Pelion

“You are going to Pelion? In the summer? Why?”

A friend posed the question when he found out our destination as we waited in line to pay for a box of baklava. I shrugged my shoulders. The question had never crossed my mind and I was not about to dive into an existential inquiry to justify our trip. Luckily, shoulder shrugging is an acceptable answer in Greece, and I was allowed to pay for the baklava without further interrogation.

The question was not all that far fetched though given Pelion’s reputation as an excellent winter resort that offers traditional mountain accommodations and a ski resort in an idyllic setting. If you know anything about the Greek way of thinking since ancient times, you probably know that life in this universe is a zero-sum game: If a place is a winter resort, it can’t be a summer destination.

All hyperbole aside, Pelion is one of those unique places that can be cherished by both mountain and sea lovers. The high peaks of Pelion Mountain are utterly enveloped in thick foliage, and its meandering roads and footpaths allow the visitors a sense of total isolation in nature before they are delivered to a traditional village or an isolated beach resort nestled among abrupt cliff walls.

Our family visit in August of 2005 was a pleasant one and it included some mountain hiking along with our typical seaside frolicking. The original plan involved exploring the entire peninsula from Horefto to Trikeri, but reality settled in after we arrived at our apartment in Agios Ioannis.

It took about two hours to traverse the road from Volos to the east coast of Pelion, and the drive was exhausting as the relentless twists of the pavement required the constant shifting between the third and second gears. The fourth gear was rarely used, and the fifth was purely decorative as there was no stretch of the road on which it could be used.

While driving under the canopy of chestnut trees was certainly enjoyable, it forced us to explore only the immediate area around Agios Ioannis in the four days we vacationed there. This is the area that nests the most popular summer resorts of Pelion, and a couple of the best beaches of Greece.

Ag. Ioannis itself is probably the most popular town in the east coast of Pelion. The area around the Agios Ioannis beach is packed with hotels, apartments, restaurant and tourist shops built two blocks deep, locating the little quaint traditional homes further up the steep slopes of the mountain. The town was packed with tourists in the beginning of August, and its population seemed to double during the day when visitors from Volos arrived for the day. Needless to say, finding accommodations would be impossible to find unless booked in advance.

Swimming at Papa Nero beach quickly became our favorite activity, but we also enjoyed our short hiking trips around Damouchari and Tsagarada. Our children were too young to allow us to venture further up the mountain hiking paths, but we met a host of tourist who spend their days hiking around Pelion. The footpaths are numerous, and well preserved. Sometimes they are even paved with rough stones, especially where they mark ancient routes through the thick vegetation, and in every case they are well marked with signs.

Pelion is a pleasant surprise for those who picture Greece as a barren and harsh landscape, scorched by the sunrays that bounce off white cubist homes. This is the beauty of the typical, and wildly successful Cycladic landscape, but Greece is a multidimensional landmass, and the flora of Mount Pelion along with its idyllic coastline presents a complex visual feast that engulfs the senses with a gentle intensity.

The only major disappointment of our trip was the total lack of Centaur encounters. They seem to have gone extinct with the active imagination of the ancient Greeks. In every other respect, Pelion had us charmed with its unique landscape, its lush flora, complex fauna, its architecture, and the variety of activities it permitted.

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