Pelion, land of the legendary Centaurs, the site chosen by the ancient gods for their weddings and celebrations, rises in lush magnificence to the northeast of Volos. It was here that the centaur Chiron, the wise teacher of demigods and heroes, gave his pupils daily instruction in the proper care of body and soul. Here, as well, the first beauty contest took place between Thetis and Eris. Many-leaved Pelion was an inspiration to Homer, Pindar, and Euripides but also to the modern popular muse who sung of the unquenchable desire of the Greek people for freedom.
The highest peaks of Pelion (Pliasidi 1548 m. and Pourianos Stavros 1610 m.) are in the northern part of the range. Its inaccessible eastern flank, with the Aegean Sea stretching out into the distance like a vast mirror, comes to an abrupt end in the sea, creating wildly beautiful rocky shores. Conversely, the tranquil, calm coast of the western flank on the Pagasetic Gulf is much easier to reach and encourages shipping activity.
Pelion's picturesque villages, sometimes clinging to wooded slopes or perched on steep bluffs, sometimes hidden away in verdant ravines, are so much a part of the scenery that, seen from a distance they create the impression of having "sprouted up"; along wiith the trees.
The distinctive traditional architecture of the old houses with their narrow windows and decorated walls, stone stairways and roofs of grey or greeny slate; the Byzantine churches with wonderful wall paintings and icon screens; the winding cobbled paths, sculpted fountains, courtyards redolent of basil and gardenia; squares paved with huge flag stones where the cheeful bubbling of a little brook is never absent -are all typical features of a Pelion village.
Climbing northeast of Volos, the road bisects the charming suburb of Ano Volos (5 km.), with the steep hill of Episkopi demarching its eastern side. At the nearby villages of Anakasia and Ali Meria, where there are some wall paintings by Theophilos, it is worth stopping to admire the panoramic view of the Pagasetic Gulf and the plain of Thessaly while seated in one of the district's picturesque restaurants.
Continuing the ascent up the slope of the mountain, after Anakasia the road leads to Portaria (13 km.,alt. 600 m.), a lovely summer resort with abundant crystalline water and a number of hotels. The village's delightful main square and the chapel of the Panagia of Portaria with 16th century frescoes are sure to make their impression. From Portaria west a fork in the road winds up at a flat area filled with shady plane trees through which the beautiful traditional village of Makrinitsa (17 km., alt. 750 m.) can be seen. Built amphitheatrically up the side of the mountain, it offers a splendid view of the gulf below. The flag stone lanes link its unique buildings, which because of the steep slope are three storeys on one side and only one on the other. The higher facade is adorned with the wooden balconies so typical of Pelion. Some of these old houses have been restored by the Greek National Tourism Organisation and are operated as guest houses under its supervision. Try the tasty local delicacies, bean soup and "spetzofai" - a spicy concoction of sausages and peppers- served in the traditional restaurants ("tavernakia") in the square. And if you visit the area on May Day, you may see some wild revels very reminiscent of ancient Dionysian rites.
Zigzagging up the mountainside past a series of stunning ridges, the main road climbs up to Hania (26 km., alt. 1200m.), which has become a winter sports centre thanks to the development of Agriolefkes, where there is a refuge, ski lifts, a big slope for experienced skiers and a separate area for beginners, along with all the comforts of a modern ski resort.
After Hania, the road starts to descend, weaving in and out of forests of oak and chestnut trees to arrive at Zagora (47 km . from Volos,alt. 480m), Pelion's largest village. If you can take your eyes off the fantastic view of the Aegean Sea, pay a visit to the famous school where many of the spiritual fathers of the Greek Revolution studied, the historic library with rare books and manuscripts, and the Byzantine churches of St. Georgios and St. Kiriaki which contain richy carved icon screens. You would be fortunate indeed if you happened upon a traditional Pelion wedding celebrated in one of them. Don't forget to refresh yourself with the sycculent apples of the region.
Horefto (55 km. from Volos), the port of Zagora, lies 8 km. further east, an irresistible spot with shining sea and a lovely beach, while 6 km. to the north the road ends in Pouri (63 km. from Volos, alt. 400 m.). Known as the "Balcony of the Aegean", its three-tiered, three filled square has an extraordinary view; on a clear day you can see as far as Halkidiki. Heading south from Zagora, you come to the village of Makrirahi (46 km. from Volos, alt. 300 m.). A deep dramatic ravine seperates it from its neighbour Anilio (means without sun), a typical Pelion hamlet.
Continuing south it is worth taking the secondary road off to the right to climb up to Kisso (52 km. from Volos, alt. 550 m.), one of the most mountainous villages on the eastern flank of Pelion, drenched in a riot of greenery. Or you might prefer to take the left hand fork and descend to the summer seaside resort of Agios Ioannis (57 km. from Volos), where the green of the mountain blends with the blue of the Aegean. You can swim for miles along its enormous coarse - sandy beach and feast on fish at the tavernas by the shore.
