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Michael Metcalfe explains why he fell in love with this historic land.
I first learnt about Ancient Greece when I was ten years old, and in the first year of High School. The Headmaster of that school was determined to get to know every single pupil in his charge, and did so by teaching his subject, Classical Studies, to all of the first and second year pupils. No-one could opt out, and (in spite of his strict discipline) not many wanted to, because he was that rare thing: an inspirational, passionate and brilliant teacher. He didn’t try to dumb the subject down, he treated us like adults, and he loved the material. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to teach older students, and so it wasn’t until I went to University that I was able to study the ancient world again. But, from the time I was 10, I was hooked.
One of his guiding principles was that history could not be understood without a firm grasp of geography, and the maps and photographs that we pored over bred a deep desire in me to travel to these places and see them with my own eyes. As soon as we were old enough to travel by ourselves, my best friend and I booked tickets and set off to explore. That first trip was made to the relative safety of Corfu, an island with strong links to Britain, and one that then encapsulated everything that I have come to love about Greece: great food, abundant wine, steep hills, secluded beaches, azure seas, beautiful churches, spectacular archaeological sites, winding country roads, a sense of adventure, and a warm welcome from the locals.
I have been a constant visitor to Greece ever since that trip, and was even fortunate enough to be able to live in Athens for four years, while studying at a wonderful research institute (the British School at Athens). The rich history and incredibly beautiful countryside never fails to impress, but it is the great variety and individuality, which is rarely commented on, which keeps bringing me back time after time.
To put it simply, no single part of Greece is truly like another. The reason for this is the wild and rugged nature of the countryside, which has split the territory of mainland Greece into a series of valleys, separated from each other by steep mountains and hill-chains, which are watered by torrents that rush down from the heights when the winter snow and ice starts to melt. These natural divisions are reflected in the people who inhabit this landscape, and even though they share the same basic language, food and history, the variations in dialect, cuisine, dress and dances are astounding.
When the thousands of Greek islands are added in, with their diverse ecosystems and maritime heritages, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that you can come to Greece on holiday for twenty years in a row and still discover something new and exciting about this country.
Fortunately for me I have the chance to explore some of the most beautiful and evocative areas in the company of like-minded travellers: to sail through the islands; to wend our way through the mountains; to explore ancient archaeological sites; to visit spectacular museums; to enter monasteries built a millennium ago; to sample the local foods and wines; and to sit back, relax and appreciate the elemental beauty of a unique and ever-changing landscape.