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My Trip to Pelion

Mikro Beach, Pelion

Introduction to Pelion (Kind of a long one actually)

Sitting by the pool with my laptop on a slate table (like most of the roofs of Pelion), is not my idea of a travel adventure. But Amarandi insisted on a hotel with a pool, and while she clings to the edge and wipes the heavily chlorinated water from her burning eyes, I can reflect upon the chain of events which brought me to one of the most beautiful areas in Greece, instead of the Peloponessos, where I had planned on going. The fact that we ended up in the village of Chorefto at the bottom of the heavily wooded Mount Pelion is only because the Villa Horizonte in the village of Zagora twenty minutes straight up did not have a pool, yet. We had come from the spa town of Edipsos, where every hotel has a pool. Unfortunately they contained steaming hot mineral water and as refreshing as they appeared, they were of little use for cooling off, though they claim to cure just about every ailment known to man and even a few others. Plus you needed a note from a doctor that pronounced you physically sound enough so that a dip in the mineral pool would not kill you. Too much of a good thing I guess. Anyway with the way I have been feeling the last few days, and the abuse I have put my body through, I doubted I could pass a physical that even Andrea's 90 year old aunts were able to breeze through. To top it all off, kids were not allowed in the pool which was very frustrating for Amarandi. As we were given a tour of the mineral pool in the aunts hotel by Spiro, a handsome young physical therapist, Amarandi reached to touch the inviting water. "Ochi-NO!" shouted Spiros and pulled her hand out of the water in time to save her from a fatal dose of whatever it is in the pool that makes old people well and kills little children. It must have been terribly frustrating for Amarandi. I mean they looked like swimming pools. They were even painted that swimming pool blue. Yet it was something disguised as a pool that was dangerous and forbidden to her. From that moment she wanted a swimming pool. Even the clear blue seas of northern Evia where we caught the ferry to Glyfa on the mainland failed to sway her from her desire for a pool.

The Villa Horizonte & Ross Daly

Ross Daly

I had hoped that the Villa Horizonte would have a pool. The Villa is more than a hotel. It's a cultural center built by a woman named Ingrid, on the green, heavily wooded mountainside, overlooking a vast expanse of blue sea. When we arrived the famous musician Ross Daly, a transplanted Irishman who single-handedly reintroduced traditional Cretan music not only to Greece, but to many of the Cretans themselves. He has just given a workshop and concert at the Villa and was heading back to Athens with his students, to close up his school and move the operation back to Crete. I had met him a couple times before, the last time in the Airport in Athens where he was flying to Istanbul to pick up an aoud, and I was on my way back to the states. I asked if I could take his photo because I was a big fan. Then I sent the photo by e-mail to Ingrid who gave it to Ross who now remembered me as the guy who took the picture in the airport. We sat and talked about music and the internet and his coming to terms with the reality that the best way to promote traditional music is through sound files like MP3 and make them available to everybody. So the next time we meet he will remember me as the guy who was going to do a website for him but never did. As it turns out Ross got himself a website which is way better than what I could have made for him. See Ross Daly's Website

But Ross Daly or not, a hotel in the mountains without a pool had no appeal for Amarandi. Ingrid remembered that she had seen a hotel with a high wall that might have contained a pool. After touring her beautiful hotel, that had everything but a pool, we said good-bye and followed the winding road down the mountain from Zagora to Chorefto on the sea. Sure enough the Aiolos Hotel has a pool and at sunset they play classical music that seems to make my fingers type faster. The hotel is a collection of separate bungalows surrounded by grass, trees, roses, stone walls and plenty of kids. So Amarandi has her pool and a pool of potential friends. Andrea has the sea a few feet away, and I have a phone connection that is detachable and will enable me to write and send e-mail, providing my computer recognizes the dial tone. Life is good. The Villa Horizonte is gone now but there are other nice places to stay on the Pelion Hotels Page.

