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The best way yet to mix it in Greece > part II July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Mainland.
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The following are among my favourites >

Kastellorizo > one of Greece’s remotest hideaways. Kastellorizo, a rocky speck 80 miles from its nearest island neighbour, Rhodes. The island is favoured by arty celebs such as rock and roll recluse Dave Gilmour, it inspired his latest solo album, ‘From an Island’, and was the setting for the 1991 movie Mediterraneo, a pre-‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ treatment of Italian soldiery during World War II.

The only village looks like an Aegean version of Balamory, with blue, green, pink and saffron houses, cafés and tavernas around a deep blue fjord of a harbour. Even the coast guard office, with its distressed purple and ochre paint job, looks like something out of the interior design pages, and the whitewashed dome and minaret of a disused mosque, relic of the Ottoman era, lend an air of eastern promise to the waterfront.

This is the prettiest, most unspoilt island village in Greece. Some great walks in the deserted hinterland, but take lots of drinking water, it gets hot up there. It would not be great for families, there are no beaches although you can sunbathe and swim from the bathing deck of the Hotel Megisti, even if you’re not a resident. It hosts lots of overly happy and attractive Italians from mid June to the end of August.

To get there, take a scheduled or charter flight to Rhodes, then the Olympic Airways puddle-jumper (25 minutes) Dodecanese Seaways catamaran (two-and-a-half hours) or ANES Symi Lines or LANE ferry (four-and-a-half hours). Alternatively fly directly from Athens. Hotel Megisti, tel 22460 49219, www.megistihotel.gr, doubles from €35-50, has no pool but super harbour views and a swimming deck with bar, loungers and bathing ladder. Mediterraneo Hotel, tel 22460 49007, www.mediterraneo-megisti.com, doubles from around €80, is a dazzlingly colourful boutique hotel on the harbour.

Fourni > “Welcome to Fourni, Island of the Corsairs” reads the sign as you sail into one of the Aegean’s most perfect hidden harbours. Way off in the north-east Aegean, Fourni was a pirate’s lair for more than 2,000 years, the last of its sea-wolves were finally cleared out by the Royal Navy in the 1820s. With its deeply indented bays, sandy beaches and barren hills, Fourni offers the best of both worlds, it feels remote but is easy to get to, and if you start to get bored you can hop over to bigger, livelier Samos or Ikaria easily enough. Plenty of waterfront tavernas in its only village, which has an adequate beach, and even a makeshift summer disco, tucked away out of earshot from the village so as not to disturb the locals.

And then there is probably the best seafood in the Aegean, Fourni’s huge fleet of tiny fishing boats supplies all the best Athens restaurants, but you can eat the same thing, fresh off the boat and for a quarter of the price, right on the harbour. Peace and quiet to read all those worthy tomes you’ve been meaning to get around top. Minimal traffic. Why not? No luxury accommodation, no activities, no sightseeing.

The best way to get there is a charter flight to Samos then connecting ferry (two hours, 30 mins) or hydrofoil (one hour) from Samos, or fly to Athens and take a ferry from Piraeus, at least one per day in summer, journey time less than eight hours. Fourni has no full-service hotels, but there’s a decent choice of clean, bright pensions, studios and apartments with en-suite facilities and plentiful solar-heated hot water. Owners or younger members of their extended family, meet every arriving ferry.

Samothraki > Not all hideway islands are tiny. Hulking great Samothraki, original home of the Winged Victory, is the joker in the pack, with miles of rugged coastline and pebble beaches surrounding a central massif that rises to the summit of Mount Fengari, the peak from which Poseidon brooded over the changing fortunes of the Trojan War. It’s a fantastic island for walking, with thick woodland natural hot springs and cold cascades that gush even in high summer. The enigmatic Sanctuary of the Great Gods is one of the strangest and least visited of Hellenic ancient places, and Chora, the only town of any size, is happily devoid of tourism.

Go to feel the faint presence of ancient gods, swim in clear water from deserted pebbly beaches and paddle in mountain streams. The only other visitors are likely to be French archaeologists, elderly Athenians taking the waters in the outdoor hot springs at Therma, and a dwindling tribe of almost equally elderly German hippies. This is not an island for foodies or fans of luxury hotels. Long, empty, pebbly beaches are good for swimming and beachcombing, but there’s no sand. Getting there takes time and patience.

To get there, start with charter flights to Kavala or Thessaloniki on the mainland, then ferry. The Hotel Kastro, tel 25510 89400, www.kastrohotel.gr, is the only full-service hotel on the island, on the bland side but with a big pool, it’s in Palaiopiolis, the original island capital and now effectively the old quarter of Chora. Otherwise, an old-fashioned array of pensions and village rooms with less facilities.

Kyparissi > Not all hideaways are islands. Kyparissi is one of a string of tiny villages along the east coast of the Peloponnese mainland, between Nafplio and Monemvasia. It’s intimidatingly difficult to get to by road, the mountains behind its twin pebbly beaches rise almost vertically out of the Aegean, and even harder, spiritually, to leave. Once you’re there there is absolutely nothing to do except unwind, bring twice as many books as you normally would. It also offers swimming and snorkeling, energetic hiking among empty hillsides. Unless you are happy falling back on your own inner resources, you’ll go stir crazy. It’s a very long way from anywhere, though the village has a few shops and basic tavernas.

To get there take the hydrofoil from Piraeus, the port near Athens, two-three times a week in summer, or rent a car and brave the mountain roads, it’s a seven to eight-hour drive from Athens airport. Hotel Kyfanta, tel 27320 55356, is pretty much the only place to stay, and very nice too, with five self-catering studios sleeping up to three. Book well ahead, or risk dosing among the olive groves.

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The best way yet to mix it in Greece > part I July 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Islands Ionian, Greece Mainland.
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Which island > Pick your spot carefully for the ideal holiday, Greek island villages and mainland resorts may look much the same in the brochures, but on the ground there is a lot of variety.

For family peace and quiet, Skiathos in the Sporades offers some of Greece’s best soft sandy beaches, short transfer times from the airport, and a good choice of villa and self-catering accommodation as well as hotels. It also has lots of watersports and, for day trips, is within easy reach of other nearby islands such as Skopelos and Alonissos and the Pelion peninsula. Lesvos, in the north-east Aegean, has warm, shallow waters and sandy beaches at Kalloni Bay on its south coast, one of the Aegean’s most picturesque villages at Methoni in the north, and a hinterland that is good for exploring on foot or by car.

Cephalonia in the Ionian islands, with quiet, pretty villages, has some excellent villas and hotels and some dazzling beaches, also has good watersports, there are speedboats for hire at most resorts. Scheduled flights make Corfu more attractive this year, but steer clear of the main resorts and head for a villa with a pool in the Nissaki area, in northern Corfu, if you want upscale tranquillity. Corfu’s tiny neighbour, Paxos, is even quiter and more peaceful, but it also offers good water sports, including windsurfing and water-skiing, for active families.

Mainland Greece > For those with itchy feet, the mainland is a better bet than the islands, because you can be spontaneous and rent a car or hop on a bus to explore the tantalizing hinterland. On the islands, you’re at the mercy of ferry schedules. The Western Peloponnese, reached also by charter flights to Kalamata, is a great area for exploring, with Medieval castles and Venetaian fortresses, ancient temples at Olympia, wild mountain scenery and some stunning beaches around Navarino. Still on the Peloponnese, the Stoupa and Kardamyli are good bases for exploring the craggy scenery of the Mani and its tiny castles, or the rugged mountains of the Taigetos range. Visitors to the Halkikidiki peninsula in northern Greece get much further than the sandy beaches of Kassandra and Sithonia, or a day cruise round the isolate Monasteries of Mt Athos. But beyond the resorts lies the hinterland of eastern Macedonia and Thrace. This is a great region for eco-travellers, with pelican-haunted coastal wetlands and the thick woodland of the Rhodope mountains sheltering Greece’s only wild bears.

