Words John Gray
There are parts of Greece that are still relatively undiscovered with regard to tourism. One can say this about Mount Pelion, a mountainous area that juts into the Aegean Sea between Salonika and Athens. This stunning peninsula is incredibly lush and picturesque, filled with vegetation from olive trees, pine trees, and apple orchards. At an altitude of 5,300 feet, Mount Pelion also provides some of the best skiing and hiking trails in Greece. Surrounding it are dozens of charming little villages linked by cobbled paths, making it the perfect holiday destination for those in search of rustic charm and tranquility.
During the summer months, the locals come down from the hills to enjoy the gorgeous, exotic beaches, which can be found on both sides of the peninsula. Generally the western side to the Pagasetic Gulf has smaller, sandy beaches with calm waters, whereas the beaches on the eastern (Aegean) side are huge and sandy, with deep waters and occasional big waves. The most sought-after beach in Pelion is Mylopotamos, marked by two striking arches that were carved out of the rocks by the sea. Further north you’ll find Damouchari Beach (where the film Mama Mia was shot), a smaller beach with white and pink pebbles. Agios Ioannis and Fakistra are also stunning beaches worth visiting. Further away off the Aegean shore you’ll find the Sporades, a clutch of islands that includes Skiathos, Alonisos, and Skopelos. Over on the gulf, Kala Nera is a beautiful coastal settlement, and a little to the south there’s another popular resort in Afissos.
If you don’t want to spend most of your time on the beach there are lots of scenic, traditional villages to discover by foot. Perhaps the most beautiful of them is Tsagkarada, which is a preserved medieval settlement (founded in 1500) nestled within the oak and chestnut tree forest. This sparsely populated village is ideal for nature walks and relaxation. It boasts the oldest and largest plane tree in Europe in Agia Paraskevi Square and the deepest gorge in Pelion (Koutra). It also has lovely restaurants and bars in the town squares to keep you entertained.
If you want to experience more culture, Zagora is worth checking out. Unlike Tsagkarada, it is a densely populated village, situated on the eastern slopes of Mount Pelion. During the 17th and the 18th centuries, the village was an important center of trade, cottage industry, and culture.
Since the 18th century its central square, Agios Georgios, has hosted the famous Public Library, which has thousands of rare books. Zagora also has some really beautiful old churches with unique iconostasis. This area is also famous for its diverse variety of fruits, such as apples, sloes, plums, and strawberries.
The village of Milies on the northwestern side is the starting point of the legendary steam train of Pelio (Moutzouris). Its railroad track runs along a picturesque route connecting Volos to West Pelion. Milies is no doubt one of the most picturesque and traditional big villages of Pelion. Built in an amphitheatric style on the green mountain slopes of Mount Dikri, Milies is dotted with old mansions, marble fountains, and olive trees. Milies is the place with the beautiful famous cave where the mythic Centaur Chiron and his students used to live.
According to Greek legend, Pelion was the land of the Centaurs (mythical creatures that were half men and half horses) and the holiday resort of the gods. After visiting this magical peninsula blessed with natural bounty, you’ll know why the ancient gods chose Pelion as their holiday destination.