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Halkidiki – beautiful beaches, idyllic nature and a strict monk’s republic
Most people who know Halkidiki think of it as three distinctive promontories that jut out into the sea like three fingers. Each ‘finger’ of the peninsula in the north of Greece offers different holiday options. Those who like beautiful beaches will find what they are looking for on Cassandra. The westernmost of the three islands offers long bays with fine white sand some of which stretch past several villages. Cassandra also has olive groves, pine and spruce forests and offers excellent conditions for those who like fishing, diving and other water sports. Those who are interested in culture will be drawn to the beach of Kalithea, where they can visit the most famous archaeological site of the region in the shape of the temple of Ammon Zeus. Also worth a visit is the cave church of Agios Pavlos on the coastal road to Nea Fokea.
Sithonia, the ‘middle finger’, is a bit less busy and more idyllic. Sithonia is more mountainous than Cassandra and invites those who like walking to hike in the mountains and see the traditional villages there. There are numerous typically Greek taverns, pine forests and beautiful, deserted little bays inviting tired walkers to have a splash in the sea. Sithonia can be explored in one single day, as the road system is excellent. For those who want to buy souvenirs, Sarti is just the place, with numerous jewellery shops that are still famous for their original designs.
The monk’s republic of Athos, the third of Halkidiki’s ‘fingers’, is sparsely inhabited and difficult to travel in. Athos is mainly mountainous and shares its name with the holy mountain of Athos, at 2300 metres the highest elevation of the whole of Halkidiki. Only a quarter of the peninsula is accessible to tourists, as Ouranoupolis marks the border to the monk’s republic. This region is largely untouched, as hotels and other types of accommodation are mainly by the beach. Athos has 20 major monasteries that are part of UNESCO world cultural heritage. They can, however, only be visited by people who have been granted a permit, which is difficult to come by if you are just an ordinary tourist. Women are not permitted to visit the holy mountain, and no more than 10 non-orthodox foreign males per day are allowed to enter the monk’s republic. In order to get a glimpse of the monasteries you can join an excursion along the coast-line by boat and the view of the ancient monasteries is an impressive experience.
Pictures from Halkidiki
Villages of Halkidiki
Epanomi is a small town in the northwest of the Halkidiki Peninsula. It is located only a few kilometres from the Gulf of Thermaikos and is part of the metropolitan region of Thessaloniki. Epanomi’s biggest attraction is its favourable position which makes it an ideal starting point for a varied and interesting holiday on Halkidiki. The beach, city life and tourist entertainment are all within reach. The gorgeous sandy beaches of the Thermaikos Bay where the water is blue and crystal clear are only five kilometres from Epanomi. Southwest of the town lies a lagoon that is one of the most important ornithological regions in the whole of Greece. In contrast, Thessaloniki, about 20 kilometres from Epanomi, has the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a big city. Just under 30 kilometres from Epanomi lies the Kassandra Peninsula, the first ‘finger’ of Halkidiki that is shaped like a hand with three fingers. Here you can enjoy tourist entertainment to the full, discover dream beaches or go for long walks in the pine forests of the west coast.
In the south of Sithonia lies the little fishing village of Kalamitsi, very popular in the summer months, but practically deserted during the winter. Surrounded by a hilly landscape with silvery olive groves and colourful orchards, the bay of Kalamitsi counts among the most attractive places in Greece. The campsite directly on the beach is particularly popular with divers and snorkelers; twice daily during the summer season there are open-sea dives, and there are other water sport options as well, such as surfing and water-skiing. Those who prefer dry land can engage in rock-climbing or explore the small island just off the bay, so close that you can swim across. There are apartments and guesthouses as well as a few taverns near the beach, with a fantastic view of the sea.
Kallithea means “Beautiful View” and this is indeed an accurate description of the view from the village on the rocky coast. Kallithea lies on the east coast of Cassandra, the first one of the three-fingered hand of the Halkidiki Peninsula, and offers an amazing panoramic view of the Macedonian landscape and the azure of the Mediterranean Sea glittering in the sun. Kallithea is Halkidiki’s tourist centre, and just right for those in pursuit of a dynamic holiday with lots of parties. With numerous hotels, taverns, shops, discos and bars, life in Kallithea is centred on tourism, with all-night parties and discos ideal for young people. During the day, the gorgeous beaches of the bay of Toroneos invite holiday-makers to relax, go swimming or snorkelling. A yearly event in Kallithea is a completion where those who take part have to swim the Gulf of Toroneos, a 24- kilometre-stretch between Kallithea and Nikiti on Sithonia.
