Mount Pelion - Land of the Centaurs - The Maritime Explorer


Mount Pelion – Land of the Centaurs

This is the final post from Alison’s and my trip to Greece in 2023. We spent most of it on an Adventures Abroad trip from Istanbul to Ioaninna in northern Greece following the course of the ancient Roman road, Via Egnatia led by our friend Victor Romagnoli. After that we flew to Athens for a few days and visited the Acropolis one more time and the Parthenon museum for the first time. However, we were still not ready to go home and wanted to find an area of Greece we had never been to before. At Victor’s suggestion we chose Mount Pelion, a peninsula that is famous in myth as the summer retreat of the Olympian gods and the home of the Centaurs. Who could resist that? It turns out it was a wonderful choice as we found a fabulous place to stay and enjoyed three days of sightseeing, hiking and a great train ride. Here’s why you should consider Mount Pelion for your next Greek vacation.

Mount Pelion in Myth

According to Greek mythology the Mount Pelion peninsula was home to the Centaurs, most notably Chiron who was the most famous tutor of ancient times. He taught medicine to Asclepius and presumably battle skills to Heracles, Achilles and Jason. It was also the site of the most famous marriage in Greek mythology, one that led directly to the Trojan War. Peleus, for whom the mountain is named, married the sea nymph Thetis near Chiron’s cave and all the gods except Eris, goddess of discord, were invited. Pissed off, she sent a golden apple with the words ‘to the fairest’ inscribed on it. This led to Paris being asked to judge between Hera, Aphrodite and Athena and he chose Aphrodite who bribed him with the promise he could have Helen of Troy as his wife. Only problem was that Helen was already married to the king of Sparta, Menelaus, and we all know what came next.

The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis by Joachim Wtewael – Yes that’s the correct spelling

So when you walk the sylvan lanes and paths of Mount Pelion you are in the presence of almost every great figure from the ancient past, real or imagined.

Mount Pelion is not dissimilar to Mount Olympus in that it is a series of peaks, the highest of which tops out at 1,623 metres (5,328 feet). That might not seem that high, but it rises quite precipitously out of the Aegean Sea and creates a long fish hook shaped peninsula dotted with a number of both mountain and seaside villages, none of which has more than a few thousand people.

Aerial view of Mount Pelion
Mount Pelion Peninsula

We rented a sporty little red Fiat at the Athens airport and took the A1 to the city of Volos some 350 kms. (217 miles) north on the main Athens/Thessaloniki highway. It was an excellent highway, but the tolls were pretty hefty. We left the A1 outside Volos and took the bypass around the city which took us high above the home of Jason.

Volos Below

Further on there was also a great view down the length of the Mount Pelion peninsula and we could see some of the villages that front on small coves with the beaches that draw tourists from all over Greece wanting to avoid the summer heat of Athens and other big cities.

Mount Pelion Coastline
View of the Mount Pelion Coast

Driving on the Mount Pelion peninsula is not for those who get car sick as the roads twist and turn and go up and down like a roller coaster. This is a picture of the GPS display on the Fiat’s dashboard.

Winding Road

The Amanita Guesthouse

Amanita Guesthouse, Mount Pelion
Amanita Guesthouse

Our destination was the small village of Tsagkaradas where we had booked three nights at the Amanita guesthouse which is one of many small inns to be found on the Mount Pelion peninsula. I chose it because of the favourable reviews on Trip Advisor and because it has its own restaurant which most of the small inns do not. It also had this very attractive separate apartment which I had reserved.

Amanita Apartment, Mount Pelion
Amanita Apartment

The Amanita is the culmination of years of work by economist cum gardener Filaretos Psimmenos and his wife Marianna. They have created a truly heavenly spot by restoring an old manor house and surrounding it with gardens that make the food they prepare a legitimate farm to table experience. Here is a gallery of both the interiors and exterior of the Amanita.

Double click to open a photo and double click again to expand to full size.

Even though the apartment had its own cooking facilities we saw no need to given the quality of the food Filaretos and Marianna were preparing. Here is a gallery of some of the items we had for breakfast and dinner during our stay on Mount Pelion. Everything was local including the wine and the olive oil.

