Amber Charmei

BY Amber Charmei

| Mar 09, 2018

Destinations

3 – 5 Pigadia: Sunday Afternoon at the Top of the World

At the 2005m chalet on 3 – 5 Pigadia, the views are as thrilling as the ride up, and the company is warm. Come enjoy Greece’s mountain pleasures ( …even if you don’t ski).

It’s hard to believe we are so close to the city. Just an hour and a quarter from Thessaloniki, and we’re already at the 3 – 5 Pigadia ski resort. The drive was a pretty one, with the hillside town of Veroia rising above an orchard-filled plain. Naoussa, the town at the mountain’s edge, was not more than another 15 minutes away.

We passed ski and snowboard rental places as the woods thickened. As we climbed, the turns grew sharper and the road got rougher; we slalomed around a few potholes before safely reaching the ski center. Now we see some kids sledding and others, plus some adults, are learning to ski; it’s a great place for it, with two ultra-gentle slopes. 3 – 5 Pigadia also has three easy slopes, four intermediate ones, and one black diamond – which looks dizzyingly steep from down here.

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(The slopes at 3-5 Pigadia. Photo credit: Shutterstock)

That dramatic piste doesn’t scare us a bit though, because we’re not here to ski. We came for a classic Northern Greek Sunday afternoon ritual: a tsipouro (a fragrant spirit distilled from grape marc) with friends, and, in this case, the fun in getting there. A ski lift will take us in open chairs from an elevation of 1430 m to 2005 m. We pick up our lift tickets at the booth on the way in. At 5 euros each, this trip up the mountain must be one of Greece’s best travel values.

Even if you haven’t been on a lift before, it’s not tricky. The chairs keep moving, but slowly. As soon as the one ahead of you leaves, you stand and wait for the next one – there are people there to guide you – and you just kind of fall into the chair. There’s a safety bar overhead. You pull it down over yourselves once you get in. (No one tells you this; we only noticed it ourselves after a few minutes, so our ride was more thrilling than necessary).

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(The chairlift at 3-5 Pigadia. Photo credit: Shutterstock)

I’ve never enjoyed getting to a place more. The trip up to the chalet is as exhilarating as a carnival ride – a really slow carnival ride, with a great view. The chairlift is small and entirely open but for that safety bar, and glides high above the ground and the treetops. The cool stillness up here is broken only by the occasional swish of skis or snowboards below. It takes us 10 to 15 minutes to ascend the almost 600 meters of elevation, so we have time to savor the trip. Just as the lift reaches the peak, Olympus comes into view.

We lift the safety bar and get ready to step off. When the chair gets lowest to the ground at the turn-around, we just stand up and move to the side right away. There is someone to give us a hand.

Here above the tree line, we’re breathless. It’s not just the air – although, at two kilometers above sea level, it does feel a little thinner. It’s the view. Storms have washed the sky clean and it’s dazzling in every direction. It’s shaping up to be a magical afternoon.

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(A view of the 3-5 Pigadia resort with mount Olympus in the background. Photo credit: Styllas Brothers Collection.)

The chalet looks exactly like you imagine it should – all windows, the snow crisp and bright and just centimeters away from the glass. There’s a blazing fire, and really good-looking people lounging around on low couches and benches. Rows of boots are here and there – we take ours off too so we don’t get the wooden floors and shaggy flokati carpets wet; almost everyone is just wearing socks. There’s some jazz playing, not too loud, and it sets the right mood.

A small menu offers coffees, teas, hot chocolate, wine (mulled wine too), tsipouro, Jaergermeister (which totally fits with the setting), hot dogs, and tsipouro meze. We get the last – delicious pickled vegetables, sliced hot dogs, and a creamy mayonnaise salad. Everything is utterly delicious at this altitude. We have just the one tsipouro each. Honestly, we’re already a little drunk just on the view.

The kids next to us are having a great time. We figure they must all be skiers. They’re not: “We came from Thessaloniki – just for a drink, the drive and this amazing view!” Like us, it’s their first time here. And like us, they can’t wait to come back. And they should – they seem to already have some sharp-looking ski clothes. Two of the girls, Vasiliki and Christina, grin. “Well, of course they do keep us warm. But they’re not so bad for photos, either.” Cheers to that.

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(The top of the chairlift at 3-5 Pigadia. Photo credit: Shutterstock)

We couldn’t be in better hands at the chalet. Experienced mountaineer Alexandros Styllas is from a mountaineering family (we loved hearing that he was already up on Olympus as a four year old). He ran the Christos Kakalos Refuge on Mt. Olympus (at 2650m!) for 15 years with his brother Michalis before coming here four years ago to revive the once abandoned chalet.

It takes some experience to run a place in the sky. “Before the start of the season we stock up on everything – including lots of firewood.” The day-to-day supplies come by snowcat. Everything’s well chosen. For instance, we’re drinking (very) local tsipouro from the family-owned Dalamaras winery, just down the mountain. The wine – made from the Greek Xinomavro variety – is theirs too. We have a delicious sip.

Beautiful as the view is now, we imagine the chalet must be heaven by night. How brightly the stars must shine up here. We so wish he could tell us more.

Our reverie is broken though, because all of a sudden, the chalet starts clearing out. The last lift of the day leaves at 16:00, and it’s getting close to that now. Even as fabulous as everything else has been, our ride back down turns out to be the most thrilling part of the whole day

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(The view of Mount Olympus from 3-5 Pigadia. Photo Credit: Styllas Brothers Collection).

The view coming up was exciting enough, but now, with the mountain at our back and what looks like the whole of Northern Greece before us, it’s absolutely majestic.Our cheeks will keep that mountain glow all the way back to the city, and well into the night.

Tips:

Check the weather on the mountain before setting off.

It’s absolutely dazzling up here! So you’ll want sunglasses – plus a hat, gloves, and more layers as you go up the mountain, even on a Spring day like we had. It gets breezy, and the temperature drops fast at such a high altitude.

Your tolerance for alcohol at an elevation just over 2000 meters may not be the same as your tolerance at sea level. We found it was half, at best. A drink really hits your blood up here (and you have another ride on the ski lift ahead of you.) We enjoyed just the one, slowly, and then switched to coffee.

 

Info:

3-5 Pigadia is on the provincial road Naoussas – Kato Vermiou. There are signs to guide you.

The ski center: tel. (+30) 23320 44981

The website is all in Greek, but the fb page is also in English

info@3-5pigadia.gr