Justin Marozzi's Classical Grand Tour: 'Herodotus's gallivanting expeditions form the perfect itinerary for the traveller of today'

Swanning around Europe was just dandy for young 18th-century aristos, but with time now at a premium, three travel writers here propose alternative Grand Tours for the 21st century

So, you thought the Grand Tour was an 18th-century phenomenon? The preserve of languid young aristocrats milording it through Europe, swanning across Paris and Geneva, cutting a dash in Turin, Florence, Rome and Venice, before hightailing it to Innsbruck, Heidelberg and Potsdam? Think again.

The Greeks were at it well before that. Two millennia, in fact. And you'd struggle to find a better, more dashing Grand Tourer than Herodotus, the fifth-century father of history, whose gallivanting expeditions across North Africa, the Aegean and the Middle East form the perfect itinerary for the traveller of today. He did it over the course of a lifetime, admittedly, but it's perfectly possible to squeeze the highlights into two or three weeks. Much as we'd love to visit Babylon, we'll leave Iraq to one side for now and concentrate on Turkey, Egypt and Greece.

Let's begin in the resort town of Bodrum, Herodotus's home town of Halicarnassus on Turkey's Aegean coast. There's little left of the Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, but the 16th-century Castle of St Peter is magnificent and the sailing in island-studded turquoise seas is superb. History buffs can immerse themselves in the faded glory of Ephesus, Priene and Pergamum, leaving the dedicated clubbers to enjoy Halikarnas, which describes itself as the most beautiful disco in the world.

From the ruins of Turkey, it's off to Egypt, which completely mesmerised our Greek traveller. As he wrote in The Histories, his one-volume masterpiece, "more monuments which beggar description are to be found there than anywhere else in the world". No surprise to find the sky-grazing pyramids on the itinerary. No Egyptian monument is quite as magical, especially at dawn and dusk, when the crowds have disappeared. Guides told Herodotus no end of nonsense about the pyramids. Someone told him that the pharaoh Cheops, running out of money while he was building the Great Pyramid, decided to send his daughter to a brothel, where she charged her customers one block of stone – think 2.5 tons of limestone – per romp.

Next we take to the Nile to visit many-templed Luxor, the Thebes of old, where monumental overload is a distinct possibility. Apart from the sublime Temple of Hatshepsut, my own favourite, a stone's throw from the rather impersonal royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, are the deliciously informal – and much less visited – Tombs of the Nobles, a riot of colour, everyday life and romance. Then we're off again further south to Aswan – a spot of luxury at the Old Cataract Hotel never hurt anyone – and Kom Ombo where the ancient Egyptians once worshipped the snout-faced crocodile-god Sobek.

When you've had enough of the Nile, the Sahara beckons, and there are few more evocative spots amid its sandy wastes than the oasis of Siwa, which Herodotus visited a century before Alexander the Great arrived in February 331BC to consult the famous oracle of Ammon. Standing in Alexander's footsteps in the crumbling ruins of the temple is an unforgettable experience not to be missed. To the north, the sun-singed escarpment of limestone, folded in shadow; to the east, the flashing jewel of Lake Aghurmi; Jebel al-Mawta, mountain of the dead, to the west and, beyond it, the incomprehensibly vast mirror of Lake Siwa; to the south, the snub-nosed mountain Jebel Dakrur, the whole panorama overwhelmed by a floating sea of feathery palms that melt eventually into the crashing ocean of dunes, wave upon glittering wave, of the Great Sand Sea.

Where else but Greece should our Herodotean odyssey end. In Athens we must make the obligatory pilgrimage to the Parthenon, beacon of democracy and pinnacle of Greek classical art. Impossible to miss the Archaeological Museum, even if museums aren't your thing. This is one of the world's greatest. We leave the city on a day trip to the sacred site of Delphi, scattered across terraces beneath twin fangs of rock and the lower slopes of Mount Parnassus. The setting of the Pleistos Valley, studded with olive trees and cypresses, is preternaturally beautiful – precisely why the Greeks chose it as a place in which to honour Apollo and Dionysus and consult the Oracle.

Then, with a final flourish, it's off the beaten track to Samos, a wonderful, whale-shaped island perched off Turkey's Aegean coast. Herodotus was wowed by three spectacular monuments on the island, and if the Temple of Hera and the Polycrates harbour breakwater don't do it for you, you'll still be captivated by the most exciting of the trio, the sixth-century BC Eupalinos Tunnel that slices through Mount Kastro with aplomb. Failing that, tuck into large quantities of the sweet Samian wine that Byron, among others, recommended.

By now, you're probably reeling from all these tumbledown tombs and temples. You've had your fill of sylvan groves and scattered columns and pyramids, and you just want to kick back with a sundowner. So, without further ado, we sail overnight from Samos to Thessaloniki and hotfoot it to Kavala to stay in the incomparable Imaret, which is as much monument as unspeakably magnificent hotel – an award-winning conversion of a 19th-century school, baths, prayer hall and soup kitchen.

Enjoy the luxury. Herodotus would have approved.

Justin Marozzi's 'The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus' is out now (£25, John Murray)

TOUR GUIDE

Tours of the Classical World can be tailor-made by Cox & Kings (020-7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk ). A 38-day overland trip from Athens to Cairo, taking in classic Greek sites, Istanbul, the Aegean coast of Turkey and Cappadocia, Syria, Jordan, classic Egyptian sites and Siwa, costs from £5,995 per person, including international and internal flights, transfers, accommodation with breakfast and excursions.

The full version of this article appears in the December issue of British Airways' 'High Life' magazine, published by Cedar Communications

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil