many treasures and works of art ranging from temples, monuments, sacred altars, theatres, and statues. Recent findings have pushed the origins of the competitions there from the traditional 776 B.C.E. to around 1250 B.C.E. Our visit will enrich our understanding of the role of athletics in Homer, who is often regarded as the first sports writer in the world because of his intricate description of the so-called Funeral Games for the fallen hero Patroclus. Together we shall make our way to the ancient gymnasium and the palaestra (wrestling forum), the Temple of Zeus, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Hera, where the Olympic Torch is ignited for every modern Olympics, and the wondrous Archaeological Museum, which features the astounding statue of Hermes by Praxiteles. We will then walk through an old olive grove for a visit of the Olympics Museum, which features a collection of Olympic torches, medals, and memorabilia of the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the visionary who revived the Modern Olympic Games in the belief it would revive the spirit of the well-lived life.
This evening, Phil will lead a late evening discussion based on his book, The Olympic Odyssey, followed by a visit to a local taverna for some traditional music (at own expense).
Following our hotel breakfast we will have a discussion about the symbolic power of Ithaka in mythology, psychology, poetry, and the arts. After our talk we will take our coach to the port of Patras, where we will catch a four-hour ferry to Pisaetos harbour, Ithaka, then on to the nearby beautiful harbour town of Vathi. Tonight we will enjoy dinner at a lovely local restaurant (included in tour price), and afterwards you can follow the epitaph procession.
After breakfast we will craft a group reading of passages in the Odyssey that are set in Ithaka and discuss the way the translations have shape-shifted over the centuries. We will also explore the centuries-long debate, which dates back to the 3rd century BCE, about the specific location of Homer’s Ithaka.
After lunch (included in tour price) we will be guided by Spyros Couvaras, a member of the Odyssean Studies Center to the town square of the beautiful village of Stavros to see a scale model of ancient Ithaka, and the small but important Archaeological Museum of Stavros, where we will see fragments of twelve bronze ceremonial tripods in honour of Odysseus found in the nearby Polis caves. One is famously inscribed: EYXHN ODYCCEI, a reference to the gift of Alcinoos, King of Phaecia, to Odysseus. Then we take a short drive by coach to the reputed ruins of Odysseus and Penelope’s palace that is referred to locally as Homer’s School, which archaeologists date back to the 8th century. The most recent excavations, culminating in 2010, have fuelled the controversy about the existence of a real Odysseus, reminiscent of Heinrich Schliemann’s digs at Troy, in Turkey, which many believe provides an historical basis for the Trojan War. After our visit to these haunting ruins, we will visit the actual Polis Cave, where the “Odysseus cult” was ritually celebrated for eight centuries. Time permitting, we will end our visits with a drive to the peak of Pilata Hill, which overlooks the Three Seas that Homer describes are visible from Odysseus’ Ithaka, and finally to the Homeric “Melanydros Fountain.”
Today we enjoy a morning of storytelling and discussion about the Iliad and the Odyssey, including recent mythopoetic renderings of Homer’s myths, including Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and Madeline Miller’s Circe, and today’s theme of “Ithaka After Odysseus.”
After our “Long Conversation”, we will attempt to visit the Archaelogical Museum of Vathi to see its beautiful collection of rare vases from the so-called “Dark Ages,” as well as vases from the Geometric Period, and striking Ithacan bronze coins from Classical times, some with the very face of King Odysseus. As it is Easter Sunday, we are not sure if the musuem can be opened for us, but we will try using our local contacts.
Next, we are in for a real treat! Enjoy a traditonal Easter lunch in a picturesque setting with lamb on the spit, Greek music and dancing!
After breakfast, we leave Odysseus' home island for the mainland. We board an early morning ferry bound for the port of Astakos on the west coast of the mainland, arriving at noon. We enjoy a brief lunch in the port and then take our coach to Nicopolis, "the Victory City," after the goddess Nike, where for the great Epictetus founded his school of philosophy. Nicopolis was founded in 29 BCE to commemorate the nearby Battle of Actium, where Octavian's army overwhelmed Cleopatra and Marc Antony, and is considered the largest ancient city, size-wise, in all of Greece.
Dinner and overnight in Preveza with its glorious beaches.
