Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

In Greece, Holly Tuppen discovers an untouched playground where travelers are an essential drop in an ocean of biodiversity, mountain adventure, and centuries-old communities.  

Moments of discovery have a way of creeping up when you’re least expecting them. Case in point: I’m in Greece, but I may as well be in the Andes, the Atlas Mountains, or the Himalayas.

The air is filled with tinkering cowbells, wafts of wood smoke, soft chatter from the village square, and a cool breeze that’s whistled along ice-cold rivers and echoic ravines to reach me. I never expected to find such wilderness in a country I thought I knew so well.

Most people visit Greece for a dose of laidback island life, but I’m here for towering peaks and deserted trails. Since weaving west 300 kilometers from Thessaloniki, there hasn’t been a platter of squid or quaint fishing boat in sight. Instead, road signs warn of bears, rusty pick-up trucks chug along carrying everything from beehives to precariously perched goats, and unending forest has replaced the ocean.