Little Swallows

Pinakates, Pelion, Greece Book from Book from £90 per night

High in the profusely green hills of the Pelion peninsula, a stunningly restored village mansion with 9 rooms, a pool and a separate studio
The mountainous peninsula of Pelion is blessedly off the tourist track. Dense with deciduous woodland, lush with apple orchard, olive grove and low shrub maquis, the area is a walker's dream. It is also home to 24 well-preserved villages, some of which are listed and undergoing gentrification. Pinakates, once truly remote, still unspoiled, is our favourite.

Minutes from the cobbled market square is Ta Helidonakia: 'Little Swallows'. In 2002 it was a crumbling ruin; now, after a sympathetic restoration using traditional materials and methods, the imposing 19th-century mansion has opened its arms to guests. Each of the bedrooms is named after a Greek god and has its own decorative touches - a painted ceiling, a stone fireplace. Flemish antique beds, imported by the welcoming Belgian owners Ward and Wies, add character. On the top floor is a huge guest salon with Ottoman daybeds, magazines and WiFi. In summer, breakfast is served on a terrace with a view - all the way to the enclosed seas of the Pagasitic Gulf; for other meals, the village has a clutch of tavernas.

Highs

  • Pinakates is a beautiful conservation village with imposing Ottoman-style stone mansions and cobbled car-free lanes
  • Each bedroom has a fabulously comfy antique bed, thick walls and a multi-jet shower (apart from one, which has a tub)
  • The owners provide maps for paths and cycle rides through sun-dappled woods to sheltered beaches, linked (in summer) by a picturesque narrow-gauge train
  • One of the few mansions in Pelion with a pool - and a lovely one at that
  • Here at 600m altitude it's refreshingly cool in summer, and often cloaked in snow in winter

Lows

  • No restaurant, but simple tavernas in the village (and fabulous breakfasts at the hotel)
  • Mountainous terrain unsuitable for the unfit or infirm
  • Two buses reach the village a day: you really need a car
  • The area is rainier than the rest of Greece
  • Volos airport is open May-Sept only, while Athens and Thessaloniki are a 3-4 hour drive

Best time to go

The house is open year-round. The hills remain refreshingly cool even in high summer, though it can rain at any time. July-August are ideal, with a flurry of panayiria (saints' day festivals) offering all-night dancing and feasting on the village squares. Greek Easter is another big religious and social event that takes over even the remotest mountain village. Winter (November - March) can be surprisingly busy as Athenians flock here for weekend frolics in the snow. There is central heating and the ski station of Agriolefkes normally operates from December to March.

Our top tips

  • The hotel provides pool and beach towels, so you don't need to bring those - plus a few beach toys for little ones
  • You'll also find plenty of soap, shampoo and body lotion in the bathroom
  • If you're arriving late, ask Wies to warn the village restaurant, so that you can be sure of dinner when you get there!
  • Great for...

    Eco
    Family
    Great Outdoors
    • Boutique Guesthouse
    • 9 rooms + 1 studio
    • Breakfast only; restaurants within walking distance
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Outdoor Pool
    • Spa Treatments
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Daily Maid Service
    • Towels & Bedlinen
    Room:

    Rooms

    Each of the simple but elegant bedrooms is named after a Greek god. We stayed in Hestia (goddess of the family, house and hearth) which has, appropriately, a fireplace - a rather handsome one at that - and two ornately carved Flemish beds. These supremely comfy beds, dating from the period in which the house was built (mid 19th-century: Pelion's 'golden age'), are the highlight of this guest house. Another well-named bedroom is Hera (wife of Zeus, she stands as a symbol of family) with a cradle suitable for a younger child. Again, the bed itself is a beauty. Above it, Artemis has a draped four-poster and a small balcony shaded by a huge plane tree. We thought this the most romantic room.

    Walls are painted white, cream, pale terracotta, soft green or canary yellow. Ceilings are timbered, and some are painted in traditional Pelion style; floors are of polished wood, softened by a rug. Aphrodite is distinguished by its elegant brass chandelier and stone fireplace. Chestnut windows are modestly dressed - perhaps just a touch of lace - and have shutters to keep out the light. Silence is total (apart from the occasional dog bark) and we slept soundly until late. Apollo's windows are in recessed arches. Duvets and bed linen are white and beautifully embroidered.

    Just one room comes with a bath (Hera's), the rest have hydromassage showers; all are nicely kitted out with thick towels, hairdryers and lotions. There's central heating throughout, in anticipation of winter (possibly snowy) stays, and a couple of the rooms are in a new annexe.

    50 metres down the lane is a simpler studio for 2-3, with a double bed, a bathroom with shower, a living area with sofa (can be used as child's bed), a wood-burner, and a pine-clad kitchenette with dining table.

    Features include:

    • Central heating
    • Cots Available
    • Fireplace
    • Phone
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • TV
    • WiFi

    Eating

    This is a breakfast-only guesthouse, although afternoon snacks are available. On sunny days you eat on the terrace with the wonderful view. If the weather is cool - or if it's raining: it sometimes does here - there's a rustic-walled breakfast room in the converted stables; this also has a real fire for cosy evenings. We also liked the sitting room on the top floor with its line up of Greek windows and sweep of wooden floor. At one end is a long varnished pine table and leather armchairs for board games and cards (bring your own), at the other are low cushioned benches for lazy reading.

    Breakfasts are feasts of cheeses, yogurts, honeys and charcuterie, and promise a different platter of pastries, waffles and sweet Greek delicacies each day. We loved the fresh orange juice, local fruit, perfectly cooked eggs, and the wide choice of teas. As Ward observed: "We only do breakfast, so we try to do it well" - and boy, do they succeed.

    If you're happy with simple Greek food (lots of grills, pies and delicious vegetables), the village's tavernas will fit the bill; we enjoyed grilled sardines with green beans and aubergines at Drossia. You'll find a plane-shaded square with a string of cafés in this (and almost every) village; in neighbouring Vizitsa, Arhontiko taverna comes recommended. For fish dishes you should head for the coast: we enjoyed the simple seafood grills of Giorgos in Malaki (seasonal; tel 24280 94238), whose tables stand practically in the water, but there's plenty more choice in Kala Nera, Afissos etc.

    If you're self-catering in the studio, which has a simple kitchenette (2-ring hob/mini-oven, small fridge, sink), you'll find two groceries in the village for the basics, and a bakery. For further supplies, head for Milies (6km). Breakfast is included in the price.

    Features include:

    • Breakfast
    • Restaurants nearby
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • Wander through the cobbled village lanes admiring the imposing stone mansions, then laze on the hotel terrace with its mountain and sea views
    • Discover the area on foot: there's a fantastic hike from Pinakates across the high, beech-cloaked spine to the scattered hamlets of Tsangarada (5-6 hours, buy Cicerone's "The Mountains of Greece" for directions); and an easier one from Milies to Xourihti following the old mulepath (4 hours, follow red waymarks)
    • Drive or walk down to the sheltered beaches of the Pagasitic Gulf: Kala Nera is the nearest (10km by road, 5km by lovely path), Afissos (16km by road) is popular and sandy, with watersports; tiny Lefokastro has a peaceful bay and picturesque fish restaurant
    • The most turquoise waters are on the Aegean side - try Milopotamos with its famous rock arch, sandy Horefto below Zagora, or the magically enclosed cove of Fakistra, a short walk from the end of the road below Tsangarada
    • Visit Pelion's pretty stone-and-slate villages: Milies (6km) is touristy but worth a wander for its fabulously frescoed church, famous library and speciality cheese pies, while popular Vizitsa (3km) has impressively restored mansions, cobbled streets and a shady central square
    • From the station at Milies a narrow gauge railway takes tourists on a 2-hour trip to Ano Lehonia at weekends, chugging through olive groves and over viaducts with panoramic seaviews
    • You could rent a mountain bike from Kala Nera and explore the myriad forestry tracks, with the help of Anavasi's excellent 1:25,000 map
    • Come in winter for gentle skiing at Agriolefkes, 1 hour's drive away: 3 lifts and 3 easy/moderate runs around 1500m in altitude

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Cycling
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Horse riding
    • Mountain biking
    • Sailing
    • Snorkelling
    • Swimming
    • Traditional cultures
    • Wildlife
    • Windsurfing

    Kids

    The owners welcome children of all ages, but it's really only suited to more adventurous kids. Beaches are beautiful and sandy, but require a short drive. Part of the attraction hereabouts is hiking; reluctant young walkers would not be happy.
    There are 2 triple rooms suitable for families, and a room with a cot, which is free. There's also a self-catering studio apartment that sleeps 3.

