Mountain refuges and Ski resorts in northern Greece
Skiing in Greece
Everyone knows Greece as a perfect place for a summer holiday with its profusion of beautiful islands and wonderful beaches. However, Greece also has a fantastic series of mountain ranges which run right through the country from north to south. Within these ranges there is a tremendous variety of flora and fauna and is a wonderful alternative to the more usual summer or winter holiday venues of Europe. The winter holiday tourist scene in Greece is now very well developed and throughout the mountainous areas there are many mountain refuges and ski centres available to walkers, climbers and skiers, all operated under the supervision
of the National Mountaineering and Skiing Federation as well as local alpine clubs and ski centres. There are around 16 different places in Greece where you can ski with several resorts having several ski runs. The best thing about skiing in Greece is the freedom you obtain due to the uncrowded pistes. Greece's ski resorts have facilities for all ages and abilities from the absolute beginner to those who enjoy a real challenge on the pistes at the highest altitude.
Mountain refuges are not hotels their purpose is to give shelter to walkers, climbers and skiers who wish to explore the mountains. Some are quite organised like youth hostels whereas others are very basic. There are quite strict regulations for those staying in them, for example some do not allow alcohol, hunting guns or smoking/eating in the dormitories. Most of them have cooking facilities but the use of these is limited to the leader of the expedition or those who have gained prior permission. The more organised ones have restaurants or cafes. Each refuge was built with a lot of hard work and money spent on them and it is expected that all those who use them do so with respect to the rules and leaving them clean for the next user.
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace is one of the thirteen peripheries of Greece, and is divided into the prefectures of Drama, Evros, Kavala, Rhodope and Xanthi.
This area of North-east Greece is of immense ecological interest as it has the largest biodiversity in Europe with over 60% of all Greece's flora and fauna
found in this area. The varied landscape conjures up feelings of Scandinavia, the Black Forest and the Mediterranean. A fantastic place for hikers and walkers in either summer or winter.
The mountain range here is the Rhodopi and is a fairly low range with ridges and high terraced plateaux, deep densely forested gorges and fantastic waterfalls. The Livaditis waterfall at its highest point is around 31 metres high. In this area you can see vultures, falcons and eagles, bears, wolves wild goats and crag martins. There is hotel accommodation or camping available in Rodopi and Xanthi. Xanthi is about 41km from the village of Livaditis. Livaditis has one mountain refuge on the mountain of Rhodopi which can sleep 20 persons and has organised kitchen facilities as well as a fireplace and central heating. It is organised by the Xanthi Alpine Club.
Orpheus Valley and Pangeo Mountain
In this area, during ancient times, Orpheus was worshipped. It was here, too, that Dionysus the Greek God of wine was born. The mountain at 1956 metres above sea level is blanketed in chestnuts and oak trees and the area has plenty of natural fresh water rivers, waterfalls and lakes. Because of its unique bio-diversity it has been designated as a permanent wildlife refuge by the Greek government. Amongst the many protected and endangered species of flora and fauna in the region the most impressive are the species of butterflies that can be seen, including the largest butterfly in Europe with a wingspan of up to 150mm. 1760 metres up the mountain there is a ski-run and several refuges. The S. Hatzigeorgiou Refuge at Orpheus Valley sleeps 75 people and can be reached from either Eleftheroupolis (22km walking on good roads) or from the village of Avli a pleasant 4 hour walk along a well signposted footpath. A second refuge is located close by, the Argyris Petaloudas refuge that sleeps 20 people and is also run by the Kavala Ski and Alpine Club. The village of Eleftheroupolis has hotel and apartment accommodation to rent. Rodolivos also has mountaineering clubs and ski clubs both organised by the Rodolivos Alpine Club. If climbing Mount Pangeo from Rodolivos a refuge is reached by walking 7.5 km of dirt road from rodolivos and then a 2 hour walk following a footpath.
