Once you’ve discovered the villages of Pelion, there’ll be no turning back. Everything magical about mainland Greece is found here: mountain & sea, local crafts, mouthwatering food, sandy beaches and glorious nature. It's a region of Thessaly that is loved by Greeks, who need no second invitation to drive 3½hrs from Athens or 2¼hrs from Thessaloniki to Volos, the coastal city at the foot of Mt Pelion. And they weren’t the first here. Mt Pelion was big in Greek mythology, as the summer residence of the gods and home of the half-human, half-horse centaurs. Once you’ve seen the views of the Pagasetic Gulf or drunk coffee in a village square beneath an age-old plane tree, you’ll understand why. We’ll introduce you to the 12 best-known villages in Pelion, divided between the mountain’s three regions (central, eastern and southern). And if that gets you tempted, you'll definitely want to check out our hidden gem villages of Mt Pelion. But let’s get you started with the highlights.
Portaria – Makrinitsa – Chania – Drakia
Known as the gateway to Pelion, the village of Portaria is just 11km from Volos. Your introduction will be the chapel of Panagia Portarea (after which the village appears to have been named) and in the main square, you’ll find delicious traditional dishes at Kritsa, a taverna set amongst hydrangeas and plane trees. Walking through the alleyways to the northern part of the village, you reach the Mana fountain, from where a path leads along a ravine with crystal-clear water and small, wooden bridges. In this way, you head along the Centaur’s Trail, a short but beautiful walk that ends at the Karavo Waterfall. Emerging from a stone gate, you reach the Adamena source, south of Portaria, having shared the same soil as Mt Pelion’s legendary centaurs. The main road you see before you leads to Makrinitsa.
It’s not just the unique view from Makrinitsa (known as the balcony of Mt Pelion) that will make you feel like you’re in the clouds. It’s also the special architecture of one of Greece’s best-known traditional settlements that will enchant you. In the main square, you’ll find the chapel of Agios Ioannis tou Prodromou with marble reliefs, and a fountain with four lion heads and a huge hollow plane tree next to it, into which you can fit and get the feeling that you’ve been transported to another world. The narrow alleyway behind the chapel takes you to the Kafenio tou Theofilou, a cafe that requires no decorating as it boasts a massive mural by the legendary folk painter Theophilos, who lived in Pelion and left his artistic imprints on houses, cafes and wherever he had the opportunity to speak the language of art. In the Byzantine Museum, you’ll have the opportunity to see ecclesiastical relics of the region. But don’t leave Makrinitsa before visiting the shops selling traditional Pelion products such as handmade pasta, spoon sweets, preserves and mountain herbs.
The journey from Portaria to Chania, near the peak of Mt Pelion, leaves you speechless. So if you’ve got the choice, go for the passenger seat and enjoy the landscape that changes colour and texture as you climb. It’s worth stopping at the Karaiskos Agritourism Farm, a hidden gem with animals and a large vegetable garden producing everything you can imagine. Maybe this is your moment to learn how to roll out filo pastry in a cooking lesson. But you certainly won’t be calling it a lesson as it ends at a beautifully laid table in the company of the farm staff and an assortment of delicious food before you. Before arriving at Chania, you’ll also pass roadside stalls selling local products, such as apples, chestnuts and honey. Each is a culinary treasure chest. Visiting Chania means being on the doorstep of one of the two ski centres in Greece with a sea view; it means you cover yourself with a blanket when, just a few kilometres lower down, there’s a heatwave; it means walks in an endless beech and chestnut tree forests, part of the European Natura 2000 network.
The lower square of Drakia village, with its characteristic plane tree, is considered the oldest in Pelion. It’s a quiet village, built on the slopes of Mt Pelion, that carries a heavy history (115 Greek fighters were executed here by the Nazis on 18 December 1943). Drakia doesn’t get many visitors and staying in the village will make you feel like a local. For a meal, head to Metaxogenis and for coffee and something sweet, Ligorema. Walking from one end of the village to the other, you’ll encounter (other than welcoming locals) an olive and wheat mill from 1880.
Pinakates – Vizitsa – Milies – Argalasti – Lafkos – Milina
Even the ruined houses of Pinakates transport you to a time when this Pelion village was full of life and the inhabitants arrived by mule, in the traditional way, since the road here was only created in 1979. Pinakates got its name from the wooden plates (pinakia) made by the first inhabitants. It’s a preserved settlement and, the moment you arrive, you’ll be tempted to order a sweet or tsipouro (made locally of course). At Pinakoti taverna, the speciality is lamb with stuffed figs and goat’s cheese and local music. Don’t forget to fill your bottle with crystal-clear water from the marble water fountain.
If you’re familiar with images of Pelion’s villages, you’ve seen Vizitsa. It’s one of the most photographed and is famous for the two-storey mansion houses that rise from the alleyways. Meanwhile, the square is another village trademark, with restaurants on every corner and the aromas of local specialities tempting you to stop what you’re doing and have lunch. Make sure to shop at Melenio, it’s the king of local flavours as every producer in the area, large and small, is represented there. Try the marmalade from lemon-peach, a spoon sweet made from the local firiki apple, and honey from bees that feed on pine or arbutus. And yet another landmark is the Agrotourism Cooperative of the Women of Vizitsa. Leaving the village in the direction of Milies, there’s a bench on a bend in the road where you can gaze down at the beaches along the Pagasetic Gulf. Take a photo … it feels like you’re on the wing of an airplane.
