There are destinations in Greece that, during the Christmas season, hide behind the more obvious, glittering choices on lists of ideal places to visit during winter weekends. The places we have listed here offer visitors the chance to delight in rich nature, beautiful towns, crisp mountain air and memorable views, welcoming local communities and more, all at affordable rates. Some are mountainous and others aquatic, some urban and others more provincial, each defining the travel experience in a different way.
At the far end of Greece, Florina is a town that has managed to combine age-old tradition, a well-kept urban environment, rare natural beauty and a wealth of activities for its visitors. Start with a walk along the Sakoulevas, the river that runs through the town. Here you’ll have the chance to see beautiful neoclassical buildings and come into direct contact with two of the city’s most famous and interesting landmarks: the railway station park and the Archaeological Museum of Florina, which houses two permanent exhibitions, one of archaeological interest and the other of Byzantine interest.
If you’d like to explore nature, there are numerous paths that combine easy hiking routes (such as one to the hill of St Panteleimon and the Cross) with more demanding ones to the Krya Vrysi and Christos Fatsis refuges. If you have young children in your group, a visit to the town’s small zoo with a playground is recommended.
A visit to the Arcturos Environmental Centre is also a must, especially the bear sanctuary at Nymfaio and the wolf and lynx sanctuary at Agrapidies.
Meanwhile, Florina is an ideal starting point for a tour of the prefecture’s six large and small lakes. For example, Vegoritida to the east, the third largest lake in the country, receives water from the smaller lakes of Zazari, Cheimaditida and Petron.
It’s an important habitat for birds, with around 160 species found here. And, of course, to the north-west of the prefecture are the famous Prespes, within the Prespes National Park, where forests of beech, cedar, oak and elm coexist with the reed beds of the lakes.
Known as the city of water, Edessa has much more to offer than just its famous waterfalls, and Christmas is the perfect starting point to get to know the capital of the Pella region. Although any trip to Edessa logically begins at the edge of the cliff, known to the locals as the ‘brow’ of the city, from which the twelve waterfalls plunge to the earth, the city has a number of other equally interesting attractions. One of these, the Waterfall Cave, is “sibling” to the great water attraction, but also has a unique geological history worth discovering. You can also visit the impressive open-air Water Museum, which houses several water-powered units such as flour mills, sesame mills, tanneries, water mills and textile factories from past centuries.
Also worth a visit is the picturesque Varosi, the acropolis of ancient Edessa, with its incredible views over the fertile plains, and the Folklore Museum with its meticulously curated collection of authentic exhibits that inform and help visitors understand the everyday life and lifestyle of the region’s inhabitants from the 19th century to the 1950s.
One of the most interesting corners of the country, the beautiful town of Xanthi manages to combine tradition with modern life. As you stroll through the colourful old town, with its flower-filled gardens and traditional cafes, and take in the belle epoque ambience preserved by the tobacco warehouses, you’ll come across cafes, taverns, youth clubs, shops, artistic workshops and bars.
If you want to get to know Xanthi’s past, we recommend a visit to the Foundation of Thracian Art and Tradition, which is active in the fields of culture and education. Of course, a simple stroll through the old town is enough to get to know the town’s past through the houses, which combine neoclassical and Ottoman elements, with their sahnisi (wooden projections on the façades, supported by wooden beams like buttresses) and their ornate balconies.
A representative example of architectural syncretism is the mansion of the Kougioumtzoglou family, which now houses the Folklore Museum. The Metropolitan Palace, an imposing Neo-Renaissance building dating from 1896, also stands out, as do the Orthodox religious monuments, such as the churches of the Taxiarchs, St George in the Tobacco Traders’ Quarter and St Blaise.
Perdikoneri in Arcadia, just 73 kilometres north-west of Tripoli, is situated on one of the slopes of Mount Mainalo, between the village of Tropaia and the artificial lake of Ladonas, overlooking the medieval castle of Akova. A true oasis, this Arcadian village will reward you with its rich natural environment, the flower-filled courtyards of its houses and its beautiful, tiled roofs.
Stop off at the basilica-style church of St Dimitrios, with its lush courtyard, before heading to the square with the stone-built fountain at its southern corner and the ancient plane tree beside it, where the life of the place unfolds and the old meet the young. To the west of the village cemetery, you can also enjoy a panoramic view, while from the chapel of Saint Marina you can see the artificial lake of the Ladon river. For those who wish to combine a walk in the natural surroundings with activities for young children, there is a playground in the courtyard of the old primary school.
Although Steni of Evia isn’t an unknown destination for locals, the height of winter is always a good excuse for a trip to this scenic village. Built amphitheatrically in a narrow gorge, the village takes its name from this feature.
In the “heart” of Steni is a lovely, cobbled square with several shops and taverns that set their tables under the mulberry and plane trees. Between Steni and Loutsa is the Byzantine chapel of PaleoPanagia, which is well worth a walk. Using Steni as a base, you can also plan a hike to the famous Mt Dirfys shelter “Michalis Nikolaou” at an altitude of 1120 metres, or descend to the steep cliffs and rocks with the blue of the Aegean on the horizon.
You can also head to Paralia, the picturesque seaside village of Kymi, for a lovely walk and to enjoy fish meze, sweets and Kymi figs.