On Thessaloniki’s doorstep, Katerini is a welcoming city brimful of surprises

You might be tempted to drive right by Katerini on your way to Thessaloniki. Wait, slow down. There’s more to this district than meets the eye. You could call it the land of the unexpected, and it’s well worth making it a holiday destination at any time of year. From the bustling streets of Katerini, to the Elatohori Ski Centre and its après ski bars.

From the stunning archaeological site at Dion, where statues pose in watery shrines, to the long beach that stretches from Platamonas to the coast below Mt Olympus. From the wilds of the Enipeas Gorge to the cobbled lanes of old Panteleimon and Rapsani with its fine red wines. From the designer pensions at Elatohori to the spa resort on the coast of Pieria. A world of surprises awaits you in the centre of mainland Greece under the peaks of Mt Olympus.

What to do in Katerini

Dion: Natural beauty and ancient monuments
Near Katerini, Dion is one of Greece’s most spacious and serene archaeological sites. Here, ancient history and natural beauty vie for your attention. In a setting crisscrossed by babbling streams, you’ll find temples, Hellenistic and Roman theatres, flag-stoned streets, baths decorated with mosaics, Roman houses and villas, early-Christian basilicas and an odeon. Don’t miss the shrine to Isis, remnants of the grandeur of Ancient Greece. Built in a swampy area, its ruins and statues appear even more poetic entangled by reedy grasses, their toes dipped  in the water. Nearby, the shrine of Demetra was one of the earliest to be excavated in Macedonia.

Katerini on foot, in town and country
Katerini’s urban side, with cafes and bars full of people from all over, invites you to stop for a nightcap. On the flip side, the municipal park takes you into the natural world. Katerini strikes a happy balance between the city and the Macedonian countryside.

Platamonas Castle
The function of a castle is to dominate an area and Platamonas must have done this brilliantly as it overlooks a huge stretch of the coast of Pieria. The high walls and well-preserved central tower date from the 10th century. While excavations have unearthed Hellenistic remains from the 4th century BC, it is the Byzantine churches and traces of the 10th-century town and its subsequent incarnations  that will grab your attention.

Eighty kilometres of beach and thousands of choices
Korinos, Katerini, Litohoro, Plaka, Leptokarya, Skotina, Panteleimonas, Platamonas, Neoi Pori are just some of the spots on a beach of 80km long. Along this huge stretch of pristine sand are dozens of good hotels, restaurants and beach bars as well as large, organised camping sites, affording you a multitude of choices for a very special holiday.

Lovely Litohoro
This picturesque town makes an excellent launch pad for your expedition up Mt Olympus, or for a dip in the sea for that matter. Plaka is said to be the Aegean at its best but Gritsa beach is also wonderful. Litohoro, on the lower slopes of Mt Olympus, combines access to the sea and the mountain in a lovely green setting. Don’t forget to wander around and admire the marvellous Macedonian-style houses.

Elatohori, romantic getaway or downhill thrills?
Is it cold and snowy? Then, it’s time to escape to Elatohori. Winter weekend crowds can cause traffic jams so visit the ski centre mid-week if you can. A few kilometres before you get there, the mountain village of Elatohori is full of stone-built pensions offering all the amenities like indoor pools, steam baths, jacuzzis and water massages. After a walk through the fir forest and the charming streets of the old town, you’ll be ravenous for a hot, home-cooked traditional Macedonian meal at the tavernas or a more refined, gourmet version in one of the hotel restaurants. You’ll leave Elatohori replete with happy memories.