Once you’ve discovered all the things to do on your holidays in Kavala and Thassos, you’ll be searching for reasons to return to one of the best mainland and island combos in northern Greece. So we’re here to reveal yet another hidden gem, just 40km from Kavala. Mt Pangaio offers a year-round feast of activities, perfect for one-day getaways such as discovering villages, wineries and traditional crafts and local products, as well as eating and hiking. Renowned for worshipping Dionysus (god of winemaking and revelry) and its silver and gold mines in antiquity, Pangaio’s mountain villages and thick beech, plane, fir and chestnut tree forests are perfect for anyone wanting to discover a virtually untouched part of Greece.
* You can reach Kavala by road from Thessaloniki (2hrs) or by plane from Athens or other European cities in summer months (when there are direct flights).
Visit wineries that hide ancient secrets
On the mountain where the god of wine was once worshipped, visiting the vineyards of Mt Pangaio is the first of your getaways from Kavala. As you’ll find out, they’ve been making wine around Kavala since antiquity, with evidence of grape pressing near the archaeological site of Philippi being the oldest in Europe. The Winemakers of Northern Greece have established the Wine Route of Dionysus, including Mt Pangaio vineyards such as Biblia Chora and the Nico Lazaridi Makedon Winery that have established glowing international reputations and contributed to Mt Pangaio’s wines being given Protected Geographical Indication status.
Biblia Chora’s name originates from the name given to the region by the ancient Greeks, who continued the wine-producing methods of the Phoenicians who (drawn here by the gold and silver mines) brought with them the sacred Biblia Ampelos vine. Today’s vineyards on Mt Pangaio produce Greek grape varieties such as Assyrtiko, Roditi, Malagouzia and Moschato as well as European stalwarts like Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah etc – as you’ll love finding out about on a vineyard and wine-tasting tour.
Uncover the gems of Moustheni village
Next up, we head to the villages of Mt Pangaio, starting with gorgeous Moustheni, just 40mins drive from Kavala and nestled within the greenery of the mountainside. Just entering the village is an uplifting experience, with arched bridges uniting houses built by the master stonemasons of Epirus either side of a river. Walking around Moustheni takes you to another world, filled with watermills and fountains flowing with chilled water all year round and a charming main square. With a permanent population of around 1,000 and architectural jewels like the Old Turkish School (look for the Arabic inscription) and the Folk Museum, you’d never think you are just 20km from the sea.
Moustheni is full of such surprises, with everything from tavernas serving local dishes to a restaurant (Bostani Gastronomy) just outside the village serving refined Mediterranean cuisine through recipes like velouté mushroom soup with truffle oil and courgette flowers stuffed with feta, pesto and chestnuts.
Tip: Just outside Moustheni, the Tripes tis Panagias (Holes of the Virgin Mary) look like cave entrances but are believed to be ancient mining tunnels. Legend has it that they lead to the Monastery of Panagias tis Eikosifoinissas on the other side of Mt Pangaio.
Pick your favourite cheese at a local farm
Before leaving Moustheni, try as many local products as you can. Olive oil, tsipouro (a grape-distilled spirit), almond-based confectionery known as amygdalota and hand-made pasta … whatever you find in the local shops, you’ll love it. But the next gem on your getaway from Kavala lets you also meet the people (and animals) behind the local products. The family-owned Mousthenis Farm (just south of the village) has been raising sheep and goats for three generations, turning their milk into delicious cheeses and other dairy products.
The same love and care that goes into raising the livestock are found in the farm’s cheese-making (as you’ll learn by tasting katsikisio, graviera, kalathyri and kasseri). The farm offers breakfast and lunch, as well as a tour of the animal enclosures (always a hit with the kids) and an introduction to their sustainable breeding techniques. And if you’re not a cheese fan, fear not. The farm also produces marmalades (strawberry, peach, plum, cherry), chutneys (onion, tomato), herbs & spices (oregano, mint, bay leaf, rosemary) and handmade trahanas (an ancient goat’s milk and grain-based pasta).
Immerse yourself in water-filled Mesoropi village
Just 4km by car from Moustheni, but a little higher on the slopes of Mt Pangaio, is the village of Mesoropi … and boy does it pack a punch. There’s more traditional Macedonian architecture (see how the red roof tiles contrast with walls of the white houses and 19th-century mansions and the handsome 200-year-old bell tower of the Church of Agios Georgios) and listen to the running water as you pass watermills and cross bridges (the Klothori Bridge is the most famous). Take your time strolling around, picking your cafe or taverna in the stone-paved square.
