Robolo Βoutique Hotel
In 2010, Roula Malti and her husband, Vangelis Grammatosis, originally from Litochoro in Pieria, decided to buy an abandoned mansion, which dated from 1883, in that small town. It was in the Pazari neighborhood, in the old center of Litochoro. They wanted to renovate it and to move there from their current home outside of town. However, during the renovation of the historic 250 square-meter stone building, they realized that it was too large for their needs. In the end, they converted it into a traditional guesthouse with five rooms.
Robolo Boutique Hotel Litohoro, Pieria Tel. (+30) 2352.306.715, robolo.gr Double room from €100, with breakfast
The Robolo pine
The renovation work took seven years – among other things, they had to obtain a permit from the Pieria Antiquities Authority. “After Mt Olympus was proclaimed a National Park in 1938, which drastically limited timber production, and the Second World War, the owners of this mansion moved to America and never returned. It was a difficult situation, as the house had been deserted since 1940. It had no roof and many valuable features had been stolen,” Roula says.
“In the interiors, where feasible, we tried to keep all the old wood. It’s pine, the type of Robolo pine found on Mt Olympus as well. This was also the inspiration for the hotel’s name,” Vangelis says. “We kept the two original fireplaces on the upper floor; in one room, the fireplace that heated the water has been utilized in the new bathroom. We also used the old shutters as headboards, and the space where water jugs were stored became our cellar.”
They opened the guesthouse in June 2017, on the occasion of the Olympus Marathon race. Since then, they have been hosting mostly climbers and hikers who want to discover the Mountain of the Gods. “Almost 40% of our visitors come from Germany and Scandinavia; in the last five years, we’ve had many Americans and Israelis,” says Roula, who oversaw the decoration of the guesthouse in collaboration with the architectural firm Abstruct Architects.
Handmade By Roula
“I have great respect the free time of the people who visit us; it’s precious, so I try to reciprocate with our hospitality. That’s why I want to take care of our guests as if they were at home, to offer them a nice experience, not only in our space, but also in the wider region.” This care is evident in the fragrant organic cosmetics by local company MontOlympe on offer in the bathroom, and the meticulous cleanliness – all the common areas of the guesthouse shine – as well as in the homemade breakfast. Roula’s buffet spread is famous, with her pastries, made with dough she prepares with her mother, Kaiti Malti, stealing the show.
The hospitality of the owners is not limited to the guesthouse; Roula wants her guests to discover the beauties of the region. “Come, we’ll go for a picnic at Aghios Ioannis. The fir forest there and the views of Mt Olympus are magical,” she says, holding a wicker basket full of goodies. Driving for about 15 minutes, we reach an impressive clearing in front of a chapel surrounded by towering fir trees. “This spot is 10km from the guesthouse. We give our guests directions here, and when they make their way over, we’re already waiting for them here with the tablecloths. They can enjoy the nature, breathe in the fresh air, and unwind,” she says. Another experience among the many that visitors can enjoy is horse-back riding at nearby facilities run by Stella Papathanasiou. At the Pieria Therapeutic Riding Center (Tel. (+30) 698.128.0829), a certified instructor and speech therapist specializes in educational riding, therapeutic riding, and hippotherapy. This experience is ideal for beginners; lessons cost €20 for half an hour and are available for children aged three and above.
Music and cocktails
Depending on the season, the guesthouse hosts many themed events, mainly in the interior paved courtyard, which features seating areas, a sheltered grill, cypress trees, and ivy-covered walls.
During the delicious dinner she prepares for us, a feast of meatballs, rice, beef, and roast potatoes, Roula and Vangelis share their future plans. “We’re interested in expanding into a similar building, renovating it, and creating a sufficient number of beds to offer food at the guesthouse every day. We want to make our food service a permanent provision,” they say.
The next morning, before we leave, a small jar of local honey awaits us, accompanied by some tea from Mt Olympus. This is how strangers, protected by Xenios Zeus, the ancient god of hospitality, were treated in homes in ancient Greece. Visitors were sent on their way with wishes and gifts, to establish bonds of friendship.
The peak known as Potistra stands at an elevation of 1,450 meters on Mt Varnoundas, southeast of the village of Aghios Germanos in Florina. From Potistra’s stone chapel of the Dormition of the Theotokos, two lakes are clearly visible. On the left is Mikri Prespa, with its bean fields and the islet of Agios Achilios with its few inhabitants. On the right is Megali Prespa and the tripoint, the water point where Greece, Albania, and North Macedonia meet. In the distance are the mountains of Albania. Between the two lakes there’s a strip of land, which, according to locals, was once much narrower, as the water levels were higher.
