The treasures of Central Greece (part three) – World Meanderings (n°60)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
After visiting antique Delphi and the impressive Meteora let’s get back on the road and drive east to the Pagasitic Gulf also known as Gulf of Volos, on the eastern shore of inland Greece and discover Mount Pelion, an amazingly beautiful area for which we really had a crush.
It takes about one hour and a half to drive from Karditsa from where we visited the Meteora (see our last week article for more details), to Volos a lively city facing a large Aegean Sea gulf, the Pagasitic Gulf. Although Volos is an ancient city where, according to the mythology, Jason and the Argonauts prepared their search for the Golden Fleece, don’t expect to see many ancient monuments. The town was built in a seismic zone and was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1955. It was rebuilt with straight streets lined with earthquake resistant houses, effective but with little architectural originality. Nevertheless Volos is a very pleasant town stretching along the seashore, bathed in sunshine and an ideal starting point to visit the area.
Tsipouradiko, the local gastronomic must
After driving most of the morning and not intending to drive again on that same day (you’ll understand later why this is an important point!), we decided to have lunch in a tsipouradiko, a typical tavern in Volos that serves tsipouro and mezedes. Tsipouro is a pomace brandy made from grapes, a strong distilled spirit with up to 45% alcohol! See why driving was not an option afterwards… There are dozens of them in Volos and choosing a good one is essential.
After a close investigation we opted for “Gianna & Nikos”, a tsipouradiko close to the port of Volos. Here everything is homemade and you can watch Nikos cooking delicious mezedes, these delicious titbits mostly made with seafood such as octopus, prawns, mussels, oysters, little fish, squid, clams… all freshly fished by local fishermen. You actually don’t choose your mezedes. Each time you ask for a glass of tsipouro Gianna puts a drop of spirit, whether pure or anise-flavoured, in your glass and brings you a plate of mezedes chosen by the chef.
With each glass comes a new plate of a different kind of mezedes. You just have to water down your tsipouro with chilled water, use your fingers to eat the delicious seafood… and ask for more! Seated on the outside terrace in the shade of beautiful tall trees we slowly sipped our tsipouros, ate our tasty mezedes and had a wonderful time. “Gianna & Nikos” tavern is on Papakiriazi Sq, a small square on Grigoriou Lampraki Bd close to Volos Tourist Office.
We spent the afternoon visiting Volos, strolling on the long waterfront promenade by far the liveliest part of the city with busy bars and restaurants on one side and many sailing boats, yachts and a replica of Jason’s boat, the Argo, on the other side. There are several Byzantine style churches in Volos worth visiting as well as museums such as the Archaeological Museum that hosts an interesting hall of tomb reconstructions or the “Giorgio de Chirico” Modern Art Centre that was named after this major Italian painter who was born in Volos.
Domotel Xenia Volos, a welcoming contemporary 5-star city resort
Away from the busy seafront promenade of Volos but at walking distance of all the places of interest in town, Domotel Xenia Volos is ideally located on the seashore with a private beach and wonderful sunset sea views. Built in a typical “modern architecture” of the 60’s Xenia Hotel was recently entirely renovated and offers large and stylish rooms with balconies.
Whether in the rooms, the bar or the restaurants, sunlight floods in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and you just get caught up in the Aegean scenery. This year Xenia Volos proposes special packages for two including a 50 min. couple massage at Elexis Spa and accommodation in a superior double room with sea view for only 78 Euros per person per night. This is one more good reason to stay in this luxury yet friendly hotel.
Whether for breakfast, dinner or a midday snack food always is an exciting experience at Xenia Hotel. Fruits and vegetables are grown nearby in the Pelion peninsula while fresh seafood and fish, are delivered every morning by local fishermen (frozen produce are not to be heard of… except for ice creams). The big breakfast buffet is more than tempting and for lunch and dinner the chef always does his utmost to prepare tasteful dishes.
Always nicely and neatly served, his dishes are very appetizing such as the “roasted squid with a spicy chilli marinade”, the “traditional Pelion spetzokai” a local sausage cooked with peppers and tomatoes, the “blue-fin tuna pastrami with quinoa and avocado”, not to forget decadent deserts such as the “Lemon cream with avocado and ginger” moulded in a white chocolate crust in the shape of a lemon. Once again the value for money is more than attractive!
Imagine a land blessed by the gods of Olympus where people live in harmony with nature, where ski slopes are only a 30-min drive from amazing beaches, where vineyards and groves grow next to deep forests, where preserved villages are each as stunning as the next and you’ll have a slight idea of what Pelion looks like. We had a glorious day zigzagging up and down Pelion Mountain bathed in a warm autumn light. The trees took orange, red and golden colours nicely contrasting with the clear blue sky.
Of all Pelion’s beautiful villages Makrinitsa is my favourite one (my guess is I’m not the only one!). Rightfully called “the Pelion Balcony” it was built on a gentle slope and offers endless views over the mountain, Volos and the sea below. Charming cobblestone lanes, large houses with impressive stone roofs, countless fountains decorated with dolphins, lions or mythical animals, shops filled with local products, as tea herbs and colourful jars of preserved fruits harvested in Pelion, and most of all the magnificent centuries-old plane trees of the main square, make this village a wonderful place.
Back on the winding road you will drive through forests and groves where, depending on the season, you will see blooming fruit trees, gardenias, camellias or hydrangeas, trees bending under the weight of apples, apricots, quinces, walnuts, chestnuts, olive or many other fruits, or just colourful wild flowers. This is a land of plenty! On the way many other villages will be charming stops: Agia Paraskevi and its tall plane trees, Zagora the apple tree village, Kissos, Pinakates… each one has its own charm and people are welcoming everywhere. If you don’t feel like driving all day long you can get on board the Mountzouris, the Pelion’s steam train that will take you from Milies to Ano Lehonia, going through the forests and over 12 different bridges.
Back on Mount Pelion’s coast it’s time for a stop on one of the beautiful sandy beaches where the seawater is so clear that the sea bottom is clearly visible even if it’s metres down below! If you saw the movie “Mamma mia”, you might remember the amazing beach shot for the “Dancing Queen” scene. It was actually filmed at Damouhari, one of Pelion “jewel” beach.
One day is just enough to get a glimpse of all the wonders Pelion has to offer and I hope someday we will have more time to fully enjoy it. But even if you go there for a short time you will undoubtedly remember this gorgeous place for a long time.
More info about Volos and Pelion at Volos Tourism Centre on Lambrakis Street and at www.vollosinfo.gr
But our journey had come to an end and we had to leave this endearing Greek region. We drove back to Athens on the following day to catch our Aegean flight on due time. On our way back home we felt sorry to go and realised that the more we visit Greece, the more we fall under its spell!
Aegean Airlines propose daily direct flights from London or Manchester to Athens and during high season from Dublin, Birmingham or Edinburgh. It’s a good value-for-money company with a hot meal served on each flight even in economy class. Prices start at 59£ from London to Athens or 71£ from Manchester.
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes