Little Swallows

Off the beaten track in August!

If you want a magical holiday what better recommendation than where the ancient Greek Gods spent their summers?

According to Greek mythology the mountainous, lush, Pelion Peninsula was home to the Centaurs and the summer habitat of the twelve Gods of Olympus. Despite having lived, worked and travelled fairly extensively in Greece over the last forty years, I had never previously visited Pelion, being slightly off the beaten track. But what a discovery after all this time and definitely an area to which I will return again. Mountains; forests; beaches; traditional mountain villages; stone-built merchant houses and mansions – quite a different Greek experience. No wonder Pelion was recently declared a UNESCO heritage destination.

After an overnight stay in the wonderful 5-star Electra Palace in the centre of the vibrant city of Thessaloniki and a three hour drive south on the motorway to Volos we were in striking distance of the small mountain village of Pinakates, our base for the next three nights.

Little Swallows B&B and pool We had chosen to stay in a restored guest-house, an authentic mansion built in 1847 lovingly restored by Edouard and Maria-Louisa. A Belgian couple, they first visited the village twenty five years ago, decided to make it their home and have spent much of the intervening period restoring traditional merchant mansions, including their guest house Ta Xelidonakia (Little Swallows).

The term bed & breakfast guest house doesn’t accurately describe Little Swallows, as the facilities and level of service provided is more akin to a small upmarket hotel. Edouard, an interesting and amiable host, personally meets and greets with a welcoming drink. With six bedrooms in the main house, three in outbuildings, all lovingly restored by local craftsman, this authentic house offers high standards. Beautifully furnished with antiques, several with four-poster beds – re-modelled to accommodate today’s larger sleepers – each room has its own individual style. In each room a basket of fruit and a drinks tray awaits with water, home-made cherry liqueur and Tsipouro – distilled from grapes, local to northern Greece and associated with hospitality and good company. All of which makes for a very good start to a stay, particularly as it is topped up each day!

Little Swallows terrace Breakfast is taken on the terrace overlooking the swimming pool with wonderful views of the village and Pagasitikos Bay. Breakfast, overseen by Maria-Louisa, was a real treat with freshly squeezed orange juice, seasonal fruit and thick creamy yoghurt, meats, cheeses, small pastries and a different dish each day – Belgian waffles, omelette, poached eggs – with endless coffee and speciality teas. During breakfast Edouard was always on hand to impart local information, advise on places of interest and offer his services wherever needed to help his guests get the most out of the area.

On our first day, eager to relax and do very little, we lounged around the pool before being served with afternoon tea and cake – all included – so what with that and a hearty breakfast we really didn’t need anything to eat until the evening, especially with drinks throughout the day from the help-yourself-honesty-bar.

There are two tavernas in Pinakates, both of which serve typical Pelion dishes with generous portions and delicious food with very palatable local wine. Pinakates village square My favourite was in the village square, built around an extremely old plane tree and set down from the road, with a surprisingly large ornate marble water fountain with water direct from the mountains served straight onto the table, this was traditional Greece at its best. We also ate in the nearby village of Milies, the coastal resort of Kala Nera and, without exception, found ourselves mostly in the company of locals and Greek tourists and enjoyed excellent food.

Pinakates is very well placed if you want to explore northern Pelion with shingle/pebble beaches on the southern Pagasitikos Gulf and, a little further afield, on the northern Aegean Sea (where much of Mamma Mia was filmed) stunning long sandy beaches. It is also a haven for hikers as there is a network of old cobbled mule paths that connect most of the villages, with more being opened up each year.

Little Train of Pelion I can also highly recommend a trip on The Little Train of Pelion. Having seen this journey on Michael Portillo’s TV programme Continental Railways it was something I was keen to experience. The train runs daily during the summer and Edouard drove us to Milies, where we had lunch in the wonderful Old Station Taverna, and then collected us in Ano Lechonia at the end of the line – all part of the service to his guests! The train dates back from 1903 and crawls along at a maximum speed of 20klm allowing ample time to enjoy the stunning mountain and sea views, crossing iron and stone bridges. The journey takes around 90 minutes with a 15 minute stop in the village of Ano Gatzea for refreshments at the station or a visit to the Olive Tree Museum. A wonderful experience.

As you would expect in any mountain village there are slopes and steps to negotiate and a fair number of steps to access Little Swallows, so it’s unsuitable for anyone with walking difficulties. 

For those looking for authentic, unspoilt, Greece, with wonderful hospitality, a stay at Little Swallows would be hard to beat.   

B&B Ta Xelidonakia (Little Swallows)
T: 00 30 24230 86920

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Chrissy Nason

Travel writer & hotel specialist

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