The Greek mainland, bypassed by millions of tourists flying straight to the islands, conceals a wealth of classical and Byzantine culture, and dramatic scenery that few would guess at, from untouched beaches to the snow- and cloud-wreathed summits of mythical Mt. Olympus. You may have heard of Thessaloniki, Greece's vibrant second city, gateway to the golden beaches of Halkidiki (perennially popular with central Europeans) and to the male-only monastic enclave of Mount Athos. And perhaps of the spectacular clifftop monasteries of Meteora, or of ancient Delphi, which has been inspiring stream of visitors for over 2 millennia with its breathtaking temples, its mysterious oracle and its mountainous setting. But other gems, such as the delightful stone villages of Zagori in northwesterly Epirus, or the lush coast and wooded summits of the Pelion peninsula, only attract the discerning few. We at i-escape have long been fans of both: our editor-in-chief Michael Cullen has written two guidebooks on the region, and still leads occasional hiking tours when he can get away from his desk.
If you are feeling really adventurous, there is more waiting to be discovered. On Mt. Olympus, you can sit on the throne of Zeus and survey mere mortals with the exhausted satisfaction of someone who has just climbed 3000 metres (but watch out for the thunderbolts). At the lakeside city of Ioannina, you can visit the mosques, fortress and island-home of the 19th-century Ottoman despot, Ali Pasha. In the northern Valia Calda, you stumble across Vlach shepherds and brown bears. In the river gorges south of Karpenisi you can canoe, raft or swim through miles of untouched scenery, passing under graceful stone-arched bridges from the 18th century. In the remote valleys of the Agrafa mountains in central Greece, you can hike to villages whose inhabitants have never met an Athenian, let alone an xenos.