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Cots Available, Family Rooms

    Kid Friendly:

    Location

    Pinakates is situated in the wooded hills of the Pelion peninsula, a 25km drive from the town of Volos, taking in some fairly tortuous mountainous roads. Pelion is on the east coast of mainland Greece.

    By Air
    Fly into Volos (Nea Anchialos, 65km), if you can find a suitable flight. Otherwise Thessaloniki and Athens are respectively 3 and 4 hours' drive away, and are much better connected.

    By Car
    If you hire a car - and you'd be brave to come without one: the buses travel to the village only twice a day - see our car rental recommendations. Roads around Pinakates are pretty tortuous and badly signed; avoid travelling at night.

    By Boat from Skiathos
    It's possible to combine Pelion with Skiathos using boats and hydrofoils in and out of Volos (30-45 mins' drive from the hotel), or the summer caique connection into Katigiorgis (1 hour's drive away). Skiathos has an airport with charter flights from the UK and a few other countries, as well as domestic flights from Athens.

    Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.

    More on getting to Greece and getting around.

    Airports:

    • Volos, Nea Anchialos 65.0 km VOL
    • Athens, Eleftherios Venizelos 350.0 km ATH

    Other:

    • Beach 10.0 km
    • Shops 0.5 km
    • Restaurant 0.5 km

    Our guests' ratings...

    Based on 8 independent reviews from i-escape guests

    10/10
    Room
    10/10
    Food
    10/10
    Service
    10/10
    Value
    10/10
    Overall

    Highly recommended! We stayed for 5 nights with our daughter and son-in-law aiming to go hiking and sight-seeing, as well as enjoying the food and wine in the region. Little Swallows itself is quite delightful and we were extremely well looked after by Edouard and Maria-Louise. Edouard is a mine of useful information about the area, what to see, where to walk and eat etc. We will definitely return!

    10/10,

    Could not have asked for anything better. Breakfast was excellent and service brilliant. We had a fantastic week in Pinakates at Little Swallows

    10/10,

    Little Swallows is a beautiful haven.We could not fault any aspect of the accommodation or service. In addition the hosts Edward and Maria-Louisa could not have been more attentive, helpful or knowledgeable. Edward's ideas for excursions and his simple precise directions were spot on. Our only regret was that we didn’t/ couldn’t stay longer. Pelion is a beautiful region with lots to see and experience. We hope to be returnees to Little Swallows.

    10/10,

    We've stayed at lots of i-escape places, but we've never had such diligent and generous hosts as Edouard and Marie-Louise. This extended from restaurant recommendations to hand-written excursion notes each day, birthday fizz, and even driving down the mountain to fix a tyre that had popped on our hire car.
    Little Swallows is beautifully situated and we were lucky to have it to ourselves for most of the week. The breakfasts are wonderful, although at the moment there is not much available in Pinakates for other meals. Other villages are only 3-4k away with very nice tavernas. We did not find the mountain roads difficult and nice beaches are easy to reach. Koropi is recommended as is the Pagasitikos restaurant in Kala Nera. It has a bit of everything - for walkers, swimmers and those who just want to take it easy. The bedrooms also are extremely comfortable and cleaned every day. Thanks - hope to be back.

    10/10,

    Food was immense in choice and quality. Welcome kindness and service were second to none. Beautiful place to stay. Very clean facilities and great swimming pool. What a find!

    10/10,

    Marie-Louise and Edward have done an amazing job with Little Swallows.
    Excellent service, food and meticulously finished accomodation.

    10/10,

    Little Swallows is located in the very picturesque village of Pinakates, at 600m altitude, this gives some respite from the heat during the height of summer. The accommodation is excellent and beautifully maintained. The owner and his wife (Edouard and Louisa) are excellent hosts, producing excellent breakfasts that set you up well for a day walking or exploring the area by car. Additionally their knowledge of the area means you get great recommendations of places to eat and visit in the area. Their attention to detail and helpfulness made my holiday and added to the excellent value that a stay at Little Swallows represents.

    10/10,

    This is the most lovely, beautiful place, made perfect by the wonderful care and attention to detail of the owners, Edouard & Louisa, who went above and beyond to make sure our family enjoyed our stay and felt well looked after. I can't recommend this place highly enough, and look forward to returning one day. Thank you.

    10/10,

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