Pericles was a prominent and influential Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during its golden age – specifically the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. He led Athens from 461 to 429 BC. It was under Pericles’s orders that the site we today know as The Acropolis was built (actually rebuilt, but that’s another story). He had such a profound influence on Athenian society, that he was often referred by his contemporary historians as the first citizen of Athens. Pericles turned the Delian League into an Athenian empire, and led his countrymen during the first two years of the first Peloponnesian War.
In the year 404BC, the Spartans, led by Admiral Lysander, forced the Athenians to capitulate, finally bringing the second and last Peloponnesian War to an end. Lysander played a key role in Sparta’s domination of Greece for the next decade until his death in the battle of Haliartus (Corinthian War) in 395BC. Greece is one of my favourite countries in the world, so we thought it would be fun to make up an imaginary route that would connect two of the greatest Greeks in ancient history, and in the process, enjoy the country’s rich history, breathtaking landscapes and fabulous food.
We chose the new Range Rover Evoque as our vehicle for this weekend adventure, since apart from having to take the luggage of 3 women, we needed a car that was compact enough for town, agile in the motorway and a bit of a beast off road. Furthermore, this is a seriously good looking car, with its modernist design per- ceptible all along its coupé-like silhouette, typified by its distinctive fast roofline and rising waist. Inside, the car is as luxurious as you’d expect, with a more steeply raked instrument panel that gives the interior a very sophisticated feel and a unique blend of uncluttered surfaces and contemporary materials that pay homage to the Range Rover DNA.
Upon landing in Athens and picking up the car, we went straight to The Acropolis, a site I never tire of visiting. The Acropolis of Athens and its monuments are universal symbols of the classical spirit; few other sites in the world condense so much of the basis of our civilisation. In the second half of the 5th century BC, Athens, following the victory against the Persians and the establishment of democracy, took a leading position amongst the other city-states of the ancient world. In the age that followed, thought and art flourished. Pericles commissioned the development of what was little more than a rocky hill into a unique monument of thought and the arts.
The plans were executed by an exceptional group of artists, under the inspired guid- ance of the sculptor Pheidias. The most important monuments were built during that time: the Parthenon, built by Ictinus, the Erechtheon, the Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles and the small temple of Athena Nike. Natural disasters and wars seriously damaged the Acropolis over the centuries, and although there have been restoration works since the 19th century, the most comprehensive restoration projects started in 1975 and are expected to continue until at least 2020, carrying out work on the temple of Athena Nike, the Parthenon’s western pediment, the north wall of the ancient monument as well as the Propylaea and the Erechtheion.
A short but steep walk from the Acropolis takes you to Plaka, the old part of Athens, full of lively bars and restaurants, and also of tourists, but, hey, one can’t have it all. We had dinner at Ergon House, a modern-day agora with a constellation of greengrocers, a butcher’s, fishmonger’s and bakery, a delicatessen and roastery, along with a bar and restaurant which celebrate the best of Greek cuisine culture. If you are wondering what happened to the car, our Concierge picked it up for us and drove it back to the hotel.
We had prepared a very exciting itinerary, so we were all up and ready early in the morning, eager to start our drive. Our first stop was the monastery of Moni Megali Panagia, just south of the ‘ceramic village’ Koumaradei. The road up to it is a constant twisty climb, but our new Evoque made it very easy, with its new Adaptive Dynamics system enabling precise control and easy handling of the car, its Active Driveline with Driveline Disconnect assuring on-road ability –in case the driver lack it, and improved fuel economy by automatically switching between two and all-wheel drive.
The views as we climbed up revealed a wild, rugged countryside that brought warriors and heroes to the front of our imagination. The monastery dates from the 16th century (founded in 1586 by Nilos and Dionysius, it is the second oldest monastery of Samos) and consists of a beautiful church with frescoes, surrounded by high walls. It is said that it was built on the remains of an ancient Temple of Artemis.
The Corinthian canal was the next step in our journey. This is a waterway that crosses the narrow isthmus of Corinth, separating mainland Greece from the Peloponnese, turning it into an island. The canal was built in the 19th century, it is 6.4km long but only 25m wide what means that modern ships can’t go through. Alas, the canal has lost its economic relevance but it is still popular among tourists who can enjoy cruising it or bungee-jumping of one of its bridges. The other bridge is actually a railway… and that’s the one we used to cross to the Peloponnese. We all have heard about a car the expression ‘it goes on rails’ but this was the first time in my life that I actually drove a car on a railway! The new Evoque made nothing of this challenge and just got on with it. It was all worth it. The view from the canal is spectacular, not to mention the feeling of being suspended in mid-air. Much better than the original solution of Periander, the tyrant of Corinth, who as early as 602BC first thought of the idea of digging the Corinth canal, but due to lack of technology, he ended up building a stone road which allowed ships to be transferred on wheel platforms.
The views as we climbed up revealed a wild, rugged countryside that brought warriors and heroes to the front of our imagination…
I would have definitely not like to be one of the slaves assigned to that job… For lunch we stopped at the Nafplia Palace Hotel, a wonderful place at the top of Nafplio, overlooking the sea, where we were spoilt with delicious Greek dishes, including grilled calamari, wild asparagus and the most scrumptious beef meatballs. Considered one of the most beautiful towns in Greece, Nafplio charms visitors with its ancient walls, medieval castles, Ottoman fountains, Venetian and neoclassical build- ings. According to mythology, the town was founded by Nafplios, the son of Poseidon. Its inhabitants are said to have taken part in the Argonautic expeditions and the Trojan War. Nafplio flourished as modern Greece’s first capital in the early 1800s. The Italianate Syntagma Square and the 999 steps to Palamidi Castle are a favourite among visitors, as it is the view across the sea to Bourtzi, a small Venetian fortress on the rocky island of Agioi Theodoro.
The road to the Amanzoe resort was peppered with yet more thrilling driving experiences. Capable of wading through water up to 600mm, our Evoque glided through the streams we came across and negotiated without trouble some truly challenging roads, thanks to its Terrain Response 2 technology, which automatically detects the surface you are driving on and automatically adjusts. This is a Chelsea trac- tor that knows when to put on its wellies. We were quite tired by the time we arrived to the Amanzoe resort, an incredibly beautiful place, situated on a hilltop among hillside olive groves with views to the Aegean sea, just 3 km from the beach and 10 km from Franchthi Cave, with easy access to the cosmopolitan islands of Spetses and Hydra.
Inspired by ancient Greek pavilions, the chic, modern cottages feature Wi-Fi and flat-screens, plus living areas and plunge pools. There is nothing like having a swim in your own private pool looking at the sunset. As if that was not delightful enough, I treated myself to a glass of champagne, lying on one of the loungers on my terrace, as the last rays of the sun disappeared below the horizon. I’ve definitely had worse days.
So it was with a heavy heart that on Sunday we made our way back to Athens, after welcoming the day with a yoga session at dawn. This time we mostly followed the coast, soaked in sunshine, the sea an infinite sheet of pearlescent blue, a silent invitation to come again to this abode of peace, very soon.