Or you could find yourself a bench around the village and have a picnic. But if you’re a meat-lover, you’re bound to be tempted by one of the taverna dishes (grilled sirloin or ribeye steak or slow-cooked lamb or pork knuckle, known as kotsi – all locally sourced) or perhaps snails in red sauce. And how about the boutique hotel serving awarded gourmet cuisine in a traditional old stone house? Makes you wonder what else Mt Pangaio is hiding.
Visit a fourth-generation local producer
We’ve got another culinary gem for you in Mesoropi as you get up close and personal with one of the most iconic Greek superfoods, tahini. Close to the Church of Timios Prodromos is the Floros Family factory, now into its fourth generation of roasting sesame seeds in the traditional way to produce tahini paste. The secret – as you’ll find out when you visit – is to choose organic whole sesame seeds (unhulled, with their outer coats attached). You then roast them with beech wood and grind them on a cold stone mill. The low temperature preserves the sesame seeds’ natural oils and enhances the flavour profile of the tahini, which is often referred to as the best in Greece. You’ll love learning all about the process and hearing the story of the family, which bought the first of four watermills to power the mill in 1880.
Tip: The Floros Family also produces halva (a semolina- and sesame seed-based sweet) and honey. And if you are looking for bread to make up a picnic, there are a couple of bakeries nearby that make fantastic sourdoughs.
Head out on a mountain stroll
With so much dense forest (and food), you’re bound to want to get walking. Above you are the peaks of Mt Pangaio – Dikorfo or Trikorfo (1,940m), Voskos (1,858m), Mati (1,956m) and Avgo (1,835m), with refuges enjoyed by the intrepid hikers of the Mountaineering Club of Kavala. But fear not, there are relaxing paths on the lower slopes as well. The Mesoropi Trail starts from within the village and heads over bridges and through greenery until you reach the Mesoropi Waterfalls after around 1hr. In the summer, you can enjoy a dip in the plunge pool. The path continues up the mountain from here (a further 2hrs away are some caves) and ends at the Mountaineering Club of Kavala’s refuge at 1,650mm near the Avgo peak.
Another recommended stroll starts above Palia Avli (shortly above Avli village). Around 150m above the tiny settlement’s church is a trail that crisscrosses the forest road and allows you to fully enjoy in the forest of beech, plane, fir and chestnut trees. To reach the Mountaineering Club’s refuge is a 3.5-4hrs uphill hike (the Hatzigeorgiou Refuge is even further) so turn around whenever you want.
Tip: For longer walks up Mt Pangaio, ask the locals about the weather conditions and how to get a guide and gain access to one of the functioning refuges.
Delve into the religious history of Mt Pangaio
The last of your getaways from Kavala on the mountain whose residents once worshipped the cult of Dionysus before becoming early converts to Christianity is to visit the monasteries. There are dozens of monasteries on Mt Pangaio that are open to visitors until sunset. Some are extra special and worth seeking out as much for their architectural and historical interest as their soothing aura. The Holy Monastery of the Ascension, at 950m up on the northern slopes of Mt Pangaio, has a circular main church and panoramic views of the plain of Serres. The nuns occupy themselves with hagiography and gold-threaded embroidery as well as making handmade pasta, preserves and other products that you can buy.
Meanwhile, the Virgin Mary Eikosifoinissa Holy Convent's main church is from the mid-19th-century but it was founded in the 5th century AD (making it one of the oldest monasteries in Greece). It has wonderful 16th-century frescoes and a section of marble flooring from the monastery’s Byzantine period around 1000. Finally, the Convent of St Panteleimon Chrysokastro (built on a hill once known as Aetoplagia or Eagle’s Slope) dates back to the population exchange after the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922. The settlement was once a Turkish village called Eletzik, before the population exchange with Turkey brought in Greek refugees who turned the village mosque into a church dedicated to St Panteleimon.
7 Getaways from Kavala on the slopes of Mt Pangaio
The densely forested slopes of Mt Pangaio hide so many surprises that every getaway from Kavala will feel like an adventure. With each season offering something different, you’ll be looking for excuses to return.
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