11 Winter Wonderlands in Greece

This is the most wonderful time of the year in these hand-picked mountainous villages


1. Nymfaio, Florina

Bears, wine and flawless beauty

Whether it’s the impressive mansions in the village or the nearby beech forests full of mushrooms, Nymfaio, 28km from Florina, is a place with plenty of attractions. Try some fine wines from the renowned local vineyards, take a canoe out on Zazari lake, or stop at an animal refuge to visit bears or wolves.

Walk among the village’s magnificent mansions and ask the locals about the glory days of Nymfaio – from the 17th to the 19th century, it was known as one of the largest silversmith centers in the Balkans.

Until January, you can visit the Arcturos Bear Sanctuary where you might catch sight of one of the rescued bears. Alternatively, head to Agrapidia where there is a wolf refuge. Wine lovers should visit  Domaine Alfa, Tel. (+30) 23860.20.111, or stop by the Kir-Yianni Estate (Tel. (+30) 23860.61.120) in the village itself.

By Olga Charami 

2. Aghios Germanos, Florina

Explore the Authentic Prespes lakes

At Aghios Germanos, on the slopes of Mount Varnounta, you’ll enjoy another type of beauty. Walk down streets line by impressive houses with wooden balconies and check out the town’s Byzantine Church with its exquisite wall paintings from 1743.

Most people come here to enjoy the two lakes of Prespes: the smaller one (Mikri Prespa Lake) is 44 sq km, the larger (Megali Prespa Lake) is 272 sq km, and together they hold 260 species of birds and 20 species of fish. The scenery here is otherworldly: boats suddenly appear through the fog, fishermen ply their trade alongside pelicans, water buffalo walk lazily among the reeds, and mountains and dark forests provide an impressive backdrop. Make sure to take a boat trip out on Megali Prespa Lake with some of the local fishermen. A visit to Aghio Achilion, the island in Mikri Prespa Lake is also a must. The perfect way to end the day is with a glass or two of the traditional local tsipouro, a plate of Prespes butter beans and some fish from the lake.

By Olga Charami

3. Ano Poria, Serres

A view of the lake

Ano Poroia lies nestled on the slopes of Mount Belasica, a natural border between Greece and Bulgaria. Since almost the entire village is laid out amphitheatrically, you can enjoy views of Kerkini Lake, just 10 km away, as well as of the Serres plain from nearly anywhere in town.

Departing from the highest point of the village, you pass through dense forest to find stables with horses available for riding along paths on the slopes of the mountain where you can once again admire the view. Around the village’s main square, you can find shops with local products such as jams and preserves, as well as sweets made with buffalo milk. Ano Poroia has several guesthouses, tavernas and cafes, and the surrounding area is ideal for excursions. It doesn’t take long to get to the Greek-Bulgarian border and to the natural spas in the village of Agistro. Ano Poria lies 97km from Thessaloniki.

By Lina Kapetaniou

4. Palios Panteleimonas, Pieria

Nature and magical sunsets

Boasting exceptional examples of Macedonian architecture, the most picturesque of the villages of Pieria is located at an altitude of 500m on the slopes of Mount Olympus, and has a 180-degree view covering everything from the Thermaikos bay to the peaks of the “mountain of the gods.”

The sunset offers a truly special sight and the ideal spot to enjoy it is on the plateau of the regional road, near the town’s parking lot. Aghia Paraskevi Square, with the plane tree in its center, is full of cafes and restaurants which, thanks to the good quality on offer, are often bustling.

Very close to the village is the Castle of Platamonas, while another easy excursion is to Prionia. Walk up to the waterfalls and then head to the taverna with a wood-burning stove for a classic bean soup, a meat pie or some other traditional dishes. Visit the town of Katerini, just 23km. Close by, too, is the archaeological site of Dion, a sacred ancient Macedonian site which flourished between the 5th century BC and the 5th century AD.

By Vassiliki Kerasta

5. Kipi, Ioannina

Zagori at its best

Kipi (the name means “Gardens” in English) is built at an altitude of 800m and took its name from the lush gardens of its traditional houses. Kipi is located in the heart of Zagori, where the Mitsikeli and Tymfi mountains meet in northern Pindos, 39km from Ioannina.

The village of about 70 inhabitants has fountains and stone paths, a clock tower and a folklore museum “Agapios Tolis” (Tel. (+30) 26533.60.300), featuring household items, traditional costumes; at time of print, the museum was closed but scheduled to reopen soon. Some of the most beautiful stone bridges, such as the Kontodimou Bridge and the Kokkori/Noutsou Bridge, are nearby.

Those who love trekking should follow the path that leads from Kipi to nearby Koukouli, a very charming and quiet village that retains the aura of bygone days, or the path to Dilofo, another beautiful village. Experienced walkers should head for the Vikos Gorge for a day-long escape that can include other activities. For more outdoor adventures, contact Alpine Zone and Trekking Hellas.

By Vassiliki Kerasta

6. Syrrako, Ioannina

The diamond of Tzoumerka

A sensational route over canyons and under imposing mountains brings you to Syrrako, 85 km from Ioannina and 90 km from Arta. It takes some effort to get there, but Syrrako is a village like no other.