Mount Falakro, Drama
The region of Drama with a prefectural capital bearing the same name is the perfect place to stay whilst exploring Mount Falakro. The area has magical scenery of forests, tobacco plantations, caves, rivers, valleys and mountains. The capital Drama lies at the foot of Mount Falakro, known as 'the mountain of the flowers' by the local people. It is a remarkably beautiful mountain and has ski slopes and four well equipped mountain refuges for winter sports enthusiasts. The Falakros Ski Centre is around 43 km from Drama, and 35 km from the small town of Kato Nevrokopi. One of the refuges (a 3 storey building called the Agio Pnevma Refuge) operates as a hotel for the ski centre during the winter. The accommodation for winter holidays is 3, 4 or 10 beds and an organised kitchen. There is also a guest house with a capacity for 80 guests. The summit of the mountain is a 2 hour walk from the refuge. The ski centre has more than 20 slopes of varying altitude that range from between 1615 and 2232 metres with a total length of 22km, making it ideal for sporting events. There are 6 green slopes, 9 red, 1 blue and 5 black. It also offers lang lauf runs, long distance runs which total 2500 metres, hiking and mountain trails. It is well resourced with sliding and chair lifts as well as three baby lifts. There are chalets where you can marvel at the panoramic views obtained at the altitude of 2110m. There is also a cafe-restaurant, canteens, shops selling/renting ski clothing and equipment, a souvenir shop and facilities for skiing lessons. The resort has an extremely well-equipped medical centre and a rescue team. It can be reached by road and there is parking for 1500 cars. For mountain climbers there are several other refuges in the area. The Bartiseva refuge at 1.142 metres is around 40km from Drama and has sleeping capacity for 18 persons - reaching the summit from here is a arduous 4 hour walk. 2 hours walking from the village of Pirgi, or 1.5 hours from Volaka you will find the Kouri refuge (alt 1,400m) which has a capacity for 16 people. 4.5 hours from this refuge at an altitude of 1,700 metres is the Horos refuge which sleeps 20 people. Apart from Drama, there are good facilities in the surrounding areas with plenty of accommodation available, specifically in Volakas, Granatis and Nevrokopi.
Mount Vrondou, Serres
The prefectural capital bears the same name of the region. It is a busy modern city with wide streets and squares that blend sympathetically with the old town. Only 25 km from the city is the outstandingly beautiful Lailia forest. Its main characteristics are towering trees, deep ravines and precipitous rocks, perfect for climbing. The fauna includes rare species of birds as well as vultures, wild turkeys and partridges. The forest is also home to roebuck and the few remaining brown bears in the area. In wintertime the forest takes on an Alpine beauty, attracting many Greek climbers and nature lovers to its snowy magnificence. At Vrontos, 10 minutes from the forest and 29 km from Serres you will find the Christos Karabourounis refuge. This refuge has an altitude of 1,500m and sleeps around 75 people. The refuge is centrally heated and has an organised kitchen. It is run by the Serres Alpine Club. The Lailia Ski Centre 27 km from Seres is one of north Greece's finest. At an altitude of between 1,850m and 1,600 metres it is an area of extreme natural beauty. It has one 800m ski lift, one 200m baby lift a refuge, restaurant and facilities for hiring skiing equipment.
Western and Central Macedonia
Hortiatis Mountain borders Thessaloniki on its south-east side. The village of Hortiatis is approximately 25 km from Thessaloniki, the capital city of Macedonia. Hortiatis Mountain is one of the popular scenic spots in Thessaloniki, refreshing and cool in summer and incredibly beautiful when covered in snow during the winter months. The village of Horiatis has many delightful tavernas where you can eat, drink and relax in front of a roaring log fire. Plenty of accommodation is available in Thessaloniki and, for walkers or climbers, there is a refuge sleeping 40 persons located 2.5 km from Hortiatis.
Mount Olympus and Mount Pieria
The region of Pieria is on the Thermaic coast and surrounded by mountains. The region is thickly forested with pines, poplars, firs and plane trees. Pieria has many sites of archaeological interest as well as Mt. Pierus (home to Orpheus and the Muses) and Mt. Olympus the highest mountain in Greece (2,919 metres) and the throne of the ancient Greek gods. The region combines extensive plains, high mountains and beautiful sandy beaches. Its capital is Katerini, which is 6km away from the sea and nestles at the foot of Mt. Olympus.
Mt. Olympus: On the slopes of Olympus, 24km from Katerini, is the little town of Litohoro which is a good starting point for climbers wishing to climb this legendary mountain. The town itself has a good selection of guest houses and hotels as well as restaurants and tavernas. There are several mountain climbing refuges in the area of Olympus. Dimitris Boundolas refuge at Stavros at 1,000m alt is a 1.5 hour walk from Litohoro. It sleeps approx 40 persons and has a fireplace and wood burning stoves. There is an organised kitchen as well as shower facilities. It is run by the Thessaloniki Alpine Club.