The Story: Lost in Athens

How we got to this part of Greece rather then a couple hundred miles south in the Peloponessos is another story. It had to do with Andrea's mother who arrived on Thursday and was planning to go to Edipsos, a town famous for its hot mineral springs. Perhaps I am understating what Edipsos is. I will put it another way because most people have never heard of Edipsos unless they live in Greece. Every person in Greece over the age of 60 knows Edipsos. They go to their doctor for whatever is wrong with them and he will prescribe a visit to Edipsos to take so-many baths. Andrea's aunts go every summer for three weeks or as they put it twenty-one baths. Andrea's mother always includes a visit to Edipsos on her infrequent visits to Greece because her life in the USA makes her a nervous wreck and her doctor has told her she has the most twisted degenerated spine he has ever seen and it is a miracle she can even walk, let alone shop. It's no secret that Elaine and I don't get along and so as a gesture of good will I volunteered to take her and her mangled spine to Edipsos, rather the having her sit in the bus for four hours.

When she found out I had agreed to take her she almost kissed me in happiness, though after two hours of wandering around the refugee settlement-like suburbs of Athens searching for the National Road she probably wished I hadn't been such a good son-in-law. The guy from Swift Car Rentals who delivered the car to the hotel made it sound so easy. Drive to Omonia and turn on to 21st of September street and then turn on to Archanon until we come to the National road. Swift offers to drive their customers to the main road and avoid the chaos of Athens but I felt this would not be necessary. After all I was a seasoned veteran of the Greek road system, having spent months on the island of Lesvos where the drivers were said to be the worst in the country. But from the start things went wrong. We could not make the left hand turn to go to Omonia because there was a median across the road and then there were no places to make a U-turn. We drove all the way to Thission when we decided to improvise our way to Archanon and the National road, and we were doing quite well until Andrea realized that Archanon was running parallel to the national road and if they laws of geometry were to hold up, would never connect with it. She told me to turn left and get onto Lliosa road which would lead us right into the National road, in a more perfect world. Instead it led us to Ano Lliossa, and endless barrios of 4 story apartment buildings, unpaved streets and inhabitants who might find it easier to direct us to downtown Sebastapol then the national road of Greece. Every once in awhile we would see a sign that pointed to it and we would follow it, only to find ourselves in the loading area of some factory, or a dead end road surrounded by garbage strewn lots and dilapidated apartment buildings. Every time we asked someone directions we got the same answer. "Go straight past 2 lights. Take your third right and then ask directions again." It was as if we were just getting directions to other people who would give us directions and nobody actually knew where the national road was, only where the next guy was who might know. Kind of like trying to get a resident permit or a drivers license in Athens, being sent from office to office in an attempt to just get rid of you and let some other useless bureaucrat deal with your problem . I was ready to give up and go to an island. We had barely started the trip and I felt like I had been driving for hours (actually I had). Everyone was trying to remain cheerful but the tension was building with every dead end and near accident. We would see a sign for the national road and feel like we were finally on our way, and then find ourselves hopelessly lost in some neighborhood or industrial park, or a combination of the two. True, it was a side of Greece that few tourists ever see, (and those that do were probably searching for the National Road as well), but it was hard to appreciate the hordes of Romanian refugees trudging back from the market, when you have a dump truck filled with slag and broken concrete, beeping madly behind you because you are driving slow enough to look for clues as to the whereabouts of the National Road. The most interesting aspect of our lost journey through the seamy underside of Athens was that we were veterans of Greece. What would someone who was visiting Greece for the first time feel when they suddenly found themselves in third world surroundings with no hope of escape?

Finally we located it. But even that was an adventure. No warning. Just a sign that said 'Lamia' that you don't even see until you are past it. I nearly started a ten car pileup by slamming on the brakes in an attempt to make the turn, but the 180 degree skid I went into sent me off in the wrong direction and once I regained control of the car I had to make a few U-turns to get back to the spot I had missed. This time, even though I knew where it was I nearly missed it again. Driving in Greece is like one of those computer games like Doom, where you have to get killed by the demons half a dozen times before you know what the hell you are doing.

