Into the mountains: Year-round adventures in Pelion, Greece

From summer’s sandy beaches to winter’s snowy ski slopes, a holiday to Volos and the Pelion peninsula will captivate, whatever the season

Homeland of the mythical Centaurs, the craggy, mountainous Pelion peninsula juts out of Thessaly, in central Greece. Staggeringly beautiful, it offers the very best of nature, from golden sands and emerald waters, to ancient hillside villages cut through by scenic hiking trails. Volos, the region’s biggest town, sits by the sea at the foot of Mt Pelion, and is known as starting point of the ancient famed expedition of Jason and the Argonauts. Beyond its own trove of natural and cultural attractions, it serves as the perfect gateway for exploring further; reached by seasonal flights in the summer, in winter you can fly to nearby Thessaloniki (2.5 hours’ drive) or Athens (3.5 hours). Access to a car is advisable in any case, to navigate the hilly landscapes, although the more intrepid may prefer to walk, hike, or cycle (Volos itself has 10km of cycle lanes).

Hit the beach in summer

Legend has it that the Pelion coast is where the Greek gods themselves would come to relax, and it’s not hard to see why. The beaches in and around Volos are among the best-loved in the country; the town itself is home to pretty Anavros, peppered with cafes and tavernas, and, just along the coast at Nea Anchialos - similarly located on the Pegasitic Gulf - is Anchialos, with its reddish black beaches.

Across on the Aegean side of the peninsula, you’ll find the Caribbean-like charms of Agios Dimitrios, with talcum-powder-white sand and translucent, turquoise water, or breathtaking Mylopotamos, known for its distinctive rocky backdrop. Not far is the charming cove of Damouchari, lined with pink and white pebbles, which served as a location for some scenes in the hit film Mamma Mia!.

If you’re looking for something slightly more adventurous, head back to Volos and its swimming, diving and sailing clubs. Watersports, such as waterskiing and windsurfing, are also available around the mouth of the town’s Anavros river, and on neighbouring beaches

Hike through autumn

Forget New England; in Pelion, the autumn foliage is just as vibrant, with the reds, oranges and yellows of the oak, beech and chestnut trees carpeting the slopes of the mountain. Hiking trails are plentiful, and a slow meander is the best way to marvel at the vivid colours. Ancient villages appear along the way, as you traverse cobbled stone pathways, passing mysterious caves, tinkling streams and waterfalls, and trekking through deep woodland. Purpose-built donkey paths, the kalderimi, link many of the villages, home to bucolic farmsteads, abandoned monasteries and tiny churches.

Towards the top of the gently-sloping Mt Pelion, which peaks at 1,625m, views from the rugged, eastern side give out onto the sparkling Aegean sea, while the western side is home to lush forests and valleys. Popular hiking trails include the evocatively named Centaurs’ Path, an easy route following a spring which starts in the cosmpolitan village of Portaria and uses a series of wooden bridges to cross the riverbed. Or for something a little more challenging, try the four-hour route from Milies to Tsagarada, which takes you from the Pegasitic Gulf across to the Aegean along leaf-scattered kalderimi and through sylvan glades. 

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Horseback ride through the warmer months

Channel the Centaurs - half man, half horse - who supposedly roamed the region with a horse-riding trip through Pelion. Start in Argalasti, a charming little village on the southwest of the peninsula, and head out into the gently sloping terrain, trekking alongside meandering streams and through olive groves. The timeworn cobblestone trails, comfortably shaded in summer by thickets of trees, lead to a variety of interesting locations.

Head for one of the beautiful beaches, and you –and your steed – can end your enjoyable odyssey with a cooling dip in the sea. On the Gulf side, try quiet Kalamos, with its long, golden strip of sand, neighbouring hidden gem Marmaro, or the pretty fishing hamlet of Lefokastro. If you prefer to splash in the Aegean, choose from sheltered, cliff-lined Paltsi, or Potistika, dotted with dramtic, towering rocks.

Mountain bike through spring

Adrenalin-lovers and fitness fans alike will appreciate Mt Pelion’s mix of relatively steep gradients and gentle slopes, and the cooler months of spring are perfect for mountain-biking along some of its best trails. Pedal through picturesque villages - don’t miss Tsagarada, located in the middle of a chestnut forest, known for the ancient plane tree growing in the square outside Agia Paraskevi church, or magical Milies, built in the form of an amphitheatre on the green slopes of Mt Dikri, and famous for its apple trees.

Or take an e-bike tour from Chania, at the top of the mountain, down to Chorefto beach, with breathtaking views guaranteed. Wine lover? You can cycle to local vineyards, travelling down from Argalasti and finishing in the enchanting fishing village of Milina.

A white winter

Skiing is not often associated with Greece, but where there are mountains and snow, there will be people keen to hurl themselves down them. The main resort in Pelion is Agriolefkes – one of the very first to operate in the country – at an elevation of between 1,170m and 1,471, which offers 3km of slopes for skiiers and snowboarders. While on the pistes, you’ll get fantastic views of both the Pagasitic Gulf and the Aegean. You can stay at the ski centre itself, or base yourself in the nearby villages of Hania, Portaria and Makrinitsa.

 

Refuel after long days of adventure

Greece has a solid reputation for great food, and Pelion bursts with fantastic, fresh, home-grown ingredients, from chestnuts to mushrooms, olives, apples, strawberries, plums and more. Here are some of its must-try gastronomic specialities:

Tsipourádika

Volos is known for its tsipourádika, or tsipouro tavernas - these distinctive laid-back, local hangouts got their name from the tsipouro (an un-aged brandy distllled from the remnants of grape-pressing) they served in a thimble to workers on their lunch break. Today they are lively meeting places for locals and visitors alike to meet and share meze - from fresh fish and seafood to grilled feta cheese and salads.

Spentzofai

Spentzofai is the probably the most typical dish of Pelion; a spicy blend of  local sausages (a blend of beef, pork and goat), green peppers and tomatoes, you can also find it with the addition of leeks, onions, carrots and aubergine. Also known as ‘spencer’, it gets its name from ‘spentza’, the local word for hot pepper, which is also used in the dish.

Fried veal

Fried veal is simmered with caramelised onions and sweet, red mavrodaphne wine, before the addition of local seasonal bounty, quinces and chestnuts, to produce a delicious autumnal dish.

Pies

Flaky, moreish pies are found throughout Greece and in Pelion they are filled with seasonal mountain greens, spinach, onion, garlic and feta. Other versions come stuffed with leek (prasopita), locally-made sheep or goats cheese, or peppers.

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