Welcome To Greece Take Two

Author: Faris Nejad

This is Greece, the land of sunshine, magical sea views and blue horizons, the land of little clothing, suntan lotions, long days, lazy days, sunglasses and ice cream under the sun. Not many know this, but apart from the ice cream if you are only a beginner, you can do all this whilst sliding down the mountain in the winter. lf you are a beginner you will probably learn how to ski or snow board before you can pronounce the name of Pelion's magnificent winter sport slopes of Agriolefkes and this is the last hindrance you are going to get over here. That is because the slopes are at the peak of Pelion Mountain, which is situated between, well to put it simply, two seas. As you are rushing down the mountain or sliding down with your ice cream, you have the Aegean Sea on your right and the Pagasitikos Gulf on your left, you can't possibly get lost.

Agriolefkes, is at 1500 metres altitude with 3 full slopes and one cross country piste. There is also an amateur slope conveniently located near the couple of catering establishments. There is a chalet hostel and a fancy stone built hotel with good views of the slopes and panoramic views of the mountains and the sea. Training, ski and snowboard rentals, as well as sledges are available at reasonable rates. The cafeteria and the open-air bar looks to the Gulf, the city of Volos and the distant mountains of the mainland. The indoor lounge of the cafeteria, has one of Greece's largest non-smoking sections (special sports privilege) consisting of five tables and about 20 seats but don't let this discourage you because there will always be a seat for you since the other few hundred skiers will be in the other room puffing away on their favorite brands. Fortunately, there is a separating door between the two sections. After your drink, make sure you take a ride on the lifts even if you are not a skier. There are two single- seated and one double-seated lifts plus two rail lifts and each one of them has a different view of the surrounding pine forests, Pelion villages, the port city of Volos and the coast lines as well as the snow capped mountains across the water. On very clear days in the winter months, you will be surprised to see Mount Oros on the holy autonomous region of Halkidiki rising up in the middle of the Aegean Sea. The snow period in Pelion is relatively short almost guaranteeing good skiing only for two months of the year. You would be very unlucky not to have good snow in January and February. However, snow in November, December and March is considered a bonus. On the positive side, this factor has prevented winter sport companies exploiting the area. It is, therefore, all yours and you do definitely get the real Greece here. This is the same Greece that you know; the Greece of white washed houses, friendly people and relaxed atmosphere. This is the familiar white and blue Greece except that this time the white is not the dazzling island houses, it is snow. The real thrill comes on warm winter days when you can snow ski up the mountain in the morning and water ski in the Gulf after your Moussaka and Greek salad in the evening.

Hania is the nearest mountain village only 500 meters from the ski resort. Situated at 1,200 meters above sea level, it is a settlement resembling a stand at a cultural exhibition. The village is where locals sell their produce in their shops or makeshift kiosks. These include honey, traditional pasta, fruit and nut preserves, seasonal fruits, wooden artifacts, Greek sweets and of course, some tourist products made in Taiwan. Some of these shops rent winter sports equipment. There are several good traditional taverns in the village mostly around the main road to the resort. The specialties here are: mountain goat soup, bean soup and local green peppers with local sausage stew. You can also find plenty of quality accommodation some almost entirely covered by the snow in the winter. if this is your first winter visit to Greece, you will have a hard time believing where you have woken up in the morning. Pelion is not easily accessible. Apart from the summer months that some charter flights operate to the near port city of Volos and the neighboring island of Skiathos, with good hydrofoil connection, the only way to get here is by flying to Athens (325 kilometers) or Thessaloniki (216 kilometers). The good news is that there is decent and inexpensive public transportation from both cities to Volos and the villages around the mountain.

And don't forget, Pelion is not just for winter sports, the peninsular has some of the most dramatic picturesque beaches in Greece. Off-season, (in this case spring, summer and autumn) nature's slide shows come into effect. The Aegean side of the mountain is the apple capital of Greece and there are numerous apple groves amongst the chestnut forests all the way down to some of Greece's best beaches. It is first the groves at lower altitudes which blossom in the early spring. As the season progresses, the higher groves join in. Nature's celebration of the new season and new life takes a long time in Pelion where the sound effects are also in place with the flow of many creeks all around the mountain, forming hundreds of mini waterfalls. In the dense forests of the Pelion Mountain, you will find perhaps one of the only places in the country that you can have an afternoon walk protected from the heat. In the autumn, the spectacle of the changing colors of the landscape cannot possibly be put into words