Pelion

Pelion: Why go

A mountainous peninsula sticking like a crooked finger into the Aegean Sea, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki, Pelion is one of our favourite parts of mainland Greece. It has miles of gorgeous coastline - calm and gently shelving on the western side, wild and turquoise on the east - interspersed with fishing villages, silvery olive groves and lush orchards.

Heading up towards Pelion's wooded 1500-metre (5000-foot) summits, you discover historic stone-and-slate villages, which flourished as semi-independent trading posts during Ottoman rule (15th-19th centuries); and again in the 20th century when wealthy Athenians restored the handsome gabled mansions, either as summer houses or as upscale inns.

Pelion's villages are linked by a network of cobbled mulepaths, many still used today, as well as forestry tracks through venerable stands of beech and chestnut. Local operators offer mountain biking and horse-riding tours, as well as canyoning in the deep ravines near Mylopotamos, and sea-kayaking along the rugged east coast.

The peninsula is surprisingly verdant, and often a few degrees cooler than other parts of Greece, which can be a blessing in the heat of midsummer, as can the occasional rainfall. Frequent winter snowfalls draw weekend skiers and snow-seekers from the gateway town of Volos. This has a small airport with charter and a few scheduled flights in summer; otherwise you'll need to come via Athens or Thessaloniki, a 3-4 hour drive away.

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Our top tips for Pelion

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Our favourite beaches

Fakistra
A pirate-like cove hidden in the rugged coast below Tsangarada, whose white sands are interspersed with big boulders, fringed by turquoise waters, and sprayed in spring by a waterfall. It requires a steep 5-minute walk from the end of the road. A 5-minute drive from The Architect's House

Damouhari
This tiny fishing harbour on the east ecoast, bobbing with bright boats and ringed with waterside bars and tavernas, has started to cross a few radars since being featured in the film of Mamma Mia. A 10-minute drive (or 30-minute hike) from Hotel Olga

Kalifteri, near Afissos
The best beaches on the west (Pagasitic) coast are around the pretty fishing village of Afissos - and this one ifs our favourite. There are only a few buildings on it, one of which is the delightful Six Keys, so you can have its long sand-and-shingle expanse almost to yourselves.

Potistika and Melani (pictured)
These 2 adjacent beaches in southern Pelion, east from Argalasti, are amply worth the drive. The first draws a trendy crowd, with the buzzy Climax Bar at its heart; the second is a tranquil strip with coarse sand and the bluest of waters.

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Our favourite hikes

Short hike
From Kala Nera up through shimmering olive groves to Arghireika, along the tiny train line to Oghla and back down (1.5 hrs). Easily done from Minelska

Medium hike
From Vyzitsa or Milies - both have daily bus links - down switchbacking cobbled mulepaths (3-4 hours) and orchards to the coast near Kala Nera. Feasible from Minelska or Six Keys

Tough hike
From Milies across the spine of Mt. Pelion to Xourihti; bus back (4-5 hours). Or, for the really adventurous, from Tsangarada over the beech-shaded crests to Agios Giorgos (5-6 hours; taxi back). Best tackled from Little Swallows

Practicalities
Before leaving, buy the 1:25,000 Anavasi map (ref 6.21), and if you plan the 'hard' hike, a copy of Cicerone's "The Mountains of Greece" by Michael Cullen and Tim Salmon. UK readers can get both from The Map Shop. Take sturdy shoes, a waterproof jacket (it can rain at any time of year) and a big water bottle.

Eat

Our favourite restaurants

Six Keys, near Afissos (pictured)
Our favourite restaurant in Pelion - not just because it's attached to one of our featured hotels, but because of its impeccable and pioneering Greek cuisine (using the finest ingredients from across the country) and its unbeatable beachfront setting. Read our full review.

Plimari, Analipsi
On the east coast, towards its northern end, lies this unassuming seafront eatery, where everything is locally sourced and/or freshly picked, from the spinach pies to the oven-baked goat to the gilt-head bream. They even have their own bright red fishing boat. We love it, and it is definitely, as they say in Michelin speak, worth the detour.

The Lost Unicorn, Tsangarada
Hidden in one of the village's many leafy squares is this homely inn run by Anglo-Greek husband-and-wife team Claire and Christos. Sitting outside beneath a vast spreading plane tree in summer, or inside around a crackling fire in winter, you can tuck into upscale cuisine with a difference, including roasted red pepper stuffed with feta & spinach, or duck a l'orange. Often closed midweek; book ahead.

Drink

Our favourite bars

Dipnosofistis, Tsangarada (pictured)
A wine bar with a huge range of Greek vintages, jazzy music and a small but classy menu (risottos, pork fillet, pesto tart). Open July, August and weekends throughout the year.

Climax Bar, Potistika
Worth the drive for its upscale Italianate lunches, cool mojitos, live music and even full moon parties in midsummer.

Cleopatras Miramare, Damouhari
An idyllic seafront setting in this enclosed cove - a location for Mamma Mia - with cocktails, snacks and live Greek music in midsummer (think sultry singers and cool DJs rather than bouzoukis and sirtaki)

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Sailing trips

Pelion's wooded coast and hidden coves are best explored by sea - dolphin sightings are common, and the island of Trikeri makes a lovely target. We've heard great things about Eclipse Sailing, who run day trips from Kala Nera aboard a classic John Alden yacht.

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Horseback riding

The peninsula lends itself to riding along beaches and through oak woods, and thankfully there are several stables which can oblige, including George Rigakis in Tsangarada and IFOM near Kala Nera.

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Sea kayaking

Explore the rugged turquoise east coast at your own pace, stopping to picnic at your own little cove or sea-washed rock, courtesy of Pelion Secrets in Damouhari. Ask them about the kryfó scholió (historic secret school), hidden in a cave between Damouhari and Fakistra.

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Other Adventures

Canyoning
Abseil, hike and plunge into chilly river pools as you descend the dramatic Mylopotamos gorge - with equipment and guide provided by the well-respected operator, Olympos Trek

Skiing
Yes, you read that right - the tiny centre at Agriolefkes (1400m altitude) has decent snow from January-March, and no crowds at weekends.