5+1 destinations for an October getaway in Greece
October is the ideal month for all travelers visiting Greece for an alternative vacation opportunity, seeking to discover what a place really has to offer, other than the golden beaches and the emerald waters. It is, however, that time of the year for everyone who looks for something different, who is in search of something more adventurous, immense and perhaps just breathtaking. Here are 5+1 destinations for your October getaway in Greece that you should hit next!
1. Zagorochoria: the spot beyond the mountains
The 52 villages in the region of Epirus, northeast from Ioannina, will make your travel one of the most extraordinary experiences. The first thing you’ll notice is that, once you step your foot in the region, you’ll instantly become one with nature. Surrounded by forests and rivers full of intriguing flora and fauna, kind and hospitable people and wonderful house buildings made from stone, the villages are gems hidden in plain sight for those ready to discover them.
You can begin from the villages of Western Zagori (the name originating from Slavic that translates into “beyond the mountains”), located west of Mt. Tymphe. There you will find the well-preserved and traditional villages of Ano Pedina with the Monastery of Evangelistria and Vitsa with the Skala of Vitsa leading to the double-arched bridge of Misios. Then you may visit Kato Pedina, Monodendri with the Rizario Centre of Handicrafts and the Monastery of Agia Paraskevi, Elafotopos, Aristi with the Monastery of Panagia Spileotissa, Vikos, Papingo and Mikro Papingo, the two most popular villages of the region located in the Vikos-Aoos national park.
Your journey moves on to Central Zagori, between Tymphe and Mitsikeli mountains, where the villages are the result of exceptional architecture and long-lasting tradition. Those are Asprageli, Dilofo (built between two hills, hence the name), Koukouli, Dikorfo (meaning two peaks in Greek), Kapesovo, Tsepelovo, Vradeto and many more.
Last but not least, your journey should finish by visiting Eastern Zagori, located between Mitsikeli and Pindos, another sample of the Zagori region’s reputation and magnificence. Known for its villages- like Tristeno, Greveniti or Doliani- of paramount attraction, you will be satisfied by the panoramic view and the never-ending possibilities this place “beyond the mountains” has to offer you if you get excited by something more alternative.
2. Kalamata: the grandeur between Mt. Taygetos and the Gulf of Messinia
The timeless city of Kalamata has a lot to offer: the bright blue sea, the magnificence of Mt. Taygetos and the opportunity to wander around the heart of the city. Kalamata combines both the modern element and the history and culture dating back to the ancient times. These are just a few of the things you will see and experience during your visit in Kalamata.
One of the biggest cities of the Peloponnese peninsula, Kalamata is the ideal place for those who want to enjoy the beaches’ endless possibilities in summer and the natural beauty of Mt. Taygetos all year long. Whether on a family trip or with friends -or just your significant other- you will see modern and traditional cafes and restaurants, historic buildings, markets, the port and much more, while the nightlife is alive and thriving throughout the year.
For the history enthusiasts, Kalamata is considered the perfect destination, as history can be discovered on every street corner and every building. You can start by visiting the Kalamata Castle dating back to the 13th century. Then, there is the Benakeion Archaeological Museum, located right in the center of the city and near the Church of Ypapanti, as well as the Historical and Folk Art Museum, the neoclassical building of the Municipal Gallery and the Church of Agii Apostoli. If you are more interested in ancient times, then Ancient Messene is a must.
Just 25 kilometers north of Kalamata, you will come across the Odeon, parts of the fortified wall that surrounded the region, the theatre, the stadium, the propylaeum of the market and the Bouleuterion (council house/chamber). Last but not least, in order to witness the architectural magnificence of Iktinos (the architect of the Parthenon), you should visit the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, which can be accessed by car or bus, two hours north from Kalamata.
3. Volos: tsipouro and meze right by the sea
Usually, when talking of Volos, the first thing that pops in mind is the local taverns and restaurants that spread all over the city. To fully experience your travel in Volos, you have to first taste, then see. It is a city of uncanny beauty that bridges the old and the modern element, brings you the greatest culinary tradition, takes hospitality to a new level and is just a breath away from the picturesque villages of Pelion.
What to do first is a question that needs no answer. You should start with a walk alongside the waterfront, where you will find the majority of the cafes and taverns, locally better known as tsipouradika. Lined next to each other, they are full of people enjoying their coffee throughout the day or drinking a quick tsipouro and tasting the rich meze before they head home after work. Among the sights, you will find the sculpture of Argo, the neoclassical building of the National Bank of Greece, the Railway Museum, the Achilleon theatre and the prehistoric settlements of Dimini and Sesklo; and don’t forget to walk along the promenade, the so-called Kordoni, offering a perfect view of the Alykes region opposite the city centre.
To see exactly what Volos is all about, then your next destination is the area of Palia, as called by the locals. There you will find a plethora of tsipouradika, mainly filled with students of the local university that wish to hang out with their friends and loosen up from the university everyday life, and pubs for beer-lovers.