On the borders with Thessaly there are three more refuges: Spilios Agapitos at Balkoni (2,100m). It can cater for 100 people and is well organised with fireplaces and organised kitchen. It is about 22km from Litohoro. It can be reached by either walking or driving from Litohoro to Prionia and then walking for 2.5 hours along a signposted footpath. The path crosses the European Rambler Trail E4. This refuge is run by the National Federation of Alpine Clubs. A third refuge is located at the Plateau to the Muses and is called Christos Kakkalos. To access this refuge from Litohor is a 14km journey along a forest road to Diastavrossi, then a 6-hour walk following a footpath or, alternatively, a 1.5 walk along the path towards the Spillios Agapitos refuge. This refuge is quite small, 18 persons but is well resourced and has an organised kitchen during the summer months. Finally there is the Vrissopoules refuge at an altitude of 1,900 metres on the east side of Mt. Olympus. This sleeps around 50 people and has a ski lift.
The Vrisopoules Ski Resort at Mt. Olympus is a small ski resort for alpine skiing and is reached via |Olympiada The highest slope has an highest altitude of 2,400m with the lowest at 1,900m. There is one slope for average skiers which is served by a lift.
Mount Pieria. The mountain range of Pieria is of outstanding beauty with plenty of paths, ranging from a peaceful, pleasant amble to a more strenuous climb. All the main routes through the mountains meet on the two refuges situated at 1-1,500 metres above sea level. The refuge in the village of Ano Milia has a sleeping capacity for 70 persons and an organised kitchen. There are three very beautiful routes, starting at Ano Milia, to the top of the mountain range. A second refuge is close to the village of Ritini where, again, some important routes begin and where you can also see a charmingly picturesque mountain chapel.
At Katerini you can find the headquarters of the Katerini Alpine Club where you can obtain advice and assistance about climbing routes in the region. At Elatochori there is a small ski resort with 4 slopes: 2 green, 1 red and 1 blue. The resort has 4 lifts including two baby lifts. At the foot of the ski centre there is a 3 storey chalet with a capacity for 400 persons plus a snack bar and cafe. The resort also offers skiing lessons and has a few shops where you can buy or hire ski equipment. It also has facilities for snowboarding. Very close to Elatochori you can find hotels, rented rooms, traditional bars and tavernas.
Mt. Vermio. The region of Imathia offers high mountains, green villages, endless plains, waterfalls and rivers. Its capital is Veria which, in Byzantine times, was an important central town. Evidence of this importance can be seen by the amount of Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches which can be seen in the town. On the slopes of Mt. Vermio, 18km southwest of Veria is the village of Kastanies which is usually covered in snow during the winter months.
At Kastanies is the monastery of the Panagia Soumela which was founded by Pontos refugees in 1951. Mountain climbing takes place around Seli and there are several refuges in the region. Kato Vermio, Seli has a refuge at 1,450 metres altitude. It can provide accommodation for 75 persons and has fireplace, oil stoves and an organised kitchen. It is run by the Thessaloniki Alpine Club. Also at Seli itself is the Veria Ski & Alpine Club Refuge which has sleeping capacity for 120 persons. The refuge is centrally heated with two fireplaces and The Veria Ski and Alpine Club refuge also has a gym-sauna as well as restaurant, cafe-bar kitchen facilities. This refuge also has direct dial telephone facilities. Its altitude is 1,450 metres. Tria Pigadia has two refuges sleeping 30 and 85 persons respectively. Both of them are centrally heated and the larger one has an organised kitchen and toilet facilities with every room.
Access to Tria Pigadia is 18km from the town of Naoussa. These two refuges are organised by the Naoussa Alpine Club. There are also two ski centres in the area. The Seli Ski Centre of Vermio was first constructed in 1934 having its first lifts installed in 1955 and is the oldest Greek ski centre. Its altitude is between 1,400-1,900 metres. It has 16 downhill slopes: 8 blue, 5 red, 3 green, 2 Lang Lauf slopes that are recognised by the International Federation of Skiing and a special slope for snowboarding.