The national road made me long for the labyrinth of Ano lliossa. It was a 4 lane highway with no median and no lanes either. There was something on the right that looked like a bicycle lane that the slow cars would pull into when a fast car came barreling down on them, which gave enough room to pass, unless someone coming in the other direction was passing as well. Then it became a game of reflexes and will, much like the game of chicken. It took some getting used to but once I found my pace and learned how to avoid head-on collisions I felt somewhat confidant that I could make it to the Halkida bridge in Evia where we could take the mountain road to Edipsos instead of Greece's twisted interpretation of a superhighway.

Evia

Halkida, Evia Bridge

The bridge across the channel of water which separates the island of Evia from the mainland is impressive. It looks like a large stringed instrument that's impossible to play. Halkida itself looks like an appendage of the giant cement factory across the bay. Many of the apartments look like they were built the same day, as if a sudden influx of refugees made the Greek government reach for the easiest solution, which was to build giant concrete blocks of apartments right next to a cement factory. It was in Halkida that I had my first near accident. When I found myself stuck behind a stopped city bus and made my move to pass, a car several cars behind decided the cars in front were not moving fast enough to get around the bus. Just as he was making his move I made mine, only he had no bothered to even stop and had foreword momentum going his way. All I heard was the screech of brakes behind me, but rather then wait for him to hit me, I floored the little Honda and got my ass out of trouble, leaving a group of swearing Greek drivers behind me.

We opted not to stop in the city of Halikida. It was a city whose charm increased with the more ouzo you drank, but to truly appreciate it might require a near fatal dose. The juxtaposition of the beautiful blue Greek sea that has been seen in so many pictures and postcards, with this unattractive, industrial city was fascinating in a way. I always associate this color of the sea with prime real-estate: a small white church, a fine sand beach with a little cafeneon, or a tiny scenic port like Naossa. The fact that a giant cement factory, a junkyard or a graveyard for telephone cable spools could share this same color sea seems like sacrilege. But Greece is not a fairy tale. It is a country that exists beyond tourism and the most industrialized in the Balkans. There are factories and there is garbage, and in some places they stand side by side with that beautiful sea.

The road that goes north through Evia is small and winding and passes through pine forests and small towns. We stopped at a small taverna on the roadside that specialized in two different types of cheese pastries, or tyganopsomo. One was a baked cake filled with feta and onions and the other was a deep fried filo dough filled with feta. With a Greek salad and sadziki we were quite full and then the main course of paidiakia arrived, the only thing Amarandi would eat. By the time we got back into the car we were ready for a nap, not another two hours of driving. Amarandi and I attempted to explore the area around the small taverna but it seemed everywhere we went, we discovered Yaya sneaking a cigarette and after awhile it became frustrating to know that before we could discover anything, Yaya would have found it first to use as a hiding place.

As we drove north the road shared the heavily wooded valley with a small river. When we found a spot to pull over we found ourselves in the middle of a big wedding party at another roadside taverna, with men dancing the zembekiko in a gazebo, lined with giant speakers that boomed the music through the valley and into the forest, where we waded in the freezing cold water. There were dozens of children running around with their mothers following close behind, while their fathers sat drinking in the taverna. Crossing the river was a rope suspension bridge that would sway when you crossed, especially when the little boys on the far side began tugging on the ropes trying to increase the momentum and terrify those on the bridge.

Edipsos

Edipsos, Evia

I did not really know what to expect with Edipsos. I knew all the old people went there so I was imagining decrepit aging hotels with dirty stained stone pools filled with tepid water and geriatric bodily excretions. But I was wrong. Edipsos was a beautiful little town, almost a small city with a tree shaded waterfront lined with cafes and restaurants. The hotels had lovely baths that looked like swimming pools. There were places in the sea where the hot spring water poured in or shot up from the sea bed, and people bathed in the warm currents. We had not really made a decision of whether or not we would stay or drive on to Volos and Pelion, but once I saw the town, I wanted to stay. We got a room at the Poseidon where Andrea's mom was staying and I went for a walk to check out the village. Many of the hotels had their own small baths in the basement and the larger hotels had the pools. There was an enormous old hotel that had been renovated and rebuilt into a giant European health spa with a giant pool and every type of therapy you could list, provided by professional healers and physical therapists.