Island hopping > If you’re planning an island-hopping trip, forget battling your way across Athens to its main port, Piraeus, thanks to the new Athens public transport system. Instead, hop in a taxi to Rafina, the smaller and much pleasanter harbour only 20 minutes from the Athens’ airport, for ferries and hydrofoils to most of the Cyclades and the north-east Aegean. You may skip Athens and fly straight to the islands such as Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Rhodes, Kos and Samos are all good places to start an island-hopping journey. 

Sightseeing > Hedonists who need to assuage the vaguely guilt feeling of going to Greece just for sea and sand can have the best of both worlds by choosing a resort within shouting distance of some of the wonders of ancient Greece. On Crete, the luxury resort of Elounda is less than an hour away from ancient Knossos, with Crete’s other Minoan and Hellenistic relics not much faurther away. Rhodes has the largest surviving Medieval city in Europe, a World Heritage Site in its own right, and a parcel of even more ancient ruins.

Sacred Delos, with its avenues of columns, is a day -trip from the fleshpots of Mykonos. For the best of Athenian sightseeing from an island base, you could choose a holiday on Andros, Kea, Poros, Spetses or Hydra, each within day-trip distance of the capital. On the mainland, Nafplio, the first capital of the Greek state, is one of Greece’s prettiest towns in its own right, though it is short on beaches, so pick a hotel with a pool, and has ancient Mycenae, Argos, Tiryns and Epidavros more or less on its doorstep, with ancient Corinth only a little further away. The sandy beaches of the Halkidiki region make a good base for exploring the ruins of Macedonia, from Roman Philippi to Pella, Vergina, Dion at the foot of Olympus, and the not-to-be-missed Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki.

Food and drink > Dining in Greece has moved on in recent years. You can find and there are restaurants that are, as they say, worth the detour, though they are still outnumbered by cheap and cheerful tavernas. Starting with the islands, devout foodies will find a handful of really good restaurants in Chania and Rethymnon in Crete and in the Old Town in Rhodes, but the most target-rich environment is Mykonos Town, where the options range from sushi and Mediterranean fusion to classic French and Italian. For the best restaurants, though, you need to head for the cities, Athens for the newest trends in modern Greek, Thessaloniki for a distinctive kitchen influenced by the climate and terrain of the north and the culinary traditions of Byzantine eras’ Constantinople.

If you can read a bit of Greek, or get a Greek acquaintance to translate for you, the annual Alpha Guide (Desmi Editions, €10) is the Greek foodie’s bible, listing great places to eat all over the country.

Ultimate boltholes > Sometimes, like Huck Finn, you just need to light out for the territory, and find somewhere that doesn’t show up on the main holiday map. Greece still has places that have escaped the holiday empire-builders. Getting to them can be a challenge, and may involve an overnight stay on a larger island with an airport open to  charters, but www.gtp.gr is an open-sesame for ferry, fast catamaran and hydrofoil connections. 

See, Feel, Hear and Taste Halkidiki July 10, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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Contrary to heavily visited areas in Greece, Halkidiki is a calm, dreamy peninsula in northern Greece where art and nature become one. It is very close to Thessaloniki, the second largest Greek city. Mountain villages, fishing towns, archaeological sites and religious centers bear the traces of the country’s rich culture and heritage.

halkidiki.jpg  One of Halkidiki’s three finger peninsulas, Mount Athos or Agion Oros in Greek, projecting into the sea is a religious center; the next is a natural wealth and the third a popular entertainment center with golf courses, nightclubs and casinos. The mountains’ green and the sea’s blue are enchanting.

But it’s time to visit Aristotle’s birthplace, in Halkidiki, Northern Greece. A week spent exploring small villages and Blue Flag beaches was enough to make me realize that Halkidiki’s beautiful peculiarity lies in it’s ability to offer everything a Greek island does while on the doorstep of Thessaloniki, if not more. Whatever your preference, Halkidiki will appeal to each of your senses.

