Let's put it simply: you're going to fall in love with Magnesia, the prefecture that is home to the peninsula of Pelion, stone-built villages, pristine beaches, nearby islands, ancient sites and year-round wonders. This is the land of the daring Argonauts and mythological Centaurs, living on the outskirts of the ancient Greek world with its rich forests, majestic mountains and open seas.
To our luck, all these natural wonders and still there – and if you're lucky you might even conjure up a centaur or two in the forests. Pine trees and olive trees still roll from the mountains down to cleanest bits of the Aegean sea, sometimes coming out of the white sands of the shoreline. Remote villages with hearty tavernas and fruit preserves will astound you, and there's the not-to-be-missed Pelion steam train which will deliver you to the loveliest remote village of Milies.
Magnesia hasn't been discovered by mass tourism, and hopefully will never be. It does attract a handful of low-key Europeans, but mostly Greek tourists who guard it as their well kept secret. Perhaps the best known part of Magnesia is the island of Skiathos which is almost too popular in summer, but there are other islands to choose from in the group known as the Sporades, namely Skopelos and Alonnisos.
Even the capital of Magnesia – the city of Volos – is pleasant in comparison to other Greek cities, with a laid-back feel, a great archaeological museum and a decent stopover between one end of Magnesia to the other.
The mountain range of Pelion or Pelio is also Magnesia's best known area, at least for the Greeks. Its eco-friendly topography, medicinal herbs and traditional architecture make it a true paradise, popular both during snowy winter months and cool summer months. The temperatures by the coast in summer can go up to 40 degrees, but in the higher villages such as Ta Hania (roughly 'The Khans' or 'The Inns') you can eat at a taverna with a view to the sea below, and still think of wearing a light jacket at 22 degrees. At the doorstep of the Pelion mountain range there are better known villages such as Portaria and Makrinitsa with their utterly charming hotels and restaurants, contrasting with other relatively unexplored spots of Magnesia.
Before reaching Pelion at the entrance of Magnesia – usually bypassed by travellers when coming by car from Athens or the South – is Nea Anchialos, a coastal market town with an airport serving central Greece. It is also a site of ancient settlements such as Pyrassos. Visit the ancient theatre there and enquire about its wine festival among other local feasts.
Nearby lies the area of Pteleos with an old Venetian port of Loutro and lovely villages like Agios Dimitrios, Pgadi and Achilleio. While Pteleos may have its fair share of pubs and restaurants, the Achilleio museum and other attractions reflect its amazing history from Homeric times, when local hero Protesilaos went to battle the Trojans. Not far off yet at a height of 900 meters on the slopes of Mount Othrys lies Anavra, a truly traditional village that saw its heydays in the late 18th century.
Next on the map is the town of Sourpi, with Nies, Amaliapoli and the little island of Kikinthos off the coast. The island has a famous church and icon, thought to be made by Saint Luke himself!
Archaeological remains can also be found in modern-day Almyros, where the remains of ancient Alos still lie. Visit the town's Archaeological museum for the full picture then wonder through the stunning Kouri forest.
Then there's the region of Karla and the regeneration of the Karla Lake which was purposefully drained in the late 50s. Now there are wetlands with rare flora and fauna, a plethora of almond trees and significant religious sites such as the 11th century church of Agios Nikolaos and the Flamouri monastery. Arched stone bridges in Ano and Kato Kerasia, as well as parts of the walls of ancient Voivis are also part of the area's allure.
Also in the region is the quiet mountain community of Veneto as well as Keramidi, a traditional fishing village and harbour area called Kamari, with stunning views of the sea.
All these areas are worth investigating before moving on to Pelion and the Sporades, with their abundant nature and attractions. Pelion (or simply Pelio) has 24 villages at different elevations. At the higher levels there are beech forests and Macedonian fir trees, with mountain slopes full of chestnut and apple trees. Over 1,500 plants dot the landscape along with birds of prey, foxes, hedgehogs and boars. But rare animals exist too, and are protected under the Natura 2000 network. There are dozens of amazing cobblestone footpaths all over the region that are great for hiking.
On Pelio's southwest tip, built on the steep slope of Mount Tissaio and at the entry to the Pegasitic Gulf, the fishing village of Trikeri offers exceptional architecture and quiet paved streets. You can walk 1.5km to the next settlement of Agia Kyriaki on a stunningly scenic cobblestone footpath. Across Trikeri lies the quiet island of Palio Trikeri with the Monastery of Evangelistria.
Next on any visitor's itinerary should be the Sporades, the three islands beside the Pelian peninsula. Cosmopolitan Skiathos might be a party town in summer, but it still has many quiet spots, the castle known as Bourtzi, the Kehrias Monastery and many worthwhile churches. The record for churches in the area goes to Skopelos, with no less than 360, lying in unspoilt villages and verdant landscapes. To visit also on the island are the Venetian fortifications the International Photography Centre and the Folk Museum.
The environmental prize goes to the third and lesser known island of Alonissos with its Marine Park, abundant wildlife abd 'deserted islands' which are a safe haven to numerous rare birds, mammals and the Mediterranean monk seal, most of which are under threat of extinction.