(Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part series about Pelion. You can see Pt. 2 here.)
Pelion is a stunning forest-covered and water-flanked mountain which forms a peninsula between the Aegean Sea and the Pagasetic Gulf in northern Greece. The whole area is dotted with picturesque mountain villages and beautiful beaches.
Nature really should win all the design awards for this dream of a region. You have to see it to believe it.
Pelion is a year-round destination as it offers the lively Aegean Sea, the calmer Pagasetic Gulf, a couple dozen sweet and sleepy villages shaded by ancient trees, diverse hiking trails, refreshing waterfalls, forest bathing, skiing and great cuisine.
This post focuses mainly on the supremely beautiful and unique eastern side of Pelion which is somewhat wilder than the lovely yet more touristy southern and western areas.
If you stay in one of the villages of the east (such as Tsagarada), there are four great beaches within a 15-minute drive. Some people opt to stay in the beach towns, such as Chorefto or Aghios Ioannis and there are nice accommodation options there too. The mountains are cooler day and night but heat freaks and beach bums may well prefer to be right on the water.
Fairytale mountain villages of Eastern Pelion
During non-coronavirus times, you will find community dances, art exhibitions and concerts around Tsagarada. Ask about events at the café in Aghia Paraskevi square — the servers are friendly and in-the-know. Don’t miss the easy walk through the chestnut forest of Tsagarada. The start of the trail is just a short drive from Aghia Paraskevi Square.
Plateia Taxiarchon is another striking square in Tsagarada. It is smaller, full of flowers and has a fresh water fountain right in its center. It is home to Agnanti Taverna, where you can get some tasty meals right next to the cool running water of the spring.
• The Lost Unicorn is an otherworldly hotel and restaurant located in the beautiful Aghia Paraskevi Square (where a famous 1000-plus year-old plane tree stands proudly). This place is a must—it has incredible ambience, delicious British-Greek dishes and magical gardens (including a treehouse for coffee and cakes). Just under the square you will find a set of spring-water fountains where you can refresh yourself, and, beyond those, you will find a small trail that leads into the local enchanted forest. Watch out for the stinging nettles and enjoy forest bathing in the special green glow of this magic spot.
• If you are looking for a simple but spotlessly clean, quiet and friendly hotel option just on the edge of Tsagarada, family-run Filoxenia is the place for you. Huge flowering gardens, hammocks and the sweetest breakfast terrace you can imagine ….
• Apalou Restaurant is great for blue-hour views of the Aegean, fresh salads and very nicely done pasta and pizza. Don’t miss vegetarian pizza or the ravioli with mizithra cheese and mushrooms. Great music and lovely house wine make it a nice spot to linger after you eat.
• Itamos Restaurant is a great place for a laid-back quality meal and a friendly chat with the owner about the beautiful and mysterious but poisonous Yew tree which presides over the space and from which the tavern got its name (Itamos).
Zagora is the biggest mountain village in the area and home a year-round population of nearly 2,500 people. It is most famous for its delicious apples and is a very old settlement; first references of the village come from the Middle Ages. Zagora has several squares which are great for kids to play in and make new friends or for relaxing with a coffee and a spoon sweet.
Be sure to spend some time exploring Zagora’s steep paths and old and new buildings and bring your camera — there are incredible views of the Aegean at every turn. History buffs will enjoy the Hellenic Museum, the former school of Greek writer and revolutionary Rigas Feraios.
Aghia Kiriaki square of Zagora is great for delicious pork BBQ and it has a nice playground with an incredible view of the sea.
• Radiofono Restaurant in the main square of Aghios Georgios is a great place for people–watching and delicious pizza.
Be sure to explore this tiny, but breathtaking, village. Cool off in the shady square or enjoy the highly-recommended taverna with a twist—Sinantisi. Burn off your meal with a nice walk right through the square and out the other side onto a quiet country lane where you can stroll alongside apple orchards and hear springs all around you.
Stop at Victoria’s Cafe for tasty light fare (including vegan options) and a refreshing drink. (The watermelon lemonade is fantastic!). The eatery overlooks a charming little harbor and is a great place to unwind after swimming at Damouchari beach, which is just on the other side of the harbor. Next to the café is a great little boutique owned by the same family and it is a great place to find unique artisan souvenirs and well-designed quality cotton clothing.
Though most of the hit movie “Mamma Mia” was filmed on the nearby island of Skopelos, three days of filming actually took place in Damouchari. See if you can spot the footage in the beginning of the movie!
Enjoy amazing vistas of Pelion from high up in this sweet little village. Plimari Taverna in Analipsi — about a 10-minute drive below Pouri — -is a gem on a slightly wild rocky coastline. You have to leave your car and walk about 10 minutes and it is well worth the effort. Some call it the ‘taverna at the end of the world’ and they prepare the most perfect freshly-grilled fish and wild greens.
Just south of Pouri on the side of the main road you will find Popotech, the amazing workshop of the super-friendly artist couple of Gemma and Gary who have created a magical spot filled with wonderfully-quirky sculptures, a rusty but fully-functional Apple-Go-Round (the kids will love it!), gorgeous ceramic pieces and one-of-a-kind jewelry. Stop for a chat and a wander round the place. If you want a truly special souvenir or piece of art, check out the little shop on the premises.
In Pt. 2, we’ll have more on Pelion’s fabulous beaches, outdoor adventures and cuisine.
Pelion is a great option for a driving vacation, especially in Covid-19 times. Driving time between Athens and Tsagarada in eastern Pelion is about 4.5 hours, but there are some nice places to stop for a break along the way. I especially recommend a nice long stop in Volos, the port city at the foot of Pelion. You can take a leisurely stroll on the waterfront and have lunch and ice cream to prepare for the last hour of driving which is straight up the steep mountainside.
The driving time between Tsagarada and Thessaloniki is about 3 hours.
There is an airport in Volos but, at time of writing, it only has two links for
passenger flights — a few flights a month from London and a few from Munich.
About the author:
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.
You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.
You can see more of her posts here.
See more about Athens in Dispatches’ archive here.