Pelion is where the Olympian Gods took their vacations and where a plethora of Nymphs and Centaurs sought refuge.
Autumn! The senses are awed with nature’s metamorphosis. The rustle of dried leaves, the thousand colors that brighten the scenery, the soft refreshing rain, the smell of damp earth, and the taste of a freshly cut apple. The road I like to travel, in autumn, begins 13 km north of the town of Volos; there, where the houses are spread out amphitheatrically 600 meters above see level, at the “Gate of Pelio,” the village of Portaria.
Every time I visit Portaria, I am swept away by the majestic architecture of the well preserved mansions. Such structures portray the affluence of the village during the 18th and 19th centuries, when silk cultivation and trade bloomed. Apart from walking around the stone-cobbled narrow lanes, visitors can rest in the central square of the village at the traditional coffee houses -“kafeneia”- under the shade of the ancient plane trees.
Tasting spoon sweet preserves, made with the local variety of apple called “phiriki,” can prove to be a very invigorating experience. Sit down at a taverna for a splendid feast with the traditional meat dish called “spetzofai,” a dish made with pork, accompanied by delicacies made with lamb, or others made with intestines or with veal. Be sure to try the typical Greek “fasolada” (i.e. giant beans soup), and homemade savory vegetable or cheese pies, all of which should be accompanied by tsipouro, a very strong, very traditional spirit.
In the main square with the water fountains, stands the metropolitan church of St Nicolas with the embossed Byzantine representations. On the church’s grounds also stands the church of Virgin Mary, a subsidiary to the old monastery of “Virgin Mary of Portareas” (15th century) that gave the village its name. It is worth entering into one of the stone houses, roofed with ceramic tiles, to see the carved ceilings and the antique furniture.
When I have the time, I walk the “Centaurs’ Path” that leads to Hania. The more athletic types will instead climb to the mountain top “Pliasidi,” 1546 meters above sea level. Both paths offer breathtaking views of the valley of Thessaly.
Just 4 km away from Portaria is the beautiful little village of Makrinitsa, often referred to as the “Balcony of Pelio,” as it rests above Pagasitikos Bay. It is a picturesque settlement that has been acclaimed a Cultural Heritage site. Scattered among the chestnut, walnut, oak, and plane trees lie single-story or three story houses, depending on the slope of the ground. The village, that reached great economic growth during Turkish occupation, invites inquisitive natures to explore its stone canon-towers and to admire the wooden, carved ceilings.
Following the narrow lanes uphill, I arrive at the village square that is renowned for the fountain the “Water of Immortality.” Initially the sole source of water for the village, this is today one of the village’s fifty fountains that run continuously. In the shade of the centuries-old plane trees, next to the church of St. George, I drink my coffee in the community kafeneio (traditional coffee house) called “Theophilos,” named from its mural painting by Greek painter Theophilos, a painting that presents the death of local hero Katsandonis. A visit to the Folklore Museum that is housed in the Topali Mansion is very interesting. It is a replica of an old mansion, complete with all household items. In each room, there is an exhibition of local dress, books, tools, weapons and tools. Before leaving the village, I usually stop at the little church of St. John the Baptist, a beautiful sample of the local stone architecture.
Traveling downhill from Portaria, one reaches the coast road east of Volos. Apple, pear, apricot, orange, mandarin, and lemon trees surround the village of Ano Lehonia, the place where the old “Moutzouris” begins its trail. Mouzouris is the local steam train that burned coal and carried people and goods between the “hind villages” and Volos for 70 years, beginning in 1895. It has been placed back on track as a tourist attraction, offering a memorable ride to those who decide to travel with it to Milies. Traveling 16 km in thick forest, through tunnels and over stone bridges, is truly a pleasure ride. Though the train was designed by the father of famous painter De Kiriko, the iron bridge and the village’s railway station are also very impressive.
Now, we have arrived at the place that used to be the center for art and culture across Greece- the village of Milies. Like the other villages of the peninsula, Milies will enchant you with its amazing combination of architectural and environmental charm. Moreover, the vast importance that the village once held as a scholarly and art centre is reflected in its great library, one that holds manuscripts and maps from the war period of 1821, along with relics of the School of History founded by scholar Anthimos Gazis. The town is also home to an interesting folklore museum.
Walking around stone-cobbled lanes, one admires the 200-year-old mansions. I like to rest in the square, where the church of Panmegiston Taxiarhon is situated, with its fantastic murals and intricate wood crafting. I like to drink from the water fountains, the most famous one being that of John the Baptist. There, the priest blesses the waters on the Day of the Epiphany, by lowering the cross into its waters, if the weather is too rough to go down to the sea. I enjoy talking with the local street venders, displaying their first apples of the season.
With my arms filled with the abundance of Nature in this blessed place, I bid farewell to autumn with the sweet and sour taste of apples and know in my heart that I will return soon, because Pelio is even more magical when dressed in white.