The Olympic Riviera is definitely one of the most inspired choices when it comes to visiting Greece. If you want to have a relaxing holiday with the family, visit historical artifacts and religious sites, or, on the contrary, if you’re looking for vivid nightlife in a modern and cosmopolitan area, you can have it all-in-one – and much, much more – gathered in this amazing region watched over by the mythical gods.
Situated in the Northern part of Greece (Continental Greece), in Central Macedonia, the Olympic Riviera lies all along the shore of the Aegean Sea, between the second largest city and most important port of Greece, Thessaloniki, and the worldwide known soft-sanded beaches towards the southern part of the regional unit of Pieria. The capital of Pieria is Katerini, a posh touristic town with numerous elegant cafés, tavernas and shopping spots, only a few minutes away from your accommodation place, if you take the local public transport.
One can speak endlessly about this ancient land, with millenary history and blending cultural influences, but the most poignant is the eternal mark of Alexander the Great, that can still be noticed, not only in the historical relics, but in people’s way to be: lively, passionate, dignified, self aware – as proud descendants of the illustrious leader.
The perfectly clear blue waters and the wide beaches have gained the European Blue Flag distinction, which marks the high level care for the environment. The most famous touristic resorts are Paralia Katerini, Olympiaki Akti, Leptokarya, Paralia Panteleimonas and Platamonas, but there are many other more quiet and less crowded small villages, where you can enjoy the tranquility of Aegean sunrises and delicious breakfasts prepared by your hospitable host. The low depth of the water is preferred particularly by the families with small children, but you can go on organized diving trips by boat, as well.
It does not matter which one of the above-mentioned resorts you are going to chose, as the distances between your place and the numerous sights that are not to be missed are pretty much the same; therefore, whether you decide to go to Paralia Katerini, or Nei Pori, you will find countless opportunities to go on a one-day trip to the (literally) other-worldly sight of Meteora, the gorgeous Isle of Skiathos, the colorful city of Thessaloniki, all the way “down” to old Athens, or to the beautiful village of Litochoro that will give you the feeling that you’re walking on the set of a Hollywood movie, and, of course, not miss the chance to visit the Mount Olympus National Park and pass across the residency of the Olympian gods. Do not expect them to expose themselves in front of you, but be sure that they are keeping an eye on you, while enjoying their ambrosias.
Leaving the jokes aside, the famous Olympus is made up of three major peaks: the highest is the Mytikas – the Peak of Zeus, the second is the Skolio, the third is Saint Stephen and their imposing presence has been guarding the surroundings since the days of yore.
It is quite difficult to describe any of these places in a few words, or decide which one is closer to your heart, but I suggest Meteora as the first must-see attraction.
The home of Greek Orthodoxy, together with Mount Athos, Meteora allows women to visit (you probably know already that at Athos the presence of women is forbidden). It is part of the U.N.E.S.C.O. Word Heritage and is the realm of the monks who live in monasteries built on high columns of smooth sandstone of a unique geological structure, believed to have been a former bottom of an ocean in unknown times, when Mother Earth was still creating herself. The surreal shape of these “towers” represented the perfect hiding place and protection against conquerors and, at the same time, it seems to bring you closer to the state of serenity and inner peace that devoted believers seek – hence the name Μετέωρα in Greek, meaning the center of the heavens, or suspended in the sky. Hence, the Christian ecclesiastic tradition has been kept undisturbed throughout the centuries between the quiet walls suspended in time and space and blessed by the divinity.
The six monasteries that are waiting for you to discover them are: the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron (also known as the Transfiguration of Jesus), The Holy Monastery of Varlaam, The Holy Monastery of Rousanou – St. Barbara, The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, The Holy Monastery of St. Stephen and The Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
If the describing words for this place are: silence, piousness, tranquility, at the other end of the Olympian experience is Thessaloniki, one of the most vivid cities in the world. It was proudly named by Alexander the Great himself, after one of his sisters, and its historical path throughout the ages is beyond captivating. Guarded over by its emblem – the Thessaloniki Tower -, the city is known as the homeland of music and artists, but it hasn’t always been a fun place to be. As any strategic area, it had been the battlefield of countless conflagrations between the locals and the transient armies that thought they could subdue its untamed spirit. There’s a trace of melancholy in the temperament of its people that you can also sense in the song lyrics and the strains of the music eluding from the rembetika and filling the paved alleys of Ladadika district, late at night.
Need I say that the locals are real party animals and their music is so addictive that, when you return home, first thing you will do is attend dance classes, just to keep that feeling vivid?
The Greek people are well known for their proverbial kindness and sociability, features that are also found in the numerous accommodation spots that range from two stars, all the way up to five stars. No matter what your wallet suggests, you will always find the best conditions for a memorable holiday.
So, after you settle in your cozy hotel on the Olympic Riviera, you are one step away from the rest of the adventure!