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 bubbling 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 surrounded by greenery and with ‘their feet’ 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 of 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 hangs happily suspended 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 later that will grab your attention.

Eighty kilometres of beach and thousands of choices
Korinos, Katerini, Litohoro, Plaka, Leptokarya, Skotina, Panteleimonas, Platamonas, Neoi Pori: all names for spots on a beach 80km long. Along this huge stretch of clean sandy beach 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 your dips into the sea, if you’re not in a climbing mood. 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: 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.

Hidden gems of Katerini

Trekking the Enipeas Gorge
Plan your route: take the path along the gorge from Mylous near Litohoro to Prionia on the edge of Olympus National Park. The scenery is stunning and you’ll feel as if it was made just for you.

Archaeological Museum of Dion
On the ground floor you’ll find an exceptional trove of sculptures – statues, bas reliefs, funerary stelae, architectural elements – and other finds from the site, which was dedicated to Olympian Zeus. On the first floor you’ll hear the haunting – albeit reconstructed – sounds of the hydraulis, an extremely rare water- and air-powered instrument with percussive elements. You’re looking at the ancestor of the organ.

Palios Panteleimon, a listed village
Now that you’re here, why not head up to Palios Panteleimon? The beauty of Macedonia unfolds at your feet. This listed village has been called the Balcony of Olympus. You’ll travel back in time walking from the old village to the square filled with humongous plane trees. Oh, the views in this timeless place are stunning, too.

Rapsani, not just wines
Nowadays known for its full-bodied red wines, Rapsani’s history has many other chapters. It flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries thanks to sericulture (silkworm farming), metallurgy, cotton processing and textiles. That history follows your footsteps through the town. Many fine, two-storey stone houses in the local Macedonian style still survive from that time and the 19th century.