Mt. Pelion – Mountain Villages in Greece

Mt. Pelion VillagesWhile the sailing in the Gulf of Volos is wonderful, it would be a shame to miss out on the beautiful views of the Gulf from the villages which sit on the slopes of Mt. Pelion, home of the Centaurs and wise and noble Chiron in Greek myth.
While there weren’t any mythological battles or sacred schools that I saw, it was still a very pleasant way to spend a morning while some maintenance was being done on the yacht. ( Which by the way is a shocking statement since the idea of me talking about maintenance to a yacht was something I never expected to hear)

It was in Mount Pelion, near Chiron’s cave, that the marriage of Thetis and Pelius took place. The uninvited goddess Eris, to take revenge for having been kept outside the party, brought a golden apple with the inscription “To the Fairest”. The dispute that then arose between the goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athene resulted in events leading to the Trojan War. Read about our visit to ancient Troy here.

Portaria HotelTo get to the villages of Makrinitsa and Portaria, I went to the Volos bus station and bought a ticket for about one and a half Euro. The busride was about 20 minutes winding up the mountain and on the bus were some young couples, school kids, and a few villagers bringing things back from Volos.
As the bus wound up the mountain, I was struck by the change in vegetation. Lots of streams, thick forest of beech, oak, chestnut and what looked like maple (but why don’t they have maple syrup anywhere but North America?) Springs and rivers, stone caves and of course typical Greek village architecture and more than a few monastaries, churches of Saints and a park where there were statues of Centaurs. Okay, so I did see one centaur after all.
Makrinitsa, GreeceThe rooftops were made of grey slate on the older and the newer buildings – obviously traditional is back in fashion. Those that were built during the past fifty years or so seemed to have mostly red clay roofs.
Here’s a bit from wikipedia on the typical architecture of the region

Pelian tradition calls for three-level houses, with the ground floor used for work (tools, kitchen, storage, washing, weaving), the middle floor used for socializing (common rooms), and the top floor for private rooms (bedrooms). Heat is provided by fireplaces, the chimneys of which run through the walls to provide heat to the upper levels, whereas the top level, being well ventilated, provides for summertime cooling. Interior construction is usually of chestnut timber, stained dark brown and often elaborately carved. Many of the larger Pelian mansions (the archontiká or “lordly mansions”) have been converted into boutique hotels and hostels.

As we went upward the climate seemed to shift from that of California and the Med to that of the Pacific Northwest with plenty of apple trees and lots of blackberries. There were also lots of walnut and fig trees and I figured that for my walk down I would dine al-Frescoe natural.
My first stop was Makrinitsa which meant taking the bus all the way to the turn around point. Nicknamed by locals the balcony of Mt. Pelion, the name is well deserved since no village sits higher and no view of the Gulf of Volos is better.
Greek villageAs I walked through the cobblestone streets to the village square, I couldn’t help noticing how similar Greek Orthodox priests and Muslim Imams look to one another. But even older than the priests were the trees in the square. Ancient walnuts that must be 600 years old if they are a day. Massive things. The nearby water fountain seems to keep the atmosphere calm and tranquil and in the coffeehouse there is a fresco by the famous greek painter Theofilos. This is obviously a big tourist destination since nearly every shop was oriented to sell tourists trinkets or specialty Makrinitsa food items, but in fact, there were probably only ten tourists in the entire village while I was there and despite that, there was no one trying to hustle us.
Still, as I looked upward, I thought I could actually see the peak of Mt. Pelion. It seemed like about a mile of hiking would get me there and since I hate to be near the top of a mountain without topping it..I set out walking upward. Leaving the shelter of the trees it instantly became hotter and as I walked on and on, I realized that it was more than a mile…but I kept going. I reached what had looked like the top…and realized there was another top further on…when I reached that one, I saw a further one. And finally, realizing that this could go on for quite a long time I gave up on my idea of seeing both the Gulf of Volos and the Aegean though it should be possible from the top of Pelion – in theory.
Mt Pelion peakReaching some woodcutters and a small shrine to the Virgin, I figured it was time to go back since the woodcutters told me that the top was on and on and on. Slightly disappointed but invigorated by the hike and the view of the Gulf of Volos I walked back to Makrinitsa and on to Portaria.
Along the way I ate tons of blackberries, drank from an artesian spring, ate walnuts, figs, and even had an apple. Plus, I bought a delicious bar of chocolate before I left Makrinitsa. It wasn’t a terribly long walk, just a few kilometers and I was in Portaria which is like Makrinitsa but more developed. After a few more km, I caught the bus and headed back down to the yacht waiting in Volos.


The Gulf of Volos – Ancient Sea of the Golden Fleece, Centaurs, and Gods

When I was a little guy reading big fat Sci-fi and Fantasy books, I used to hide out in my Oregon tree fort and read for hours every day. The amount of time I spent reading must have doubled when I found A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.

In the Xanth series, Anthony introduced me to Centaurs and creatures of Greek myth and I was hooked, entranced, and spending far too much time in my teens reading Piers Anthony’s other books when I should have been out chasing girls.

That geeky kid never disappeared from within me so it was with a huge amount of excitement that I set out for the Gulf of Volos in Greece. You may be asking what the connection is – don’t worry, I’m about to tell you.

The Gulf of Volos is where the Greek Argonaut, Jason set out with his argonaut crew to recover the Golden Fleece and his crown. It was in this very body of water that Jason learned to sail the Argo.
Here is the legend in brief:

Pelias (Aeson’s half-brother) was very power-hungry, and he wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. Pelias was the product of a union between their shared mother, Tyro (“high born Tyro”) the daughter of Salmoneus, and allegedly the sea god Poseidon. In a bitter feud, he overthrew Aeson (the rightful king), killing all the descendants of Aeson that he could. He spared his half-brother for unknown reasons. Alcimede I (wife of Aeson) already had an infant son named Jason whom she saved from being killed by Pelias, by having women cluster around the newborn and cry as if he were still-born. Alcimede sent her son to the centaur Chiron for education, for fear that Pelias would kill him — she claimed that she had been having an affair with him all along. Pelias, still fearful that he would one day be overthrown, consulted an oracle which warned him to beware of a man with one sandal.
Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of the sea god and his alleged father, Poseidon, when Jason arrived in Iolcus and lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros (“wintry Anauros”), while helping an old woman to cross (the Goddess Hera in disguise). She blessed him for she knew, as goddesses do, what Pelias had up his sleeve. When Jason entered Iolcus (modern-day city of Volos), he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Jason, knowing that he was the rightful king, told Pelias that and Pelias said, “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Jason happily accepted the quest.

Mt Pelias which sits above the Gulf of Volos was the home to the original centaurs, including Chiron who educated Jason and later Achilles in the arts of sailing and swordplay. I was going to be sailing and eating and drinking on the same body of water as the ancient heroes and centaurs.

The Gulf of Volos, it turns out, is a fantastic place for a novice sailor such as myself. With winds that usually stay below F3 and not a whole slew of hazards that can catch you by surprise. Called the Pagasitikos Gulf, this is a place that hasn’t been overrun with tourists, yachts, or development. While you can go to most of Greece and find thousands of people on holiday, the Gulf of Volos has just a few – some days we saw no other yachts and just a couple of fishing boats!

We found crystal clear waters and a good wind provided by the ‘Meltemi’ blowing from the NE, quiet bays and fishing villages, history to investigate and many islands to explore. The whole area is known as Magnesia – which I might add has the same name as the region I lived in Turkey though the Turks have allowed the name to become Manisa!


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