“For a road trip, especially a road trip in a foreign country, one needs a trusty steed. Even more so when it’s an unconventional road trip in a country like Greece with mountainous areas and plenty bendy roads.”
Travelling through a new country is always a cocktail of emotions. It’s exciting and exotic arriving in a new place – until you realise you have neither cell phone coverage nor a good sense of direction. Add to that having to drive on the opposite side of the road (if you’re a South African in Europe, for example…) and often getting stuck because of a language barrier.
Our ultimate road trip of Greece started in Thessaloniki. A handheld Ford sign accompanied by a friendly face was a welcome sight after an overnight layover in Istanbul and an early morning flight to Greece. I knew my phone wouldn’t have network coverage immediately so I sighed with relief when I walked through the arrival doors and didn’t have to worry about connecting to Wi-Fi to contact and find Dimitris.
For a road trip, especially a road trip in a foreign country, one needs a trusty steed. Even more so when it’s an unconventional road trip in a place like central Greece with massive mountainous areas and plenty bendy roads. Thanks to Dimitris and the team at Ford Thessaloniki, I was all set up and ready to go in the sleek yet sporty Ford Focus sedan 2019 automatic – off to find my travel companions who were already somewhere in Thessaloniki…
At first glance, one might not think much of this Greek port city on the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. But, don’t judge a book by its cover, as they say. As I got used to driving on the other side of the road, I noticed every so often how evidence of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history remains in this now-modern Bible-time city.
The Great Fire of 1917 sadly destroyed much of Thessaloniki’s city centre and so the rebuilt 20th-century city boasts a more modern, European layout. This however doesn’t completely take away the feeling of being in a city with a history dating back to 315BC – when it was founded. There are still many historical sites to visit, including some interesting Christian churches from the period of the Turkish occupation.
The neighbourhood of Ladadika, known for its multi-coloured neoclassical buildings which surround bars, cafes, traditional taverns, and tsipouradika (small restaurants serving simple meals at reasonable prices, accompanied by “tsipouro”, aka pomace brandy), is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike.
Villa Blue in Oikonomiou, Thermaikos was home for the night. It’s a spacious, fully equipped villa away from the busyness of the city centre with a wide-open view of the ocean.
Thessaloniki to Meteora
The spacious Ford Focus made the four-hour drive pleasant with its cruise control with speed limiter, lane-keep assist functions, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8.0-inch touchscreen with voice inputs, and navigation.
The rock formations of Meteora, located near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, could easily be the set of a science fiction film. The pinnacles and caves that rise as high as 600 metres above the ground carry age-old secrets and stories of hermits and monks that first made this their home.
Our time in Meteora was spent exploring the surrounding towns, visiting monasteries, and walking in the footsteps of those 10th century monks and hermits on a guided hike with Visit Meteora.
Our knowledgeable guide, Evangelos, explained Meteora is one of the most important monastic centres in the Christian orthodox world.
Our hike began at the foothills of Doupiani rock and we meandered through the immense rock formations as we kept an eye on the dark clouds that were quickly rolling in.
Built inside a large cavity of a rock, the hidden monastery of Ypapanti was first established in 1367 AD by two monks. It is only open to hikers, so we thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet (no tour buses in sight!).
We continued our walk and Evangelos told us more about the area, the history, and even the fauna and flora. We also visited the monastery of Great Meteoron and ended off our four-hour hike by walking down a footpath used for centuries by monks before the construction of roads in this area.
For this leg of the trip, we stayed at Proia’s Guest House in the small village of Vlachava – a windy 15km from the two main towns of Meteora: Kalabaka and Kastraki and with an altitude of 900m.
Meteora to Lake Plastíras
Because the stretch from Meteora to Volos was just a little too long, we decided to spend one night close to the banks of Lake Plastíras.
A large, man-made lake set among the mountains, Lake Plastíras is probably not one of the most popular tourist spots in Greece, but the area is beautiful and alluring. Activities on offer include hiking, canoeing, and rafting and that’s exactly what we spent our time on.
Our host welcomed us with open arms and hugged each of us as if we were her long-lost grand children. Her B&B is located in a small village called Neochórion – once again, high up in the mountains (told you central Greece was mountainous!).