There are plenty of lifts, aerial, sliding plate and baby lifts. Aside from the above mentioned refuges the resort also has a private guest house, restaurants and cafe/bars, organised ski schools where equipment can be hired as well as a well-equipped and staffed health centre. the resort has ample parking space. The neighbouring Chrysso Elafi Ski Centre is slightly smaller than the Seli Ski Centre. It has an altitude of between 1540-1660 metres and 2 blue slopes and 2 red totalling a length of 3.5km. There are two sliding lifts. The Centre has a 13 room hotel. The resort also has good facilities such as cafe, restaurant, gym, sauna, ski school and equipment hire with plenty of parking adjacent to the hotel.
The village of Naoussa is situated 19 kilometres from Veria . It is a picturesque town of traditional houses waterfalls and the Arapitsa river flowing through it. At Naoussa you can find the small ski resort of Tria Pende Pigadiaat an altitude of 1,470 metres with the highest altitude being 2,005 metres. . The resort has 3 difficult slopes, one ski lift and one tow rope. The Tria ke Pende Pigadia Ski Centre also has refuges close by, a ski school and facilities for renting equipment.
Mount Vitsi, Florina.
Florina is the prefectural capital and spreads out over a hillside covered with chestnut trees. 53 km from Forina and on the slopes of Mount Visti is the village of Nymfaio. The village is protected by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture to retain its originality and history. It has delightful houses built in the traditional style of the region and has around 6 hotels catering for visitors. It is both a winter and summer resort.
A little further up the mountain at an altitude of 1,420m is Pissoderi, where the Vigla-Pissoderi Ski Centre is located. The Ski Centre is located at the confluence of Varnous and Verno mountain chains at an altitude of between 1600-1900m. The area is of particular beauty being densely forested with beech trees and is one of the best ski centres in Greece. It has 2 green, 1 blue, 2 red and 2 black slopes as well as 4 children's slopes of between 200-500m. there are also 3 Lang-Lauf slopes and 10 of the slopes are of Olympic standard and are suitable for snowboarders as well as skiers. The Centre has 2 aerial lifts and 3 baby lifts. The facilities include parking, ski school and rentals, parking, an extremely well organised Chalet with bars, cafeterias and restaurant.
Close by there is a guest house converted from an old school which can accommodate 55 visitors. For mountain climbers there is the Vigla refuge located at 1,650m altitude at Vigla Pisoderiou. This refuge lies on the Florina/Albania borders and has wonderful views of Lake Prespes. It has a sleeping capacity of around 70 persons and facilities include wood-burning stoves, fireplace, and a restaurant. It is run by the Florina Alpine Club.
The prefecture of Grevena, with its capital city of the same name, is a an area that is surrounded by mountains. On the western side is the Pindos mountain range with Mt. Orliaka, Lugkos, Smolikas and the highest point at 2,610 metres, Mt. Smolika. To the south are Mt Xasia and Antixasia and in the north and northeast are Mt. Bourinos and Kamvounia. The town itself is very attractive, located on the banks of the Grevenitis river it exudes peace and tranquillity. There is plenty of accommodation for visitors as well as a good variety of restaurants, tavernas and rotisseries as well as a cinema and open-air theatre. The region is mostly agricultural and located here is one of the most important national forests in Greece, the National Forest of Pindou.
The Pindos National Park is one of the biggest and most important National Parks in Greece. Its area is 3360 hectares and has an altitude of 1590 metres. Mountainous with dense forests, rapid streams, springs and mountain lakes. Not surprisingly, it is an area where many plant and animal species can be seen, including brown bears and the lynx. In the heart of the Pindos Mountain range and around 45km from Grevena town is the National Ski Resort Vassilitsa. At Vassilitsa, which is 45km from Grevena or 6km from the pretty village of Smixi thee are two refuges. The Doumara refuge located at Diasselo at 1,800m alt and the Grevena Ski and Alpine Club Refuge located at 1,850m alt. at Diasselo Goumaras.
The Vassilitsa Ski Resort is located at 2,249m alt. and is 45km from Grevena. There are 15 ski slopes with a length of 16km in total. There are lifts to the resort from the refuges. The resort has 7 lifts and 2 baby lifts. The resort is in two parts, the lowest at an altitude of 1650m has the biggest skiing sites, a parking lot and 2 canteens. The upper part at 1785m altitude has three new lifts, a refuge, ample parking and two chalets where you can buy refreshments or stay in the accommodation that is provided there. The resort offers skiing and snowboarding lessons and there are also facilities for hiring equipment. Apart from skiing and snowboarding the Resort also hires out snowmobiles and snow-scooters and offers lessons in rafting, rappel and 4X4. There are also plenty of hotels and guest houses in the area.