Memories from my last time in Greece (1982) were certainly changed following my recent visit in 2008. I was fortunate in being invited to join a media and tourism group looking at Eco tourism, trekking and gastronomy in the Sporades Islands and the region of Mt Pelion.
Due to flights we had to transit Athens, which ensured we had some stopover time in this rejuvenated city. I recall my last visit to Athens. At that time I stated that I would be happy if I never came back!! 2008 and this has all changed, both my mind set and the city!
Whilst there is still mayhem when it comes to traffic and car parking, the famous Athens air pollution is manifestly improved! One can enjoy long walks, clear views and clear nostrils! The public transport system is much improved, a benefit from the Olympic Games, but still Athenians desire 2 cars per household! All this in a city with mainly apartment homes and street parking! The new Acropolis Museum is about to open and we were privileged to experience a behind the scenes tour of this exceptional establishment. Design wise the building has many aspects connected directly to the design of the Parthenon. A prime reason for this museum is the reconstructed Parthenon frieze. Here you will find remaining stones and plaster casts of those known to not exist any longer. In addition, you will see ‘spaces’. These are for the frieze stones known as the Elgin Marbles, currently displayed at the British Museum and the subject of many years conjecture as to true ownership. This museum eliminates one of the main arguments put forward by the British in that Athens lacked a suitable display area to guarantee the ‘marbles’ do not suffer further from pollution and the natural elements. The topic of the ‘Elgin Marbles’ is an emotional subject for Greece. In fact there is a movement to stop the Olympic flame travelling from Greece to London for the next Olympics unless the marbles are returned!
Sporades Islands: We had intensive sightseeing programmes in both Skiathos and Skopolos. These islands have featured in the cinemas of Australia through the movie version of ‘Mama Mia’. The islands were used as the ‘on location’ scenery and naturally the local tourism authorities are attempting to dine out on this fact. Their plans seem justified as many tourists are making their way to the islands to visit the movie sites and in particular the ‘little church on the rock’!!
Moving away from the ‘Movie Connection’ the islands themselves provide many more activities and stunningly beautiful scenery. These are not your cliché small, ‘dry and rocky’ Greek islands. They are heavily wooded, rugged and of considerable land area. Skiathos is the most ‘developed’ and has an airport taking connecting flights from Athens and in high season international flights from European points. This salient point leads me to suggest that you avoid this island during July and August, unless you want a 100% resort/party type island. Moving through September and October you can enjoy a much more relaxed environment. Skopolos requires a ferry to access it and whilst still VERY busy during the high season is not as hectic as Skiathos. Both islands offer many fine walking trails, so a centre based walking holiday is a reality here.
Mt Pelion: The city of Volos is the gateway to this stunning environment. The hills of the Mt Pelion region are unique in Greece for this is one of the few places you find vegetation in the form of Chestnut Trees and similar cooler climate vegetation. For this reason the ‘ancients centred their myths about the Centaurs in these hills.
From these hills Jason felled the timbers to build the famous Argo and from the shoreline of Volos Jason and Argonauts set forth on their mythical journey to seek the Golden Fleece. Recently the local authorities built a replica Argo (using bronze age tools and methods) and earlier this year a team of volunteers rowed the boat from Volos to Croatia taking 65 days to complete the voyage!
As you ascend the roads leading out of Volos up to the hills you notice a quick change in architecture in the form of houses, made from stone and timber, clinging to the hillsides in small picturesque villages. Before major road access, or indeed the one narrow gauge rail line, all goods and people moved along networks of stone paths. These paths still exist and form the basis of an impressive collection of trekking trails. To further enhance your experience the region has a unique style of Greek cuisine challenging our stereotyped view of Greek food! The Pelion is home to a restored narrow gauge railway which provides an charming journey up from near Volos to a high rustic and ‘drop dead’ beautiful mountain village. On route you are rewarded with classic views encompassing ravines, villages, olive plantations and ocean.
My entire odyssey entailed many experiences and news sights, too many to encapsulate in this newsletter with detail. We can arrange some wonderful trekking trips in the Mt Pelion region and with this fresh update of the ‘New Greece’ please call if you require assistance with some itinerary planning.
little gem from the news blogs about Greece..