One of the most exciting aspects of being in Greece during summer is the food, in combination with dazzling landscapes – a perfectly chilled glass of wine or ouzo with fresh glistening seafood and crisp salads, the sun-warmed sea sparkling in the background, blanketed by a blazing sunset-sky is pretty unbeatable on the feel-good radius. What many of those summer visitors don’t know, however, is that wintertime Greece is just as gratifying, especially when you plan your travel according to a formula that combines foodie delights + sumptuous locations. Whether you are sipping tsipouro and eating gourmet meze by a crackling fire in Volos, or digging into grilled cheese and sausages apres-ski in Arachova, there are plenty of foodie travel options to lure you to Greece’s incredibly varied and picture-perfect mainland landscapes.
One of the most overlooked travel destinations, this huge artificial lake just 40km from Serres town (100km from Thessaloniki) is protected by Natura 2000 because of its marvelous biodiversity. Brown bears, mountain cats, foxes, wild boars, wild water-buffalo and over 30 types of fish live there, as do some 300 species of birds, including flamingos and wild pelicans, which is why the destination is very popular among bird watchers from around the world.
Top things to do: *Go hike on a mountain! Climbers and hikers can enjoy days of adventures on the Belles mountain range (north of the lake) and Mt Mavrvouni (west).
*Warm up in curative thermal waters at the hammam in Agistro, the warm waterfalls of Sidirokastro, and the baths at Therma near the village of Nigrita.
*Watch birds; there are several organized tours led by bird-watching enthusiasts that you can join. Take thee to Amphipolis, one of Greece’s most impressive archaeological sites.
Best places to eat:
*Elodia Polychoros for an ideal family stop. If the saucy stifado stew and soutzoukia meatballs made from healthy buffalo meat, fresh fish and Turkish desserts like buffalo milk Ekmek were not enough, you’ll also enjoy a lovely fireplace and bicycles to rent for a gentle and scenic post-feasting workout.
*Dyonissos Taverna for homemade pies just like yiayia used to make them, buffalo steaks and dense, flavoursome sausages and crisp freshly-cut fries to mop up sauces with.
*Methoriakos Stathmos was once a train station and has now become a fetching kafeneion-style restaurant serving delicious dishes made from fresh, local ingredients.
Don’t leave Lake Kerkini without trying: Wild buffalo sausages, kavourmas and buffalo-milk butter.
Volos, in Magnisia, is a small, breezy provincial town built around the Pagasitic Gulf that is made up of paradoxically-juxtaposed, but nonetheless impressive architecture, such as the Bank of Athens and the Volos Railways Station. It is busy with pedestrians and cyclists making the most of the sea air and pretty views year-round, and has a tsipouro-loving fan base – especially in winter when it can be relished warmed, honeyed and spiced!
Top things to do: *Visit the Tsalapatis multi-space complex, where the 1920s Brickworks Museum is located, together with the contemporary LabArt space where performances and art exhibitions are presented. *See Neolithic and Palaeolithic artefacts in Greece’s oldest museum, the Athanasakio Archaeological Museum, built in 1905. *Do like the locals and explore the city on a bicycle. Pelion Scout and other organisations have mapped out a scenic three-hour ride around the city.
Best places to eat:
*MeZen, where you can sample an inventive Greek assortment of meze dishes accompanied by hundreds of labels and preparations of tsipouro.
*To Pirounaki, a beautiful open space with natural lighting and a creative menu inspired from local ingredients and global delicacies. *Vienna Touch, which serves light meals like fresh salads and cold snacks with a side of live piano and bouzouki music as well as poetry readings.
Don’t leave Volos without trying: A few bottles of rare tsipouro with your friends.
Arachova is Mt Parnassos’ cosmopolitan village, the kind of place where skiers in designer gear party by the fireplace until the early hours. Surrounded by lush greenery and next door (15 minutes drive) from Delphi, it has it all – daytime action on the slopes, high-end shopping, quality restaurants, a buzzy cafe culture and nearby access to some of Greece’s most incredible ancient sites.
Top things to do:
* Go trekking or mountain-biking along breathtaking greenery, near the picturesque village of Chrysso, to the Amfissa olive grove or to the Corycean Cave, dedicated to the God Pan. *Visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Delphi, with its stunning Temple of Apollo, Tholos of Athena Pronaia, Castallian Fountain and Sacred Way.
*Light a candle at the expansive Monastery of Osios Loukas, outside of nearby Distomo village (around 15 minutes’ drive).
Best places to eat:
* Le Sapin for modern, gourmet and innovative eats with excellently mixed cocktails and a trendy crowd.
*Family-run Kaplanis for a cozy and traditional yet not old fashioned vibe. Sit by the fire and try local steak, warming soups and fire-grilled formaela cheese, the most popular local delicacy.
*Panayota for a lively ambiance and home-cooked food that became so famous there is now “face control” at the door.
Don’t leave Arachova without trying: Formaela cheese (great for BBQs as it’s enjoyed grilled), succulent Amfissa olives, mountain tea.