Using a combination of rural lanes and ancient pathways you can make your way down to one of the small villages on the Mount Pelion coast from the Amanita. It’s a decent trek and will take the better part of a morning or afternoon down and back, but it’s definitely worth doing both for the views and just for getting a closer look at life as it has been lived for centuries on Mount Pelion.

Here is a gallery of what you might see if you followed the same route as Alison and I did in the order we saw it.

We took a different way back up that was more gradual and along a number of roadsides eventually getting to the Amanita after which we drove to the village of Tsagarada which is famous for its 1,000 year old plane tree.

Tsagarada Plane Tree

I was more interested in getting a fix – that would be a Greek beer and not a you know what.

Getting a Fix on Mount Pelion
Getting a Fix

Path of the Centaurs

Start of the Path of the Centaurs

If you aren’t up for a more taxing hike such as the one above then the Path of the Centaurs which starts at this archway in the village of Portaria is probably a better fit. It is a gentle walk that follows the course of a small stream through a green canopy and it’s easy to imagine coming across a centaur or perhaps a mountain nymph on the slopes of Mount Pelion.

Stream Followed by the Path, Mount Pelion
Stream Followed by the Path

There are a number of bridges over the stream and lots of wildflowers, providing many great photo opportunities.

Bridge on the Path, Mount Pelion
Bridge on the Path

Portaria is a typical Mount Pelion village that once was famous for its silk merchants and well worth time exploring on foot before or after walking the Path of the Centaurs.

Mount Pelion Railway

Mount Pelion Locomotive

I’ve saved for last what for me was the one must do thing on Mount Pelion and that was to ride the narrow gauge train from Ano Lechonia on the coast to the end of the line at Milea high up on the mountainside. I have always been a train nut and for almost two years between undergrad and law school fulfilled that by working first a crew clerk and then a brakeman on the CN line out of The Pas, Manitoba. I never miss a chance to take a train whenever possible and in 2022 Alison and I toured Switzerland on an Adventures Abroad trip led by Victor which almost exclusively used trains to get around including the famous Glacier Express.

The Mount Pelion railway is no Glacier Express, but it does have an interesting history. It was designed Evaristo de Chirico, father of the famous Greek surrealist, Giorgio de Chirico and operated from 1903 to 1955 by a private company mainly as a means of getting olives grown high on the slopes of Mount Pelion to Volos where they could be processed. After 1955 it was taken over by the state owned railway and operated until 1971 when service was suspended. In 1996 a small section from Ano Lechonia to Milea was reopened as a tourist train that runs from April to October on weekends and holidays.

The section that the Mount Pelion train operates on today is only 15 kms. (9.3 miles), but in that span it climbs hundreds of metres, crossing seven stone bridges and one metal one, passes through two tunnels and under five stone archways with roads overhead. There is one fifteen minute stop along the way and the total trip takes ninety minutes get from Ano Lechonia to Milea.

I planned the entire Mount Pelion trip around this train ride and on a pleasant Saturday morning we make the one hour drive from Amanita to Ano Lechonia and picked up our pre-booked tickets at the restored train station.

Ano Lechonia Train Station, Mount Pelion
Ano Lechonia Train Station

There is one tiny locomotive and four passenger cars, but if you really want to get the best out of this trip forget about a seat and station yourself at the back of the train like this.

Where to Stand on the Mount Pelion Train

What follows is a gallery of photos taken in order that shows the various sights you’ll see in this short train ride.

From the station it’s about half a kilometre into the small village of Milea.  Rather than wait for three hours for the return trip we grabbed a waiting taxi and within a short while were back in Ano Lechonia and then on our way back to Amanita.

As in almost every place I’ve ever been in Greece, there is never enough time to see and do all the things that brought me there in the first place. One could easily spend your entire vacation on the Mount Pelion peninsula visiting the different villages and beaches each day or spending some time in Volos, but alas it is time to say farewell to this land of the Centaurs. I’m just glad I made it here at least once.

And that ends the 2023 Greek odyssey as well. Unless something very unexpected happens it won’t be my last trip.