The Parthenon at sunrise (Dreamstime)
Sponsored 16 December 2018

Exploring Greece: Beaches, hiking and rail rides

From rafting cool water under the summer sun to hiking, island-hopping and skiing during the cooler months, Greece offers a world of wild escapes…

As a land of mythical tales, Greece isn’t short of adventure. And while most seek salvation (and sun tans) on its pristine shores during summer, beyond its bountiful beaches and busy season lies an intoxicating mix of wilderness, nature, history and charming tavernas that spill onto the street long after dark.

No matter when you go, there’s always something to explore, whether rambling for hours, even days, along craggy paths, rafting rushing rivers through huge gorges, or island-hopping remote villages populated only by locals. This is where you’ll find the Greece beyond the brochure, and it can be seen 365 days a year – so long as you know where to look.

 

Saranta Pelion (Greek Tourism Board)

Saranta Pelion (Greek Tourism Board)

Sandwiched between Athens and Thessaloniki, the 37km-long Pelion Peninsula in Thessaly lies a five-hour drive from Athens. This is a rugged region with fine beaches, characterful villages, old settlements and hiking trails galore. There’s even a ski resort at Agriolefkes from which you can see the Aegean Sea.

Begin with a wander around some of the area’s prettiest villages, all close to the main port and town of Volos, former home to the Argonauts of legend. The village of Makrinitsa is known as the ‘balcony of Pelion’, affording views over Volos and the Pagasetic Gulf. A wander along its cobbled paths will also uncover over 50 fountains as well as myriad churches and charming Ottoman-inspired houses that hug the hill, some of which are now guesthouses.

 

The pretty region of Zagori (Greek Tourism Board)

The pretty region of Zagori (Greek Tourism Board)

At Portaria there’s a 5km walk along the fairy-tale Centaurs’ Path that passes streams and waterfalls. At Milies, listen for the whistle of the famous Pelion steam train, operating since 1895. It runs from spring until autumn, passing gorges, bridges and dainty tunnels, and during winter it’s even possible to walk along the tracks.

For those in good shape, there’s a more demanding five-hour walk from Veneto to Ano Kerasia – the area’s highest mountain village – via the Monastery of Flamouri. It’s one of the area’s most scenic hikes, trekking wild ravines and thick forest. You will need good shoes, though. Meanwhile, in Tsagarada you can get close to nature by horse-trekking with a guide along its secret paths.

 

Bridge in Zagori (Greek Tourism Board)

Bridge in Zagori (Greek Tourism Board)

At Zagori, deep in the Pindus Mountains in north-western Greece, the sights get even more astonishing. Adventurers here can unleash their inner explorer by visiting the world’s deepest gorge as well as alpine lakes, some rare fauna and flora, laid-back trekking paths, rolling valleys and towering forests.

Start at Zagori’s most arresting site, the geological spectacle of the Vikos Gorge (up to 1,600m deep in parts) that makes up part of the National Park of Vikos-Aoos. Its trails bring welcome shade from the hot summer sun, while in autumn the leaves start to turn and the walks here become even more magical, interspersed with sightings of wildlife and birds.

 

The port town of Volos is the gateway to the peninsula (Greek Tourism Board)

The port town of Volos is the gateway to the peninsula (Greek Tourism Board)

One of the most pleasant routes is the Greek National Trail 03, which follows the Voidomatis River right through the gorge. In the surrounding areas you’ll find over 40 traditional villages, which offer an authentic look at ‘old Greece’, typically built in a circle around a central square.

There are more than 160 pretty arched bridges in the area, built to help travellers cross rivers and streams during the 18th and 19th centuries. Between two and five hours of hiking will take you from Mikro Papigo to Drakolimni of Timfi, a mystical alpine lake cupped by the mountains. Those wanting to immerse themselves in the waters can meet at the bridge near Aristi village in order to raft or kayak into the canyon. Round your visit off in an old taverna, devouring savoury pies, warm fasolada (bean soup) with fresh bread, grilled meat and some Greek wine. Sheer bliss.

For more information on exploring the best of Greece, visit visitgreece.gr.