One of Mt Pelion’s ‘lead’ villages, Milies has always had a special significance for the visitors. Perhaps it’s because it exudes local culture, housing the famous Library of Milies (with rare historical material from the Greek Revolution), a folklore museum and the church of Pammegiston Taxiarchon, built during the Turkish occupation when Christianity was banned. Note the lack of religious symbols outside the church, such as a cross or bell tower, for this very reason. But the best is reserved for inside the church. There are murals with the zodiac circle (or wheel of human life), a subject you’re unlikely to find in other Orthodox Christian places of worship. And there are 48 upturned jars (four in each dome) and a system of underground wells that amplified the voices of the priest and choir but kept sounds from escaping and provoking the Turks. Milies one of Pelion’s most popular villages and you’ll understand why as soon as you explore the streets. Before leaving, head to the legendary Moutzouri rack railway train station. There’s a small museum in the station with walls full of stories of when the lives of locals were dependent on the railway line linking the villages of Pelion. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness the arrival of the train and the driver rotating the locomotive on the turntable.
The principal village of southern Pelion, Argalasti serves most visitors’ needs. But it’s also famous for its tastes as the microclimate here is perfect for growing vines and there are two organised wineries that you can visit (as well as plenty of smaller amateur vineyards) in the area. Every Saturday, you can buy the freshest local products as the village fills with the aromas and sounds of a farmer’s market – vegetables, mountain greens and crunchy local fruit. If you can stay a little longer, book a bike tour that ends with sunset wine-tasting at one of the two wineries (or visit both if you’re up for it). Leaving Argalasti, you face a dilemma: to your left, you descend to Xinovrisi and Paltsi beach and the Aegean Sea or head straight towards the other villages of southern Pelion.
Your first impression of Lafkos is on foot as it’s one of the few car-free villages of Pelion. From the car park, you have two choices… and it’s worth taking both: To the left, the road leads to the little Church of Profitis Ilias, with its unique view and model plane airport (thanks to a local enthusiast). And to the right, you’ll find the all-white church of Agia Paraskevi, fronted by tall cypress trees. This is where the village reveals itself to you. Ask to be shown the Radio Museum (with an interesting collection of radios) and then the village bakery. You’ll see that it’s architecturally different from other buildings in the village, having been designed by Italian engineer Evaristo de Chirico as a train station. And your final choice? Olive bread and red pepper pie, handmade by Yiannis the baker?
Another gem in this gorgeous Pelion village is the Kafenio tou Forlida, the oldest traditional Greek cafe operated continuously by the same family (since 1785). The inside tables are set around a heater and there are endless photographs from past generations on the wall. Order a traditional Greek coffee. The taste is something else. Our final tip is to follow the circular cobblestone footpath linking Lafkos and Milina (our next Pelion village), with unbelievable views of the Pagasetic Gulf and the islet of Alata.
Milina village is one of the most popular coastal points of in southern Pelion. There are many restaurants (the fresh fish is unbelievable) and cafes … and even a bar for a final drink of the day. Back in the day, Milina was used by sailors looking to stock up on provisions and seek shelter in the small coves along the coast. Today’s sailing boats have greater comforts but they’re still attracted to Milina and the likes of Trikeri and Agia Kyriaki at the tip of the peninsula. Park just outside Milina and walk to Vathospilia, a small, secluded beach. Or even better, if you’ve walked from Lafkos this is a fantastic endpoint for a swim and a coffee. The small wooden sign as you leave reads: The Cave of the Centaur Chiron. Follow it and discover where these mythical creatures of the mountain dwelled. Alternatively, rent a kayak from Milina and row to Alata, just opposite. Just like its neighbouring islet, Prasoudi, it’s uninhabited – although it’s still used by shepherds and has the ruins of monasteries and Byzantine chapels. The feeling of seeing them from the water is indescribable.
There are four neighbourhoods in this sparsely populated Pelion village, with each feeling like it marks the end of the settlement. Wandering around, you’ll see the Nanopouleios School building, dating from 1909 and still used as a primary school. In the summer months, it transforms into an exhibition and concert hall. And right next door is the Achillopouleios Commercial School, dating from 1864 when it was a pioneering commercial school for Pelion and an indispensable support for the village communities. Meanwhile, how often do you get to drink coffee under a 1,000-year-old plane tree? Well, that’s the experience you’ll have in Agia Paraskevi Square, under a tree whose branches span 15m and whose roots stretch as far as two marble water fountains on the other side of the square. As with Zagora and the other villages on this side of Mt Pelion, greenery starts within the village and reaches as far as the beaches. You can enjoy horse-riding in the woods or descending a gorge, just two of the unexpected experiences here. And at the foot of the village are the beaches of Mylopotamos and Fakistra – unquestionably on the list of best beaches in Pelion.
The other focal point when it comes to Pelion’s eastern villages, Zagora has a rich history of trade, handicrafts and cultural events. It’s the commercial centre of the region, with a name that means “the place behind the mountain” in a Slavic dialect. Known in the past for its wool production, it continues to develop agricultural products such as apples (especially the Protected Destination Origin Starking and Zagora Pelion varieties). It’s worth visiting the Agricultural Cooperative, especially during the apple harvest. Ellinomouseion is the oldest school in Pelion and the Zagora Library has more than 3,000 books, maps and manuscripts from as far back as the 17th century. There’s excellent food at Meintani (a taverna that is the soul of the village) and plenty of spots to enjoy coffee and sweets. Meanwhile, at the foot of Zagora are the beaches of Horefto, Agioi Saranta and Analipsi. It’s worth checking out all three.
The unmissable villages of Pelion
So where are your holidays in Pelion going to be … in the central, southern or eastern villages of the region? There’s beauty wherever you go on this legendary mountain. But if you’ve made up your mind, you’ll definitely also want to check out our hidden gem villages of Mt Pelion. We’ve got a few more secrets up our sleeve.
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