Greece the ideal destination

Pieria the Ideal Destination

Olympus Riviera


Travelling southwest on the National Highway from Thessaloniki to Athens, one will invariably cross the prefecture of Pieria. Stretching between the legendary Mt. Olympus and the Pierian Mountains in the west, and the emerald coastline of the Gulf of Thermaikos in the east, Pieria is the land of the nine Muses and the ancient Gods. During the Roman era, Pieria was a province with a limited historic role. The passing of Christianity through the region in 50-51 AD, when Apostle Paul visited on his way to Athens, was an event of great historical value.

During the early Christian years, the area experienced a significant development evidenced by the numerous Christian churches from that period, a testimonial of its transition from idolatry to Christianity.

Pieria is thickly forested with plane trees, pines, poplars and firs on Mt. Olympus. The low-lying coastal zone of the region comprises an extension of the Thessaloniki plain. Geological studies have proved that a large part of the fertile land around the Aliakmon River was once covered by sea that stretched all the way to Veria in the north.

The capital of the prefecture, Katerini, an agricultural and tobacco centre, is located between the Pieria plain and Mt. Olympus. Paralia, its port on the Gulf of Thermaikos, is one of the few landing places along a shore of dunes and saltpans, the largest ones in Greece.

Katerini is linked to Athens and other major Greek cities by railway and coach. Approximately 32 kilometres southwest of Katerini, the village of Aghios Dimitrios is built on a plateau amidst an abundance of cool springs and magnificent trees. From there, the road to "Stena tis Petras", the passage to Thessaly leading to the impressive Olympus Gorge, offers a unique experience. From the sea level to the east and towering over the plateau in the west, the peaks of Mt. Olympus rise at a height of almost 3000 metres. This sudden change in altitude has concentrated on the mountain an amazingly large variety of plants ranging from the typical Mediterranean species to the rare plants of the alpine zone.

The wildlife on Mt. Olympus includes a wide range of species, of which 32 are mammals and 108 birds. There are many mountain-climbing routes along well-marked paths throughout Mt. Olympus during the summer, while winter excursions should be organized with the assistance of local, experienced guides. In the Pierian Mountains there are two mountaineering shelters in operation, one at Ano Milia at an altitude of 1000 m and a second one in Saracatsana, Redina, at an altitude of 1650 m.

Just before the ascent to Mt. Olympus, amidst lush vegetation and merely 5 kilometres from the Pierian coastline, lie the ruins of the ancient city of Dion. The most crucial battle in antiquity between Greeks and Romans was destined to take place in Pieria, right at the city of Dion. On 22 June 168 BC, the Romans, under Consul Emilius Paulus defeated the Macedonians under King Perseus, which signalled the period of the Roman occupation in Greece.

Dion was the sacred city of the Macedonians, named after Dias (Zeus), the father of the gods of Olympus. It was here that King Phillip celebrated his victories and where Alexander the Great offered sacrifices to the gods before departing for his great expeditions.

Of its buildings, the most notable are the sanctuary of Demeter, two temples dating back to c.500 BC, the Asklepieion and the shrine dedicated to Isis with its idols still standing on their pedestals. Excavations have revealed a well-fortified city with a splendid layout; flagstone streets, public buildings, shops, workshops and houses, as well as an orchestra, stage and lower seats at DionĘs large theatre. Violent earthquakes in the 5th century AD brought a sudden end to the cityĘs prosperity.

Turning to the national highway from Dion and just 5 kilometres from the sea lies Litochoro, the entrance to Mt. Olympus, situated at 300m at the foot of the legendary mountain, south of the enchanting ravine of Enipeas. Its privileged location and excellent tourist infrastructure provide for unique mountain-sea vacations.

Colourful seafood taverns serve an excellent variety of fresh fish, while a large number of bars and discos playing both Greek and foreign music offer lively entertainment for the young at heart. The entire region of South Pieria is a unique combination of mountain and sea. Flat coastlines, narrowing at intervals, give the area a distinct countenance. Thick forests of chestnut trees and laurel woods reach the coast where their aroma mingles with the cool breezes from the sea. Along with nature, an abundance of hospitable taverns, hotels, campsites and rental rooms scattered through the region guarantee memorable vacations even for the most discerning traveller. Of particular interest are the communities of Leptokaria, an important trade centre, Skotina, with the beautiful Byzantine church of Aghios Athanassios, and the village of Panteleimon with its towering medieval castle, stone houses and winding cobblestone alleys. On a hill overlooking the sea is the Castle of Platamonas, one of the most impressive and important Byzantine castles in Greece. Situated in the southeast at the foot of Mt. Olympus, it dominates the road joining Macedonia with Thessalia, in commanding position over the Gulf of Thermaikos.

During the summer months, the castle is used to stage notable performances of the Festival of Olympus. The village of Platamonas is a well-known popular resort with natural cold-water springs and crystal clear sea, boasting an excellent tourist infrastructure.

A short drive away, travelling through 30 kilometres of woodland from the village of Panteleimon, begins the Valley of Tempi, an area of stunning natural beauty, where, according to a legend, pure water from the valleyĘs springs was made available by the Muses for the purification of Appolon after he slew the dragon Python.

Pieria is the place where the beauty of the natural landscape unites with the myths and the traditions of Greece, where the holy mountain unites with the emerald of the sea. It is the magical region at the foot of Mt. Olympus.