The Homeland of Argo Ship and the Chiron Centaur
George Papadellis | SG Head
Sophia Parastatidou | SG Team | MA Candidate - ACG Apprentice
On the southeast side of Thessaly, in the center of Greece, there is an area named Pelion, famous for its unique and extraordinary landscape, shaped around the famous Pelion mountain. The mountain rises at the northeast side of the area, between the Pagasetic Gulf and the Aegean Sea, with an elevation of 1,624 m (5,328 ft) and a prominence of 1,473 m (4,833 ft). The area of Pelion is one of the most famous mountain – sea combo areas for tourists in Greece, as it provides a beautiful coastal city, Volos, which is famous as the starting point of the ancient expedition of Jason and the Argonauts (the most famous of the Greek Mythology) in a quest to find the Golden Fleece and as the landmark of the strong distilled spirit “tsipouro”, twenty four magnificent villages with unique architecture, a large network of special hiking trails, outstanding environment with NATURA 2000 zones, the re-built Argo ship, numerous awesome beaches both in the gulf and at the Aegean part, and very organized skiing facilities for winter days. And these are only the main Pelion benefits!
Pelion has a very interesting mythological background and has referenced some exquisite literature pieces. It has taken its name from Peleus, a king of ancient Greek mythology, the father of the famous semi-god Achilles. It was the homeland of Chiron the Centaur (the half man – half horse son of Apollo, who was taught by Apollo the art of medicine, herbs, music, archery, hunting, gymnastics and prophecy, and teacher of Achilles), and it is considered also as the place where the marriage of Thetis and Peleus took place. In the myth, the goddess Erida took revenge for being the only goddess not invited to the wedding (because she was the goddess of quarrel) by going invisible and bringing a golden apple with the inscription “To the Most Beautiful”. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, the three most important goddesses of mount Olympus, had a fight on whose this apple would be, and this quarrel was another reason for the start of the Trojan War. Except for Greek myths, Pelion Mountain has been on one of William Shakespeare’s Acts from “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, in the phrase “I had rather be a giantess and lie under Mount Pelion.” Also, the mountain is referenced in the book “Pierre: or, The Ambiguities”, written by Herman Melville.
Volos is located at Pelion mountain’s southwest foothills; it is a must-see city and one of the busiest Greek ports. Built at the innermost point of Pagasetic Gulf, Volos has the fire combo of the salty sea breeze and the freshness of the mountain air. The city has an elegant aesthetic, along with high-cultural options, such as early 20th-century industrial facilities, museums, galleries and historic churches. Don’t forget to visit the Archaeological Museum of Volos, the Volos Natural History Museum, the Modern History Museum of Volos City, the Thessaly Railway Museum, the Railway Station of Volos, the Rooftile, the Brickworks Museum N. & S. Tsalapatas, the National Museum of Industrial History, and the Entomological Museum of Volos.
Leaving Volos either to the mountain or around it, the 24 villages of Pelion unfold, one after the other. Their architecture is unique and strictly protected under a Presidential Decree. Buildings are made of local grey, blue and green stones, and of red clay. Unique mansions and houses with tall windows and painted ornamentations from the Pelian oriel construction, with three floors: kitchen - storage, common rooms, and bedrooms. And beautiful cobbled streets between them, perfect for walks and discovery of tradition and authentic life. Some of the villages one must definitely visit are Hania, Portaria, Makrinitsa, Zagora, and Tsangarada.
Hania village is at the top of the mountain, with a good ski center, two kilometers from the village. The Greek Mountaineering Club of Volos created the ski center in 1967. Today, the center offers two aerial lifts with several seat options, slopes for all experience levels (beginners, standard, experts, etc.), ski training school and shops to buy or rent ski equipment. The village also offers several options for accommodation, food and leisure.
