Winter in Greece
Close your eyes, let your mind drift to Greece. What’s the first thing thought that comes to you? The sound of waves crashing on rocks, the taste of fresh fish, the smell of basil under your nose and your eyes blinded by the sun. Greece is synonymous with summer – warm weather and hospitable people; no one will deny it. For a place as blessed as Greece though, its beauty is not determined by the seasons. If you were only to think of Greece as summer destination, you would be missing the chance to explore its grand winter beauty…
Greece is a queen, noble and gracious in every season, wearing its radiant crown all year. And even if you happen to visit on a chilly winter’s day, Greece will still captivate you, perhaps not by its temperatures but always by its warm-hearted people eager to leave lasting memories of Greece in your heart and mind.
Close your eyes again, what do you see? A quaint traditional resort in a mountain village, drinking fragrant herbal tea and savoring hearty winter soups made with the finest ingredients. Bundle up in your winter wear, step outside to take in the snowy landscape thinking about which of the snow sports and activities you’ll take on today. In the evening, come back to a roaring fire, good company and lively music while you imbibe on locally brewed spirits like oinomelo (ee-NO-me-lo = wine-honey drink) or rakomelo (rak-KO-me-lo= raki-honey drink).
Winter in Greece will take the chill off your soul, and make your heart long for more than just summer adventures in the Mediterranean! Here are just a few of our favorite winter getaways in Greece, a little something for everyone!
Shortly after the summer season, locals from the northern cities of Greece begin preparations to welcome visitors from all over the world. This is exactly the case in Katerini, Pieria, a picturesque city in the center of mainland Greece under the peaks of Mt Olympus. Katerini is a region with rich history, reflected in its many archaeological sites. While wandering through the streets one can see Byzantine temples, Hellenistic and Roman theatres, Roman bathhouses decorated with mosaics…the scenery is like something out of a grand Hollywood movie set, fascinating and unbelievable. The true gems of the city though are the Archaeological Museum of Dion and the Platamonas Castle
For those keen on winter sports, an escape to the mountain village of Elatohori (a few minutes away from the city of Katerini) is ideal. Elatohori ski-center is one of the most popular and best managed ski-centers of Greece, catering to the interest of both amateur and professional skiers. Visitors can rest in stone-built pensions, enjoy home-cooked traditional Macedonian meals in the local taverns and have a walk along the charming streets of Old Town.
Not too far away, visitors will find Litohoro, a picturesque town a few minutes away from Katerini and definitely worth visiting. Litihoro has the best of both worlds, located between the sea and the mountains, offering a captivating view. Litohoro is also the meeting point for climbing expeditions to Mount Olympus.
The Prespes Lakes
Megali (Great) Prespa is divided among Greece, Albania and FYROM, while Mikri (Small) Prespa is located almost entirely in Greece, with the exception of a small part on the west, which is Albanian. Prespa Lakes belong to the district of Florina and make for a picturesque winter destination with their unique beauty, biodiversity and scenic villages. From winter sports and bird watching activities to touring around the charming villages and tasting delicious traditional meals, it is certain that a visit to the Prespes Lakes makes for the ultimate winter escape.
Visitors may be surprised to learn that there are many species of rare birds such as pelicans (pink and silver), herons and cormorants whose beauty the visitor can admire. In the need to protect these species along with mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, the Prespa National Park was established in 1974 protected by Greek, European and International conventions. In addition to bird watching one can enjoy the unique scenery while rowing on the peaceful lake in small fishing boats and visiting Trietnes, the spot at which the boundaries of the three countries meet.
A visit to the small islands in the northern part of Small Prespa, Vidronisi and Agios Ahilios (Saint Achilles) is sure to delight. There are a number of archaeological, Byzantine and post-Byzantine monuments with one of the most significant basilicas, which dates back to the 10th century.
Finally, a visit to the Vigla Pissoderi ski center will offer skiers an unforgettable experience. A few minutes away in Psarrades, step into one of the traditional taverns for some tasty trout, fresh from the nearby lake, and sample a selection of local meats and some of the famous local beans.
We recommend staying at the beautiful Hotel Mimallones, designed to harmonize with its environmentally pristine location. The hotel is furnished with natural materials, including hardwood furniture, limestone and granite from nearby mountains, and organic cotton linens. Whether looking for a romantic getaway, a holiday with family and friends, or a even a business meeting, your stay will be a memory to cherish!
The mountain town of Metsovo in western Greece, built on the slopes of the Pindus Mountain range is an ideal winter destination because of its majestic atmosphere and traditional character. Its diverse history, traditions and customs is what makes Metsovo unique; the things a visitor can see and do there create memories that last for a lifetime.
Upon arriving in Metsovo, visitors will first encounter one of the town’s most famous attractions, the main square called the Bear Square. The name comes from the statue of two bears staring intently at one another. Here in the heart of the town there are also coffee shops where visitors can rest, drink traditional Greek coffee and talk with the friendly shop owners.
