By Apostolos Kontoulis
Damouchari, a hidden gem North east Pelion, Greece. A breathtaking landscape that combines Mediterranean wild forests and high peaks (1,600m+) with remote pristine beaches. Home of the mythical centaurs, half-men half-horse creatures.
The only natural harbour of the area, Damouchari, was a little fishing village back in the early 20th century and is the commercial hub for the whole north east Pelion area. Cobbled paths (known as ‘kalderimi’ in Greek) were constructed from the famous Pelion stone, from most of the villages to Damouchari in order to establish a proper connection with the port. Horses and mules were used to transfer the shipments up to the villages. Some of these paths still exist (now used for hiking), others were lost since the locals stopped using them and the vegetation eventually took over.
Nowadays the village is still resisting the structural exploitation happening almost everywhere in Greece. It remains a traditional quiet and not very well known gem!
Sea kayaking is an excellent way to explore the coastline and access spots that boats, even small inflatables, would not even dare to approach. To achieve this and also to be able to quickly get in and out of the kayak the friendliest solution is sit on tops.
Having Damouchari as a base, there are two possible ways to travel – north and south. To the north, one mile away lies a nice long beach named Papa Nero. Organised camping facilities are available along with cheap accommodation options. Next to Papa Nero lies the biggest and most hectic village called Agios loannis. Along the coastline, numerous little houses are now being used as hostels restaurants and cafes. The scenery changes completely after Agios Ioannis, where a series of pristine nice long sandy beaches begins.
First stop is Plaka, a long nice beach with huge plain trees that offer generous amounts of shadows, essential for the hot summer months. The whole area is covered with wild vegetation and really thick forests reaching almost the sea level, that’s why this place is so special. Further north three continuous beaches Banikas, Agioi Saranta and Chorefto blend the scenery with stunning different colours due to the different rocky terrain.
Somewhere after Chorefto you are officially to north Pelion. This area is not accessible with ease by car and that keeps it very quiet all year long. According to Greek mythology, the marriage of Pileas and Thetis (parents of Achilles) took place here. Thetis (she was worshipped as a sea goddess) was transforming into cuttlefish, fire, etc. to escape from Pileas. Troubled from this strange attitude Pileas seeked centaur Chironas’s help. The marriage lasted for days and all of the Gods were there to celebrate. A lot of the presents were later given to their son Achilles and he used them on his numerous quests.
Heading further north, the mountains change the scenery and the coast stands with jagged lines, which often brings forth sharp reefs. The morning hot sun plummets over our shoulders, the sea is calm and dark, like a mirror darkened by age. Whole flocks of colourful fish are rising suddenly buzzing in the air, jumping ten to 20 metres further and entering again sideways to the sea, creating a big cloud foam. Due to the remoteness of the area, many wildlife species find shelter, amongst them Aegean dolphins, seals, and numerous migratory birds and of course all kinds of fish come here to reproduce, hunt, etc.
Next is Ovrios beach, which is also called ‘Palia Mitzela’ from the abandoned village Mitzela located in the forest above the beach. This ghost village is hidden among thick forests of northern Pelion. The ruins today are covered by wild vegetation but it was once a beautiful and active community of 800 people with 19 churches! Many myths and legends exist about the village and its residents, but no information has been confirmed so the atmosphere becomes even more mysterious. What is not disputed by anyone is that the inhabitants of Mitzela were rebellious people, which led the village to complete destruction.
The Turks burnt down the village in 1827, it was never rebuilt and the ruins of it remain forgotten in the forest. There is a beautiful path from the beach to the village, which passes through dense vegetation above the stream of Lagonika through the stone arch bridge of Diakoumi. The path ends after a wonderful hike 30 minutes to the Old Mitzela.
Ovrios is also just before a huge bay that hosts around 35 sea caves. Between them there are a couple of intact small beaches (Limnionas and Petromelisso) only accessible by foot or by the sea. This area is truly magnificent and unique. If someone loves caves, it’s a really must go destination. The sizes of the caves vary from small ones that a kayak can barely fit inside, up to huge spectacular ones with proper domes, stalactites and little beaches inside.
Camping is possible in between at Limnionas beach were there is a fresh water spring in walking distance. The National O2 walking path is passing also from here (its connecting northern Greece with the area). At the far north end of this bay lies Koulouri Bay, a sanctuary for a controversial pioneer of tourism in the area, Alfons Hochhauser. About a dozen of little rocky houses with stunning views, were built back in the 70s and were hosting numerous Alfon’s guests. Nowadays only the ruins remain.
This route from Damouchari up to Koulouri is around 25km and conditions vary because of the Aegean Sea and the peaks above the coastline. In general during spring and summer, there is a NE wind usually in the mornings until after mid-day and later on it changes direction and comes from the SE. Sea state is usually calm, although during August the ‘Meltemi’ winds are blowing for some days, creating serious gales and swells.
South of Damouchari the coastline is less inhabited but with numerous pristine beaches almost one after the other. First we find the unknown little bay of Agios Athanasios were there is a fresh water spring that reaches sea level. Having that in mind one can see various engraved names and dates in the stones around the spring. That’s because people were coming and spending long periods of time during the World War II and later on during the Greek civil war. They used the place as a hideout and for shelter. It is naturally protected by most winds and it offers sources of food both from the sea and the forest as well.
Next are towering cliffs surrounding a small bay named Fakistra, a beach with wild and primitive beauty. The beach was included in the ‘top 10 European beaches by foot’ in The Guardian newspaper. Characterised by clear turquoise waters, fine sand with pebbles and steep rocky landscape. Until late spring there is a waterfall running in the north east part of the beach, starting from higher above from the canyon of Fakistra. A few years ago, huge rocks collapsed from the cliffs and the space was reduced, but it still remains awesome.
A couple of spectacular sea caves complete the scenery next to Fakistra. The first one, full of stalactites, is ‘Panagia Megalomata’ and the second one ‘Krifo Scholio’, which was the illegal school of the area during the Ottomans. It’s here also that thousands of migratory birds stop over in the cliffs during spring and autumn. It is truly a paradise for bird watchers during those few days.
Further south we pass ‘Karavostasia’ a hostile bay for ships and boats, where you can rest at a tiny pebbled beach. According to historians, King Xerxes of the Persians lost many of his ships here due to severe weather in his effort to conquer ancient Greece. Right after Karavostasia we reach the famous beach of Mylopotamos. It is actually a double beach divided in two by a huge rock with a hole-passage on the bottom, which gives access to the second beach. It’s one of the busiest places for swimming in Pelion after July, when it gets really crowded. The scenery continues with the same tempo to the south were every few kilometres one can find pristine beaches like Limnionas, Lambinou, Kalamaki, Klosou and Pantazi Ammos.
Between Lambinou and Pantazi Ammos, sea kayakers have the opportunity to explore what is now left of old rock mines. These mines were capes that due to exploitation of the stones are now just reefs and some pieces of stone still stand above the sea level.
From here we can clearly view Sporades, a complex of islands (Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonisos, Panagia and a few others) a few kilometres away and one could be tempted to do the crossing but let’s leave this for another time!
From Damouchari up to Pantazi Ammos is around 16km and usually the conditions are similar to the ones described above for the route to the north.
Either way is magnificent and the best time to visit is between April and August.