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An unlikely ski resort – in Greece

Winter in Greece is usually milder than in other European countries, especially the ones in the North. However, snow and low degrees Celsius is not a rare phenomenon, mostly for the cities and villages in a higher altitude.

For most Athenians the Ski Center on mount Parnassus and the scenic villages around the mountain, are must for the cold days of winter.

With two friends of mine, we decided to pay a visit on the lovely village of Arachova, located at the foot of mount Parnassus, or Parnassos as Greek’s call it, nearly 26 klm away from the Parnassos Ski Center.

At this point I must confess that this was my first time in Arachova and also my first time going snowboarding, which was something that intimidated me, but I thought I could leave my worries aside for a day and have fun.

We only had a weekend free, so we left Athens early in the morning on Saturday, and about three and a half hours later by car, with two small stops on the way, we arrived in Arachova. After we settled in the hotel – booked two weeks ago through the internet – we were ready to explore the area.

Arachova, GreeceThe graphic village of Arachova is one of the most touristic places in Greece during the winter, with people from all over the country visiting the village, not only because it is close to the ski centers, but also for its beauty, the kind people and the intense nightlife.

The first thing you notice from the moment you enter in Arachova, is the big clock made of stones, that sits high on a hill in the center of the village, and as a result that was our first destination.

According to the legend, that clock was first build in the 18th century, as a belfry of the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, which is right next to it, but was destroyed by the 1870 devastating earthquake. It was destroyed once more, on March 1944 by the Germans, and after that it was rebuild in 1966 by the abbot of the Monastery of Hosios Loukas to the form that has until today.

The hill under it is called by the locals “Tyrias”, which derives from the Greek word “Tyri”, that means cheese. And that’s because they used that hill as a natural fridge for their homemade cheese, Formaella.

Formaella is a traditional cheese only produced in Arachova and is usually made of ship milk. It is a semi-hard cheese with salty and peppery taste. The milk after it is boiled for a couple of hours in a high temperature, it is then divided into big pieces that fit in special moulds made of woven reed. It is suggested to eat it either grilled or fried.

The view from the clock is magnificent. You can see the whole village surrounding the hill, while in a near distance there are fields with olive trees. That day although at the morning the sun was shining, very soon thick mist scattered within the houses and the only thing you could see, was the red roof tiles.

After we wondered around the alleys for a while, we then went for a hot cup of chocolate, at one of the many coffee shops, near the central square. The two storey building was crowded with people enjoying their hot beverages, while on the outside two or three buses have just brought more people to the village, all of them students, around our age.

The boys and girls flooded the main road, as well as all the coffee shops, restaurants and taverns in the area. That’s why it took us more than half an hour to find somewhere to eat, in a village you can walk through in less than 15 minutes.

Arachova is known for the good meat and so we played it safe, ordering a stake, plus a piece of grilled formaella cheese and some Greek salad. All of them were very tasty.

The hour passed before we know it. It was already late in the afternoon and we needed to be relaxed for our night out, so we went back to the hotel for a few hours. And when the time came we run out to find the nicest bar, although it has just started raining.

Arachova at night is very beautiful. The clock is lightened up and the streets are full of young people talking and laughing, ignoring the bad weather. The shops are open until late and the tourists blend with the locals in a very interesting way. The sound of the raindrops, along with the smell from the grilled meat coming out from the taverns is something else.

All the bars are in a close distance one from the other, so we didn’t got tired to walk up and down the street for a couple of times before we choose the one that suited more to our taste. Sunday was near and although we had a big day ahead of us, we got back to the hotel early in the morning. Fortunately we haven’t drunk a lot, so we were more than sober.

The next day was the day I was afraid the most, and also the one I was most excited for. After we packed our staff, paid the hotel and ate some homemade breakfast, we left for the Parnassos Ski Center, with the blessings of the two lovely ladies hosted us for the weekend.

Snowboarding for the first time at the Parnassos Ski Center

Sunday was colder than Saturday. The sun was hidden behind clouds from the moment we woke up, but fortunately the rain had stopped many hours ago.

We took the road going up to the mountain, following some Jeeps obviously going on the same place. At a certain point the first snow appeared on the side of the road. The trees where also covered with snow but the street was still open for cars.

However, near the Ski Center we had to put snow chains, otherwise we weren’t allowed to continue. It was the first time to use them, and after some help from other drivers, we managed to put them on.

The Parnassos Ski Center is composed of two sections, Kellaria and Fterolaka, which combined make the largest ski center in Greece. We went to the first one. Not for any particular reason, just because we liked the name better.

Outside the ski center you got a card for 18 euro that allows you to enter the building and it has your name on it with your picture. You can give it back when you leave and take three euro. I kept mine.

The ski center is divided into two installations. The first one where you get the ticket and the next one, where you can rent the appropriate equipment, either for snowboard or ski, or a sleigh. The two of them are connected with a cable car.

Once you get the equipment, then you have to take the chair lift to go upper in the mountain, so that you can slide down the slope.

The time had come. I was ready to shine. I was ready to conquer the slopes. I was ready to be crowned “King of Snowboarding”. Of course none of this happened. From the moment I put on the snow board I felt it was not gonna be easy at all.

They say that the first time is always difficult and I am at a position to confirm that. Beginners luck wasn’t on my side that day. I went up and down the slope twice, and though the second time was better, I had to deal with the gravity issue.

Most of the time I was with my back on the snow, but thank God I didn’t hurt during the continuous falls. It was actually very funny, cause as I was laying down I was weaving to the other skiers who where on the chair lift. Some of them were even giving me advises!

Unfortunately, like all good things this one too had to end. We had to return to our basis. It was already dark outside when we left the mountain and after we ate something on the way back, we did a small stop in Arachova to buy some souvenirs. I returned in Athens exhausted, soaking wet, extremely cold but very very thrilled from the experience. I am looking forward to do that again soon.

More by this author – but most of it in Greek – on his own website.

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