My first stop was Aristotle’s monument in Stagira. It is a small village hidden about 50km from Mount Athos, the third of the peninsula’s ‘fingers’ and worth a visit. It remains unspoilt, it’s inhabitants mostly live off forestry and mining, and tourists who choose to wander off the beaten track find their way there. Although the Ministry of Culture has declared it a site of historical importance because of it’s chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary, most tourists don’t seem to have noticed. In it’s narrow streets woven through low stone houses you will find many traditional coffeehouses, with the locals recounting stories of the village’s rich history, and point you toward ruins from the Byzantine era.

The public transport network is good, and buses will take you to and from each of the peninsula’s fingers. Nevertheless, I chose the freedom of having my own car, I recommend this as there are many car rental services, and made my way down to Ouranoupolis, Mount Athos’ largest village, even though I knew my exploration of Athos would end there. Agion Oros, the Holy Mountain, is a short boat ride away, but its 20 monasteries have never allowed entrance to females. For men who would like to visit, information can be obtained from the Agion Oros offices in Thessaloniki tel 2310 252578.

I also got to tasting Mount Athos famous wine produced by the monks in the Tsantali Mount Athos vineyards. Of course, Ouranoupolis remains simply enchanting. Perhaps it is the tranquility of being a breath away from the center of Eastern Orthodox Monasticism. Or perhaps it is the dedication you will encounter in the pilgrims you will meet, or perhaps it is simply the stunning landscape that looks as though it has remained untouched by the rest of the world.

A must see is the quite imposing Prosforiou fortress which is the best preserved of its kind, even though it was destroyed in 1850. At the harbor I found small boats that took me to one of the five uninhabited Drenia islands where I swam in the clearest blue waters, and later in the day I took a boat to Ammouliani, a small island about five kilometers away, where tens of tourists and locals alike go snorkeling and diving. Alikes and Agios Georgios are only two of the many exquisite beaches, and although the island offers excellent hotels and camping for those who wish to stay overnight, I started making my way back to Ouranoupolis where accommodation caters for every taste and every budget, from the most luxurious Eagles Palace Hotel, http://www.eaglespalace.gr, to traditional bungalows near the harbor.

The following morning I drove to Sithonia, although boats from Ouranoupolis are frequent. Even for those that are not nature lovers, the quite literally breathtaking mountains in Agios Nikolaos will invite you to climb them. The locals will advise you to visit Vourvourou, only 10 kilometers away, and buy fresh fish from the fishermen’s settlement. In stark contrast, the evening sees everyone heading to Neos Marmaras, which bustles with life and has been dubbed the most cosmopolitan village in the area. Near by you will find the Porto Carras Resort, http://www.portocarras.com/english/home.htm, with an onsite theater, an 18-ball golf course and a Casino nearby.

The peninsula’s third finger, Kassandra, is by far the most developed, being Halkidiki’s administrative center. Its mountains make it ideal for both summer and winter. If you find yourself there in August you will encounter the festivals celebrating the Virgin Mary with traditional folk music and food.

A week is certainly not enough to soak up everything Halkidiki has to offer, and you might prefer to choose a peninsula according to your taste. In any case, driving back to Athens I was reminded of the following: “The more I travel, the more I realize fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” I urge you to visit this magnificent, yet often overlooked region.

What you will see > The underground Caves at Petralona, with a fossilized skull dating back 70,000 years; the tower of Apostle Paul in Nea Fokea; the windmills in Kassandria.

What you will hear > Traditional Greek folk music at the Virgin Mary Festival on August 15 in Afytos, and August 23 in Kalandra.

What you will taste > Thyme honey from every village in Kassandra, fish from fishermen settlements in Vourvourou and Nea Skioni, excellent wines from Mount Athos.

What you will feel > The sea breeze even as you climb the villages’ mountains, water from the Vrysitsa Springs in Afytos.

