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Why Arachova is Greece's best kept secret in winter

Why Arachova is Greece's best kept secret in winter

It's Greece, but not as you know it. We head to Arachova to find out why the Greeks prefer its snow-capped mountains to their scorching beaches

Lined by lofty pine trees, the icy road wound ahead of me towards Mount Parnassus, the mythical mountain sacred to sun god Apollo and his nine inspirational goddesses, the Muses.

Opening the window, I breathed deeply. After dodging traffic in Athens, it was bliss to sniff the fresh air, edged with the lemon scent of pine trees.

For most travellers, Greece conjures up visions of brilliant summer skies above gleaming white villages, and balmy seas lapping bleached blonde beaches.

Many Greeks however, who are tired of the endless heat, prefer winter when they can play in the snow or hang out in cosy tavernas near crackling log fires, sipping punch-packing, honey-infused raki drink, rakomeli.

I decided to spend a weekend in one of the country’s favourite ski resorts to see what it was all about.

Arriving in Arachova

Road leading to Parnassos mountain, Arachova, GreeceArachova sits at the foot of Mount Parnassos

An hour and a half out of Athens the mountains suddenly parted like misty blue curtains ahead of me and Arachova appeared.

Built in an amphitheatre at the foot of Mount Parnassos in southern Greece, this picturesque town with its crumbled grey roofs and cobbled streets is known as the country’s “winter Mykonos”, because of the chic crowd of Athenians who come here to swig cocktails and enjoy the snow at one of the country’s best ski resorts.

Checking into my cosy suite at Likoria, a family-run hotel along one of Arachova’s tiny backroads, I wandered out along winding alleys covered with a well-trodden blanket of snow.

"This picturesque town is known as the country’s 'winter Mykonos', because of the chic crowd of Athenians who come here to swig cocktails"

Hearty odours of local spit-roasted pork dish kontsouvli mingled deliciously with the scent of woodsmoke curling from tall chimneys spiking worn slate roofs.

Despite the effects of the country’s long economic crisis, the resort’s narrow streets were crowded with young, tanned Athenians clad in expensive-looking puffer jackets and designer bobble hats browsing the shops selling chichi clothing, ski gear and—hopefully fake—fur bonnets.

More interesting were the smaller stores selling bright-patterned rugs that have been woven on hand looms here since the Middle Ages.

Food and tavernas

As evening fell over Arachova’s Epidavros-like amphitheatre of houses, I ambled along the town’s main street admiring the full moon which hung over the snow-filled valley far below.

Feeling peckish, I scrutinised the menus of a string of tavernas, noticing that ubiquitous Greek summer dishes, such as eggplant and beef moussaka and vine leaf dolmades, had been replaced by stuffed cabbage leaf dish sarmades and lemony beef stew mosxari lemonato.

Given the town’s jetsetter reputation I expected the tavernas to be snobby and expensive, but they seemed surprisingly low-key.

I finally chose Kaplani’s, a small restaurant near Arachova’s 19th-century stone clocktower where I sat all evening near a blazing wood fire eating creamy meatball soup giouvarlakia and drinking fruity brousko wine from Crete, as the snow fell outside and the café owner strummed tunes on his bouzoukoi.

Sun-soaked ski slopes

Arachova village at bottom of snowy mountainsArachova's quaint architecture and snowy mountains attracts cosmopolitan Athenians to the area

After breakfast next day—hunks of bread baked in a wood oven served with chunks of spicy local goat’s cheese formaela and a dish of shiny black olives from Kalamata—I headed for the slopes, where mountain guide Eleni Prablanc from Trekking Hellas Parnassos was waiting for me at the Parnassos Ski Centre, half an hour’s drive from Arachova.

“Tourists don’t see Greece as a winter destination, and yet it’s one of Europe’s most mountainous countries,” she told me as she handed me a pair of cross-country touring skis and told me that this ski centre, with its recently refurbished facilities and 25 pistes for all ability levels, is one of the best in Greece.

"Tourists don’t see Greece as a winter destination, and yet it’s one of Europe’s most mountainous countries"

Before setting off, Eleni took me to see Kelaria, the jetsetter side of the mountain, where crowds of Athenians in expensive winter wear lounged on sunbeds sipping cocktails.

In stark contrast, Fterolaka, on the other side of the mountain (where we strapped on our skis an hour later), was near deserted. We swished through pristine snowscapes mirrored by brilliant blue skies and fringed by tall pines all morning without seeing another soul.

Temples to yourself

Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, Delphi, GreeceThe omphalos, which was sacred to the Ancient Greeks, is just a hike away from Arachova 

Since Delphi is only a few hours hike from Arachova, later in the day we followed a winding goat track through ancient olive groves to reach this site which was home to the Oracle and considered by ancient Greeks to be the centre of the world.

"We followed a winding goat track through ancient olive groves to reach this site which was home to the Oracle"

In summer, the site would have been packed with tourist buses but now in winter we had the temples and columns of this sacred precinct all to ourselves—it was truly magical.

Nightlife of Lakka square

On my last evening Eleni took me to Lakka square, home of the nightlife haunts that had earned Arachova its winter Mykonos moniker. Near-deserted in the daytime, at night the streets were buzzing with lively cafes and DJ bars.

“Now do you see why we love winter?” she said as we sat on a fur rug, sipping rakomeli.

“Here in Arachova we have world class ski slopes, empty archaeological sites, plenty of nightlife and the sun is still warm—our winter Mykonos really does combine the best of all worlds.”

Find out more from Discover Greece.

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