Written by Re Carroll on 19 Jun, 2003
Although the west coast is more scenic, the eastern part of the Pelion has some village gems as well and I did a couple of day trips by bus to visit them. Heading south east from Volos the road is a flat stretch that follows…Read More
Although the west coast is more scenic, the eastern part of the Pelion has some village gems as well and I did a couple of day trips by bus to visit them. Heading south east from Volos the road is a flat stretch that follows the Pagasetic Gulf for about an hour before it starts the climb up the slopes of Mt. Pelion. My first stop was at the small beach town of Kala Nera. It is a pleasant place just 20 km. from Volos but far removed from the noisy and crowded city.
The calm shallow water and shady tree lined main road gave it a sleepy air although that might have just been an off season facade. It seemed to be geared to families and a kids’ playground had a mini train and boat shaped swings to keep the little ones happy. To keep mom and dad happy, a number of tavernas lined the main road beside the beach and at the far end of the road was a disco/night club that was closed - whether for the season or permanently I couldn’t tell. There were a number of rooms for rent as well as small hotels and a market that offered an alternative to taverna dining.
After Kala Nera, the road heads inland and starts the gradual climb to Milies
and Vizitsa. Although they are only 3 km apart, Vizitsa is an uphill climb so I started with it and worked my way downhill to Milies and caught the bus back to Volos from there. Vizitsa is one of the Pelion villages that has been "adopted" by the Greek National Tourist Office and proclaimed a landmark settlement. A few of the large traditional style homes have been converted to hotels and guest houses and the town has been spruced up a bit with benches strategically placed to take advantage of the view. Wisely the GNTO had enough sense not to go overboard and the traditional feel still remains. Vizitsa doesn’t have any attractions per se but there are plenty of trails to keep all from novice to experienced hikers happy. Vizitsa seemed a sleepy little place and except for a few workmen who were remodeling a house, there were few people around. I climbed narrow lanes behind converted mansions to take advantage of the incredible views of the Pagasetic Gulf far below.
The walk downhill to Milies was enjoyable with lush green forest on one side and the view of the Gulf on the other. I passed an old church nestled in a scenic clearing as well as a couple of houses with Rooms to rent signs. Milies is larger than Vizitsa although that isn’t necessarily saying much. The town square was built around a couple of large plane trees and their leaves provided shade for the tavernas underneath. The local folk museum hadn’t yet opened for the season but I enjoyed browsing through the few stores featuring locally made honey and preserves as well as arts and crafts.
Milies gets weekend visitors on the narrow gauge train line that makes a one day return trip from Volos. Tavernas in Milies offer an adventure in dining with traditional food mixed in with typical taverna fare. One place turns out a wide variety of fresh phyllo pastry pies – spinach, cheese, potato, zucchini, artichoke and more depending on the season. I tried potato and found it quite bland but filling. Another entrée that caught my eye was broiled goat but that was a traditional dish I had no difficulty passing up.
The Pelion was filled with so many other villages that I wasn’t able to get to, including the whole southern region. This was due partly to time constraints and also the lack of convenient public transportation. Optimum for the Pelion would be a rental car. Exploring main villages and tiny off the beaten path locales with your own wheels and without a time table could be the most rewarding experience in Greece.
The Pelion will always stand out as one of the most unpretentious and friendly areas in all my travels through Greece. Any trip is enhanced because of the people that you meet along the way and no where was this more evident. People like the…Read More
The Pelion will always stand out as one of the most unpretentious and friendly areas in all my travels through Greece. Any trip is enhanced because of the people that you meet along the way and no where was this more evident. People like the young girl who didn’t just give me directions to the Volos bus station, but actually walked me there and then offered to come in and help with my ticket purchase and schedules for the Pelion. The old couple who offered me a lift as I was walking the steep uphill stretch from Horefto to Zagora. They didn’t speak any English but dropped me off across the road from my dhomatia and gave me a rose from their garden as a parting gift. The young man who was heading from Milies to Volos to get groceries for his family’s restaurant and insisted on giving me a ride so I didn’t have to wait three hours for the next bus. The list goes on and on and the memories are priceless.
As well as wonderful people, the villages of the Pelion are picturesque and welcoming but all have very different characteristics. Two of
my favorites were Makrinitsa and Zagora. Makrinitsa is small but big on tourism, in a pleasant, low key way. The houses are clustered together and seem to cascade down the mountainside. Decaying stone paths lead above the houses to grassy spots where the views are spectacular and the only sounds I heard were the chirping of the birds. Makrinitsa can be easily explored in a couple of hours or lingered over for days. Most of the main sights are located around the main square. The best "sight" is the view over Volos and Volos Bay from the square and relaxing under the shade of one of the gigantic plane trees is not to be missed. The old stone church of Ayios Ioannis sits peacefully at the edge of the square and is open for visitors during the day. Cars can’t fit through the narrow lanes so bulky or heavy supplies are brought up by hand or pony train. The few souvenir/gift stores sit unobtrusively on the main road into town and the cutest and least expensive souvenirs are ceramic minis of traditional Pelion houses. By comparison, Zagora is the largest village in the Pelion but prefers to depend on agriculture rather than tourism for its livelihood.
It took almost 2 1/2 hours to cover the 58 km distance between Zagora and Volos. The bus ride was incredibly scenic but a bit of a nail biter due to the narrow and steep, winding road that stretches most of the way. We passed through Portaria with its stone courtyard and small waterfall near the edge of the village. Large green shrubs and pale purple wisteria hung over fences and partially shaded the road. At Hania, a popular winter ski center, a thin crust of snow still covered much of the hillside. Although this was the highest elevation on the route there were few guardrails along the snaky road and I was very glad that I wasn’t driving. As we neared Zagora, groves of twisted and knarled apple trees came into view and apple blossoms replaced snow on the hillsides.
Rather than the story book look of many of the other villages in the Pelion, Zagora came across as a working class village with square box houses and an air of practicality. I explored much of the village and the only post cards I could find were art cards at the local photographer’s shop. There was no Internet cafe but I was referred to a small computer school. Amidst a bunch of teenage boys who were playing computer games and learning computer generated artwork, the teacher offered the use of a computer at no charge and had one of his students show me how to convert the computer language from Greek into English. Zagora seemed larger than it really was because it sprawls over a large area. Instead of one main square there are four. My favorite was Ay. Georgios with its 18th century church and separate bell tower. Shaded by giant plane trees it was a popular spot for locals to get together and relax at the end of the day.
Eight km. downhill from Zagora sits the beach resort of Horefto. The sandy crescent shaped beach was quiet when I was there but it is one of the more popular beaches on the Pelion and is busy during the summer. Tavernas and rooms to let are easy to find and a bus runs between Zagora and Horefto a couple of times a day.