The “heavenly city” of Ouranoupolis, Greece is known for being the gateway to the monastic community of Mount Athos. Nestled against the blue waters of the Aegean Sea, its picturesque setting includes orange tile-roofed houses, a 14th century Byzantine tower, and long stretches of beach that show off the coastline. I had the pleasure of staying at Pension Irini not far from the center of Ouranoupolis.
Driving to Ouranoupolis
Earlier that morning in the city of Thessaloniki, our Haniotis Car rental was dropped off at the Park Hotel. The transaction went smoothly, and in a matter of minutes, we were set to leave the city. During our journey, our speedy Hyundai took us through the countryside dotted with small towns and along the way stopped to take in the mountainous coast spotted with white sand beaches. A little over two hours later we arrived at Pension Irini, a 13-room hotel situated on the hillside and just a 3-minute drive from downtown Ouranoupolis.
Pension Irini – Friendly with Fantastic Views
We felt instantly welcomed by the hotel's charming Mediterranean architecture, lush flowers and greenery, and the very friendly hotelier who showed us to our accommodations for the night. Our single view room featured a queen bed with brightly colored bedding and a sitting area. A plus was a small kitchen area with a stove, sink, and dishware, which would have come in handy if we were staying for more than one night.
The balcony soon became one of our favorite parts of the room as it had a view of the hotel's communal terrace, the town, and the sea.
The hotel has a variety of room configurations for two to four guests as well as a two-room apartment that accommodates up to five people. Many rooms feature balconies with water or garden views, and for those that don't have a view, there is a communal terrace. With only thirteen rooms the hotel is on the small side, but it has modern amenities for travelers like AC, complimentary WiFi, free breakfast, free transportation to the port, and a small bar that serves drinks and coffee.
Breakfast at Pension Irini
Guests have several options for breakfast. They can have it brought to their room, the communal terrace, the hotel's courtyard, or a breakfast room. We chose the courtyard, and our meal arrived quickly. It included soft-boiled eggs, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, cheese bougasta, bread, pastries, and sliced meats.
Seeing the monasteries of Mount Athos is a huge draw. Special entry is required for men to visit this self-governed state, and women are not allowed at all. Most decide to tour the monasteries by boat which maintains the required “safe” distance for women aboard.
Mount Athos Cruises
We chose a morning cruise with Athos Sea Cruises. They also have an afternoon departure and a boat tour that leaves from Sithonia. The tour is €20 and is three hours long. Information about the monasteries and Mount Athos is told in several languages including English.
Mount Athos Monasteries
Throughout the tour, you learn about the monastic community, dating back to Byzantine times, and its monasteries, many of which are perched upon rocks and cliff sides. Besides daily prayer, the monks also take care of their communities by performing tasks assigned by the Abbot which could include preparing dinner, renovating the monastery, or making wine. Some of the monks live in the monasteries. Others live in sketes (smaller, dependent monastic houses) which are more isolated.
The monasteries hold many sacred treasures that include rare items such as ancient mosaics, gold embellished icons, and the largest piece of the Holy Cross. The monks are also wine makers and on the tour you'll see a couple of vineyards.
Downtown consists of a handful of streets with houses, rental accommodations, shops, and restaurants. The most striking attraction is the Tower of Andronikos. Built in 1344 by the monastery Vatopediou, its primary purpose was to protect the village from pirates. At the time of our visit, the tower was closed, and there was an informative display in front.
Dinner with a View
There are plenty of places to dine that serve fresh-caught fish from the Aegean Sea. If you want a water view, I suggest wandering down the street along the beachfront and looking over the menus that are displayed along the sidewalk on A-frame boards. Many are in English and have food pictures.
After looking over a handful of restaurants, we settled on Efkaliptos Restaurant after the the owner came out to chat with us. He connected with us because his brother lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. We chose a table with a water view.
To start, we ordered grilled Halloumi with honey and sesame seeds.
For the main dishes, we ordered the grilled octopus and a bottle of Greek red wine. The octopus was very tender and perfectly cooked.
And, we enjoyed the mussels in a savory wine fennel sauce.
I'd recommend this restaurant, as we enjoyed our meal, the view and the atmosphere.
There are plenty of nearby beaches where you can soak up the Mediterranean sun as well as rent a boat. You'll find hiking trails to explore, and can take a ferry boat ride to Ammouliani Island.
If You Visit Ouranoupolis
Pension Irini made our time in Ouranoupolis very pleasant, and we liked how close it was to town. Reservations can be made on the Pension Irini website. The hotel is a 2-hour drive from Thessaloniki Airport Macedonia. Haniotis Cars offer a variety of rentable vehicles like cars, hybrids, jeeps, and minivans. To learn more visit their website.
If you are staying in Thessaloniki, the Park Hotel and Hotel Olympia are close to the city center, cafes, and activities. To get to the hotels to and from the airport I recommend a service called Welcome Pickups.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a car rental for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.