In Mount Pilio you and your family can have the best of both worlds: easy access to some of the country’s most splendid beaches as well as some of its greenest, most idyllic mountain villages. It’s not by chance that this was the holiday spot of the 12 Greek Gods and legendary land of the centaurs: in Pilio you can fully savor old fashioned tranquility.
Here your days will revolve around swimming at sandy, child-friendly beaches, before snaking up oak, fir and plane tree-lined roads (especially on the northern side) that are like cool jungly tunnels speckled with shards of light. Nature on the 95km-long peninsula (on the Pagasetic Gulf, exactly between Athens and Thessaloniki) remains lush year-round, although in the coldest winter months snow blankets the slopes of Pilio and the curved, somewhat harrowing roads become harder to negotiate. Meanwhile Pilio’s Agriolefkes ski resort bustles with skiers and snowboarders.
Almost everywhere in Pilio you’ll hear the hypnotizing sound of running water – gushing out of stone fountains on the side of roads, trickling down mossy mountain walls and babbling in streams at the sides of trails.
The relatively cool evenings (by Greek summer standards) lend themselves to strolls along narrow cobblestone pathways bordered by nature brimming with life.
The slopes of Pilio are famed for their biodiversity, as the mountain’s proximity to the sea creates a large variety of microclimates in a relatively small area. Here the forests are full of medicinal herbs (many of which are dried and sold in the villages), wild blackberries to pop into your mouth, toads, electric blue dragonflies, hedgehogs, deer and foxes. In the villages ancient walls are splashed with bougainvillea, the air is laden with the mulchy, musty aroma of wet vegetation and kids can run free, playing hide-and-seek in village squares.
Throughout its 28 stone-built villages you will struggle to find a bad meal. The food in Pilio is primarily authentic and traditional although more modern and gourmet options are also available. Local specialties include stewed rabbit, baked goat and handmade pasta with rich sauces.
It’s well worth renting a car for your Pilio holiday so that you can make the best of its varied landscapes, villages and beaches. Must-see villages to take your kids are Aghia Kyriaki, a fishing village on the southern side, where you can swim and have a delicious seafood meal or lobster pasta, crispy whitebait and other fresh delights at tavernas To Mouragio or O Manolas.
Beautiful Tsagarada is also an ideal destination for kids, where they can run along cobblestone paths and climb the giant ancient plane tree in Aghia Paraskevi Square as you sip a Greek coffee or an aperitif. A lot of the region’s best restaurants can be found here, such as Evoxia which has created a gourmet Mediterranean menu using quality ingredients from around the country. Deipnosofistis and The Lost Unicorn are also must-tries, both with eclectic menus and lovely outdoor courtyards.
For more traditional fare try Alekas or Agnanti, the latter located in an outdoor square in true traditional style. Other scenic villages are Milies and Mouresi, one of Pelion’s oldest.
A wonderful way to see Pilio that is bound to delight children is via the ‘Moutzouris’ steam train that sets off from Ano Lechonia and heads to Milies in a 90 minute ride, stopping at various villages.
On the southern side of Pilio, along the Pegasitic Gulf, child-friendly beaches include Belian, Marathias, Paou and Katigiorgis, the last being a small, clean beach next to a tiny fishing village.
On the northern side, Aghios Ioannis is one of the most popular swimming spots by far, as is Papa Nero right next to it. At Mylopotamos to the northeast, the water is deeper and getting to the sea requires a short walk down from the road, but the water is magnificent.
One the southeast, head for the large stretch of sand at Horefto (nudists usually bathe at the far end) and Mourtia.
Aquatic activities include swimming and kayaking, while in early and late summer you can also head into the thick forests without it being too hot. A network of scenic cobblestoned kalderimi trails connect the villages and are perfect for hikes, horseback riding or mountain biking.
Aside from the lush vegetation and natural beauty of Pilio, there is much to admire by way of architecture with the villages containing many beautifully maintained stone and wood mansions, and Byzantine churches.
Walks along marked routes can either be done with guides or independently planned, using online way-pointed routes, such as those found on Pilion Walks.