Stone bridges, stone houses with slate roofs, cobbled streets, roadside springs and watermills are all on view as you wander through the incredible streets, admiring the old mansions with their arched entrances and stopping to sip from the Goura Spring next to the town square.

Ask for the church of Aghios Nikolaos to be opened for you so you can see its carved wooden iconostasis, or visit the family home of the Greek poet Kostas Krystalli. There’s a beautiful folk museum, and the local waterfalls are popular with canoeists.

Neighboring Kalarrytes is stunning, too. You can reach it from Syrrako via the old route which runs through the ravine of Chrousia.

By Olga Charami

7.  Zagora, Magnesia

Pelion nobility, timeless charm

Zagora is a good choice for all seasons. This traditional village of about 2,000 inhabitants lies 44 km from Volos. Because it’s at a height of 550m, there’s likely to be snow to accompany your winter tour, lending an unparalleled charm to one of the most beautiful corners of Greece.

Take a stroll to admire the unique architecture of the mansions, visit the village’s Greek Museum or lose yourself in the public library as you learn about the outstanding nautical heritage of the Zagorian seafarers.

Walk the well-marked trails through the thick mountain forests and feel the vitality of the landscape that Homer wrote about, before warming up by the fireplace and tasting the local cuisine in a taverna. Definitely visit the Agricultural Cooperative of Zagora (which this year celebrated its 100th anniversary) to sample their newest product, preservative-free molasses made from PDO Pelion firiki apples.

By Thymios Kakos

8. Megalo Chorio, Evritania

Cozy exploring

The babbling of brooks can be heard everywhere, the impressive mountains command your attention, there’s a fire in the fireplace and your glass is full of the local berry liquor. The other travelers around you are nibbling on savory pies, sausages and grilled sweetmeats. You’ll find the same wonderful hospitality everywhere in Evritania.

Clinging to the slopes of Helidonas and Kaliakouda, about 10 villages border the Karpenisiotis River, forming a route of about 30 km which starts from Karpenisi and ends in Prousos, at the Monastery Panagia Prousiotissa.

Visit the Folklore Museum, shop for local products from Yiannis’ store and enjoy hot drinks and delicious pastries at the cafe run by Mrs Paraskevi (just ask) or at To Paramythi.

Walk along the paths to Kefalovriso or Gavri, or drive the scenic route to Kaliakouda. Extend your stay until the Epiphany (January 6) to enjoy the local custom of Kalimeradon, a procession of men who parde through the streets of Gavri and Megalo Chorio singing carols and beating traditional drums while they gather treats!

By Olga Charami

9. EPTALOFOS / ANO AGORIANI, FOKIDA

In the arms of Mount Parnassus

Ano Agoriani, or Eptalofos (it’s called that because it’s built on seven hills), lies 24km from Arachova. Choose it for the silence, the good food, the plane trees in the square, the walnut and chestnut trees on the village streets, or the surrounding pine forest and its idyllic waterfall. At the Folklore Museum {Tel. (+30) 6906.161.841} you can learn about the history of Mount Parnassus from everyday objects of yesteryear.

The route from Eptalofo to Livadi and the ski center is excellent, as are the trails for those who love hiking. Part of the European E4 hiking path leads to Eptastomos, the southernmost glacier in Europe; it stays frozen year round, as the temperature never rises above -7 C. One of the most beautiful and interesting sites is the wetlands of Aghia Eleousa where you’ll find the Kifissos Springs. Before you leave, visit the wine-tasting facilities at the Argyriou Winery.

By Vassiliki Kerasta

10. Stemnitsa, ARCADIA

Discovering the Mainalo Mountains

Stemnitsa (39 km. from Tripoli) is a lively village thanks in large part to its silversmith school, which maintains a centuries-old tradition and is well worth a visit. During the holiday season, they operate workshops for visitors. There’s also a charming folklore museum in the village, and the Church of Aghios Giorgos in the town square sports murals by Fotis Kontoglou, widely acknowledged as the 20th century’s greatest icon painter.

The major advantage of Stemnitsa is its location: the village makes an excellent base for walks in the surrounding area, which includes neighboring Dimitsana with its beautiful neighborhoods and Water Power Museum, and the Gorge of Lousios with its monasteries, which you can reach via the famous hiking route running through the gorge. Weather permitting, why not add rafting on the Lousios River or mountain biking or hiking in Mainalo to your program?

 

11. Zarouchla, Achaea

Homely hospitality in the middle of the forest

Chelmos Mountain has two sides. On one side is Kalavryta, famous for both its impressive cog-railway and its ski center; on the other side of the mountain are beautiful villages with rare charm. Zarouchla is perhaps the best of these; its stone houses are silent but eloquent witnesses to the architectural traditions of the area. A typical example is the Tower of Asimaki Fotila which houses the Zarouchla Tower guesthouse.

Following the yellow signs bearing the image of a saxophone will lead you to Rema, probably the only coffee-jazz bar in the Greek mountains. Take to the road and discover the region. The view towards the slopes of the mountain will take your breath away. Among these wild rocks are the mythical Waters of the River Styx, into which Achilles’s mother, Thetida, plunged him to make him immortal. One of the summit of Chelmos Mountain is known as Neraidorachi and is one of the least light-polluted spots in Europe, making it the ideal home to the highest observatory in the Balkans.


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