The beautiful village of Kriopigi certainly lives up to its name: it means “cold spring”, and refers to the spring in the village centre that supplies the locals with cold water in the summer and warm water in the winter. According to legends, those who drink water from the spring will live to be at least a hundred years old. Situated on the east coast of Cassandra, Kriopigi is a popular destination for tourist excursions. This is partly due to the landscape characterized by pine forests and olive groves, and partly to the breath-taking view of the Gulf of Cassandra and further on to the peninsula of Sithonia. A multitude of sunflower fields round off the idyllic impression of the village. Only about 1 kilometre from Kriopigi lies its award-winning sandy beach. As the beach is divided into several sections, there are small, quiet bays with areas in the shade of the adjoining wood. Kriopigi offers the ideal combination of an exciting holiday with a cultural background. Near the coast there are numerous discos, bars, restaurants and taverns, and for those interested in culture there are plenty of sights to visit. There are the caves of Petralona, the monks’ monasteries on or near Mount Athos and the ancient ruins of the towns of Olynth and Stagira, to name just a few. Both culture buffs and party animals get hungry, and one of the best places to deal with this is the Anthoulas Tavern in the village square, well-known for its delicious salads and juicy meat.
Nea Iraklia is a small village on the Halkidiki Peninsula where the main sources of income are tourism, fishing and agriculture. The village is part of the administrative region of Kallikratia and is well-known for the fact that there are hardly any foreign tourists. It is mainly a Greek holiday resort, and a lot of Greeks have holiday villas here where they go for summer as well as winter holidays. Nea Iraklia is a very traditional place, with a farmers’ market, village shops and typically Greek taverns that are open throughout the year.
The small town of Nea Moudania is not at all what you would expect a tourist centre to be. Situated on the west coast of the Macedonian peninsula of Halkidiki, the town is an important fishing harbour and business location. Those who take an interest in contemporary Greek culture and life style, should come to Nea Moudania. Recently there have been developments to bring tourism to Nea Moudania: new hotel complexes have been built near the town and, as there is no beach near Nea Moudania, health resort offers have been advertised to attract tourists, e.g. “Hotel Oceania Club & Spa” with a variety of sauna offers, a luxurious Jacuzzi, indoor swimming pools and massage.
The small town of Neos Marmaras is situated on the west coast of Sithonia, the second part of the three fingered Macedonian Peninsula of Halkidiki. Neos Marmaras lies on three hills at the foot of Mount Itamos, at 811m the highest elevation of Sithonia. A 15-kilometre hiking trail leads up to the summit from where the view across Halkidiki’s landscape, with its pine forests, beaches and the turquoise sea, is simply breath-taking. In some parts the light green pine forests extend right down to the coast, and numerous little bays with crystal clear water attract swimmers and snorkelers. Neos Marmaras is a lively resort with a marina where restaurants, taverns, bars and souvenir shops jostle for space, and there is no lack of accommodation either. Only a few kilometres from Neos Marmaras lies the hotel complex of Porto Carras, surrounded by the vineyards of the same name that belong to the hotel. Neos Marmaras is the ideal starting point for those who want to explore Halkidiki, on land by taxi, bus or hire car, or from the sea by boat from the harbour of Neos Marmaras. Many holiday-makers go on a boat-trip to get a glimpse of Mount Athos and its famous monasteries that are not open to sight-seers.
Nikiti lies on the peninsula of Sithonia, the second finger of the “three-fingered” peninsula of Chalkidki. It affords a magnificent view of the Gulf of Toroni and of the big tourist resort of Kallithea. Each year a swimming competition is held in Kallithea, where participants swim the Gulf of Toroni from Kallithea to Nikiti, a distance of approximately 25 kilometres. Nikiti is divided into Old Nikiti and New Nikiti. The old part is located on a hill about two kilometres further inland. The road leads in serpentines up to the old settlement with its church, built in 1867 and dedicated to Saint Nikitas. It is worthwhile going for a walk up here, as the houses are built in traditional Macedonian style and the view from the hill is stunning. The modern part lies directly by the beach and has many taverns serving traditional local food where holiday-makers can rest, eat and gaze across the glittering turquoise sea. For those who want to enjoy the beach, there are seven kilometres of it, where holiday-makers can sunbathe, swim and snorkel. Every Friday is market day, where a variety of local produce can be bought, including different types of local honey. Halkidiki is one of the largest producers of honey in Europe.
