Why Pilio (Pelion)?
For many people a holiday in Greece means a holiday on one of the Greek islands. One characteristic of the Greek islands in the summer months is how dry and parched they are, with most of the hillsides scorched a pale brown by the sun and the lack of rain. Wouldn't it make a nice change to find somewhere with the same deep blue sea, the same summer sun, but with lush green hillsides? The name of one such place in Greece is Pilio - a peninsula on the east coast of mainland Greece, almost midway between Athens and Thessaloniki.
One issue to clear up when talking about this region is that of the name: Pilio. The Greeks themselves call it Πήλιο, which sounds exactly like: Pilio (with the emphasis placed on the first "i"). For some odd reason, the region has come to be known in English as Pelion, which offends on two counts: Firstly, the "e" is just plain wrong. Secondly, the habit of adding the "n" at the end of words like this harks back to the dictatorship of the early 1970s, which tried - but failed - to insist on replacing everyday Greek with an older, and ethnically cleansed form.
To see where Pilio is in Greece, click to see a large map of Pilio (Pelion).
Map of Pilio (Pelion)
Staying on Pilio (Pelion)
Another characteristic feature of Pilio is the architecture. The villages have managed to preserve the traditional design of the cottages and houses. Generally, these fall into two categories. The majority of houses are small stone cottages, with a very humble rustic design. Then there are the larger houses that once belonged to the more wealthy land owners, with a more imposing architecture, including the hallmark top floor that extends out beyond the walls of the lower floors. These are known in the plural as arhondika and in the singular as arhondiko (from the Greek word "arhondas" - a word used to refer to a wealthier and more powerful member of the village).
The most attractive form of holiday accommodation on Pilio is undoubtedly a villa that is either a converted arhondiko or a more recent building constructed in the style of the arhondika. Some villas are available for self catering holiday accommodation, while others function as guest houses or small hotels providing quality bed and breakfast holiday accommodation (possibly also serving evening meals).
"I want a villa with a pool." This is a common desire, but people coming to Pilio need to bear in mind that there are strict limits on the construction of pools in Greece (not always strictly applied, though) and there are good reasons in a country like Greece for limits like that. Furthermore, a big part of the attraction of Pilio villages is their traditional character, and swimming pools are not part of the tradition on Pilio. A third consideration is that often the arhondika are built on relatively small plots of land on a hillside that is steep in places, and there just isn't room to build a pool (assuming it were possible for the owner to get planning permission).
"Who needs a pool?" A sensible question given that Pilio has so many excellent beaches. If you plan on not hiring a car, it is easy to rent a villa that is within walking distance of the sea, or if you have a car, a number of excellent beaches will only be a short drive from your holiday villa.
To look for a nice place to stay, try this list of holiday villas to rent on Pilio (Pelion).
Walking on Pilio (Pelion)
For people who don't want to spend all day at the beach, but who also want to do some walking, Pilio is a great holiday destination. Each of the villages is not far from another attractive village, and they are linked by stone paths known as kalderimia (singular: kalderimi - emphasis on the first "i"). Not so long ago these were the main routes between the villages and were busy with locals and their donkeys or mules carrying various local produce. The paths are now quiet, save for the odd farmer on his way to his orchard.
There are many paths that are in great condition and provide lovely walking along the wooded hillsides of Pilio. Generally the paths either pass through olive groves or fruit orchards, or they pass through the uncultivated beech forest that covers most of Pilio. However, it is advisable to ask about the condition of the paths before setting off, because some have become badly overgrown in places through disuse. Others, though, are well maintained, either by locals who need access to their olive groves and orchards, or by the villages who recognise that those paths are particularly scenic ones that visitors will want to walk along.
Advice: Bring stout walking shoes. They are much better for walking along the cobbled paths. And bring long trousers. Greek undergrowth can get a bit prickly, and you need the leg protection provided by long trousers.
Snakes? There really is no need to worry about snakes in Greece, but do bear in mind that there are snakes, and try to keep an eye on where you are treading. The small poisonous snake is known locally as the ohia. The small head is pointed at the front, and it has diamond markings running the length of its thin body (longer fatter snakes with no markings and a distinctly round front to their head are harmless). The snakes do not attack, and generally they will dash away before you get close to them. However, the occasional ohia does stubbornly decide not to move. I have never seen one behave aggressively, but if it insists on sticking to its bit of the path, you need to avoid treading on it. If you don't bother the snake, it won't bother you.
Getting to Pilio (Pelion)
Volos (the main town - small city - right next to Pilio) has an airport which is situated about 40 km to the west of the town near a place called Almyros. There are regular flights with a few budget airlines, including Ryan Air. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, if you want to fly with Ryan Air from the UK to Volos, you will have to go either via Frankfurt or Milan, and an overnight stay in one of those cities might be unavoidable.
An alternative is to fly to Thessaloniki, which is 220km north of Volos/Pilio. Easy Jet have regular (but not daily) flights from London to Thessaloniki. You can then get the regular (and cheap) airport bus to the main bus terminal in Thessaloniki, from which you can get an express coach to Volos (also relatively inexpensive and faster than the train).
The journey up from Athens (if you decided to arrive in Greece there first) is longer - about 322km. Again, most people travel by coach. If you come by train, you will have to catch the train from Athens to Thessaloniki, get off at Larissa, then catch the local train to make the one-hour journey to Volos.