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Kaimaktsalan: The Winter Mykonos of Greece

People enjoying winter sports in Kaimaktsalan
People enjoying winter sports in Kaimaktsalan, Greece. Credit: Mike Dirhalidis/CC BY-ND 2.0

Palaios Agios Athanasios, or Tsegani, is a traditional village at the foot of Mount Vorras or Kaimaktsalan, next to Lake Vegoritida in Western Macedonia, Greece.

When people refer to the village and the general area, however, they call it Kaimaktsalan, because it is the famous Kaimaktsalan Ski Resort which has put the entire area on the map.

The village is located at an altitude of 1,200 meters (3,940 feet), while it is 28 km (17.4 miles) from the city of Edessa and just 10 km (6.2 miles) from Kaimaktsalan Ski Resort.

The well-preserved village of Palaios Agios Athanasios was built in the late 16th century and was continually inhabited until the late 1980s. The villagers then abandoned it and settled in the new village, 6 km (3.7 miles) below.

However, the old village has been completely revived during the past two decades and has now become one of Greece’s most popular winter tourist resorts, attracting thousands of visitors each year, mostly from Greece, thanks to the luxurious ski resort nearby.

The beautiful traditional Macedonian architecture of Agios Athanasios uses the local stone as well as wood elements. The stone houses of the village, with their magnificent, red-tiled roofs, are the reason Agios Athanasios is also called “Petrino Horio” or “Stone Village.”

The 'shopping center' of Palaios Agios Athanasios
The center of the village of Palaios Agios Athanasios, Greece. Credit: Mike Dirhalidis/CC BY-ND 2.0

Its ancient architecture, magnificent views of Lake Vegoritida, proximity to Mount Kaimaktsalan, and its array of traditional guesthouses and restaurants, all harmoniously combined with the natural environment, are a huge draw for tourists.

Palaios Agios Athanasios is the perfect destination for not only nature lovers but ski buffs as well, since it is nestled into beautiful natural surroundings and is so close to the ski resort. It is ideal for a variety of outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking, 4×4 trails, hiking, horse riding, archery and many others.

Locals and some visitors prefer to use Mt. Vorras’ Ottoman name of Kaimaktsalan when referring to the area. The term in Turkish literally means “cream beater” (kajmak for cream and calan for beater), referring to its snowy peaks — which remain white for most of the year.

The famous Kaimaktsalan ski resort

On the very summit of the mountain, at 2,524 meters (8,280 feet), lies the Vorras-Kaimaktsalan Ski Resort. Beginning operations in 1995, its state-of-the-art facilities start at an altitude of 2,050 meters (6,726 feet), where its main lodge, ski schools, beginner slopes, shops and equipment rental shops are to be found.

The ski track of Kaimaktsalan
Some of the ski slopes of Kaimaktsalan, Greece. Credit: Mike Dirhalidis/CC BY-ND 2.0

The terrain of the enormous ski area goes all the way up to 2,480 meters (8,136 feet), to the very peak of the mountain, where Greece’s highest ski lift finally reaches its end. The resort there on the summit features a hotel, a restaurant with traditional cuisine and a cafe-bar.

The resort, which is 45 km (28 miles) from the city of Edessa, is one of the few ski resorts in Greece with such a long snow skiing season, remaining open from November until early May every year. Thousands of skiers visit the resort every year and Greece’s national ski team and most of the country’s ski schools practice there.

A little further down on the slopes, at Palaios Agios Athanasios, visitors can find a wide variety of hotels, alongside recently-renovated traditional inns and even mansions in which to stay. There is a range of traditional taverns, ouzo bars and restaurants there in which they can sample the delicious dishes which are part of the local cuisine.

Visitors can also enjoy a coffee or tea by the fireplace in one of the village’s beautiful cafes, or have a drink and dance in the area’s bars or clubs at nighttime after a long day on the sunny slopes.

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