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You might be tempted to drive right by Katerini on your way to Thessaloniki. Wait, slow down. There’s more to this district than meets the eye. You could call it the land of the unexpected, and it’s well worth making it a holiday destination at any time of year.
From the bustling streets of Katerini to the Elatohori Ski Centre and its après ski bars. From the stunning archaeological site at Dion, where statues pose in watery shrines, to the long beach that stretches from Platamonas to the coast below Mt Olympus. From the wilds of the Enipeas Gorge to the cobbled lanes of old Panteleimon and Rapsani with its fine red wines. From the designer pensions at Elatohori to the spa resort on the coast of Pieria. A world of surprises awaits you in the centre of mainland Greece under the peaks of the legendary Mt Olympus.
Near Katerini, Dion is one of Greece’s most spacious and serene archaeological sites. Here, ancient history and natural beauty vie for your attention. In a setting crisscrossed by babbling streams, you’ll find temples, Hellenistic and Roman theatres, flag-stoned streets, baths decorated with mosaics, Roman houses and villas, early-Christian basilicas and an odeon. Built in a swampy area, its ruins and statues appear even more poetic entangled by reedy grasses, their toes dipped in the water. Nearby, the shrine of Demetra was one of the earliest to be excavated in Macedonia and don’t miss the shrine to Isis.
Katerini’s urban side, with cafes and bars full of people from all over, invites you to stop for a nightcap. And at the same time, the municipal park takes you into the natural world. Katerini strikes a happy balance between the city and countryside.
The function of a castle is to dominate an area and Platamonas must have done this brilliantly as it overlooks a huge stretch of the coast of Pieria. The high walls and well-preserved central tower date from the 10th century. While excavations have unearthed Hellenistic remains from the 4th century BC, it is the Byzantine churches and traces of the 10th-century town and its subsequent incarnations that will grab your attention.
Korinos, Katerini, Litochoro, Plaka, Leptokarya, Skotina, Panteleimonas, Platamonas, Neoi Pori … just some of the spots on a beach of 80km long. Along this huge stretch of pristine sand are dozens of good hotels, restaurants and beach bars as well as large, organised camping sites, affording you a multitude of choices for a very special holiday.
This picturesque town makes an excellent launchpad for your expedition up Mt Olympus, or for a dip in the sea for that matter. Plaka is said to be the Aegean at its best but Gritsa beach is also wonderful. Litochoro, on the lower slopes of Mt Olympus, combines access to the sea and the mountain in a lovely green setting. Don’t forget to wander around and admire the marvellous Macedonian-style houses.
Is it cold and snowy? Then, it’s time to escape to Elatohori. A few kilometres before you get the ski resort here, the mountain village of Elatohori is full of stone-built pensions offering amenities such as indoor pools, steam baths, jacuzzis and water massages. After a walk through the fir forest and the charming streets of the old town, you’ll be ravenous for a hot, home-cooked traditional Macedonian meal at one of the tavernas.
Take the path along the gorge from Mylous, near Litochoro, to Prionia on the edge of the Olympus National Park. The scenery is fantastic and you’ll feel as if it was made just for you.
On the ground floor, you’ll find an exceptional trove of sculptures – statues, bas reliefs, funerary stelae, architectural elements – and other finds from the site, which was dedicated to Olympian Zeus. On the first floor, you’ll hear the haunting sounds of the hydraulis, an extremely rare water- and air-powered instrument with percussive elements. You’re looking at and listening to a replica of one of the ancestors of the organ.
Now that you’re here, why not head up to Palios Panteleimon? The beauty of Macedonia unfolds at your feet. This listed village has been called the Balcony of Olympus. You’ll travel back in time, walking from the old village to the square filled with humongous plane trees. Needless to say, the views in this timeless place are amazing.
Nowadays known for its full-bodied red wines, Rapsani has a history of many other chapters. It flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries thanks to sericulture (silkworm farming), metallurgy, cotton processing and textile production. The whole story begins to unravel as you make your way around the town. Many fine, two-storey stone houses in the local style still survive from that time and the 19th century
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