Does Greece and skiing and snow go together? You bet they do!
The ski slopes of Greece are a bit of a secret to most North Europeans and Americans, but not the Greeks.
Skiing on the slopes of Mt ParnassosYou can ski nearby to Delphi on the slopes of Mount Parnassos and there are over a dozen good ski resorts, some stunningly beautiful, and, most surprisingly cheap by comparison to the more well-known European resorts.
And because Greece’s winters can also bring some mild weather, two-centre stays can provide exciting skiing with that longed-for island trip or sea cruise or Athens visit – without the hordes of tourists.
Or, near Epirus on the mainland, you’d believe you’re more likely to be in Austria or Switzerland for its rugged snow covered mountains, large forests and tiny hamlets, and icy rushing streams spanned by handcrafted stone bridges.
Closer to Athens, Arachova is deemed to be the Myconos of winter. It is an attractive winter resort town in a spectacular setting at an altitude of 960 meters that draws many Athenians at weekends.
The quaint mountain town of Arahova, only a few minutes from Delphi and the ski center, is a perfect place to stay while skiing on the slopes of Mount Parnassos. In the Peloponnese, similar type of vacation can be enjoyed in Kalavrita where you can get white memories full of action -by visiting the ski center – and explore the idyllic scenery of the Vouraikos Gorge dotted with waterfalls and caves or take a ride with the exhilarating narrow-gauge train from Kalavrita to Diakofto.
There are some real advantages to spending some of the Winter in Greece. The weather usually stays pretty warm through to December, and although January through March it can be cold, it can also be days of Indian Summer. The tourist sites are open but less busy. The big cities stay alive with nightlife, much of it still outdoor. And the taverna’s and restaurants that are open – especially those on the islands – are for the locals, and so usually the places with the best of the food. If you want to see Greece as it really is, avoiding the mass tourists, its this time of year that the trip can be at its most rewarding as an experience.
If you want to island trip, Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Rhodes, and most direct flight islands are open year-round. The first two tend to be windier and colder in Winter, but you can head further south to Rhodes or Crete which are all-year round destinations. Be cautious, however, if planning ferry trips to islands (especially the smaller and less busy ones) as many seasoned travellers suspect ferry delays or cancellations have little to do with bad weather and much more to do with the operator reckoning there aren’t enough bookings to make the trip worthwhile. Don’t expect to be lazing on the beach taking in the sun, though – the warm and sunny days of January onwards are not ideal for that. Life doesn’t stop in these places in Winter, it just changes to suit the cooler nights, so some café’s and restaurants will be closed although Greek’s themselves will continue to sip coffee in their pavement bars and kafenions.
You may prefer to concentrate on the ‘real’ Greece or the cultural attractions: Islands like Aegina (a short hop from Athens), or places like the Peloponessos where you can easily reach Nafplio, Corinth or Epidavros. Or Athens itself, for good shopping and the Winter sales, a continuous night life busy with cafes and clubs and the museums and galleries and archeological sites easier to get into.
Or Thessaloniki, Greece’s Paris of the North, with a reputation for more sophisticated dining and arts and music than Athens, its Byzantine heritage, and a great base for striking out to either to some snow skiing resorts or to easily reach the best of the mountain climbing or trekking, horse riding or canoeing that can be done in Greece.
How about choosing some hot springs, for mineral-rich bathing in naturally warm waters when the beaches look a little ordinary and the seas feel a little too cool? Santorini has probably one of the best-known, but Evia – springs of Aedipsos and Loutra Ippatis near Lamia are easily reached from Athens and visitors can combine beautiful landscapes and the feeling of winter holidays.
If you prefer to choose your travel date by when, rather than what, December and Christmas in Greece can be a very special time, still more traditional and still less commercial than visitors would probably be used to, with Athens in particular running events, including ice skating in Zappeion Gardens and the traditional lights and tree and carousel in the main square.
Through February (the halycon days when even a dip in the sea is possible) apocreas – the carnival – starts, with Patra boasting the biggest (and loudest). It starts mid month and runs through to 40 days before Easter – a time of buzzing nightlife and packed bars and café’s and merriment before the fasting season starts.
The main thing to remember is that Greece is not just a summer sun destination. The variety of its landscapes, the breadth of its culture and the style of its people make it a wonderfully exhilarating and satisfying winter location too.