Mountains in Greece - Mount Olympus region. (Photo by Stamatina Mylonas)
Did you know that Greece is over 80% mountains? From each far edge of the country there are steep and rough mountain ranges, setting natural boundaries between the regions of Greece. As the airplane descends to land at Athens International Airport, you can clearly see the rolling landscape and the neighborhoods that lay in the intertwining valleys. The mountain ranges Immitos and Parnitha hug Athens on its north and East sides and delineate where the region’s developed borders are. Houses cascade down the hills at the foot of the mountains and allow certain neighborhoods to have incredible views of Athens. This contrast of urban and mountain landscape is a big part of the city’s charm, and what makes this European metropolis different from the rest.
The rolling hills of Athens were sacred to the ancient Greeks as well and were the perfect places to build temples to honor the gods. The most famous and treasured landmarks are those set atop these natural pedestals, like the Parthenon on the Acropolis hill and the church at the top of Mount Lycabettus. Mount Immitos separates the southern suburbs of Athens from the eastern Attica region and the international airport. Immitos is home to many churches and monasteries and offers scenic hikes through small forests that give panoramic views of the city. Mount Parnitha to the north of the city has a different vibe because it is where the major casino of Athens is located. Parnitha is not short of panoramic city views either, and even has a teleferic or cable car that ascends the mountain up to the casino. It is eye-opening to see Athens from atop the parallel mountain ranges Immitos and Parnitha, each framing the city from a different point of view. The trails and churches that can be found in the southern suburbs are the perfect sunset spots and are quick and easy to get to. If you have more time it is worth it to take a drive to the tops of the mountains where there are forests full of animals and biodiversity along with the backdrop of a beloved ancient city.
All around Greece, cities and towns are built along the foothills and even cliffs of mountains. This type of landscape is common in every region of the country and has shaped the way people live. The most famous mountain in Greece is Mount Olympus, known as the mythological home to the twelve Olympian gods. People often climb to the top of Mount Olympus and camp out on its historic lands. Northern Greece and especially the region of Epirus are primarily mountainous, only flattening out when the land reaches the sea. This makes the region a desirable winter destination, with its snowcapped mountains and cozy small towns. Being primarily mountainous also leads the way for venues like ski resorts to thrive during peak months. The Pindus mountain range is one of the largest in Greece and runs from the northern region of Epirus to the southern Gulf of Corinth that borders the Peloponnese region. The Pindus mountains dominate almost the entire western half of Greece and reach heights that make the highest mountains in Greece after Olympus. Mount Smolikas is located about one hundred kilometers north of the city of Ioannina. As the mountain and the city are only a short road trip apart, many ski resorts and luxury hotels can be found in the region and in towns like Metsovo. The valley north of Mount Smolikas marks the borders between Greece and Albania and between Greece and North Macedonia.
Ski resorts and mountain towns can be found in other regions of Greece as well, like the Peloponnese. In the northern part of the region there is the town Kalavrita and its adjoining ski lodge on Mount Chelmos. With a mix of history and nature, Kalavrita is unique but also embodies the essence of small mountain towns in Greece. While the outdoor activities and sports draw tourists during all seasons, it may be the charm and coziness that keeps people coming back. There are plenty of these types of towns near Athens, like the ski lodge at Mount Parnassos and the nearby town of Arachova. Locals often travel to the town during the holidays, as it is very picturesque and full of shops and cafes. Delphi, which is one of the most treasured ancient cites in Greece, is close to Arachova and worth the visit as well.
Since Greece is also made up of many islands, they too have majestic mountain ranges to show off. As the biggest island in Greece, Crete has mountain ranges scattered across each of its regions. The mountain landscape of Crete has noteworthy attractions like the Samaria Gorge located within Mount Pachnes near the city of Chania. But the Cyclades islands although small, are still mountainous and their steep cliffs are a part of their charm. Islands like Santorini and Milos are part of the Mediterranean Volcanic Arc and are the remnants of ancient volcanos. The soil and beaches are largely made up of volcanic ash and the landscape seems otherworldly. The world famous towns on Santorini are known for how they are built into the steep mountainside.
These architecturally and culturally significant towns and communities are the heart of Greece.
For a country that is so mountainous, the world mostly known Greece for its islands and sea. But tucked away in the mountains are interesting places like fresh water lakes and cultural treasures like millennia-old temples to ancient gods. It is enlightening to see Greece from these new angles and realize that the country has so much to offer from its wonderfully diverse landscape. Much of the forested and wild land in the country is located in the mountains. These areas have been established as national parks and are a habitat and a home to a wide array of plants and animals.
There are many ways that locals and tourists find to enjoy this diverse landscape, in contrast to the islands. There are dozens of ski centers and resorts on mountain peaks spread throughout Greece. These establishments offer snowy mountains and valley views as well as excellent and challenging ski slopes. And to relax, there is usually a small mountain town nearby with a selection of places to get a hot drink and bite to eat. In the warmer months, the hiking trails that traverse these mountainsides flourish and provide the best escape into nature. The views are great, the culture and history is significant, and the biodiversity and environmental elements are something to be preserved and cherished. Although Greece has many islands and famous seas, it is in the mountains that the old and true soul of the country lives.
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