Pilio is one of Greece’s most popular year-round destinations. Offering a perfect combination of the mountains and the sea and with natural beauty within easy reach of cosmopolitan comforts, this is a place where food lovers will find themselves spoilt for choice with the local cuisine.
The area benefits from a rich natural bounty; it’s most famous for its crisp red apples, but it also produces pears, quince, chestnuts and delicious wild mushrooms. You can find many of these food items available as confitures or spoon sweets, and while you’re picking them up, don’t forget to add a few jars of mountain honey to your basket as well.
Pilio’s local cuisine is based on rustic fare such as sausage, game, wild boar and spetzofai (a sausage, pepper and tomato dish), the kind of food that was meant to nourish farmers and workers. Humble but delicious, the region’s food has developed in interesting ways, especially now that a younger generation is at the culinary helm. Reservations are not usually needed during the week, but are a must on the weekend, when both day-trippers from Volos and locals enjoying their days off pack into the local tavernas and restaurants.
“Humble but delicious, the region’s food has developed in interesting ways, especially now that a younger generation is at the culinary helm.”
Here’s where you should go once you’ve built up an appetite in the cool mountain air:
Niki, the owner and hostess of this simple taverna frequented today mainly by locals, was the first to introduce a grill-house to the area 25 years ago. Everything in this taverna is based on what’s available seasonally and is cooked according to traditional recipes. Try the beef in tomato sauce; the herb-and-vegetable fritters; the meatballs served with fried potatoes; or the goat, either slow-roasted in baking paper or cut up and cooked on a spit. On weekends and holidays, the grill is in full swing, with a selection of hearty meat dishes available. Every meal is topped off with a slice of halva or a spoon sweet made with fruit from Niki’s garden. • Tel. (+30) 24260.226.26
Located on the town’s main square (known as Taxiarchon), Agnanti is a modern taverna revamped in 2007 by owners Maria José from Spain and her husband Constantinos, who took over his parents’ business. The food is Mediterranean with a twist, such as the star anise added to a classic rabbit-and-tomato stew. The mushroom soup also comes highly recommended, as does the rooster in tomato sauce served with pasta, and the beef with smoked cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. A fireplace crackles in the winter, and wines from the region are served, too. • Tel. (+30) 24260.492.10
The inn here has been operating since 1965; the owner of the establishment’s restaurant, Constantinos Rigakis, serves traditional dishes in a rustic environment. In the evening, locals fill the room in order to enjoy tsipouro, the local spirit, and creamy galotyri, a soft cheese made in-house. The specialty here is wild greens cooked in tomato sauce and served with fried eggs, once a staple midday snack for farm workers. Try the spetzofai with a variety of sausages, peppers and tomatoes, or the hearty zucchini-and-cheese pie prepared by the owner’s mother, Eleni. Around 50 reasonably priced bottled wines are available. • Tel. (+30) 24260.311.21 & (+30) 6942.016.166
Inspired by what is believed to be the oldest cook-book in the world, the “Deipnosophistae,” a study on the art of eating from the early 3rd century AD, this elegant taverna/restaurant in a beautiful building with a garden has been around since 1992. The cuisine is Greek/Mediterranean and makes excellent use of fresh seasonal products found in the locality. Crab apples, for example, are used to make a wonderful syrup that finds its way into both sweet and savory dishes, and there are mushrooms and wild legumes picked from the nearby mountains, too. Order a meal of mushroom soup followed by slow-roasted pork knuckle with caramelized crab-apple syrup and, for dessert, the apple tarts served with vanilla ice cream. The wine list comprises about 20 labels, most Greek. • Tel. (+30) 24260.498.25 & (+30) 6977.975.082
This taverna takes its name from the nickname of its owner Yiannis, “the German”, who was given this moniker by his fellow villagers after he returned from a few years’ stay in Germany. Grilled meat is the specialty here, and there’s a great view to go with your meal; the taverna’s strategic location in the main square of Neochori, above the Church of Aghios Dimitrios, means that on a clear day you can see all the way to the Sporades. During the day, locals enjoy coffee, tsipouro and meze, while on weekends and during the holidays, the rotisserie spins constantly, producing delicious roast meat. Also try the rooster in wine sauce, the wild boar with quince and the pies made with wild greens and cheese. Organic wine from the local Patistis Vineyards is served in carafes, while there are also a few bottled labels. • Tel. (+30) 24230.553.90 & (+30) 6946.934.183
The taverna named Stefanos, also known as Pappou’s (Grandpa’s) Taverna, is located on the beach of Lefokastro, which gets busy in the summer but is very peaceful off-season. The taverna’s decor is nothing special, but it’s the fresh fish you’re here for. Choose from a selection of simple, authentic dishes that include seafood appetizers and entrées and wild greens. The amazing fish stew is unmissable, but be sure to order it a day in advance so it’ll be ready for you. Wine by the carafe, ouzo and tsipouro are on offer to wash down your meal in a friendly atmosphere beloved by the locals. • Tel. (+30) 24230.335.51
The Vronti family taverna has been in the same spot since 1950. These days, it’s in the hands of the second and third generation, Nikos and his mother Dimitra. It serves classic Greek cuisine and a few local specialties that are very well prepared, such as the gioulbasi (lamb roasted with garlic and butter in baking paper), stuffed cabbage dolmades and, of course, bobari (a traditional sausage made with offal, herbs and rice). Beef tail is slowly baked until meltingly tender and then served with traditional pasta and tomato in a dish known as giouvetsi, while the tongue is turned into a hearty onion-based stew. Dessert is on the house and comes from a large jar of homemade spoon sweets or from a tray of cakes (milk, walnut and orange feature prominently) prepared by Dimitra. • Tel. (+30) 24280.994.24 & (+30) 6936.908.552
Sisters Niki and Eleni have run this restaurant without a single day off since 2000. A fireplace in the corner sets the tone for this spotless taverna, and the outstanding traditional food does the rest. Start with the pie, with handmade filo pastry stuffed with local ingredients, and move on to the spetzofai made with thin sausages, whole roasted peppers and grated tomato. The trahana ( a grain product) soup with sausage, the beef cooked in tomato sauce with wild mushrooms, and the wild legumes with fried eggs are also delicious. The milk, eggs and some of the meats come from the family’s Karaiskos Farm, located outside Portaria, while the wine list is an eclectic selection of reds and whites. • Tel. (+30) 24280.991.21 & Tel. (+30) 24280.900.06
This place, which was Portaria’s first grocery store, was later taken over by self-taught cook Antonis Tsolakoudis. The taverna retains some of the elements of the original store, such as the store shelves and a mural by the native folk artist Theofilos, while the rest of the décor (a blue wall decorated with birds, chairs dressed in red velvet, a large fireplace and soft lighting) create an attractive atmosphere. The food carries the creative signature of the chef and includes beef tongue served with pumpkin soup, French-style veal in a wine sauce, and chicken in a pepper sauce served with sweet potato, chicory and pumpkin. A good selection of wines is on offer. • Tel. (+30) 24280.999.19