But if you want to know about Edipsos then you can visit my Edipsos page. This is a story about Pelion and if I tell all the cool things about my visit to Edipsos here then there will be no room for the wonders of Mount Pelion.

Volos: Mezedes Capital of Greece

Volos from Mount Pelion

I was informed by my Greek Travel Gurus, Paul Hellander and David Willett of Lonely Planet, that the mezedes of Volos were better than Lesvos. How can this be? It's like someone saying to an American that cricket is better than baseball. Nothing is better than baseball. And for them to suggest that the snacks served with ouzo in Volos were better than those served in Lesvos filled me with doubts about my mentors. Not only that but in Volos they don't drink ouzo. They drink tsipuro which is the drink of choice in northern Greece, closer in taste to the raki they drink in Crete. The whole thing was beginning to sound like some kind of trick being played on me by my pals at Lonely Planet, no doubt so they could have a laugh at my expense during one of the frequent Lonely Planet cocktail parties where they routinely diss on all the other travel writers. ("Remember the time we sent Matt Barrett to Volos looking for tsipuro and mezedes? Hahahahahah! He was never heard from again!")

But despite my doubts and fears I knew I had to investigate. Maybe they weren't trying to divert me from something much more interesting happening in Mykonos or the Pink Palace of Corfu. Maybe it was true that the mezedes of Volos were better than those in Lesvos. Maybe the only reason I thought the mezedes in Lesvos were the best was because everyone in Lesvos said they were, the way everyone in Greece says Athens is better than New York or Nick Gallis is better than Michael Jordon. So to Volos we went from the small ferry port of Agiokambo in northern Evia, to the port of Glifa on the mainland south of Volos. After a few hair-raising moments on the dreaded National Road we found ourselves on the waterfront of a good sized city.

According to my Lonely Planet buddies, the reason Volos has such a strong mezedes tradition is because when the Greeks were forcibly evicted from Asia Minor in 1922, many of the seamen came to Volos to live. They would gather in the harbor and eat mezedes and drink tsipuro. As time went on the demand for better and more exotic mezedes increased and became like a competition. The establishments with the best mezedes attracted the most customers and prospered in a sort of Darwinian display of restaurant survival.

Volos, Greece

It was not hard to find a place where we could test the mezedes of Volos. Right on the waterfront there were a couple restaurants, filled with people at 2pm, each table loaded with small plates of various snacks and the tiny bottles they serve the tsipuro in. Paul and David were right. Every kind of fish and sea creature was available cooked in so many styles I realized that the only way to really do my job would be to rent a room upstairs and come down to eat and drink every couple hours. The tsipuro was served ice cold like the vodka in my cousins monastery in NYC and went down easy. Easier than ouzo. I was becoming converted. I thought about skipping Lesvos completely and spending my summer in this hot city, happily typing away in my air-conditioned hotel room waiting for a reasonable hour to sample some more mezedes and tsipuro. What did we try that was good? Well the fried pikilia of giant shrimp, mussels and whatever else they could find was great, but that is not a good measurement. Anything tastes good deep fried in olive oil and seasoned right. I could eat deep-fried spam-balls and they would taste just as good as scallops with a little lemon. I liked the mussels cooked in red sauce with cheese, otherwise known as media sagonaki and the shrimp cooked the same way, called garithes sagoniki. Octopus grilled or in wine sauce is fantastic. Tiro kafteri is a spicy cheese spread that goes on bread. That was delicious too. Grilled sardines were not as good as the Kaloni sardines of Lesvos. Well maybe they were. Who can really tell? But I have a lot more friends in Lesvos than I do in Volos and I want to keep it that way.

So were the mezedes of Volos better than those of Lesvos? It doesn't matter. They are both so good that while you are in the act of eating one or the other and drinking ouzo or tsipuro, the thought that there may be something better out there is the furthest thing from your mind. And in fact getting in the Honda and driving up the road to the villages of Pelion, clearly visible from Volos, was the second furthest thing from my mind. But I still had to do it.