After breakfast we drive to Necromanteio of Acheron, a candidate for both the strangest ancient site in Greece and the least visited of the Homeric sites. For millenia, this temple marked the entrance to Hades, where a religious cult developed to celebrate the mysteries of Hades and Persephone. Pilgrims gathered here from all over the ancient world to honor the recently dead, and also to be led by the resident Oracle of the Dead down into subterranean chambers, where it's believed they experienced a ritual death and rebirth. In Book Eleven of The Odyssey, Homer portrays the sorceress Circe as the inspiration for Odysseus to descend from here down to the Halls of Hades. On his nekyia, or underworld journey, our hero asked the soothsayer Tiresias for advise on how he could reach home again, and be reuinited with Penelope after twenty years.
Then we continue along the beautiful western coast of Greece to Igoumenitsa to catch our ferry for Corfu. Upon arrival in the main port, we check into our luxurious hotel in Corfu town. Designed by the famous architect Sakelarios, the Corfu Palace is considered a classic, and is a much loved hotel by locals and visitors alike.
Corfu town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famed for its cobbled streets, Venetian architecture, and eclectic galleries and restaurants. This picturesque town also has stunning views over the Ionian Sea.
Today we enjoy the hotel breakfast and then set out by coach to the breathtakingly beautiful, high-cliffed Palaiokastritsa Beach, from where we journey by local boat to “Nausicaa’s Cave.” There, we will enjoy a seaside lunch (included in tour price) and have an opportunity to swim.
According to long tradition, this is the site where the shipwrecked Odysseus was rescued by the princess Naussica and taken, in an extraordinary act of xenia, Greek hospitality, to the palace where she lived with her royal parents, King Alkinoos and Queen Arete. After listening to the Odysseus’ heartbreaking stories about his twenty-year-long adventure, they built him a magical ship designed to carry him on his final journey back to Ithaka.
Corfu; Old Fortress & Corfu Old Town (B, D)Read more
After our traditional sumptuous Greek breakfast, we will engage in our final “Long Conversation” at our hotel, which will be based on the shape-shifting nature of the tale of Odysseus and Penelope, one of the most durable and charismatic stories in human history. Our discussion will range from the early Greek plays of Sophokles and Euripides to Ovid’s renderings, Monteverdi’s opera, Joyce’s Ulysses, the Coen brother’s O, Brother, Where art Thou?, to the recent feminist versions of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Madeline Miller’s Circe, and even the influence on video games such as “Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses.”
Afterwards, enjoy a walking tour of the Old Fortress and Corfu old town. After departing the hotel, our first stop is at the Old Fortress (World Heritage List of UNESCO). Built by the Venetians upon the remains of a Byzantine castle it was completed in two stages, by the Venetians, and later, the British.
Today, two impressive bastions remain, which bear the names of the Italian engineers Martinengo and Savorgnan, as well as later British buildings and accretions, such as the church of St. George, built in 1840 as a basilica with Doric columns.
Afterwards we continue to Corfu Town, which is a member of the World Heritage List (UNESCO) for a walking tour in the historical center of this fascinating old city where many historical sites can be seen. There will be some free time for wandering the cobbled streets of Corfu town, shopping, or journaling. In the evening we will meet for a Farewell Banquet at a seaside taverna in Corfu town.
After breakfast this morning we say a fond farewell to our newfound friends and tour leader as our time together in Greece comes to an end. We will travel home with incredible memories and a deeper understanding of the importance of the sites visited and their role in Homer’s Odyssey.
After check-out, you will be transferred to Corfu International Airport for onwards flights home.
(B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner)
Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to conditions beyond our control.
In the Footsteps of Odysseus and Penelope with Mythologist Phil Cousineau
April 18 - 29, 2022
11 nights’ accommodation in 3* and 4* star hotels based on double/shared occupancy
Breakfast daily, 6 lunches
5 dinners, incl. Welcome Dinner & Farewell Dinner
Arrival transfers in Athens and departure transfers in Corfu
Transportation by deluxe A/C private coach
Admission to all sites as per itinerary
Ferry tickets Patras to Ithaca, Ithaca to Astakos & Igoumenitsa to Corfu
Local boat ride from Palaiokastritsa Beach to “Nausicaa’s Cave” (weather dependent)
Travel with author, teacher and filmmaker, Phil Cousineau
Insightful group discussions and “Long Conversations”
Escorted tour of the Paleokastritsa in Corfu
Local English-speaking guide in Olympia
Guide from the Odyssean Studies Center in Ithaka
Visits to ancient sites associated with Homer’s the Odyssey
Group readings of poems, stories and passages associated with the sites we visit
Invited guest speakers (TBC)
Tour Does Not Include:
Airfare to Athens and return from Corfu
Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote)
Meals and drinks not specified
Cost to obtain valid passport
Tips and gratuities to guides, drivers, hotel staff
Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls. Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final retreat itinerary