Travel

The Best Ski Town You’ve Never Heard of Is in Greece-Yes, Greece

The land of sea and sun also serves up the slopes.

Sven Hansche/Getty Images
Sven Hansche/Getty Images
Sven Hansche/Getty Images

This is a public service announcement: Greece does have a winter. We’re here to debunk the myth that land of the gods is only cerulean blue seas and endless summer. Don’t get us wrong, it is-but it’s also so much more. Greece’s alpine villages and winter scene are perhaps the country’s best kept secret.

So if you’ve been mourning the end of summer on Mediterranean islands, don’t fret. The party continues in the mountainside town of Arachova. A winter-version of Mykonos, if you will, this cool and chic ski town is a destination for in-the-know Athenians-and now you, as well.

Afanos Guesthouse
Afanos Guesthouse
Afanos Guesthouse

Located a short two-hour drive from the capital of Athens, Arachova sits at the foot of Mount Parnassos and is buzzing with a cosmopolitan weekend crowd looking for a cozy and classy escape from the city. The day begins and ends at Lakka Square, the meeting point of the town and the spot to see and be seen. In between skiing, expect to find overflowing cafes filled with a jet-set crowd sipping frothy cappuccinos, shopping at concept stores, and warming up fireside in the town’s taverns and bars.

This idyllic alpine town with a touch of glamour will have you reconsidering Greece during “off-season” months. Here’s our insider’s guide to Arachova.

Χιονοδρομικό Κέντρο Παρνασσού
Χιονοδρομικό Κέντρο Παρνασσού
Χιονοδρομικό Κέντρο Παρνασσού

Hit the Greek slopes

Yes, you can ski in Greece. Mount Parnassos is Greece’s largest ski centre. At an altitude of 5,250 – 7,400 feet (taller than anything in ski-loving Vermont), it delivers facilities and runs for all skill levels. With two sections, Kellaria and Fterolakka, connected by lifts and runs, Mt. Parnassos’ snow-covered peaks and swanky resorts attract a local and international crowd.

Ranging 32 – 37 euros for individual tickets, the prices are a steal. An on-site chalet has a central fire place and a well-stocked bar for all your aprés-ski needs. It’s not Mount Olymups, but Parnassos is still full of its own mythology, so you can imagine fleeing the fluctuating moods of Zeus as you zoom down the slopes.

Le Sapin
Le Sapin
Le Sapin

Eat Greek tapas and feta-filled soup

Arachova may be a small town, but it has no shortage of delicious places to eat. For sprawling views and your carnivorous fix, head to Kaplanis, where you’ll find a menu of traditional Greek dishes that will be sure to warm your bones. Sharing is caring and Greeks take their family-style meals seriously. You’ll find a table filled with ορεκτικά, which are the Greek equivalent of tapas. Fill up on the usual suspects of tzatziki, spicy feta dip, Greek village salad, xορτόπιτα (a flaky phyllo pie filled with wild greens and herbs), sausage made from wild boar, and if you’re brave enough, κοκορέτσι, a Greek delicacy of intestines wrapped around offal and grilled to perfection.

Meander down the cobblestoned streets and pop into To Tsoukali, a pastel-hued taverna with stone detail and a cozy atmosphere centred around a hearth. With locally sourced and seasonal dishes, ask for the daily specials or you can’t go wrong with anything straigh from the menu. Don’t leave without trying the rooster with Hilopites, handmade pasta, bouyourdi (baked feta with tomatoes, peppers and spices), and a bowl of piping hot and rustic Trahanas soup. Traditionally a farmer’s breakfast, Trahanas is one of the world’s oldest foods and the tart and milky flavour of this comforting porridge is still very much a staple of traditional Greek winter dishes.

For chalet-chic vibes, Le Sapin’s rustic decor and French dishes may have you confusing Arachova for Chamomix in the Alps. Dive into an amuse bouche of foie gras with sour apple, raisins, and ginger then eagerly await the tataki black Angus served with arugula pesto, truffle crème, and parmesan crisps. Be sure to stick around for innovative cocktails and popping tunes after 11pm.

Room Cocktail&Coffee Bar
Room Cocktail&Coffee Bar
Room Cocktail&Coffee Bar

Drink cozy cups of cheer from day to night

Warm up fireside and spend your recovery day at one of Arachova’s cafes. While coffee culture runs strong in Greece, O Tea Pineis has a lovely display of teas from around the world. Stock up on chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts while sipping on locally-grown, organic mountain tea. For a sweet treat, head to Belleville Pastry Bar, serving brunch and traditional Greek desserts like melt-in-your-mouth homemade loukoumades (bite-sized honey doughnuts).

If you’re looking for some serious aprés, the nightlife does not disappoint. If you’re lucky enough to snag one of the four bistro-style tables in the narrow alley outside of Room Cocktail bar, we recommend grabbing a nightcap and then staying for the DJ spinning house and electronic music until early morning. There’s also locally loved Red Six Bar, which is still as popular as it was 25 years ago, as is Sehre Cafe, which transforms into a club after midnight.

Costa Lekka
Costa Lekka
Costa Lekka

Pick up a new ski outfit or a last-minute souvenir

Been too busy living your best life to grab gifts for all your jealous family and friends? We’ve got you covered. Hop into the traditional shop Oreon Gefsis, a tiny yet abundantly overflowing store selling local, traditional goods like herbs, jams, honey, dried Trahanas, and their famous pomegranate juice.

Upgrade your wardrobe with trendy fashion staples, both from Greek and international designers at Lousso and 2803 Ave. Loft. Or consider scouring the luxurious lifestyle and decor pieces at Costa Lekka off the main square.

Stefan Cristian Cioata/Getty Images
Stefan Cristian Cioata/Getty Images
Stefan Cristian Cioata/Getty Images

Take a day trip back in time

In between hitting the slopes and sipping cocktails, make sure to squeeze in a bit of history and culture. Only a 15 minute drive is the UNESCO world heritage site of Delphi. You’ll want to pack sensible shoes for your trip back to ancient times; the archeological site is spread over a steep hillside, but the views of the olive groves and monuments are well worth the hike. Before heading back to Arachova, check out the museum for an impressive collection of ancient art spanning from the second millennium BC.

Afanos Guesthouse
Afanos Guesthouse
Afanos Guesthouse

Rest and recharge at the best hotels

While Arachova has a great deal of lodging options, this small town has a high demand during winter months and tends to book up rather quickly, so check well in advance. Bookmark Santa Marina Arachova Resort & Spa for an understated taste of luxury. The stone-built property has impressive views and a full-service spa that instantly makes this a serene and elegant mountainside retreat.

Arachova also has a handful of xenones, which are traditional guest houses, where you can experience a more quaint, home-away-from-home vibe. The unbeatable location of Afanos offers a touch of country exclusivity in a restored family mansion. Seamlessly blending heritage with modern amenities, Afanos excels at the traditional hospitality the region is known for.

For those who like to plan well ahead, put Elatos Resort and Spa on your list. It’s currently closed for renovation, but this more secluded option will be well worth the wait. The all-inclusive luxury accommodation offers wooden chalets where you’ll wake up to the frosted evergreen and snow-covered mountain tops. Each chalet has its own fireplace and terrace, while the common area offers a heated swimming pool and restaurant with sprawling views.

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Yana Frigelis is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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