Pelion Mountain is located in central Greece, in the province of Magnesia, and it offers both winter and summer holiday activities with a ski resort in Hania, and numerous beach resorts on the east coast.
In ancient times it was the home of the legendary Centaurs; the beasts who were half men, half horses. In more recent history, it has been the refuge of Greeks who found shelter from invaders – especially the Turks, in its inaccessible terrain. The mountain villages flourished under the auspices of rich merchants who traded the products of the land (citrus, olives, grapes) and the considerable industry of silk, leather, and textiles.
Today it is a favorite destination both in winter and summer.
Skiers favor the ski resort of Hania, while others prefer the quiet surroundings of Makrinitsa and Portaria during the snowy winter.
In the spring and fall, hiking the countless mountain paths of Pelion is a favorite activity, and as summer approaches the beach resorts of eastern Pelion fill with summer vacationers who enjoy both the sea and the mountain.
Highlights of Pelion include the well-preserved village of Makrinitsa, renown for its traditional stone-built houses and the great views of Pagasitikos gulf. Nearby, the village of Portaria, being on the main road to Hania and the east coast, is completely overrun by tourists and as a result the service at the local restaurants leaves a lot to be desired.
Beyond Portaria the road climbs the northern end of Pelion Mountain and the driving gets exciting with hairpin turns and twists all the way to the east coast. The meandering road gets even wilder on the course that runs parallel to the coast where narrow, rapidly descending roads lead down to the coastal towns of Horefto, Agios Ioannis, Damouhari, Tsagarada, Labinou, and Kalamaki. After Kalamaki the road turns inland towards Milies and Agria before it leads back to Volos. This last part offers a less challenging drive, and after Milies the road descends into the flat narrow valley of western Pelion.
The position of this mountain village allows it to act as a gateway to the mountain as the road north of Volos passes through it. The village has very few original homes remaining – most being demolished in the past by earthquakes and abandonment. Many have been rebuilt in the original Pelion style and so the village is quaint and inviting. Most travelers to Pelion will make one stop in Portaria on their way to the ski resort of Hania, or to the beach resorts of the eastern coast.
One of the most beautiful villages of Greece, Makrinitsa is perched on a steep slope to the north of Volos. The views of Pagasitikos Gulf from the stone-paved village square are unforgettable, and the three-storey stone homes that cling to the steep slope are a beautiful site. The village itself is the main attraction here, punctuated by the main square and its large platanos (plane tree) and the old water spouts.
In Byzantine times, Makrinitsa was the feudal center of power of Konstantinos Melissinos who founded the monastery of the Virgin Mary there. The community and the village developed around the affluent monastery, and later during the Ottoman occupation its population grew to 4000 inhabitants who worked in the leather and textile industries.
The village revolted against the Turks in 1821 along with many other Greek towns, and was decimated soon after by Dramalis, and later in 1878 by Iskeder Pasha.
The small Folk museum of Makrinitsa exhibits everyday artifacts and other historical objects.
Hania served as the resting place for merchants (Hania denotes just that) who ferried goods from east Pelion to the West with their mules, and as such it was a major hub of activity until the new roads were built in a way that left the small village completely isolated.
Today, Hania is the resting point on the way to the nearby ski resort on Agriolefkes peak (1470m).
Much of the activities and stores at Hania revolve around skiing. Several ski schools operate on site and visitors can take advantage of the six ski trails and the one cross-country ski path (5km)
Horefto was a major port for Pelion where small boats loaded goods from Pelion and delivered resources for its industry. Today Horefto is a relatively quiet holiday resort, with a large beach framed by the steep, green slopes of Mt. Pelion.
Agios Ioannis is the most popular beach resort of eastern Pelion. It is blessed with three very nice beaches and a charming little town that lets vacationers stay within walking distance from the water. It is packed with cars and people in the summer, and the best place to swim is the southern end of Papa Nero beach.
Tsagarada (or Tsagarata) is a village widely spread out among the thick foliage of chestnut trees in eastern Pelion.
It is perched high above the sea and offers some great views over the Aegean, while many hiking trails crisscross the surrounding mountain. The often-photographed stone bridge of the Milopotamos creek can be found a short hiking distance from the main road (signposted on the main road but easy to miss).
The main attraction of Milopotamos is the serenity offered by the relative isolation of its traditional houses, the flora of its immediate surroundings, and the beautiful beach of Milopotamos at a short driving distance.
Milies village is located at the western slopes of Mt. Pelion. It took its name from the main tree that was cultivated in its soil, the apple trees (Apple trees = Milies in Greek). In the spring when the apple trees bloom the entire area acquires a beautiful hue, and in the summer the hanging fruits testify to the fertility of its soil.
In 1894 Evaristo De Cirico, an Italian engineer began building the railroad that connected the towns of Thessaly, and Volos with Milies (completed in 1903) through some very difficult terrain. While he was busy with this modern engineering feat, his young son, Georgio De Cirico was busy becoming one of the major figures of modern art with his surreal paintings of landscapes (and railroads). The paintings of Giorgio De Cirico decorate major museums of art, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
An old steam train is still in operation as a tourist attraction today. It departs from Ano Lehonia and travels about twenty miles through beautiful terrain before it arrives at Milies.
Pelion is a destination that is popular in all four seasons. If you are looking for a quiet winter getaway, visiting snowy Pelion during the Christmas holiday season is most excellent, though prices are high and accommodations might be hard to find though.
Hiking activities on Mount Pelion are best during April, May, and June when the weather is temperate.
If you are looking for swimming resorts, the summer months are the best time to visit. The beach resorts of Pelion are less crowded in June and July but packed with tourists in August.
Volos town is located at the northwestern end of the Pelion peninisula, and its suburbs begin a gentle climb up Pelion Mountain and act as the gateway to the Pelion peninsula.
Volos is served by a small airport located in Nea Anchialos, but it is best reached by road. A new highway (most parts finished in 2005) connects Volos to the Athens-Thessaloniki highway.
From Volos, driving east the road that runs parallel to the port (Iasonos, then becomes Polymeri will lead you towards Agria and Milies; what I refer to in this guide as the “southern loop” of Pelion, or from the center of Volos, and driving north through Iolkou street one can reach Portaria and the “northern loop” towards the east coast.
Looking at a map of Pelion you can see that a long loop of paved road allows for the circumnavigation of the mountain. This is usually marked with a thick red line on the map, which by no means resembles a comfortable highway. It simply means that this is the only drivable road on the mountain. An on-site inspection reveals that the rest of the roads are very difficult to use. The southern part of this loop is marginally more comfortable to drive than the north, while the latter offers a more picturesque drive.