Portaria village is located twenty kilometers from Volos, and it used to be the capital of the area for some years in the past. It has kept the original and traditional architecture and aesthetic, while at the same time it provides luxurious options for accommodation, food and leisure. Its characteristic is the old traditional large mansions built with the traditional Thessalian – Macedonian style with roofs from stone slabs.
Zagora village is the largest of the villages of Pelion, and its name (in Slavic) means “behind the mountain”. The name reflects the location and the view of this place, which combines the Aegean Sea with high altitudes. Zagora hosts one of the oldest agricultural cooperatives in Greece, the Agricultural Cooperative of Zagora-Pelion, which cultivates the "Starking Delicious" apple variety, trademarked "Zagorin" with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
Tsangarada village includes four small settlements, named after their churches (Aghii Taxiarches, Aghios Stefanos, Aghia Paraskevi, Aghia Kyriaki). The tall perennial plane trees that cover the village create a marvellous unique landscape, one of them over 1.000 years old, and there are also unique buildings with the traditional architecture of Pelion.
Makrinitsa village, close to Portaria, is called the Balcony of Mount Pelion. The village hosts traditional mansions and houses, like hanging ornaments, cobbled paths, old water fountains, the famous Museum of Folk Art and History of Pelion, even a café’ with a fresco of the famous painter Theophilos.
For those who seek to get a full-scale taste of activities when traveling, Pelion can offer varied and manifold options. Due to its unique geographic location, combining sea and a high altitude, visitors can engage in rigorous activities at any season of the year. Apart from skiing in the unique Agriolefkes Ski Center, there are: two sea-diving centers (the Aquacore Divers, located in Aghia Kyriaki of Tsangarada, and the Zoumbosub Diving, located in Afissos coastal village, with a 5-star PADI certification) offering diving lessons and excursions, numerous hiking trails ideally for spring and autumn, horse riding with excursions throughout the mountain, the Pelion narrow gauge railway (the narrowest in Greece and one of the narrowest in the world with its traditional Moutzouris Train "Smudgy") connecting the city of Volos with the village Milies, and the forests of North Pelion with their wealthy wilderness, their numerous healing herbs (thyme, sage, mountain tea, hemlock, etc), and their natural wildlife (turtles, lizards, badgers, foxes, jackals, bears, wolves, etc).
When it comes to food, Pelion will not fail even the most demanding gourmands, and one could argue that this differentiated Greek destination has a unique cuisine. Several local dishes include the tsitsiravla (an appetizer that contains vinegar, garlic, brine, and fennel), the local scrambled eggs (with sugar, cooked with tomato), the local rhubarb pie and the very famous spetzofai (sausages cooked with tomato, peppers, and aubergines). As far as taverns and restaurants are concerned, the abundant options are all at a very high level. To name a few, there are the Kardamo (located in Makrinitsa, known for its high-quality ingredients and wine), the Anapodo Platani (located in Tsangarada, a traditional coffee house that also serves unique Mediterranean dishes), the Kritsa Gastronomy (a restaurant that combines local cuisine with more generic Greek cuisine, known for its pies and spetzofai), the Meintani (located in Zagora, also known for traditional pies and other delicacies), the Lotos (in Agios Lavrentios, famous for its high-quality meat dishes and, especially, the caramelized kotsi), and more.
The weather and climate in Pelion Mountain are not as expected. First and foremost, the Mediterranean climate of the area is very healthy, and Pelion weather has balanced conditions because of the location of the mountain between the sea and other mountains. On winter days, Pelion Mountain becomes utterly white from snow (creating a landscape like that of fairytales) and keeps some mild temperature, never lower than 7 degrees. The summer days are hot and dry, with approximate temperatures between 18.6° C and 29.1° C.
Pelion can be reached either through airplane (from the Anchialos Airport, the Thessaloniki Airport or even the Skiathos island airport!), through motorway (320 Km from Athens or 205 Km from Thessaloniki), or through railway. It is not the easiest point to reach in Greece, but its magic will thrill you and give you an exceptional experience of a lifetime.