Did we go to the Pelion region of Greece because of its beautiful scenery from beaches to mountains? Because it’s an important region in Greek mythology? To sample its exquisite pound-packing-on regional cuisine?
No, we went because it’s the only place that invited us!
Blonde and Brunette have gone to an international conference for travel bloggers for the last several years. Before and after the conference various familiarization or “FAM” trips are offered, usually by the tourism board, to bloggers.
In October of 2014 the conference was in Athens. We had high hopes for a great FAM trip sailing to the Cyclades Islands (Mykonos, Santorini, etc.). Instead, we were told we hadn’t been chosen for any trip. After some indignation was expressed we were given the chance to go to Pelion. We’d never heard of it and thought we drew the short straw, but off we went!
And, as is so often the case, we were totally wrong! Pelion was fascinating and quite unlike anywhere else we had ever been in Greece.
Pelion’s importance in Greek mythology
Why was Pelion so fascinating you ask? For one thing it features very prominently in Greek mythology (which always gives us the giggles).
Pelion is a mountain as well as the name of the region. The mountain is the most legendary in Greek mythology. Guides will tell you with a straight face that it’s where gods, half-gods (don’t tempt us) and heroes went to hang out. They enjoyed the beauty and being up so high so they were as tall as the Olympian Gods. (Size has always mattered.)
Next thing you knew there were centaurs on Mount Pelion! Centaurs are half human and half -horse (think Donald Trump, no offense to horses intended) and were “born of the wild coupling of the shameless and immoral Ixion and peaceful Nepheli, as a symbol of storms”.
That is a sentence straight from the tourism board’s guide so we can vouch for its accuracy. (Ixion was some dude who married a god’s daughter then reneged on paying the price for her. In the “never mix money and family” episode that ensued, Ixion pushed his father-in-law into a fire. Hence Ixion was seen, not surprisingly, as being fiery.)
Other people, perhaps those who were more secular, thought centaurs were representations of horses being tamed. We even learned that they “became valuable companions and helpers. (Obviously we’re no longer talking about Donald Trump.)
Pelion’s role in the story of Jason and the Argonauts
The guide mentioned the book Jason and the Argonauts and everyone in our group nodded knowingly – except us. The name sounded vaguely familiar but we didn’t know the story. It turns out to be quite long and convoluted so if you want to know it in-depth read this.
All you need to know is that a key part of the legend was that Jason and some “heroes” built a ship like the one below and went off for Jason to bring back a Golden Fleece. (Why he didn’t just order one from LLBean we’ll never know.)
Over the years people began to say “Hey, wait a minute, was that possible?”. So, amazingly, a group of local men built an exact replica of a warship that would have been used during the Mycenaean era. The The Argonauts’ trip is said to have taken place in the 14th century B.C. The local men basically retraced the route in 2008 (basically, because Turkey got cranky about something).
We got to meet some of the men who were involved in the project and the trip and it didn’t sound (to us) like a cruise we would sign up to take. It took 37 days, there were 50 oarsmen who alternated because a crew was rowing 24 hours a day and they covered 2,000 nautical miles. We appreciate Viking River Cruises more than ever!
Pelion has beaches!
We were on the Pagsitic Gulf side of Pelion. The Gulf has beaches and even had a few brave souls out wind-surfing in cold, rainy October weather. It’s easy to see that the beaches would be wonderful in good weather. There are nice little cafes along the waterfront and Volos is a charming small city with intriguing shopping and some top-notch restaurants serving regional specialties.
Greeks have known about Pelion as a vacation spot for years as it’s only about a 3 and a half hour drive from Athens. Pelion is on a peninsula with the side opposite where we were staying being on the Aegean Sea. We wish we could have experienced the beaches on both sides of the peninsula, but as we didn’t have the opportunity, we’ll give you this link which has good information.
Pelion has a really cool train you can ride!
In 1896 Thessaly Railways decided to connect Volos with some of the communities in the mountainous area of the Pelion Region. The train ran for years, was sold, sold again, cancelled due to expenses and now runs between Ano Lechnonia to Milies. It’s not a very long ride – half an hour maybe – and has some lovely scenery along the way.
And, surprise, surprise, when we got to the end of the line we were given the option of riding horses back down to the original starting point! We decided to take the horse option before we realized they would make us wear blue hairnets under our helmets. But we were happy to have helmets provided and weren’t really there for a fashion shoot anyway!
Pelion has charming villages
We went to several small villages, one of which was Makrinitsa. The villages all have cobblestone foot squares, many with fountains such as the lion-headed one in Makrinitsa. In the old days, the people used to say that this water made you immortal. Those people are all dead now.
Many of the villages are connected by old donkey paths which makes the area popular for hikers. In the winter there is also skiing in the Pelion Region. We had trouble wrapping our heads around skiing in Greece but it’s a very real thing! Our guide said that one time a person – German, unsurprisingly – skied from the mountain to a beach. We forgot to ask if he survived.
Greece loves its festivals – whether thousands of people attend or only the inhabitants of a small village. Any excuse to get together and eat seems to work. This young man roasting chestnuts gave us a warm glow!
The women in the Pelion region have various cooperatives where they sell their homemade jams and jellies. These were some of the best we have ever had anywhere and we engaged in risky behavior by bringing some home in our checked luggage (no breakage thankfully).
So now do you know “why Pelion”?
It has history, beaches, skiing, wonderful food (way beyond what we’ve mentioned here) and is really a destination for all 4 seasons. In the past Pelion relied on agriculture for their economy but now they are putting a lot of effort into increasing their focus on tourism.
You won’t find 5 star luxury resorts here but you will find very nice, super clean and welcoming places to stay and eat.
And if you need a “valuable companion and helper” perhaps you can take a centaur home with you!