Returning to the main road, you next come to Mouressi (59 km. from Volos, alt. 370 m.), built amphitheatrically amidst apple orchads and chestnut woods. Of interest here is the wooden icon screen in the church of the Vergin Dormition. From Mouressi, it's a simple matter to get down to the pebbled beach at Damouhari. Five kilometres after Mouressi, still driving through thick forest, you arrive at Tsangarada, on the spine of Pelion (54 km. from Volos, alt. 450 m.). One of the most enchanting summer resorts in Greece, it has ample hotels hidden among its plane and chestnut trees. The villages houses, which are divided into four levels, are strung out along the mountainside and covered with lush vegeration. Characteristic features of the village are its many old mansions, flag stoned piazzas, picturesque cobbled alleys and a superb view of the Aegean Sea, not to mention its emblem -the thousand year old plane tree in the main square whose diametre measures 14 metres. Don't miss as well the chance to taste the local specialities, "spetzofai" and "fasolada" (bean soup).
An asphalted road takes you down to Milopotamos, the port of Tsangarada, 8 kilometres away. After following a series of steps cut out of the rocky coast, you come to its sheltered beach composed of lovely smooth round stones. Not far from Milopotamos there is another beach in a bewitching setting - Fakistra.
Along the Pagasetic Gulf
The road southeast of Volos to Agria, a coastal suburb with an extensive beach in a fertile district filled with olive groves and orchards. The chapel of the Virgin of Goritsa and the icon screen with carved and painted scenes from everyday life in the chapel of the Holy Cross are sure to leave an impression
From Agria a secondary road rises 12 km to Drakia (17.5 km from Volos, alt. 500 m.), a village characterised by lush vegetation, running streams, well-made alleyways and marvellous popular "tower houses". The main square, thought by historians to be the oldest in Pelion, hosts a folk festival on the 23rd of August, complete with traditional costumes and music.
After Agria the main road passes by Kato and Ano Lehonia, where most of Pelion's cultivated flowers are grown and sold. The air is scented with the blossoms of gardenias, hortensias, camellias and tuberoses. Platanidia, the port of Ano Lehonia is a good place for fresh fish.
Continuing south the main road proceeds towards the long beach of Malaki before arriving at Kato Gadgea (17 km.), a village blessed with protected beaches and surrounded by a vast olive grove. Next comes Kala Nera (20 km. from Volos), another seaside village with a beach, leafy plane trees, orchards and abundant water.
A side road to the east winds 7 kilometres up the mountainside to Milies (28 km. from Volos, alt. 360 m.), one of the most delightful larger villages of Pelion and an important cultural centre, as witnessed by the wealth of rare books and manuscripts in its library. Some of its traditional homes have been renovated to operate as guest houses. Milies also has a fine collection of folk art (local museum), while its little railway station - the end of the old Volos line - is particularly attractive. You can try the local speciality "tyropsomo" (cheese-bread) and "firikia", a kind of lady apple. Just 3 kilometres further up the road you will find Vizitsa (32 km. from Volos, alt. 450 m.), a mountain village concealed among plane trees whose lovely Pelion-style towers and magnificent old mansions have led to its declaration as a landmark settlement protected from unseemly development. Some of the latter have been renovated by the GNTO and are run as guest houses. If you feel like forgetting your cares and troubles for a while, try a little of the potent local brew, "tsipouro".
Back on the main road, you pass through more olive groves and orchards on the way to Koropi which occupies the site of the ancient city of the same name, famous in the past as the home of the Oracle of Apollo Koropaios.
On the 24th kilometre of the main road, a short deviation will take you to Afissos (26 km. from Volos) with various magnificent beaches.
The main road, which starts its ascent of Pelion after Afetes, forks near here: after Neohori the northern branch leads to Tsangarada passing through Lambinou, with a stunning view of the Aegean; while the southern branch goes to the big village of Argalasti (40 km. from Volos, alt. 250 m.), situated on a fertile plateau reknowned for its olives. Several secondary roads radiate out from Argalasti to the seaside villages ob Kalamos and Paos on the Pagasetic gulf and the mountain hamlets of Kallithea, Xinovrisi and Paltsi, on the Aegean coast.
Continuing south there is a succession of sandy beaches one after the other as far as Milina, a pretty summer resort. After Milina the road has recently been extended as far as Trikeri (82 km.), the lovely village at the tip of the Magnesia peninsula. Up to now communications with Volos were possible only by boat via the little port of Agia Kiriaki, a charming fishing hamlet whose tavernas specialise in seafood.
The weddings in local costume and the traditional customs observed there during Easter week and on May Day are not to be missed if you happen to be in Greece in the spring.
East of Milina the road goes on to Lafkos and Promiri, a typical example of a village submerged in olive trees, winding up in Platania, a quaint fishing village to the south.