Related Links >
Halkidiki > http://www.halkidiki.com/
Mount Athos > http://www.inathos.gr/
Ouranoupolis > http://www.ouranoupoli.com/
Kassandra > http://www.greek-hotels.com/kassandra-info.php?area=Kassandra
Stagira > http://www.ierissos.gr/en/perioxh_stagira.htm
Petralona Caves > http://www.showcaves.com/english/gr/showcaves/Petralona.html

Flashback > Greece putting on its best face for the Olympics June 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics, Greece Athens, Greece Mainland.
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EDITOR’S NOTE > Please note that this article is dated back to 2004 and is reposted herewith, today in June 2007, after the request of a friend. This article is reposted from my personal archives. I apologise if this sounds a bit of out-dated, however, it brings some light as to the pre-Athens Olympics situation and how this city was rapidly changing during that time. On the other hand, the particular article, can also enlight you about what to see in Athens and Thessaloniki, during your visit.

Lastly, let’s not forget the fact that Greece and Athens will be staging the Special Olympics in the year 2011! Read more about it, at our category titled “OLYMPIC GAMES”. Thank you for your attention.

Greece putting on its best face for the Olympics > It’s the land of the gods and the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Whatever the time of year, Greece is a wonder to visit, but never more than this summer (2004) when the Olympics return to Athens.
 
The games taking place this summer (2004) in Athens will include 28 sports taking place in 38 venues. That’s a lot, and spectator fatigue could quickly set in. Fortunately, visitors will also be able to explore some of the wonders of this ancient city.
 
Whenever I was driving around Athens, I was struck by the extent of construction and by the sheer energy the Greeks were putting into preparations for the event. They have been eagerly awaiting this since the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896, and they are intent on being at their best for the world.
 
Aside from the game sites, one major project has been the extension of the subway system, the hub of which is the station at Syntagma Square in the centre of downtown Athens. It is extending across Athens from Syntagma Square located in the centre of downtown Athens. The station is a state-of-the-art conception, and includes a range of boutiques. Artifacts uncovered in excavating are displayed at suitable points, all spotlessly clean.

Not far from the Syntagma Square station is the newly renovated Benaki Museum, which houses a grand array of art, artifacts and jewellery extending from Neolithic times to the present. You can follow the course of history by moving from level to level.
 
A more concentrated and easier to manage Museum is the Cyclades Museum, just around the corner. It houses artifacts, mainly from Cyclades Islands, that are up to 5,000 years old. Of course, there are other Museums in central Athens but after an exhausting visit to the games, you may wish to concentrate on the Syntagma area.

Try to catch the changing of the Guard in front of the Parliament Buildings facing the Syntagma Square. The guards parading by with rifles over their shoulders will be dressed in their traditional skirted “evzone” costumes.

Walk a few steps over to Kolonaki Square, where you will encounter some of the more upscale shopping boutiques in Athens. Browse and drool.
 
You can also head over to the Plaka, old Athens. Here tourists congregate and the shopping is more of the cheap souvenir variety, just what some of us expect to find in our travels to a foreign land.
 
For me, a visit to Athens is never complete unless I partake of loukoumades, hole-less doughnuts served with honey and chopped nuts. My favourite shop that sells these delights is located between Syntagma Square and Omonia Square. Ask the locals and they will direct you. In fact, the Greeks are a most hospitable people who love to give directions, particularly when they hear a “kalimera,” good morning, or the standard “yassou,” good life, in parting.
 
This brings us to another aspect of Greek culture, body language. If you ask a question and the response is a raised head accompanied by “Ohi,” that is an emphatic “no.”
 
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Greeks have been waiting for the return of the marble relief sculptures from the Parthenon that are now in the British Museum, hopefully during the Olympics. You will endear yourself to them if you refer to these as the “Parthenon Marbles” rather than the “Elgin Marbles.” They are most sensitive about this politically charged issue and appreciate everyone’s support.
 