This area is where the final acts of the Civil War played out, in 1949, with Democratic Army of Greece rebels trying to escape across that strip of land. The Prespes region is a place rich in history, with impressive flora and fauna, exerting a special allure on visitors. This unique beauty captivated Naoussa-born Thanos Triantafyllidis, the co-owner of the guesthouse Kivotos Ep’avlis, who first came to Aghios Germanos at the age of ten when his father was transferred for a time to the local state hydroelectric plant. His most vivid childhood memories are related to family trips to the mountains and lakes. Perhaps this is why he returned here, even after having moved back to Naoussa as a teenager.
Aghios Germanos, Florina
Tel. 23850.512.80, kivotosepavlis.com
Two persons from €130 (+ €20 for each additional person)
A daughter’s wish
Thanos has shared his life with his wife Maroula since they were children; their mothers were close friends. The couple married in 1980, and would regularly visit Aghios Germanos with their two children, Paraskevi and Giannis, even though they lived in Naoussa.“In 2002, our daughter asked Thanos to buy a dilapidated house in the village and bring it back to life. Three months later, the dream was set in motion,” says Maroula. They bought an old saddlery, a complex with a number of smaller spaces, a large, central wooden door and an internal garden. In two years, they completed the restoration. They built three houses, one for themselves and a maisonette for each child.
“The saddler and his wife had lived on the top floor, and there was a guest area next to them. When my father first came in 1961, he’d stayed there temporarily. The bathroom, the saddler’s workshop, and the stall for his little donkey were located downstairs. Our house was a barn; next to it was the wood-fired oven and, at the far end, were the animals: pigs below and chickens above. The oven still works; we just fixed the insides,” says Thanasis, sitting in a space they call ‟The Hangout.” It’s a traditional sitting area with wooden windows, a wood stove, a stone tap, fluffy carpets and woven fabrics draped over built-in sofas. The wood used for the roof – this space was originally open to the sky – is over a century old, and comes from the saddlery’s original structures.
For a decade, the Triantafyllidis family invited friends to stay, and as genuine Naoussa locals, they hosted celebrations with wine, food and music. ‟In 2014, we happened to host chef Elias Mamalakis and take him around the area. We spent two days together. He urged us to operate it as a guesthouse; it had never crossed our minds,” says Maroula, filling our glasses with Symposium 2011 wine, a Xinomavro wine that was, the couple tell us, the last wine produced by Thanos and his friends in Koukouli, Naoussa.
The beginning of self-sufficiency
Thanos Triantafyllidis has made most of the furniture at Kivotos Ep’avlis, which began operating as a guesthouse in the 2015-2016 season. There are two maisonettes available. One accommodates five people, and the other eight. Each is fully equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, and sofas that convert into additional beds. The decor is traditional, with embroidered curtains and painted wooden sofas, but there are also some modern elements in the kitchens; they don’t detract from the rustic atmosphere.
‟It helps a lot that the complex is enclosed. The children are perfectly safe as they play on the lawn in the courtyard,” says Maroula. She explains that they do not provide services at the guesthouse. However, they do stock the fridge with necessary items and a few goodies; guests have everything they need to prepare their own breakfast in the communal area. ‟Everything here is relaxed; we socialize with the guests, get to know each other. Besides, most of them are repeat visitors,” she says.
As we talk, what interests them most, apart from promoting Prespes, their favorite place, is to convey their views on the importance of sustainability. Thanos designed the guesthouse to be self-sufficient. Since 2011, long before they opened as a commercial operation, electricity has been generated by the photovoltaic panels on the roof of the building, which, for aesthetic reasons, have been placed on the back side. The fuel for heating comes from the forest. What’s more, they collect rainwater to irrigate their vegetable garden.
An ark of memories
Part of the work Thanos has done on the building – and he has done a lot – involved hydroblasting; through this, he ended up uncovering the original wall of the neighboring post office. ‟We found a hammer and sickle sign, which means that the house was requisitioned during the Civil War,” he notes.
The couple are optimistic about the future of their region. ‟We want to see Prespes Park fully functional; we want the borders to open in Laimos,” Thanos says, with passion in his voice. Since 1967, the border crossing at Laimos between Greece and its northern neighbor has remained closed; a political agreement has been signed to reopen it, but that action has not yet taken place.