Your stay in Volos should also include a visit to the scenic and traditional villages on the mountain Pelion. Zagora, Keramidi, Mouresi, Pouri, Milies, Agios Lavrentios, Makrinitsa, Portaria, Tsangarada are some of the villages found on the mountain Pelion, that, according to Greek mythology, were ruled by Centaurs. It might be October, but it is worth finding your way to the unparalleled beaches of Pagasitikos gulf and then to the dense forests surrounding each village, painted in the surreal colors of autumn and covered by paths, stone fountains and the finest houses. These villages, the jewels of Pelion, bring together a unique architecture, local tradition, and a spectacular view, along with the incomparable natural beauty of the region.
4. Thessaloniki: the city of history, culture, and modernity with a traditional twist
The second largest city of Greece, located in Macedonia, Thessaloniki is the city that brings together different worlds, cultures and mentalities and the city where travelers have the chance to explore various eras all gathered in one place.
To experience the true identity of the city, you should begin from the iconic White Tower that graces the city’s waterfront and has become the trademark of Thessaloniki standing there since the 16th century. Next destination on your to-do list are the sights dating back to the Roman times and the reign of Emperor Galerius, the Palace, the Triumphal Arch, celebrating a victory against the Persians, the Rotunda and north of Aristotelous square the Roman Agora (forum); or if you are more into museums, then you shouldn’t skip the Archaeological Museum, where major prehistoric and ancient Macedonian and Hellenistic findings can be found. The Byzantine Museum, on the other hand, houses plenty of treasures of the Byzantine era and introduces the visitor to its history.
Next part of your visit is the Church of Agios Dimitrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. The enormous structure of the 5th century AD honors the death of martyr Dimitrios, a Roman soldier, by Emperor Galerius, a persecutor of Christians. Carrying on in one of the oldest parts of the city, Ano Poli, you will be able to admire the Byzantine churches of Osios David and Agios Nikolaos Orfanos, the Vlatades monastery, the Eptapyrgio fortifications (Yedi Kule) and other monuments from the Ottoman and Roman periods.
However, what you should never leave out from your visit in Thessaloniki is the lively and vibrant nightlife. The numerous bars and clubs, traditional tavernas and restaurants that spread all over the city, many of them located in the well-known area of Ladadika, give the opportunity to the traveler to encounter the locals’ authentic way of living. You should also taste the multicultural gastronomy of Thessaloniki, usually consisting of choices that combine traits of different cuisines that will take this culinary experience to new levels.
5. Nafplio: the Old Town in all its glory
To better explore the city of Nafplio, the first capital of the newly established Greek State between 1823 and 1834, you have to simply walk on its roads, alleys, dromoskales (street-stairs that connect the upper part of the city to the port) and narrow pathways that are all interconnected in the heart of the Old Town. Take a stroll around its squares that have played a significant role in the city’s history.
The Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian, and Ottoman influences are evident all over the city and can be depicted in its culture, tradition, and architecture. Fountains from the Ottoman period, Venetian and neoclassical buildings and the well-preserved paved alleys are the marks that remain intact and bejewel the romantic city of Nafplio. The ancient walls and castles, statues and other monuments can be found on every street corner, making your visit there a constant “treasure hunt”.
Once you get there, the first thing to see is the Syntagma Square, where you can admire the impeccable and particular architecture of the surrounding historic buildings and other monuments. When you have taken in the unique beauty of your surroundings, you should visit the first Greek Parliament, housed in one of the two Turkish mosques found in Nafplio. Then head to the Archaeological Museum, where you can find artifacts from the Prehistoric and Mycenaean era, the Municipal Gallery, and of course the churches of Agios Spyridon and Agios Georgios.
Your trip to Nafplio shouldn’t, however, end before visiting Palamidi. After climbing the 999 stairs to reach Palamidi, you might be exhausted, but you will be definitely rewarded by the stunning view of the whole city right at your feet. To perfectly wrap things up, your last destination should be Bourtzi, the fortress built by Venetians on the islet of Agioi Theodoroi.
6. Meteora: a destination yet to be explored
If you’re looking for a place that perfectly combines the majestic scenery created by Mother Earth and the human intervention in an attempt to connect with the Divine, then the impressive region of Meteora is exactly what you’re asking for. The perfect conjunction of nature, history, religion, and architecture can be found just above the town of Kalambaka, at the gigantic rock formations that reach a height of 400 meters and extend between the mountains of Koziaka and Antichasia.
Considered the second “Mount Athos”, it is part of a six-century long monastic tradition, introducing the visitors to a non-conventional side of holidays in Greece, even if you are not deeply interested in religion. From the 24 monasteries built in the solitude and silence of the rocks of Meteora, only six of them are still occupied and open to the public (four of them only allowing men and the other two admitting exclusively women). The rest are abandoned, mainly reminding what is left of their former magnificence.
Meteora is the symbol of man’s eternal struggle and desire to come in contact with God, being the perfect place for those who would like to experience a spiritual elevation, to explore their inner self, offering them the opportunity for a different kind of vacation.
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Have you been in any of the aforementioned places? What is your favorite October getaway in Greece?
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Words: Spyros Balesias