Lake Plastíras to Skiathos
The drive from Plastíras to Volos was roughly two and a half hours. We found secure parking for our cars at the port and mentally prepared ourselves for some island down-time (which would involve little to no driving and a lot of time spent in a horizontal position on the beach).
The ferry from Volos to Skiathos, located off the east coast of Greece, took less than two hours. Though Skiathos sees a substantial amount of tourists each year, it’s not nearly as popular as Santorini or Mykonos (which is exactly why is was attractive to us). Beaches and restaurants abound – from fancy and well-frequented, to simple and more exclusive.
You won’t find the typical whitewashed “Greek island houses” that fill your Instagram feed on Skiathos, but relax… it still offers many reasons to visit. One of them being that there aren’t queues or a million people in any direction you walk!
We explored hidden swim spots, spent lazy days on the beach, slept, read, and ate. Everything a tired body would desire. We also went on a boat excursion around the island, stopping off at various beaches throughout the day.
We stayed on the south-west part of the island, in Koukounaries. Our abode was located in a convenient compound consisting of smaller units as well as our spacious house called La Hacienda, located at the back of the property.
Not only was the location and the house perfect, but we loved the fact that we had a pool and a bar at our disposal for when we came home from the beach in the afternoons. The owners of the property were also truly a highlight for us on this leg of our trip: friendly, accommodating and just plain good people.
Skiathos to Mount Olympus
In Greek mythology, Mount Olympus is known as a home of the 12 Greek gods. Legend has it that the twelve gods lived in the gorges and on the highest peak was Zeus’ throne.
In 1981 Olympus was declared a ‘Biosphere Reserve’ by UNESCO. The colossal mountain’s Mytikas peak (the highest point in the country) rises to 2,918 metres!
Litóchoro, a town at the foot of the mysterious ‘home of Zeus’, is flooded with tourists, but it’s is a worthy stop nonetheless. The main road is lined with restaurants, clothing- and curio shops.
From our accommodation in Litóchoro, it was about a 18km drive to Prionia – the highest point which can be reached by car – where our hike on Mount Olympus’ E4 route started.
It was another ideal curvy road to put the Ford Focus to the test as it carried us with ease from Litóchoro (293m) up to Prionia (1100m). The car managed to feel planted and accurate through bends.
The majority of the walk was through the forest and we marvelled at the green scenery. The E4 route is lined with house-sized boulders that supposedly came crashing down from Zeus’ throne over time, or others say “giants” tossed them, along with burning oak trees, at Mount Olympus as a pastime.
Not only is the mountain itself a must to explore on foot, but if you find you still have energy at the end of your road trip in Greece, surrounding areas such as Dion and Plaka are also worth a visit. We took it easy, simply spending our time strolling through Dion’s incredible archeology site and chilling at the beach at Plaka.
Ford Focus fast facts:
- Ford Focus sedan 2019, Titanium
- Automatic (8 gears)
- Diesel 1.5 litre turbo engine (with all the extras such as, cruise control, adaptiv, etc.)
- 375L of boot space
For more, go to https://www.fordvehicles.gr/
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
– Thessaloniki: Villa Blue in Oikonomiou, Thermaikos
– Meteora: Proia’s Guest House
– Plastiras: Balkoni tis Limnis Plastira
– Skiathos: Eliso Studios & Apartments, La Hacienda
– Mount Olympus / Litóchoro: Villa Pantheon
- Visit Meteora: Visit Meteora is a destination management company that was founded by a group of travel professionals and local destination experts who decided to combine their talents, knowledge, resources and travel passion to share the beautiful Meteora with the rest of the world.
- Beaches well worth visiting in Skiathos include Koukounaries Beach, the two Mandraki beaches, Banana Beach, and Agia Eleni Beach.
- You can get around Skiathos island easily with the public bus (which is rather luxurious) or you can rent a Suzuki Jimny on the island (Suzuki seems to have monopolised the rental car industry on the island).
- Highly recommended restaurants: Big Bad Wolf (Skiathos), Aiolos Fish Tavern (Plaka, Mount Olympus)
- Ferries from Volos to Skiathos: Direct Ferries (I’d recommend you do whatever you can to avoid the downstairs seating unless you are sure the aircon really works. Also follow the local news to make sure you are aware of any transport strikes!)
- Eat ALL the tzatziki!