Greece is not only sea and beaches – although yes of course, this is what Greece is arguably most famous for. You will also find pretty traditional villages hidden within high mountains where you can escape the scalding hot temperatures and admire glimpses of the sea from afar. Here are some of the most beautiful ones, far from the tourist crowds…
Chora Folegandrou – for sophisticated travellers
This is the capital of a merely 600 habitants island – a tiny village hanging dramatically on the edge of a cliff, 200 meters above sea level. Like a typical Cycladic island, walls here are white while the wooden balconies are colourful. Tourists only discovered this village recently which means the signs above every shop are still wooden and handmade. The oldest houses of the village are part of the castle and there are lots of churches with breath-taking views over the deep blue waters of the Aegean archipelagos. Arrange your visit around Greek Easter to watch all households open their doors as a picture of Virgin Mary is being carried through the village.
Galaxidi – for the fun-seeking traveller
One of those places that looks great in all seasons. In the past Galaxidi used to be a ship-building center and every family had some sailors or captains. Nowadays, it is a quiet fishing village with some very unique cafes and restaurants with fresh seafood. Waking around you can still see the mansions of the old captains and imagine the glorious past. But if you will only visit Galaxidi once in your life, make sure it is during carnival time (around February/March) when they celebrate it with flour-wars. The whole village participates, you will be given a large bag of flour in different colours by the mayor at noon (or you can buy yours from a local bakery) and the streets become a big war zone that carries on until the evening!
Zagorohoria – for the energetic traveller
Zagorohoria (from the words ζαγόρι, χωριό= village) consists of 46 villages and 3.700 habitants in an area of 1000 square kilometres. Even though I did not do my maths and I am purely copying someone else’s, this gives us about 4 people for every 1 km! This peaceful area in northern Greece is crossed by a river and one of the world’s deepest and narrowest canyons (900m deep and 1100m wide). If you still decide to walk along though you will be rewarded as it is one of the most scenic routes. Before modern roads were constructed, the villages were connected with stone arched bridges and cobblestone paths which are still there to remind us of the past.
Monemvasia – for the romantic traveller
Monemvasia (I like to impress you with all the Greek words –although coming to think of it, there is nothing impressive as I am Greek- so here it comes: μόνη έμβασις = single entrance) is a great rock in the sea in the south of Greece connected to the rest of the mainland with a narrow bridge. The medieval village is built inside a castle on this rock and its secluded position was a target for various pirates and enemies within the centuries. In fact, the first inhabitants arrived on that rock seeking a refuge from those who chased them and decided to stay on. Monemvasia is considered one of the most romantic destinations in Greece and it is a popular destination for honeymooners who take long walks in the sunset enjoying glasses of “Malvasia” – a local white wine.
Mani – for the history-lover
This is a well-preserved area in the south of Greece where the same families have been living there for centuries. They all carry memories of a historical past as Areopolis, the capital village was the place where the flag that signified the Greek revolution was raised in 1821. And it is because of those memories that the family stone towers with the small windows ready to spot the enemy, castles and churches have all stayed the same. The streets are stone-paved and they are waiting for visitors to start telling their stories. Nowadays, a lot of those family houses in Mani have been turned into small boutique hotels so it is a unique opportunity to live in a truly historical destination.
Molyvos – for the alcohol-lover
Molyvos (or Mithimna as it is now known) is a touristic village in the Greek island of Lesvos, a breath away from Turkey. Normally we are told to avoid touristic places but this is one that you must by all means visit. Tourists here return year after year (and this includes my parents) because they appreciate the hospitality of the locals, quality of life, tasty food and beautiful scenery. The traditional houses and shops surround the castle on top of the hill and go along the coast to one of the most scenic harbours in Greece. There you will find a lot of small boats that set out before the sun rises and come back with fresh fish and seafood to be devoured moments later in all the local homes and restaurants. If you try one thing, make sure it is ouzo as this island produces one of the best brands of this famous Greek alcohol and you usually accompany it with several small plates of food (mezes).
Makrynitsa – for the nature-lover
A traditional village situated on the mountains of Pelion about 600m above sea level. Makrinitsa is a very picturesque village with stone houses (if you happen to enter one, look up at the hand-drawn ceilings!) and cobblestone paths that lead out of the village and into quiet corners with colourful flowers and big shady trees. Don’t be tricked by the greenery though. Behind those trees the careful eye will find hidden monasteries, old churches, deserted castles and caves that will satisfy the most curious expediters. The most attractive place though which also granted Makrynitsa its nickname “Balcony of Pelion” is the main square where you can admire along with the locals panoramic views that reach until the sea and the city of Volos. As in every village in that area, the main square is also the social centre where all festivals, concerts and exhibitions take place throughout the year.
Nymfaio – for the wildlife-lover
Nymfaio is one of the smallest and most secluded villages in Greece and debatably one of the most beautiful in Europe, situated 1350m above sea level on the mountains of Verno. The myth has it that Nymfaio owes its name to the vlach word “nevesta” or “nymph” that means bride because of its beauty and isolated position. So don’t you want to visit a place like that? Back in the day residents were partisans and fighters and later on into silversmithing, famous for their silverware all over the area for more than 300 years. If you are curious, there is a museum exhibiting some of those pieces. Nowadays, the area is mostly famous for the environmental centre Arcturos that protects brown bears and wolves. It is open to visitors and it is a 15-minute walk from the village – make sure to check it out!
Syrrako – for the foodies
Another village in the West of Greece, Syrrako is hidden on the mountains of Tzoumerka(would you ever think that Greece has so many mountains? No? Me neither!) built on a steep slope in a way so that it protects its residents from enemies of the past. A river separates it from the nearest village Kalarrytes and cars are not allowed inside the village so be prepared to leave all city comforts behind and lose yourself under old plane trees. Syrrako is not for glampers or picky travellers but it will reward the ones that choose to visit it. If you are looking for a place to stay, you can always check into some of the beautiful old houses that have been transformed to hotels maintaining their atmosphere.
Dimitsana – for the atmosphere-seeking traveller
Dimitsana is a popular winter destination for a lot of greek tourists but not equally known outside of greek borders. Due to its position near a gorge in the south of Greece, Dimitsana played an important role during the revolution. This is where most of the gunpowder and flour was produced in the water-powered mills. You can still find a few of them and a museum exists nearby to walk you through their story. You will also discover a historic library – most of its books were destroyed during the revolution as the pages were used to wrap the gunpowder. While you are there, sit in one of the village’s cafes or tavernas (restaurants) and enjoy some rakomelo (raki is a greek alcohol, warmed up with honey and spices) – the perfect remedy for cold temperatures and flus!