The area of Halkidiki, situated in northern Greece is a prefecture of Central Macedonia. Its location is ideal for holiday makers, as it is just over an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki, which is served by a major airport. For anyone who has chosen Thessaloniki as their main base to stay, it is very easy to travel to all areas of Halkidiki by bus using the KTEL bus service.
Halkidiki is an incredibly beautiful holiday destination, famous for its three peninsulas (or legs) stretching into the Aegean Sea, of which Kassandra, the first of these is the most popular for tourists. It’s easy to see why Halkidiki is one of the most popular Greek summer destinations. It boasts over 500 kilometres of spectacular coastline, crystal clear waters, high mountains, thick forests and rich vegetation. It’s fair to say that as far as tourists spots go, this has it all. Whether you are searching for sun and sand, mountain biking or forests walks or you want to discover the rich history and explore the archaeological sites, Halkidiki has it in spades.
Visit The Town Of Afitos, Kassandra
The three peninsulas are Kassandra, Sithonia and lastlyAgios Oros or the Holy Mountain, home of Mount Athos and its monasteries. Each of the legs has a very distinct feel, making them all very unique. Without a doubt, Kassandra is the most developed, with most of its resorts clustered along the East coast and more specifically between the stretch of coast betweenKallithea to Pefkohori. Kassandra is famous for its white sandy beaches and excellent nightlife but it also has traditional Greek villages and towns.
The village itself is ancient, in fact from the prehistoric settlements that have been found it is clear there has been a settlement here since 3000 BC. There are many places of historical interest to be discovered in Afitos and some notable places to visit include the house of Katsanis, the house of the painter Paralis and the house of the musician Mantakas, all of which are wonderful examples of 19th century architecture.
There are plenty of fantastic restaurants, along with traditional tavernas and cafes to enjoy in Afitos. The nightlife is low key compared to its neighbour Kallithea just a little further down the coast. Afitos is an ideal location for those looking to enjoy a more relaxed break.
Explore Sithonia And The Village Of Parthenonas
The second leg, is markedly different from Kassandra. It is nowhere near as developed or commercialised as its neighbour. The beaches are stunning and the historical sights seem endless. This is an ideal location for ‘active travellers’. If you love exploring a country’s history and historical artefacts, there will be plenty to interest you here. One place you should definitely head for isParthenonas, located 6 kilometres from Neos Marmaras. It sits at an altitude of 350 metres on the side of a mountain. It is a beautiful, historical village and the ideal spot for a day’s walking as it has excellent hiking trails and is also a great spot to just sit and relax with a coffee or enjoy a meal in a traditional taverna. It has certainly had a history of highs and lows. It is known to have flourished after the Ottoman rule but then fell on very had times, going through periods of abandonment. During the 1970’s the villagers left the olive groves to seek employment in the growing tourist business.
Throughout the 1990’s the village was rediscovered and more and more people began to settle here once again. Houses were restored and there is now even a folklore museum here as well as some fabulous guest houses. It is incredibly picturesque and utterly charming. Whilst you are here you should definitely make the climb to visit Mount Itamos. This is the highest point in Sithonia which will afford you panoramic views over all of Halkidiki with a view of Mount Athos to the east and Mount Olympus to the west. This is a perfect trip for anyone who loves hiking as it will take you through some spectacular scenery and lush forest.
Take A Boat Tour Around Mount Athos
The third leg of Halkidiki, Mount Athos or Agios Oros as it is known locally and commonly known as the Holy Mountain is perhaps one of the most sacred places in the world. This unique monastic place is one of Greece’s most unspoilt treasures. It has had a long history of very mixed fortunes. Throughout the 11th and 12th centuries it was one of the most important monastic centres in the Byzantine Empire. It is said that at that time there were 180 monasteries there but after a very dark period during which there were frequent raids the numbers were dramatically reduced. Today 20 monasteries remain and of those 17 are Greek. along with one Russian, one Serbian and one Bulgarian. Covering an area of 250 square km, this is an area of outstanding natural beauty.
At its highest point, Mount Athos reaches a height of 2033 metres. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to about 2000 monks. Tourism on this peninsula is strictly restricted to the north. One of the most picturesque villages in the region is Ouranoupoli. Incidentally, this is the final point before entering the monastic state of Mount Athos. This is a charming fishing village with a very imposing Byzantine tower which dominates the skyline. Inside the tower is a museum and the view from the top is amazing.
Like the rest of Halkidiki, the beaches here are fabulous and its a great place to enjoy water sports or just relax on the white sand. Tourism here is low-key and it tends to be favoured by couples or families. You can venture further into the peninsula to discover the beauty of the island but only if you are a man. Even then, male visitors have to get a permit, obtained in advance and the maximum stay is just four days. For women, your journey ends here! You can get tantalisingly close if you go on a guided tour by boat. The monasteries, sitting on their clifftop settings are absolutely magnificent. Take my advice, if you have binoculars be sure to bring them with you.
The boats can’t get closer than 500 metres to the shore and you really won’t want to miss the views. One of the most impressive monasteries isÁgiouPanteleímonos, founded in the 12th century. The icing on the cake of these tours is if you get to enjoy the company of dolphins swimming close to the boats. This certainly makes for some good photo opportunities.
There is so much to discover in this gorgeous area of Greece and it boasts some of the best scenery and beaches in the country. Add to that the great food and the historical significance and it all adds up to a must-visit destination.