If you are planning to use the bus system, don’t forget, as I did several times, to purchase tickets beforehand from kiosk vendors. Otherwise you may be fined on the bus for attempting to avoid payment. Fortunately a friend alerted me to this and I had my ticket when I was asked for it by the bus inspector.
 
Of course, there is more to Greece than Athens. Perhaps you might visit the islands to take in some of the most perfect beaches and clearest blue water in the world.  Personally speaking, during the high peak season, which is June to August, I avoid the more popular islands such as Rhodes and Santorini. My favourite islands, frequented mainly by locals, are Spetses and Hydra. They are more out of the way and have less of the hustle and bustle of most island centres.
 
You could also go north to Thessaloniki (Salonika), the second city of the old Byzantine Empire and the second largest city today, after Athens. The city is poised between east and west, traces of the Ottoman Empire linger here. Most activity is centred along the waterfront. Here stands the White Tower, which houses an outstanding Museum.
 
The Kentriki Agora, central market, is its own world of sights and smells, where you’ll encounter hanging carcasses, barrels of Kalamata olives and more. If you haven’t tasted Greek yogurt, this is a good place to do it. The Greeks swear that by eating it you can add years to your life.
 
Tsimiskis Street is the city’s Fifth Avenue, where establishments selling some of the most exclusive merchandise can be found. As for souvenirs, when I am visiting Thessaloniki, my friends expect me to bring them back loukoumia, sweet delights,  kariokes and bougatsa filled with cream triangles. The city is famous for such delicacies. To get the authentic product, ask to be taken to one of the factories, which are not far from the centre.
 
When it is time to head home, your flight will no doubt depart from the newly opened airport in Athens. Arriving early for your flight will give you the opportunity to spend some time in the airport shops. This may be a good place to buy Olympic souvenirs, as their price is being monitored by the government.

Then bid “yassou” to the land of the gods. Oh! and do come back soon, the Greeks would love to see you again, as I am sure that by that time you met a lot of interesting local people and that you made a lot of Greek friends!

Southern Pelion > where the finest beaches are May 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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If you want fine beaches on the Greek mainland, southern Pelion is your best route away from the tourist trail

We had just arrived in paradise. It was the view from the terrace of the villa that swung it for all of us. It took in the blue expanse of the Pagasetic Gulf, framed by green and grey hills, its water ruffled by a slight evening breeze, with arrowheads of wake marking the return of fishermen to the harbour.

We had arrived at Pelion, one of the more unspoilt parts of mainland Greece. A peninsula that lies on the east coast, it is about halfway between Athens in the south and Thessaloniki to the north and overlooks, on its seaward side, the islands of Skiathos and Skopelos. Compared with much of coastal Greece, it’s quiet.

If not untouched by tourism, it has relatively modest visitor numbers. The countryside includes lush, forested, mountainous slopes near the northern end of the peninsula, and drier, rocky hills in the south that become green with olive groves. Here, the folds of coastline hide secluded sandy coves, the odd house, some fishing boats and a taverna.

Our villa was a two-storey, whitewashed affair, lived in by the owners for some of the year. It was simply furnished and decorated in pale colours with antique rugs lending an air of comfy, understated chic. And it was robust enough to cope for all of us.

pelion.jpg

Our nearest village, the charming but faded Horto, was a mile or so south. Milina, a mile or so farther along the coast, seemed to have grabbed what local glory was going. The street that ran along the seafront was lined with slightly garish cafés, tavernas and shops selling ice cream and espadrilles, but you could walk the length of it in a few minutes.

These villages were originally the ports for local hill hamlets and are still joined to them by paved paths known as kalderimi, great for walking. The routes from Horto to the market town of Argalasti were unclear, but Milina has two paths to Lafkos, a fine Pelion hill village with narrow streets and stone, slate-roofed houses. The main square is shaded by two huge, ancient plane trees and the high fronts of the surrounding cafés.

