When watching Mama Mia, I dreamed of the island paradise where Meryl Streep and Amanda Syfried ran their crumbling hotel. “Where is this?” I asked myself. I had been to Crete and Santorini. I had seen pictures of Mykonos and Zante, but I had no idea what island Mama Mia was on. Until now. It turns out Mama Mia was filmed in the Pelion region of Greece located a five hour's drive north of Athens. It was shot only on the island of Skopalos but on the mainland of Pelion.
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Pelion is a five-hour scenic drive from Athens. We picked up our Avis rental car from the airport, spent a night downtown at the Athens Divani Hotel with a beautiful view of the Acropolis and then set out on our Greek road trip the following day. If you have never been to Athens, we suggest staying for a couple of nights to see the sights. We had visited before and were anxious to see more of the country.
We were in Greece to explore the monasteries of Meteora, but Dave and I often like to add more to our travel itineraries. We wanted to try something new and a little off the tourist path so our friend George of Visit Meteora suggested Pelion. It turns out Pelion is well known to European and Greek tourists, but North Americans tend to frequent the more popular Greek Islands I mentioned above. It was just near the end of the season so it was very quiet and relaxing. I'm glad we gave this area a try, because we loved it.
Greek Road Trip
I loved driving up the coast. There are no direct flights from Athens to Pelion but there are several direct flights to Pelion from different hubs in Europe. Car rentals are affordable in Greece though and there is no better way to explore a country than by self driving so we highly recommend renting a car and hitting the open road.
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Our tour of Pelion began in the city of Volos. Volos is a beautiful coastal city that is fast becoming a popular stop on the cruise route. It's not near as crowded as the other Greek Island stops so you will have the opportunity to get a true feeling of local Greek life. We stayed at the Domotel Xenia Volos which was located directly on the water. It made for a great resort stay and home base to explore the area.
Fast Fact: Did you know that Volos was home to Jason and the Argonauts? If you love Greek Mythology, this is a must stop!
So where does Mama Mia fit in you ask?
Well, it all starts up the mountains. Pelion is considered one of Greece's most beautiful mountains and is a perfect spot for adventure lovers. Our guide Dimitris of Discover Pelion was on hand to give us information about the area and his home and native land. Like many companies in Greece, Discover Pelion is a family run business that offers unparalleled customer service.
We started with a visit to the traditional village of Kissos located half way up the mountain. This picturesque village is located up the steep terraces of Pelion mountain and is worth a stroll along the cobbled streets to the square where you can peruse the basilica church of Agia Marina built in 1650.
As you continue to weave through the mountain road, the next stop takes you to Tsangarada. Each village of Pelion has a beautiful square housing ancient platan trees that grow wide creating a pleasant shaded area to enjoy food and drink. One thing I love about Greece is the outdoor dining and we enjoyed a feast in Tsangarada complete with Greek appetizers and main dishes. The Greeks are generous souls and the food keeps on coming until you can barely move.
Lucky for us, we had an active excursion planned after lunch where we walked down one of the most famous hiking paths of Pelion after enjoying coffee at the Lost Unicorn in the square. The Lost Unicorn is a guest house where you can base yourself for day hikes, but they also make excellent coffee. Owners Christo and his wife joined us on their hike bringing their two charismatic dogs along for the hike.
It's an easy hike down the path to the port of Dommouchari with magnificent views of the Aegean coast. Pelion is famous for hiking and this hike doesn't disappoint. When you get to the bottom along the coast, it all suddenly looks familiar. Have I seen this picturesque harbour before? I think I recognize these painted buildings. Sure enough, this is where Mama Mia took place. You will recognize the scenes from the dock when Meryl Streep's friends arrive. Plus any other time the cast is down by the water.
I finally got my answer. Mama Mia was filmed here!
Dommouchari is as picturesque as it is in the movies, and locals are capitalizing on the Mama Mia craze. You can now get married just like Mama Mia in Dommouchari. And Dimitris will help you out with your wedding plans.
We took our own boat tour of the area and if the seas were calmer, we would have loved to kayak out to visit Fakistra Cave and the spring in Saint Athanasios.
Damouchari is a typical Greek fishing village with an attractive beach, seaside cafés and guesthouses. Since we were traveling with Discover Pelion, we had a trip already organized a ride back to our car in Tsangarada. Dimitris and other local tour companies have put together a genius service for tourists. Tour busses run from village to village giving rides back to different squares. The villages of Pelion are quite spread out and if this service wasn't offered, the only way for tourists to get around would be to hire their own car, take pricey taxis, or stay put where they are. We enjoyed the ride back taking in the stunning coastal views.
We didnt' go back to Volos after our trip to Damouchari and instead stayed in East Pelion to explore more of the mountain villages. Our accommodation tonight was in a beautiful yoga retreat in Tsaragada overlooking the bay that remained our home base for the next two days.
Pelion was meant to be enjoyed outdoors. A highlight for us was taking a ride on horseback through the countryside on horseback. There are several different route options and on one you can ride your horse all the way down to the beach. Discover Pelion can arrange the ride of your choice complete with pickup at your hotel.
After our horseback ride, we made our way to Milies which is the end point of the steam train of Pelion. The train runs through the summer up from Taxiarhe to Milies. It's one of the narrowest lines in the world with the track running at only 60 cm wide. Milies is yet another picturesque village with cobblestone streets and old museums. It houses one of the oldest libraries in Greece and a museum of folk art.
Pelion is a beautiful destination that gives visitors to Greece a glimpse into local life. While places like Crete and Santorini cater only to tourists, in Pelion you slow down and immerse in local living. Don't be surprised when you sit down at a restaurant and two complimentary shots of Tsipouro (Greek liquorice liquor) are placed on the table for you to savour. You may also find yourself leaving with gifts of fruit preserves and dessert. The people of Pelion are as generous as they are friendly so open yourself up to their hospitality, be prepared to explore and change your plans and you will come away with new friends and memories of a different Greece that still appreciates tradition, warmth and kindness.
Have you been to Pelion, How did you like it?
Planning your own trip to Pelion? Here are the important websites to help you get started.
- For more information on Pelion check out DiscoverPelion for guided tours and accommodation.
- For car rentals in Greece visit Avis Greece Car Rentals pickup is downtown or at the airport. We suggest renting directly at the airport.
- For accommodation in Tsaragada you must try the 12 Seasons Luxury Resort
- For getting around Pelion, check out the Pelion Voucher Bus program.
- For your hotel stay in Volos visit the Xenia Volos located right no the water.
- For your Hotel Stay in Athens try the Divani Athens
- Special thanks to Visit Meteora for setting up our time in Pelion.
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