Regarding the guesthouse’s name, Thanos explained why he chose to call it an “ark” (‟kivotos”). ‟In addition to our daughter’s wish for a place here, we, too, wanted to have a refuge to turn to in difficult times and a place to enjoy the rest of our lives. Prespes saved us; we spent the pandemic here. It is truly an ark.”
Eleni Batsala, who hails from Naoussa and has a background in nursing and experience as a receptionist at a dental practice, fell in love with Nymfaio years ago. She was enchanted by the atmosphere of this historic traditional settlement; every time she visited, she felt like a door to the present was shutting behind her, and she was stepping back in time. This feeling eventually gave her the idea of creating a themed guesthouse in the village. With experience in reception work and customer service thanks to her previous professional position, she hoped to establish a small venture that would offer personalized hospitality. Around 2006, she began restoring an abandoned mansion that dated from 1923, and which, according to its operating license, is classified as historical building.
She retained three stone walls and the foundations, preserved elements of local architecture, added a new wing and, two and a half years later, opened Nymfes, on Christmas Eve of 2008. “The Nymphs were young women of divine origin who lived in the mountains, by rivers and lakes, and in springs. Essentially, they protected the elements of nature. We’re on the mountain, at an elevation of 1,350 meters; the name seemed fitting. After all, we all have a responsibility to preserve the natural environment,” she tells us, seated in front of a large painting created by fellow Naoussa native, artist Giorgis Badolas, who passed away in 2010.
Tel. (+30) 23860.311.14, xenonasnymfes.gr
Double rooms from €120, with breakfast
An art space
“This painting was commissioned for the opening. It depicts a modern nymph in jeans, lying by the springs of Aghios Nikolaos Forest in Naoussa. The natural elements are all captured on canvas; even the breeze is suggested in the motion of the falling leaf. The central narrative is ecology; as you can see, the recycling symbol appears in the hand of the Nymph.”
The seven-room guesthouse, which spans four levels, hosts a total of 19 works by Giorgis Badolas, part of Eleni’s personal collection. Some are exhibited in the communal areas, while others decorate the rooms. Each room is named after a Nymph, and each door is decorated with abstract portraits crafted by the artist from Naoussa: Eurydice, Phaethousa, Calypso, Lampetia, Phylira and Daphne. They are accompanied by some information about each one, such as, for example, that Phaethousa was the daughter of the god Helios and that, along with her sister Lampetia, she tended to her father’s herds on the mythical island of Thrinakia, mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.
The seventh room started operating last Christmas and is named Ocyrrhoe. There, Eleni welcomes travelers with pets because it is isolated from the other rooms and has direct access to outdoor space. The portrait of the daughter of the centaur Chiron, which adorns the wall above the bed, was designed by artist Kostas Kaldaras. “I want guests to come into contact with artworks; that’s my world,” says Eleni.
The nymph-like house
Every room has different furniture and textiles. Some pieces were sourced from antique shops, while others were specially crafted, such as the iron harp of Orpheus that adorns the headboard in Eurydice’s Room. Some are handmade inspirations, such as the wooden table next to the fireplace with grooves filled with tin, which was created by her husband. Traditional handicrafts, abound, too.
“Phaethousa looks like what traditional winter rooms were like in Nymfaio. It has the fireplace in the middle and next to it the ‟minteri,” where the family spent cold days. They ate, slept, and traded news,” says Eleni, sitting in the sunroom of the first floor. Located at the end of the corridor, it’s a square space with very large wooden windows, offering views of the village. It’s the ideal place for reading. “Because winters were very harsh in the village, houses had these sunrooms where people could bask in sunlight without having to go out in the cold,” she says.
The accommodation features a small spa with a hammam and a jacuzzi, illuminated by candles. Its use for couples comes to €50 per hour and reservations are required. “We need a head’s up to prepare the relaxing music,” Eleni says.
This eye for detail and welcoming hospitality is evident everywhere; from the cleanliness of the rooms and the homemade strawberry liqueur served as a welcome drink, to the certified Greek breakfast. There is no buffet; every day the menu features different flavors along with some staple products, such as fresh goat’s-milk butter and homemade jams.
This mountain complex of six stone-built villas in Krania, Grevena, surrounded by dense black pine forest in the northeastern Pindus range at an elevation of 1,170 meters, offers isolation and tranquility. It also serves as an ideal base for exploring Valia Calda, which in the local dialect means “Warm Valley.”
