EX­PLOR­ING GREECE

AN AD­VEN­TURE FOR EV­ERY DAY OF THE YEAR

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Promotional Feature -

From raft­ing cool wa­ter un­der the sum­mer sun to hik­ing, is­land-hop­ping and ski­ing dur­ing the cooler months, Greece of­fers a world of wild es­capes…

As a land of myth­i­cal tales, Greece isn’t short of ad­ven­ture. And while most seek sal­va­tion (and sun tans) on its pris­tine shores dur­ing sum­mer, be­yond its boun­ti­ful beaches and busy sea­son lies an in­tox­i­cat­ing mix of wilder­ness, na­ture, his­tory and charm­ing tav­er­nas that spill onto the street long after dark.

Greece is ideal for ex­plor­ers all year around, and no more so than out­side its peak months. By then the crowds have all but gone, the tem­per­a­tures still hover in the high teens and the maze of hik­ing and bik­ing trails across its hills lie empty. Then, it turns into one of Europe’s best travel se­crets, with cheap flights aplenty.

But no mat­ter when you go, there’s al­ways some­thing to ex­plore, whether ram­bling for hours, even days, along craggy paths, raft­ing rush­ing rivers through huge gorges, or is­land-hop­ping re­mote vil­lages pop­u­lated only by lo­cals. This is where you’ll find the Greece be­yond the brochure, and it can be seen 365 days a year – so long as you know where to look.

NAT­U­RAL BEAUTY

Sand­wiched be­tween Athens and Thes­sa­loniki, the 37km-long Pe­lion Penin­sula in Thes­saly lies a five-hour drive from Athens. This is a rugged re­gion with fine beaches, char­ac­ter­ful vil­lages, old set­tle­ments and hik­ing trails ga­lore. There’s even a ski re­sort at Agri­ole­fkes from which you can see the Aegean Sea.

Be­gin with a wan­der around some of the area’s pret­ti­est vil­lages, all close to the main port and town of Vo­los, for­mer home to the Arg­onauts of leg­end. The vil­lage of Makrinitsa is known as the ‘bal­cony of Pe­lion’, af­ford­ing views over Vo­los and the Pa­gasetic Gulf. A wan­der along its cob­bled paths will also un­cover over 50 foun­tains as well as myr­iad churches and charm­ing Ot­toman-in­spired houses that hug the hill, some of which are now guest­houses.

At Por­taria there’s a 5km walk along the fairy-tale Cen­taurs’ Path that passes streams and wa­ter­falls. At Milies, lis­ten for the whis­tle of the fa­mous Pe­lion steam train, op­er­at­ing since 1895. It runs from spring un­til au­tumn, pass­ing gorges, bridges and dainty tun­nels, and dur­ing win­ter it’s even pos­si­ble to walk along the tracks.

For those in good shape, there’s a more de­mand­ing five-hour walk from Veneto to Ano Kera­sia – the area’s high­est moun­tain vil­lage – via the Monastery of Flam­ouri. It’s one of the area’s most scenic hikes, trekking wild ravines and thick for­est. You will need good shoes, though. Mean­while, in Tsagarada you can get close to na­ture by horse-trekking with a guide along its se­cret paths.

GET OUT­DOORS

At Zagori, deep in the Pin­dus Moun­tains in north-west­ern Greece, the sights get even more as­ton­ish­ing. Ad­ven­tur­ers here can un­leash their in­ner ex­plorer by vis­it­ing the world’s deep­est gorge as well as alpine lakes, some rare fauna and flora, laid-back trekking paths, rolling val­leys and tow­er­ing forests.

Start at Zagori’s most ar­rest­ing site, the ge­o­log­i­cal spec­ta­cle of the Vikos Gorge (up to 1,600m deep in parts) that makes up part of the Na­tional Park of Vikos-aoos. Its trails bring wel­come shade from the hot sum­mer sun, while in au­tumn the leaves start to turn and the

walks here be­come even more mag­i­cal, in­ter­spersed with sight­ings of wildlife and birds.

One of the most pleas­ant routes is the Greek Na­tional Trail 03, which fol­lows the Voido­ma­tis River right through the gorge. In the sur­round­ing ar­eas you’ll find over 40 tra­di­tional vil­lages, which of­fer an au­then­tic look at ‘old Greece’, typ­i­cally built in a cir­cle around a cen­tral square.

There are more than 160 pretty arched bridges in the area, built to help trav­ellers cross rivers and streams dur­ing the 18th and 19th cen­turies. Be­tween two and five hours of hik­ing will take you from Mikro Papigo to Drakolimni of Timfi, a mys­ti­cal alpine lake cupped by the moun­tains. Those want­ing to im­merse them­selves in the wa­ters can meet at the bridge near Aristi vil­lage in or­der to raft or kayak into the canyon.

Round your visit off in an old tav­erna, de­vour­ing savoury pies, warm fa­so­lada (bean soup) with fresh bread, grilled meat and some Greek wine. Sheer bliss.

Tales from the river­bank ( clock­wise from this) Voido­ma­tis River is one of Greece’s best raft­ing spots; Zagori’s bridges are justly fa­mous; the port town of Vo­los is a gate­way to the Pe­lion Penin­sula

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