On the west coast of Athos, the third and most easterly finger of Halkidiki, lies the small town of Ouranoupolis. The name means “Heavenly Town”, and the landscape surrounding Ouranoupolis is indeed heavenly. With the glittering blue sea on one side, lush green forests and high hills on the other, Ouranoupolis combines all the natural beauty of Halkidiki. A large choice of beautiful hotels and numerous taverns guarantee a dream holiday. The landmark of Ouranoupolis is a gigantic fortified tower that was erected in 1344 for the protection of the Athos monastery of Vatopedi. Ouranoupolis is situated on the border of the orthodox monks’ republic of Athos, and most supplies for the monks arrive at its harbour. Male pilgrims are only admitted under certain circumstances, women are not allowed to enter Athos at all. There are, however, daily sight-seeing trips by boat, and tourists can admire the monasteries of Athos from the sea.
Surrounded by green woodland, the idyllic little town of Pefkochori lies on the south-east coast of Cassandra. Although quite small, the pretty resort is quite busy, as Pefkochori is a popular holiday destination, which is at least partly due to its good infrastructure and the mild climate. Holiday-makers in Pefkochori can look forward to experience traditional Greek culture in combination with modern accommodation. The little houses built in traditional style are lovely to look at. An evening walk through the winding lanes, past classic buildings and past the ancient church can be an enchanting experience. There are plenty of activities to entertain holiday-makers during the day as well. From sporting activities on the beach or in the water to a stroll through the shopping precinct, possibilities are endless. There are a few pebble beaches and sandy beaches around Pefkochori, but they tend to be very busy. The taverns in town offer an astonishing range of Greek and international food as well as excellent wines from the region. A very popular tavern both with holiday-makers and locals is the “Fox Naoussa” tavern at the harbour.
Sani is located on the west coast of Cassandra, the first of the three parts forming the peninsula of Halkidiki in Northern Greece. Sani is not a place name, but refers to a privately owned hotel complex. Four different three or four star hotels with different price categories and many leisure activity options guarantee a varied holiday. Sani Asterias Suites and Porto Sani village, both awarded four stars, offer pure luxury in accommodation directly on the beach and with extensive pool landscapes. The Sani Club offers bungalows with private swimming pool and a variety of sports and leisure options for children - the ideal holiday for families and active holiday-makers. The Sani Hotel that is directly on the beach offers, apart from nice rooms and a comfy atmosphere, a comprehensive entertainment program. All locations of the resort are connected by a free shuttle service. Sani is situated in one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Macedonia. Vast pine forests with well sign-posted hiking trails invite holiday-makers to venture out for extensive walks. Some of the trails are quite steep, but there are many view-points where you can rest and admire the fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea, and try to spot new dream beaches.
On the south west coast of Cassandra on Halkidiki lies the small village of Siviri. The little fishing village is just perfect for a relaxing holiday surrounded by Greek culture without being disturbed by too many tourists or over-crowded hotel complexes. Siviri offers cosy little houses and apartments in secluded and beautiful surroundings. The idyllic village lies in the middle of a hilly green landscape with a rich and varied flora. Siviri’s sandy beach is very popular due to its clear water and fine sand, and, of course, the beach bar. For those who like peace and quiet, there is a stretch of natural beach as well. Siviri has numerous taverns, all of them well-known for the quality of their fresh fish and tasty seafood that can be enjoyed with a beautiful view of the sea. As for cultural entertainment, the amphitheatre in Siviri offers a variety of productions as part of the annual Cassandra Festival.
Recommended Halkidiki hotels
Alkionides Boutique Rooms
Located in Polychrono, the seafront Alkionides offers boutique rooms with unobstructed sea views and hydromassage shower cabins. It has an a la carte restaurant by the sea and a bar with a large wine cellar.... (more)
Centrally located in Pefkohori, right across from the beach, Art Boutique features a sea-view terrace with hot tub. It offers elegantly decorated units with free WiFi and balcony. A small spa centre, as well as beach toys for children are... (more)