Food lovers will find the locals of Metsovo to be warm and welcome new friends! It is an undeniable truth that the recipes of Epirus make for an unforgettable culinary experience, but Metsovo has something more to boast about; the famous cheese of Pindus called Metsovone. It is a traditional smoked cheese made with milk from free-range cows and sheep or goats in the surrounding valleys. It is said to contain all the aromas of the Pindus Mountains, which is an excellent reason to try it!
For those who would seek a bit more physical activity, the Politses ski resort is the answer. At an altitude of 4590 feet with five slopes and three lifts, it is a relatively small ski center but provides all the necessary equipment and facilities for skiers.
As Metsovo is the most important cultural center of Epirus, a visit to the town’s museums is a must, especially the Averoff Gallery. More than 200 paintings and sculptures by renowned Greek artists of the 19th and 20th century are exhibited here.
Less than 25 miles from Metsovo is the famous cluster of villages built in a circle. Aristi, Monodentri, Kapesovo, Tsepelovo, Kipi and Vikos are the villages that make up the Zagorohoria complex, a masterpiece of architecture. There are no words to describe this heavenly place with its traditional houses built of white carved stone and its remarkable old churches. When visiting Zagorohoria, the experience is like entering a sacred unknown place; somewhere that something divine is in the air. A visit to the Vikos Gorge will only enhance your Zagorohoria experience. It is a recognized unique geological phenomenon; the Gorge’s narrowest section of the two sides is about 3,600 feet and its depth reaches about 2950 feet. It begins from the bridge of Kokoros and ends at the bridge of Aristi. Vikos Gorge is said to be the kingdom of eagles and rare medicinal herbs, a kingdom worth passing through.
Ioannina is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Greece, able to carry away its visitors on a retrospect of history under the mist of its enchanting lake. It is, in simple terms, a perfect winter destination due to its location, historical and cultural significance, monuments and variety of activities.
The first thing to do when visiting the city is to stroll the center, have a walk by the lake and enter the gates of the old Castle (Kastro) with its Macedonian-style houses still inhabited. Along the way, take in the Old Synagogue of the Jews, House of Pasha Kalou and the Turkish baths (hammams). Its Kale is called the fortress inside the Kastro; have a coffee at the cafeteria and then visit the Byzantine Museum.
A visit to the Island (Nisi) is only just a short boat ride from the city. It is sure to be like a flashback to a time in history long ago. Visit the Ali Pasha Museum and learn about the ruler called the Lion of Epirus, and see the Byzantine monasteries with their exceptional architecture. After a walk around the island, a meal of trout and eel at a local tavern is considered to be a unique culinary experience.
Legend has it that Mount Pelion was the summer residence of the 12 Gods of Olympus, which is a persuasive argument to visit! Visitors should visit here at least once in the summer and the winter as it sits between mountain and sea. The 24 mountain villages that make up Pelion create a winter wonderland of white!
Pelion is the ideal destination for ski enthusiasts! At 1,470 meters altitude, with one slope for beginners and four slopes for advanced skiers along with a ski school, the Agriolefkes ski center should be on the list of every sports fan. Other outdoors activities a visitor should take in at Pelion are trekking, hiking and horseback riding!
The most well known villages of Pelion are Zagora, Milies, Portaria, Makrinitsa (called the balcony of Pelion) and Tsagarada (home to a 1,000-year-old plane tree) all of which have kept their originality in traditional stone architecture.
Before leaving Pelion, don’t forget to visit one of the local women’s associations and take home some of their famous homemade spoon sweets!
Who can imagine winter without a wonderful coat to keep you warm… and Kastoria is world famous for their coats – fur coats. The name Kastoria is believed to be a derivative of “kastoras,” the Greek word for beavers. It has a history that dates back to the glory of the Byzantine period and served as a prime strategic location. The city is built on a peninsula in the Orestiada Lake and surrounded by mountains. Despite 500 years of occupation by the Ottomans, it has maintained its unique character and honored its history well.
Some of the highlights of the city include the Byzantine Monastery of Panagia Mavriotissa (built inside a cave) the Folklore Museum of Nerantzi Aivazi and the amazing Eco-Museum at Dispilio, which includes exhibits of artifacts dating back to the Neolith Era. Only 24 kilometers outside of Kastoria, you will also find the Petrified Forest of Nostimo. The museum on the site displays marine and terrestrial fossils that are more than 130 million years old!
Greece is a blessed place whose landscape and people are ready to welcome visitors all year long! So, next time you plan your winter holidays do yourself a favor and put Greece on the list! Greece in the winter offers an experience of a lifetime!
To learn more, visit:
Katerini (the capital of Pieria): www.visitpieria.gr
Municiipality of Prespes: