After collecting our hire-car in Thessaloniki we drove south for three hours to Volos and onto our next stop, Pinakates, a mountain village on the Mount Pelion peninsula, a lush, verdant, wooded area with stunning sea views and amazing architecture: stone built merchant mansions nestling into the steep hillside, many restored to their former splendour, untypically Greek in style. We stayed at a beautifully restored B&B guest-house, LittleSwallows, (in reality more akin to a small boutique hotel), complete with swimming pool. Set down from the main road access is by steep steps so unsuitable for anyone with walking difficulties. The owners, Maria-Louisa and Edouard a Belgian couple who moved to the village 25 years ago, were excellent hosts and their knowledge of the area was superb.
With two lovely traditional tavernas in the Pinakates, as well as others in nearby villages and on the coast, the food was good with local Pelion dishes. Roads in the mountainous villages did not exist until the ‘70s and the extensive network of old cobbled mule-paths connecting the villages now provides wonderful walking and hiking. Pinakates is also a good base from which to explore the fantastic beaches on the northern Aegean side of the peninsula – including Damouchari where Mamma Mia was filmed. In nearby Milies an original 1903 steam train operates a daily service on a single track that winds its way through the mountains at 20kph with fabulous sea views over Pagasitikos Gulf – as featured on Michael Portillo’s Continental Railway Journeys and not to be missed.
From Pinakates we drove through beautiful villages down to the coast and the tip of the Pelion Peninsula to our next destination Paleo Trikeri, a small island with two tavernas, a monastery, around 100 inhabitants and no cars! We parked on the mainland and caught a water taxi the short distance to Aghia Sofia, one of two hamlets about 10 minutes apart on either side of a fairly steep path across the island. Through Airbnb I booked Villa Alkesamos, one of a handful of houses a few minutes walk uphill from the jetty. The house was comfortable and well equipped with two bedrooms, a lounge/kitchenette and a balcony overlooking an olive grove and out to sea with stunning nightly sunsets.
Apart from walking on the many tracks around the island and kayaking to small deserted coves the only daily decision was whether to eat at one of the two tavernas or at the villa – bliss! We caught up on our reading, I retained my Scrabble crown – in spite of numerous challenges – and that was it!
The island is idyllic though not blessed with sandy beaches and access to the sea quite stony so suitable footwear recommended. There was no shop on the island so we had stocked up beforehand in Argalasti, the largest village on the peninsula about 90 minutes drive away and also the nearest cash machine in the area! Provisions to the island come by boat once a week so I joined the locals to buy fruit and vegetables and stocked up with bread, milk, water and, importantly, local wine from the tavernas.
We ventured off the island only twice to explore fabulous beaches on the northern side of the peninsula at Potistika and Melani and, at the tip of the peninsula, visited Aghia Kiriaki, a harbour village where fishing and traditional boat building are the main source of employment. The harbour, with its brightly coloured caiques and surrounded by excellent fish tavernas, is a working village with hardly a nod to tourism. It was here that I stumbled into a ‘shop’ in the back streets run by a sweet elderly couple where things were little changed from my memories of those early visits in the seventies. A few random items for sale, no English spoken but where I was offered a seat to sit and talk to them despite the fact I didn’t buy anything! Before returning to the island we passed through the sleepy mainland village of Trikeri, an old hilltop village of cobbled alleys, churches and a large square surrounded by tavernas, with the feel and architecture of the nearby Sporades islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos and well worth a visit.
We enjoyed our week of peace and tranquility on Trikeri Island so much we changed our plans and stayed for another three nights and for our last night chose to return to the Electra Palace in Thessaloniki. The city was bustling and, surrounded by Greeks with hardly a tourist to be heard, we enjoyed a fantastic meal at Taverna Marathos on Katouni Street.
A great end to a wonderful trip where we truly re-discovered the real Greece, even in August!
Ta Xelidonakia/Little Swallows Guest House, Pinakates, Pelion
Trikeri Island – Villa Alkesamos (Airbnb), Trikeri Villas