If you plan to stay in Volos see the Volos Hotels Page

Pelion (Finally)

Drakia, Pelion

So we drove through Volos and found the road to Pelion. It was not hard to find. It's a straight road that leads directly to the giant mountain that fills the entire world visible from the car's windshield. Once you leave the plain the road is no longer straight. It curves and winds and getting anywhere means climbing up and down and back and forth, slowing down for curves and praying that any driver coming from the other direction is doing the same in his own lane. Driving in Pelion is stressful. Good brakes are a necessity, not a luxury and a quick horn may save your life. Luckily the narrowness of the roads and the bends make it unlikely that either car will be going fast enough so the impact will kill you. But the thousand foot drop off the edge may.

It would be hard to imagine an area more densely wooded than the Pelion Peninsula. It was like being in the Adirondacks without billboards and 7-elevens. Instead of strip malls and lines of service stations and fast food restaurants announcing your entrance into each village, they seemed to appear around us like magic, their roofs and walls made of stone and wood, blending with the natural surroundings. There were miles of apple trees and places where waterfalls poured from the sky onto the shoulder of the road on it's journey down to the sea, which looked like it was miles below us. The town of Zagora was strung out along the main road and seemed to lack a center, which was the only reason we did not stay there. Well not the only reason. There were obviously not going to be any swimming pools in this town and as beautiful as it was we continued down the road to the sea where we had seen a sign for the Villa Horizonte which is where this story began.

Chorefto

Aeolis Hotel, Horefto

After our discovery that Villa Horizonte was not only lacking a pool, but was also on the side of a mountain, we drove to the nearest beach which was Chorefto and walked into the first hotel we saw that looked like it might have a pool, which was the Aeolis Hotel, where it took about 3 seconds to realize that this is where we wanted to stay. It was my favorite thing about Chorefto. Not that I didn't like the town. It was fine. I just really liked the hotel and I would have been happy to hang out here and work on my website, even if I had to make stuff up, just to keep from leaving the hotel.

Chorefto is an incredible beach and the town feels like you are sitting on the edge of the world. There are a dozen restaurants and hotels. Surprisingly this area is very tourist oriented. Signs are all in English and the restaurants had specials that mixed local specialties with the stuff they know the tourists will like...mousaka, souvlakia and the rest. The restaurant we ate at was good as I am sure they all are and if I were a tourist I would have been quite content. But what I wanted was something more like what we had experienced in Volos, maybe mixed with a little of the Lesvos-old-man-cafeneon vibe. I didn't want the waiter to speak to me in English. I didn't want to know what everything on the menu was. I wanted to experience new sensations to go with the tsipuro which was served in those little bottles here as well. So we ate. We drank. We made friends with the local dogs who gathered around our table and waited for scraps and then we went home and went to sleep.

Agios Ioannis

The next morning it was up to me to decide to stay or go. I didn't care one way or the other but figured we could leave and if we did not find anything better we could always come back to the Aeolis Hotel. Easier said than done. The narrow roads with their hairpin turns made me want to find one place and settle there for a few days. It seemed like every few minutes we were involved in a near collision and I was sure that few of them were my fault. I checked out the next batch of beaches at Agios Ioannis which looked fine but again a little touristy. Maybe not for me. I mean I can be happy anywhere. Put me in Mykonos and I will find the last little place where the old men still gather to talk about the old days and drink home made ouzo from a barrel. But Andrea likes tradition. She thinks that when you come to Greece you should see only Greeks and hear only Greek and have to read from a menu written only in Greek. Clearly we would not find this here in Agia Ioannis or in the next beach down the coast. There was nothing to do but head upward, into the mountains where it was cooler and maybe less touristy.

Tsangarada

pelion, pelion, greece The village of Tsangarada was rumored to have the largest platanos tree in Greece so we made that our goal. Surely there would be cafeneons full of happy old men drinking tsipuro, eating delicious mezedes and talking about their marvelous platanos tree, arguing about the size of others they had seen in their travels. We would join them and tell them about the tree in the village of Liotta in Lesvos, or the tree in Xidera that is hollow and used for storage, or the tree in Karini near Agiassos where the great artist Theophilos lived while he painted the surrounding cafes. But when we got to Tsangarada there was no cafeneon full of old men that we could find and even if we had, we would have lost the argument because the tree in the platia was the biggest tree that I had ever seen in my life. We did sit in the platia under this giant tree and have a wonderful meal and then we expored the area around the platia and found an amazing fountain underneath. But as usual we got antsy and decided that being relaxed and happy was not really that fulfilling and got back on the road and began driving south along the coast, several thousand feet below.

