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Off the beaten track in August!
If you want a magical holiday what better recommendation than
where the ancient Greek Gods spent their summers?
According to Greek mythology the mountainous, lush, Pelion
Peninsula was home to the Centaurs and the summer habitat of the twelve Gods of
Olympus. Despite having lived, worked
and travelled fairly extensively in Greece over the last forty years, I had
never previously visited Pelion, being slightly off the beaten track. But what a discovery after all this time and
definitely an area to which I will return again. Mountains; forests; beaches;
traditional mountain villages; stone-built merchant houses and mansions - quite
a different Greek experience. No wonder Pelion
was recently declared a UNESCO heritage destination.
After an overnight stay in the wonderful 5-star Electra Palace
in the centre of the vibrant city of Thessaloniki and a three hour drive south
on the motorway to Volos we were in striking distance of the small mountain
village of Pinakates, our base for the next three nights.
We had chosen to stay in a restored guest-house, an authentic
mansion built in 1847 lovingly restored by Edouard and Maria-Louisa. A Belgian couple, they first visited the village
twenty five years ago, decided to make it their home and have spent much of the
intervening period restoring traditional merchant mansions, including their
guest house Ta Xelidonakia (Little Swallows).
The term bed & breakfast guest house doesn’t accurately
describe Little Swallows, as the facilities and level of service provided is
more akin to a small upmarket hotel. Edouard, an interesting and amiable host, personally meets and greets
with a welcoming drink. With six bedrooms
in the main house, three in outbuildings, all lovingly restored by local
craftsman, this authentic house offers high standards. Beautifully furnished
with antiques, several with four-poster beds – re-modelled to accommodate
today’s larger sleepers - each room has its own individual style. In each room a basket of fruit and a drinks
tray awaits with water, home-made cherry liqueur and Tsipouro - distilled from
grapes, local to northern Greece and associated with hospitality and good company. All of which makes for a very good start to a
stay, particularly as it is topped up each day!
Breakfast is taken on the terrace overlooking the swimming
pool with wonderful views of the village and Pagasitikos Bay. Breakfast, overseen by Maria-Louisa, was a
real treat with freshly squeezed orange juice, seasonal fruit and thick creamy
yoghurt, meats, cheeses, small pastries and a different dish each day – Belgian
waffles, omelette, poached eggs – with endless coffee and speciality teas. During breakfast Edouard was always on hand
to impart local information, advise on places of interest and offer his
services wherever needed to help his guests get the most out of the area.
On our first day, eager to relax and do very little, we
lounged around the pool before being served with afternoon tea and cake – all
included – so what with that and a hearty breakfast we really didn’t need
anything to eat until the evening, especially with drinks throughout the day from
There are two tavernas in Pinakates, both of which serve
typical Pelion dishes with generous portions and delicious food with very
palatable local wine. My favourite was
in the village square, built around an extremely old plane tree and set down
from the road, with a surprisingly large ornate marble water fountain with
water direct from the mountains served straight onto the table, this was
traditional Greece at its best. We also ate in the nearby village of Milies, the
coastal resort of Kala Nera and, without exception, found ourselves mostly in
the company of locals and Greek tourists and enjoyed excellent food.
Pinakates is very well placed if you want to explore
northern Pelion with shingle/pebble beaches on the southern Pagasitikos Gulf
and, a little further afield, on the northern Aegean Sea (where much of Mamma
Mia was filmed) stunning long sandy beaches. It is also a haven for hikers as
there is a network of old cobbled mule paths that connect most of the villages,
with more being opened up each year.
I can also highly recommend a trip on The Little Train of
Pelion. Having seen this journey on Michael
Portillo’s TV programme Continental Railways it was something I was keen to
experience. The train runs daily during the summer and Edouard drove us to
Milies, where we had lunch in the wonderful Old Station Taverna, and then collected
us in Ano Lechonia at the end of the line - all part of the service to his
guests! The train dates back from 1903 and crawls along at a maximum speed of
20klm allowing ample time to enjoy the stunning mountain and sea views,
crossing iron and stone bridges. The
journey takes around 90 minutes with a 15 minute stop in the village of Ano
Gatzea for refreshments at the station or a visit to the Olive Tree Museum. A wonderful experience.
As you would expect in any mountain village there are slopes
and steps to negotiate and a fair number of steps to access Little Swallows, so
it’s unsuitable for anyone with walking difficulties.
For those looking for authentic, unspoilt, Greece, with
wonderful hospitality, a stay at Little Swallows would be hard to beat.
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