Reviewed for Holidays in Heels by entrepreneur Christianna Kontou!
When you think about planning a trip to Greece, you immediately jump to the summer and plan a fabulous island extravaganza, brimming with sunlight, the Aegean or Ionian Sea and amazing eats. Few, however, will think about a fall or winter getaway, and even fewer have experienced the natural beauty of the country’s mountainous regions. Hospitality, culture, nature and great gastronomy are ubiquitous to the country and anyone who has had the chance to enjoy such purity, combined with luxurious accommodations, always comes back for more. The Grand Forest Metsovo embodies all of this, nestled amid the trees and the mountain tops, sitting high at 1,350 meters, with a panoramic view of the famous village of Metsovo and in absolute seclusion.
The best time to visit is when the mountains are full of snow and air is crisp and clean, however, I decided to take a quick three-day trip right before the holidays, enjoy the spectacular spa, the walk in Metsovo and sleeping in!
No one can sneak into The Grand Forest, so as your car turns into the parking, someone is there to greet you, take your luggage and show you to reception. While waiting, you can enjoy a drink in the lobby, which is more reminiscent of a chalet than a hotel lobby. With an open 360-degree fireplace and the options to sit out in the terrace, where blankets lay across lounge chairs.
We stayed in a double room that was spacious and extremely comfortable that had a completely unobstructed view of the village across the mountains. Waking up and just breathing in the fresh oxygen, you feel the difference in your lungs! Coming from Athens or any other smoggy metropolis, your body responds immediately to the new environment. Not to mention the water! The region in which Metsovo is located, Epirus, is the largest source of metallic spring water, so the water in the hotel is completely unfiltered and crystal. Your skin and hair is brighter and healthier after just one shower, let alone when visiting the magnificent spa, where these natural resources are coupled with the experienced hands of masseuses and beauticians. I left completely rejuvenated and ready for the holiday season!
I also probably left a couple of pounds heavier, due to the incredible cuisine! Snacks and drinks are served in the lobby, there is room-service, of course, but there is always the option – and I’d argue, a *must* – of eating at the hotel restaurant “1350M”, with an annually updated menu, which features local ingredients, such as mushrooms, wild boar and savory Greek “pitas” (or pies) and an excellent wine list.
This is also where breakfast is served. A breakfast buffet that goes on for days and has everything from eggs and waffles and pancakes, to Greek yogurt, fruits, cereals and freshly baked pitas. The food itself would be enough for me to visit repeatedly, but that view… the restaurant is enclosed by windows and regardless of the time of the meal, I frequently caught myself gazing outside, lost in thoughts (often sipping some wine).
Theoretically, I could have used the fully-equipped gym or the indoor pool, but the spa was just too relaxing and the food too good and who needs to work out all the time anyway? I’d like to note that for the past couple of years, Greece’s number 1 basketball team, Olympiacos BC has been staying at The Grand Forest and training during pre-season! So, for the basketball enthusiasts, that’s one more reason to visit in August!
Admittedly, getting to this remote location is not easy: it is a 5-hour drive from Athens, a 2-hour drive from Thessaloniki and a 30-minute drive from the city of Ioannina, all of which have airports. It is most advisable to have a car so that you can avail yourself of all that the area has to offer. The hotel offers a shuttle service though, which some of the other residents used and they seemed quite pleased with the whole process. The travel time is totally worth it for families, couple or even groups of friends looking to get away from reality, be extremely pampered, eat well and reboot. During my most recent, Russian visitors had arranged a baptism in the area, reserved one of the halls and they even arranged for fireworks!
This is the ultimate combination of Greece’s authentic cuisine, nature and uniqueness, elevated by luxurious surroundings and services. You need a good four days to enjoy yourself and make up for the slightly long trip to get there, but the truth is, it is an experience unlike any other and completely worthwhile. Family and friends will enjoy, it is secluded and offers everything you would want on the grounds, so one needn’t leave if he or she doesn’t want to. Finally, nothing compares to sitting outside at night, with a glass of good wine, with nothing but millions of stars in the sky and the glitter of the village lights across the mountain.
What to pack!
Well, it entirely depends on the purpose of the trip and the season, but you should definitely have some comfortable walking outfits, to enjoy strolling through the area village(s) and for the explorers out there, perhaps even hiking boots for a more immersive experience. However, unless you are visiting for a specific event, I would leave the gowns at home and come prepared for a luxury, comfortable stay!
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