Not far from where the cafés is one of Lafkos’s main draws, a wood-fired bakery, now a rarity. The shop has a wrought-iron canopy to keep the sun off customers eating their pastries outside. It was a poorer day when we didn’t buy our lunch here; the spinach and feta pies were succulent, the bread was warm from the oven and the proprietor liked us. 

The walk home was along the paved track. Halfway down is a small church which, though closed for spiritual refreshment, had built into its back wall a shady bench, and beside that a spring. From this shady spot it was easy to imagine the generations of errand-runners who had charged up and down this path carrying shopping home or breathless messages down to the fishermen.

A similar walk can be made at the tip of the Pelion peninsula between the small hill village of Trikeri and the relatively unspoilt Ayia Kyriaki, a small fishing village with a working boatyard. Reward yourself on the way home with a swim in the bay.

On a two-week holiday somewhere new there is always a worry that one may have missed the most unspoilt beach or the best preserved monument, or that you may have inadvertently chomped through lunch in the local equivalent of the Athenian GB Corner’s. Anyone lucky enough to make friends with our next-door neighbour in Pelion would have no such anxieties.

John was a retired company executive and, over a drink, he spread out a map of Pelion and in under half an hour had guided us to all the places most worth a visit. The rather classic Mediterranean charms of southern Pelion are contrasted with the countryside farther north. The central spine of the Pelion peninsula increases in height as the peak of Mount Pelion is neared. Here the variation between the coast and the inland countryside and villages is even more marked than it is farther south.

In villages such as Kissos, there is a distinctive local architecture, the best examples of which are the tall merchants’ houses with their overhanging upper floors and elaborate wood carvings around the doors and windows. Here, we were often the only visitors. That was not the case in more famously pretty hill villages such as Milies, but it was as much fun to walk in busy squares as it was to potter in peace among the narrow cobbled lanes of Neohori and Argalasti.

The best way to visit Milies is to take the small-gauge train from its terminus on the coast. The railway was completed in 1903, and once ran between Volos and Milies, its narrow trucks carrying olives and other goods from hills and farmland to the markets and ports below. After the war, it began to fall into disrepair. Now the line has been restored from Ano Lehonia to Milies, and trains run twice a day. The belle époque station buildings reflect the Italian heritage of the engineers and era of its construction and the carriages are smart, varnished wood and the windows are without glass. At the hill-top terminus the locomotive is readied for the descent to a turntable, powered by nothing more than the shoulders of the driver and the fireman.

On the other side of the hill, down on the coast, are some of the Pelion’s best beaches. They face the Aegean and are wilder than those on that face the Pagasetic Gulf. Those towards the north of Pelion, such as Damouchari and Mylapotamos, are busier because they are nearer to Volos, and are backed by pretty villages.

Farther south the beaches are good, too, and as far as we could see, mostly empty. Even at Potistika beach, home to the good Climax restaurant, which looks bohemian but is surprisingly pricey, we shared the place with about four others.

St. George’s Byzantine Church in Mystras April 23, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland, Special Features.
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st_george.jpg  St. George’s Byzantine Church

Restored in 1953, this is one of the most characteristic of Mystra’s chapels. The south roof, with its attractive brickwork decoration, is particularly interesting. Like other chapels at Mystra, St. George served as a private church, the property of some aristocratic family whose members were buried here.

Related Links > http://www.laconia.org/Mystra1_St_Chistopher.htm

In pictures > Flour festival in Greece February 21, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland, Greek Culture.
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In pictures > Flour festival in Greece

Hundreds of people have taken part in a huge flour fight in the village of Galaxidi in Greece. The huge festival takes place annualy on Clean Monday, which this year was on 19 February, during the Carnival celebrations, and it marks the start of 40 days of Lent until Easter. 

Around 1,500kg of flour is used in the battle. It gets its bright colours from the food colouring which is added to it! Clouds of coloured flour fill the sky while those not taking part in the traditional festival watch from a safe distance! But cleaning up the sticky mess afterwards is a different matter, officials say it takes weeks to wash the coloured powder off the streets and buildings.

See the pictures > In pictures > Flour festival in Greece