The villas bear the names of nearby places in that same local dialect; Krania is a Vlach village, where in times past many residents spoke Vlachika. For example, Gkoura di vale, meaning “the Mouth of the valley”, refers to a patch of land formed within the forest. Each villa (80 sq.m.) is spread across five different levels, which, if necessary, can be divided to create two independent houses. For this reason, they also have more than one entrance.
In each villa, a bedroom with a white wooden ceiling is located on the top floor, and next to it, slightly lower, is a corner fireplace. The wood is available free of charge; each guest carries it on their own from the communal woodpile. Downstairs, on the middle floor, there is a bathroom and a small kitchen equipped with various essentials. At this point, a door divides the living space. The remaining section includes a second bedroom and another bathroom, making it easy for larger families or more than one couple to share the accommodations.
The decor is traditional and features many handicraft items, including woven rugs, carpets, and wooden or iron beds with carved headboards. “We bought every object and piece of furniture ourselves; it’s our passion,” says Sofia Pelagidou, 48 years old, originally from Ptolemaida. Together with her husband, Babis Foufas, a native of Grevena, she decided to open a resort in the area of Peplos, in Evros.
Tel. (+30) 697.484.8346, pindosresort.gr
Double rooms from €140, with breakfast
Breakfast and dinner at the Black Pines Chalet
At the heart of the complex is the Black Pines Chalet restaurant, featuring a spacious hall with a fireplace and views of the forest. The breakfast buffet is set up here, and people also relax here, reading and playing board games. Customers not staying at the hotel stop by for coffee and drinks, and, above all, from noon onwards, for the restaurant’s excellent dishes. “Our menu is based on local cuisine; we use traditional recipes and collaborate with local producers. We also have some more modern dishes,” says Sofia, who attended culinary school before taking charge of the kitchen. Their restaurant operates from Friday to Sunday in the winter, and every day in the summer.
Menu items include hare and wild boar stew; pork shank with mashed potatoes, which is also their most famous dish; beef cheeks with homemade pasta; various meats on the grill, such as lamb chops; trahana (yogurt-fermented cracked wheat) with sheep’s milk; and trahana soup with mushrooms.
“We prepare breakfast depending on both the number of guests we have that day and their preferences. My wife enjoys working with dough and making desserts. You really should try the rice pudding,” urges Babis. Apart from a number of enthusiastic locals, who have found a spot for good food here for the past fifteen years, Pindos Resort also attracts people who hike in the mountains and enjoy nature. “Our foreign visitors come from the Balkans, Israel and, in recent years, we’ve been seeing more northern Europeans,” he says.
In the “enchanted forest”
Opposite the main entrance of Pindos Resort is the start of a 4.5-kilometer circular trail, set up a few years ago by a private initiative, that leads to a area called “Zineli.” After traversing a black pine glade, visitors encounter the “enchanted forest.” It’s a rare phenomenon where the tree trunks, due to humidity, are covered by large-leafed ivy, and the sounds you hear when the wind blows makes it seem as if they are talking to you. Further along the path is another impressive sight, a large cluster of red pine trees. The hike is suitable for beginners, and lasts about two hours in total; it is organized by the local branch of Trekking Hellas. “Nearby are the Boulouvarou Waterfalls, where you can swim in the summer,” says Giorgos Tottas, who is guiding us to Zineli. Another activity, which takes place from April to October, is the 4×4 jeep safari through Valia Calda. “The best period is October, when the deciduous trees are bare. On this trip, which lasts about five hours – two hours in the car and three on foot – you can even see a cluster of robolo pine trees,” Giorgos says.
Aside from hiking, the area is also suitable for mushroom picking, as more than seventy species grow in the region. Among them are the yellow foot mushroom (Craterellus lutescens), the parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota), and the chanterelle mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius). “Mushrooms are part of the area’s natural wealth; the Association of Mushroom Friends of Greece was founded in nearby Grevena in 2012.”
The nature around the Pindos Resort is also wild; according to Babis and his wife, bears, wild boars, hares, and foxes occasionally appear. “Last year, we had a tame fox; people got to know it and fed it,” says Sofia.
In the warmer seasons, the resort hosts weddings; as soon as the weather improves, Sofia becomes a wedding planner. The couple have plans to expand as well. “We’re looking to build ten wooden houses, each accommodating two people. The contact with the forest will be unique, like in a fairy tale,” says Babis.