Vyzitsa

Vyzitsa, Pelion

Somewhere along the way we decided we wanted to visit the traditional village of Vyzitsa where Andrea's sister had a friend who had bought an old mansion and converted it into a bed and breakfast. The village was up on the side of the mountain but on the west side of the Pelion Peninsula facing the Pagasitic bay south of Volos. Vyzitsa was spectacular with beautiful old houses made of wood and stone, some of them converted into hotels and B&B's. The sound of water was everywhere as streams rushed through the village and there was a gorgeous platia that looked like it was ready for a great party to begin. The place was heavenly and the climate perfect and if we had been smart we would have stayed there. But nobody answered us when we knocked on the door of the hotel and since it seemed like the party would not be starting for awhile we decided to drive on thinking we would return later.

Kalanera

Kala Nera, Pelion

But we didn't. We wanted to go for a swim and drove down the mountain to the seaside village of Kalanera which looked like fun when we arrived. There was a long beach road with one restaurant after another and an amusement park with bumper cars. It seemed like a pretty lively resort for Bulgarians and Serbian tourists. We had a little swim in the calm water, which was nowhere near as nice as the sea on the Aegean side of Pelion, and then looked for a decent hotel which we found too easily. I met an old man from Lamia who had been coming to Kalanera all his life. His wife had died recently and we befriended him and drank tsipuro and ate mezedes at a couple places. He excused himself after awhile and Andrea and I took Amarandi to the amusement park which she loved until we had to leave and then she cried so much we wished we had not taken her there in the first place. We ate dinner at our hotel's restaurant which was lousy and then went to bed in our room which was hot as hell and infested with mosquitoes that kept us awake all night and made us leave Pelion first thing in the morning.

Epilogue

Milopotamos Beach, Pelion

OK. So I didn't have much fun in Pelion. A six year old demanding a swimming pool, a wife who doesn't like tourists and my desire to see as much as I could in as short a time as possible are the ingredients for a heart attack, not for a fun holiday. But that does not mean you won't have the time of your life. I just made a couple bad moves and did not have a working plan. We were reading Lonely Planet as we went along but only when we reached a town would we begin to research it and by the time we knew what there was to see it was disappearing in our rear-view mirror. And on those roads there was no way I was going to risk turning around for anything smaller than the worlds largest tree. But if I was going to do it again I would stay at my friend  Kostis House and take day trips around Pelion or I would stay in Vyzitsa and do the same. (If I did not go back to the Aiolis Hotel that is) A car is essential unless you are parking yourself at one of the beautiful beaches on the Aegean side where the wind blows the mosquitoes away and the sea is the color of blue that you dream about. Its true that Pelion is one of the most beautiful areas in Greece and it is a place you can visit during any season, particularly in the winter when you can ski. For people who are active and like to do more than sit around the beach all day and drink all night, it is an area rich in natural activities. If you want a special holiday don't so as I did, do as I say. Take a trip to Pelion and take the time to get to know one of the most beautiful areas of Greece. If you really want to do it right, rather than wander around blindly, book your trip with someone who knows what they are doing.

If you are planning to rent a car and drive from Athens to Pelion check out Swift Rent-a-Car . They will pick you up at the airport or your hotel and drive you to the National road and let you by-pass the notorious Athens traffic.

You can find hotels in Pelion by location, price, whether or not it has a swimming pool, and see photos and reviews by using this link to booking.com. Excellent prices and many hotels you can book and then cancel with no cancellation fee. For those who want to book without using a travel agency this is the best way to do it.

Thank you to Fantasy Travel for many of the photos on this site (which came from DepositPhotos.com) and to members of Matt Barrett's Greece Travel Guides on Facebook for the photos on this page. Please join our group for conversation, information and photos of Greece. If you liked this page please share it with your friends on Facebook or whatever social media you are addicted to.

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