Why Greece should be at the top of your winter hitlist
Greece typically conjures up images of cerulean seas and idyllic powder sand beaches, but head inland from December to May and there’s a winter wonderland waiting to be discovered.
With majestic mountains and precipitous pistes blanketed in snow, Greece has far more ski resorts than you might imagine. Many sit at high altitudes, and what's more, they’re considerably cheaper that most elsewhere in Europe — with day lift passes costing from €15 to €25 (£13 to £21.65).
Go for a day or two to experience the mountain scenery, indulge in a gourmet meze by a crackling log fire and visit some of the country’s finest archaeological sites close to the pistes.
Parnassos Ski Resort
Best for: day trippers
Easily accessible from the capital, Parnassos is an intriguing addition to an Athens itinerary, providing the chance to see magnificent mountain scenery and explore Delphi, the sacred temple of Apollo and arguably one of the country’s most important archaeological locations. The UNESCO World Heritage Site lies at the foot of the mountain and can be toured in just a few hours after skiing, although there’s plenty to keep non-skiers occupied for an entire day. As the largest resort in the country, with 16 miles of pistes and 23 ski runs, there are pistes for every level, with the opportunity to ski across two high-altitude peaks, Kellaria at 5,740ft and Fterolakas at 6,398ft.
Essentials: 110 miles (two hours by car) from Athens.
Best for: nightlife
Visitors keen to spend more than one day exploring Parnassos and Delphi should book a hotel in the picturesque village of Arachova, located about 15 miles away. Famed for its apres-ski, the resort is often called the 'winter Mykonos' due to its bustling nightlife, with numerous tavernas, bars and restaurants staying open until the early hours. Alternatively, join the jet set buying designer gear in the resort’s high-end shops, or relax in a traditional restaurant tasting local delicacies such as fire-grilled formaela cheese with red wine or locally produced tsipouro (un-aged brandy).
Essentials: 125 miles (two hours 30 minutes by car) from Athens.
Kalavryta Ski Resort
Best for: something different
Don’t want to spend the entire day in the mountains? Enjoy an early morning swim at the seaside town of Diakofto before catching a cog train for an hour’s journey through the Vouraikós Gorge to the railway station in Kalavryta. Just 15 miles away, this gentle chug through the mountains is known for being among the most scenic in Greece. At an altitude of 7,677ft on Mount Helmos, the snow is typically good at Kalavryta Resort, with a couple of challenging runs, a moguls piste and a snowboard park, as well as a good selection of gentle, winding blues for all those finding their ski legs. The resort also has some excellent restaurants serving hearty mountain fare. Alternatively, go by car and combine a visit with a trip to the magical pine forest of Strofilia or book a cellar tour and stay overnight at a spa hotel. Don’t miss the Cave of the Lakes, situated 10 miles away in Kastria, with impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations and several cascading waterfalls.
Essentials: 115 miles (two hours 30 minutes by car) from Athens.
Kaimaktsalan Ski Resort
Best for: sightseeing
The views from this little mountain resort with 10 miles of groomed pistes are certain to take your breath away. Sitting at an altitude of 8,104ft on Mt Voras, Greece’s highest resort offers incredible panoramas that take in Mount Olympus, the Thermaikos Gulf and Lake Vegoritida, the second-largest lake in Greece. Once you’ve skied the resort’s 13 runs (or just admired the views), head to Pozar’s hot springs to take a warming dip in its therapeutic waters, naturally heated to 37C. Explore prehistoric caves hidden in a nearby gorge or head to the Black Forest for a hike. The highlight, however, is ancient Pella, the capital of the Macedonian kingdom where Alexander the Great was born, with other must-see sights including the historic Archangelos Monastery and the beautiful city of Edessa.
Essentials: 80 miles (two hours by car) from Thessaloniki.
Vasilitsa Ski Resort
Best for: snowboarding
Set high in the Pindos range at more than 7,200ft, this is a favourite for snowboarders and powder hounds. Home to some of the longest runs in Greece (16 of the ski runs are 10 miles in length) there’s also a fun halfpipe. But you don’t visit Vasilitsa purely to board or ski. Nearby (90 minutes by car) is Valia Calda National Park, where hiking trails, river rafting and four-wheel-drive excursions take you deep into an ancient landscape of virgin forests. And be sure to take time to visit Grevena to try one of 1,300 different species of mushrooms that grow here, be it powdered, or in a pie, soup, sauce or even a liqueur.
Essentials: 28 miles (55 minutes by car) from the town of Grevena and 135 miles (two hours and 15 minutes by car) from Thessaloniki.
3-5 Pigadia Ski Resort
Best for: history buffs
Situated on Mt Vermio in northern Greece at around 6,580ft, this is the only Greek ski resort with a completely automatic snow-making system. Suited to all abilities, there are around 10 ski runs of 5.5 miles in length. Experts come here to take on the vertiginous Aristoteles and Filippos runs, which are surrounded by a spellbinding beech forest and rate as among the two most challenging runs in the country. Off the slopes, there are plenty of must-see attractions nearby including the Saranta Outades cave, with its impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations, and Vergina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for being the first capital of ancient kingdom of Macedonia.
Essentials: 64 miles (One hour 15 minutes by car) from Thessaloniki.
Mainalo Ski Resort
Best for: first timers
Small and picturesque, this atmospheric low-altitude resort is situated in Peloponnese on the Ostrakina plateau and is ideal for beginners and snowboarders, with a fun snowpark and ski school. Pistes cut through pristine snowscapes, dotted with enchanting stone-built villages such as Vytina, Dimitsana, Levidi and Kapsia, each serving up hearty traditional dishes, with opportunities to buy arts and crafts at Stemnitsa, famed for its gold- and silversmiths. Near to Tripoli, Mainalo is also popular for other outdoor sports such as horse-riding, kayaking, rafting, canyoning and wintery strolls along the banks of the Lousios River.
Essentials: 100 miles (less than two hours by car) to Athens.
For more information visit visitgreece.gr
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