History and Hot Springs: Thermopylae, Greece

We’re in Greece now, taking a month to explore the country before we head back to Turkey for our three-month winter hibernation. Leaving Turkey to visit Greece and then returning to Turkey might seem inefficient (and it is), but it’s all part of our carefully orchestrated Schengen-treaty dance. (As of 2011, these are the countries in the Schengen Zone. The rule is 90 days in and then 90 days out. You can’t step out and reset the clock.)

Some of our most rewarding stops have been free camps.

Freecamping in Thermoplylae

At the top of the list was Thermopylae, where in 480 BC King Leonidas and 30o Spartans brought King Xerxes I and his army of 200,000 Persians to a standstill. Well, for a few days anyway, until the 300 were slaughtered.

We camped there for three nights.

The place is in the middle of nowhere. There’s no hotel. No campground. No museum. Few tourists. Just a couple of monuments and, across the deserted freeway, a circular stone marker on the hill where the 300 made their last stand.

Monument to King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans


Kolonas Hill, where the 300 finally fell

Standing on the plain where it all went down gave me goose bumps. Over the past 2500 years, the coastline has retreated between three and five miles, so what was once a narrow passageway (20 – 30 m) between water and mountains is now a large expanse. But if you arrive between tour buses when it’s quiet, as we did, you can see with your mind’s eye the place as it once was.

History aside, Thermopylae has something else going for it…

Hot springs

“Thermopylae” is Greek for “hot gates,” a reference to the sulphate hot springs lining the base of the mountains.

Happily, the hot springs are undeveloped. (Though a long-abandoned spa gives the place an eerie-in-a-good-way spook factor.)

We arrived at dusk, parked the rig right next to the springs, and scuttled into the water. Let me tell you, after six months of intermittent, lukewarm campground showers (punctuated by two trips to a hamam in Istanbul), the three of us were desperate for a hot soak.

For three grimy travelers, this place was a miracle. The mineral-rich water was so hot, we caught our breath as we eased into it. Massaging waterfalls thundered into deep, bubbling pools.

Few other people were there. The first night we were joined by a couple of truck drivers, semi-permanent residents whose rigs lined to road to the springs and who apparently stayed there between jobs. On subsequent soaks we also encountered Greek locals and several other RVers. But never more than half a dozen or so people at once. And usually we had the springs to ourselves.

Like everywhere in Greece, a pack of stray dogs haunted the place, and that first night when we tried to walk Archie, the pack swarmed him as we stepped out of the rig. He wasn’t hurt, but he sure was pissed, so we decided to move the rig about 200 meters away to a vast open space, deserted except for a couple of RVs.

This was the actual Thermopylae battlefield.

Can you make out the two rigs in the middle of the photo? That’s us on the left…

A steaming creek wound its way down from the main pools and past our campsite. These smaller, shallower pools were perfect for Archie, who loves a hot bath and finally learned to swim in Munich. (Terriers are diggers by nature—dirt dogs not water dogs.) Between trips to the main pools (and the monuments), Mark, Scout, Archie and I spent delightful hours lounging in the steaming creek.

Praying mantises were everywhere. This one was 4-inches long.

Two other rigs camped near us on the battlefield. In one van were two German retirees who spent most of their time wandering around naked, either soaking in the pools or working on their all-over tans. Our other neighbor was a Swedish man who spent six months a year living in his van with his snow-white Golden Retriever. He’d too had needed to move away from the dog pack by the main pools. Scout and Archie went bananas over the hot water and spent ages romping in the stream.

Camping in Historic Spots

To me camping in historic places is the holy grail of family travel. Why?

  • Because having a direct connection with history is thrilling.
  • Because you’re not in a proper campground, there are fewer tourists around to remind you which century you’re actually in. With fewer people around, it’s easier to imagine the past.
  • And because there’s usually something fun going on besides the history (in this case, hot springs) to keep everyone happy. This isn’t a field trip…it’s fun!
  • And finally, from an educational perspective, historical discussions can unfold organically when the time is right

Like any self-respecting 10 year old, Scout got her fill of the monuments after about 10 minutes. But since we were camped on the actual battlefield and not in any hurry to leave, we got to have plenty of lively conversations about the ancient Greeks, the Spartans specifically, and the Persian Wars.

This was one of our best camps so far.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Turkey's For Life October 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Wow, that looks like loads of fun. Never sat in any hot springs before…hmm, I can feel a trip to Greece coming on. Enjoy your time. 🙂


2 Renee October 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Never? You’ve NEVER been to a hot springs? You need to rectify this. Are there any near Fethiye?

By the way, we saw an empty Efes can on the bank and it made us homesick. Greece is lovely but we’re looking forward to coming back to Turkey. 🙂


3 Cliff Blank October 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Glad you’re safe in Greece. Turkey as you’ve heard had a massive earthquake. 🙁


4 Renee October 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Yes, thanks, we’re absolutely fine. Sad news about the quake.


5 Amy October 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Those hot springs look fan-freaking-tastic!  What a place!


6 Renee October 23, 2011 at 8:06 am

It was lovely indeed. Amy, we’ve visited endless museums, palaces, castles, etc, but this stop reminded me to allot more time for experiencing the natural world.


7 Christine Barton August 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

All of the Olympic hype reminded me of my trip to Olympia etc. and the Hot Springs. It was after a long day of siteseeing back in 1977 (yes I am a lot older now) The trip to Greece was a great time in my life. The Springs were a true treat and have provided great memories. Thankyou for your wondeful photos especially of Archie! You helped me to recapture a bit of my youth.


8 Terry Cockerell November 7, 2013 at 2:16 am

My wife and I love Thermopylae, we have been there in the hot pool in 2007 after touring Egypt, Jordan and Israel. We were exhausted and the hot springs restored our energy. We want to come back to Greece and Thermopylae again. I would love to camp on the battlefield for a few days and walk the track taken by the Persians to outflank the Spartans. Thanks for your wonderful article and pictures. The place has effected a lot of visitors the same way as us. Terry Cockerell, Australia.


9 ruthie March 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Finally….I was searchung the net for weeks looking for info about it. I see you have been there recently. Can you tell me how to get to the springs? Thanks in advance


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