Meet the Tour Guide
Athens-based Michael Metcalfe Designs and Leads Tours for Peter Sommer Travels
I don’t want these newsletters to get too repetitive so this time I thought I’d ring the changes again and talk to someone who both designs and leads tours in Greece.
Dr Michael Metcalfe works for the award-winning and long-standing tour operator, Peter Sommer Travels, which specialises in Greece, Turkey and Italy. Peter Sommer himself is a real Greece expert, and so too is Michael Metcalfe, as his biography on the company website makes clear:
“Michael earned his PhD at University College London, focusing on the ancient Greek cities in the Eastern Aegean Islands and Western Turkey. While finishing this research, Michael lived and worked in Athens and Ankara as well as London, and took up his first academic post as Assistant Professor in Ancient History at The Mediterranean Center for Arts and Sciences in Sicily, before joining Peter Sommer Travels full time in January 2009. A specialist in Greek and Latin inscriptions and social history, Michael is currently studying the unpublished diaries of early British Travellers to Greece, Turkey and Sicily, and is involved in publishing inscriptions from many parts of the Eastern and Central Mediterranean. Michael co-edited the Blue Guide to the Aegean Islands and has been contributing editor to the last two editions of the Blue Guide to Sicily.
Michael has designed and led many of our tours, and received rapturous praise. Not only is he 'enthusiastic, charming, and knowledgeable', he is also a natural born organiser. We are delighted to have him as one of our key team.“
When and where did you first visit Greece?
It was in 1992, when my parents took me (then 16 years old) on a two-week vacation to the island of Corfu. It was an incredibly exotic fortnight for me, one of the first times that I had left the UK, and I can still remember stepping off the plane onto the tarmac of Corfu airport, overwhelmed with all of the subtle aromas carried on the warm night-time breeze of Greece in summer-time. I returned the next year with a friend for the first holiday I’d ever taken alone, and Greece has been a part of my heart and soul ever since.
What drew you to it as a country?
For me it was the beguiling mix of East and West in language, customs and food, the stunning landscape and beautiful seas, and above all the fact that it was home to all of the places that I had read about since I was a young child – Athens, Sparta, Mycenae, Knossos, Pella, Delphi, Delos and Olympia.
I was already enamoured with the history and archaeology of this country, but travelling in it made me fall deeply in love with the language, the landscape, the cuisine and above all the people. I have lived and worked for long periods in Turkey and Italy, but Greece will always be foremost for me!
Some of the most exciting years of my life were when I was able to live in Athens for four years when I was writing my PhD. The amazing libraries, the easy access to the places about which I was writing, and the chance to meet all of the leading scholars in my field, all while living in one of the most vibrant and safest cities in Europe.
Do you still live in Athens?
I left Athens shortly after I finished my PhD, pursuing a career in Academia and then the world of Cultural Travel, but I was finally able to “come home” again just a few years ago, and I have no intention of moving away again!
If so, what are the best and worst aspects of it?
In Athens, everything that I need for my role at Peter Sommer Travels (designing and leading world-beating cultural tours) is available immediately to hand. Some of the best ancient world libraries and bookshops in Europe are here in Athens; some of the most magnificent museums of the ancient world are on my doorstep, and whenever I want I can walk up the Acropolis or stroll through the Ancient Agora of Athens. The food and wine are divine, I am surrounded by colleagues and friends, and the city is one of the safest in Europe while also being incredibly vibrant and exciting. As to worst aspects, I’m struggling to find one!
Do you have one or two favourite places in Greece?
I do, and the list changes every year as I work intensively on new itineraries and dig deep down into the unique stories and incredible narratives of these places! Currently, I’m working on tours of the Peloponnese and the Dodecanese and I can’t wait to get back to Olympia and Samos. Two completely different places, but both so steeped in history and archaeology that it is ridiculous. The museums in both places are outstanding, and the main archaeological sites are some of the most spectacular you can visit anywhere in the world!
How long does it take to design and put together a tour, arranging transport, checking out hotels and restaurants, and all that?
Our tours are all designed by specialists who know the countries they are working in like the back of their hands, so we have a massive head-start with already gained knowledge and information. However, it still takes us 12 to 18 months to craft the perfect itinerary and be sure that it is ready for release to our clients. From the first day of planning to the first day of the tour running is usually 24-30 months, and this level of work means that we are certain that we have the very best possible experience in store for the lucky people who take those tours!
Which tour would you recommend for a first-time visitor to Greece?
I think that the best possible introduction to Greece is to take one of our two 2-week land tours, either Exploring the Peloponnese or Exploring Crete. In just 2 weeks you get the chance to revel in the incredible depth and wealth of Greek history from earliest times to the present, all the while sampling the best food and wine that this country can provide. The scenery in both areas is absolutely stunning, and we stay in some lovely hotels and boutique accommodations.
I would also recommend that the first-time visitor adds on one of our 5-day tours of Athens as well, either before or after the tour, so that they can enjoy a leisurely introduction to the capital of modern Greece, and one of its most famous ancient city-states.
And which for a seasoned Greece traveller?
The seasoned Greece traveller has a wealth of possibilities when travelling with Peter Sommer Travels. Even those who have visited Athens regularly over the years will marvel at a new side to this great city on our Athens off the Beaten Track tour, which is a perfect precursor to our Cruising the Dodecanese 2-week tour. This visits some stunningly beautiful islands with rich archaeological sites and wonderful museums, all together with the chance to swim in some of the clearest and most refreshing waters in Greece!
If a land-tour is more your thing, our Exploring Macedonia tour visits a whole host of UNESCO world heritage sites that hardly ever feature on the traditional tourist itinerary of Greece, while going far off the beaten track to take in some marvellous sites that will blow your minds.
Are you working on any new tours at the moment?
I’m really excited by some new cruising itineraries that we are about to launch for 2025. Traditionally we’ve run tours to the Cyclades from the Eastern Aegean, beginning in either Bodrum or Kos, but from September 2025 we will be starting and ending tours of the Cyclades from Naxos, right at the heart of this island group.
This will allow us to visit some islands that have never been included on our itineraries before, all of which are outstanding in every way. I can’t wait to show our clients what my colleagues and I have come up with! Beautiful seas, gorgeous vistas, amazing food and world-class museums and historical and archaeological sites. What is there not to love about this?
Our thanks to Michael for his time and for sharing his thoughts on Greece, the country he has made his home. We’ve another interview lined up with someone else who moved to live in Greece so watch out for that one soon, and do share the newsletter with anyone who you think might enjoy it.
Mike and Donna