PIERIA, GREECE – Two hours into my stay at Thessaloniki, I got into a car accident.
A taxi driver rear-ended my tour guide’s car and upon impact, there were roughly 20 seconds where nothing was done at all.
“Um, you know we just got hit?” I asked my tour guide, perplexed as to why the screaming and shouting (that usually follows a car accident in Israel) hadn’t started yet.
“Oh yes, yes,” she said calmly, before checking her reflection in the mirror and then exited the car to speak to the driver.
Then the all-too-familiar scene began.
Wild hand gestures, pointing and some yelling occurred, before insurance information was exchanged.
Now it felt like home.
In many ways, Greece does feel like home – but with a 20-second delay.
People are calmer, the pace is slower and you’re given that extra 20 seconds to take in the vivid beauty that northern Greece has to offer.
A two-day trip to Pieria, Greece only really allows one to skim the surface of what the lush region has to offer.
In terms of geography and topography alone, Pieria is an ideal vacation destination that combines the majesty of Mount Olympus with the serenity of the Aegean Sea. One could literally hike up Mount Olympus and then enjoy a cocktail by the beach within minutes.
And that’s exactly what we did.
“A really special feature here is Mount Olympus,” Pieria’s Governor Sofia Mavridou told The Jerusalem Post at a cocktail reception with the region’s hoteliers.
“Pieria is really a one-stop shop. Tourists can flock to the sea and beach within minutes. We know of no other place in the world where you get can get to such a high altitude and be so close to the sea.”
And with Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, a mere 45 minutes away, delving into Greece’s dynamic urban life can also be tacked onto a short visit.
Traditionally, the region has had only limited popularity, with tourists primarily from Eastern European Balkan countries.
Pieria officials are looking to get the word out so tourists from other destinations can breathe in the refreshing Olympus breeze as well.
Locals have every reason to boast about Mount Olympus, seen by many as the crown jewel of Pieria, whose natural park is recognized by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve.
As for our experience, getting four outof- shape journalists to the mountain’s peak, Mytikas (which means “nose” in Greek), was certainly not on the agenda.
At a height of 2,918 meters, reaching the very top of the mountain is probably best reserved for experienced hikers. However, even the hiking novice can bask in the glory of the mountain by partaking on several different trails that go up a portion of the terrain.
When embarking on a trail for the first time, it’s always best to take a guide even for the most adventurous of hikers.
Our group was fortunate enough to have Vasillis Diamantopulos shepherding us along the way.
“I know the mountain with my eyes closed, but you always need to be careful,” Diamantopulos, a tour guide for GuideOlymp, said, explaining that even though he has run, walked and biked up and down the mountain countless times, he always has a compass, GPS and water in hand for each visit.
It is reassuring being in the capable hands of Diamantopulos, whose reasonably priced tours range anywhere from €40 to €150 per person, depending on which trail and activity you choose to embark on. But no matter how far up the mountain you venture, a relaxing refreshment will definitely be in order after taking in the sweeping vistas on the challenging trail.
To that end, a short drive to Molos Beach bar, outside the village of Litochoro, is an ideal place to get your feet wet and soak in some sun.
Open 24 hours a day on Fridays and Saturdays, Molos is crowded with the young and fit who look fabulous and know it.
With retro hits like “It’s Not Unusual” and “It’s Raining Men” blasting in from the speakers, it is as if time has stood still for this tranquil beach bar, where – intentional or not – anything recorded after 1995 is stripped from the airwaves.
Drinks at this trendy location are moderately priced, with a refreshing Mojito, for example, setting you back around €7.
Of course, no trip to Greece would be complete without tossing the diet aside and indulging in the best food and wine on offer.
Everything consumed in the region tastes exceptionally fresh, and with good reason. Greece prides itself on its Products of Protected Origin, an EU classification that designates products cultivated in and unique to the land they come from. Greece is second only to Italy in terms of producing these treasured products.
Items like feta and olives that are mass-produced everywhere else are grown with pride and revered in Macedonia.
That reverence was on display at the Kukous Inn, where owner Damianos Pahopulos explained to us the painstaking process of harvesting the special Greek wheat called Zea, an ancient grain unique to Greece that is grown on the grounds of his bed and breakfast. Rich in protein, the grain is experiencing a comeback of sorts in Greece (and around the world). It is a dominant ingredient on the Kukous Inn menu, making an appearance in their many homemade breads and pastas.
Dining at the Kukous in is truly a feast for the gods, where figs drenched in honey, Greek salad with feta and tomatoes and pasta accompanied by three different types of sauces are passed around the table. But one doesn’t need to have a royal budget to dine like a deity. Lunch at the Kukous costs around €17 per person, and an overnight stay at one of its five apartments costs €60 to €70.
As for where to stay, Pieria has dozens of hotels to fit a variety of budgets. The upscale five-star Mediterranean Village costs approximately €232 per night in the summer, while on the cheaper end the Mediterranean Resort is around €90 per night.
Wine aficionados and those looking to paint the town red won’t be disappointed in Pieria, where the white wine flows copiously and the night life is vibrant. A visit to the elite Gold Cub may not exactly scratch the itch of night owls who are used to the decadence of Ibiza, but its dynamic see-and-be-seen atmosphere should satisfy those who want to dance the night away.
Ultimately, Pieria is a place where every moment should be spent outside basking in the glory of the deep blue sea and vistas of Mount Olympus.
Paying a visit to a vineyard is a must.
Our stay at the Αpostolos Kurtis Winery in Rachi combined all the elements of Pieria into one divine package. Its refreshing array of white wines and fullbody reds, combined with their savory homemade goat cheese, organic tomato and cucumber salad and chicken grilled in their outdoor hearth made for an indulgent end to a blissful weekend.
On my way back home, I was only concerned with two things: getting back on a diet and figuring out when I can come back to Greece.The writer was a guest of the region of Central Macedonia, Greece.