Who says you have you to travel as far as the Caribbean for crystal clear waters and breathtaking beaches? Situated in northern Greece, the region of Halkidiki is known for its three magnificent peninsulas (or legs as they’ve come to be called), each home to stunning beaches that lead into the Aegean Sea, and incredible natural vistas. The most popular peninsula with holiday-makers is Kassandra which is occupied by luxury hotels and sand-hugging resorts. If you’re looking for something off the beaten track then Sithonia is home to secluded coves, and in Athos, you’ll see a beautiful historic Byzantine monastery which can be viewed from afar and is only open to male visitors by special invite.
Northern Greece is often overlooked as a travel destination in favour of the popular southern islands, but this should absolutely not be the case. Arguably you’ll find a more authentic and relaxing experience in the region of Halkidiki in comparison to Greece’s southern sun traps. Flights to Thessaloniki are plentiful and you’ll reach Halkidiki and its trident of peninsulas after a short drive.
Thessaloniki is known as Greece’s second city and is a melting pot of ancient history, modern nightlife, art and trendy urban spaces. Home to some impressive Byzantine monasteries, it’s a true tale of two cities. We highly recommend embarking on a sunset hike through Seih Sou Forest in the St Paul’s District to watch the glow over the city below. With its fantastic sea views and plentiful local eateries, blending graciously her cosmopolitan character with its glorious past Thessaloniki is an ideal place to start your Halkidiki holiday and also a perfect city break destination.
On the mainland, you’ll find a little ancient village called Stagira, which is now a spread of crumbling ruins on the eastern shore. While it might not be the most impressive of ancient sites in Greece, it is the birthplace of Aristotle and is now where his statue watches over his home across the Aegean – certainly worth an afternoon trip.
The Petralona caves, also known as the Cave of the Red Stones, were accidentally discovered in 1959, and the year after shot to fame when a pre-human skull was found. This impressive cave of wonders offers a snapshot of ancient life, and while the stalactite and stalagmite formations are impressive, it’s the fossils that leave you somewhat speechless. The proverbial jewel in the cave is without a doubt the ‘Petralona Skull’ which is estimated to be at least 700,000 years old and represents a previously unknown hominin genus.
The first and most visited peninsula that juts off the mainland is Kassandra; a wildly popular tourist spot and for good reason, the beaches here are sublime. Technically, Kassandra is an island, since it is separated from the mainland by Potidea canal, which delivers a magnificent panoramic view, particularly at sunset. Lining the edge of the entire peninsula, you could pick any one of the beaches for the perfect day basking in the sun and dipping your toes in the crystalline waters.
If luxury is the name of the game, then Kassandra plays host to some of the most luxurious 5-star hotels and resorts in the whole of Greece. In comparison, Afitos is the main local town on this spit of land and offers delightful, cobbled stone streets and old-time Grecian charm with stunning views of the sea. Treat yourself to a popular local gyros lunch as you walk around this quaint town taking in the sights.
When nothing but nature will suffice then Sithonia is where you shall go. The second peninsula off of mainland Halkidiki is truly a slice of paradise if ever we saw one. The lush and rugged Mediterranean landscape leads you down winding paths and through thick forests onto vast beaches that tumble into the Aegean Sea. It’s a great place for people who like to explore nature trails and work to reach the best beaches on offer. Why not pack a picnic and make a day of it enjoying all that this secluded stretch of land has to offer.
One of the most perfect and beautiful beaches we’ve seen is Portokali located on the east coast which promises golden powder sand and turquoise waves. For a quieter day of relaxation, Toroni beach in the village of Toroni is a tranquil oasis, with just a handful of tourists to be found dotted along the beachfront. In all honesty, pick any one of the over 100 beaches on Sithonia and you’re set for a day of hedonistic escapism on the shores.
If you fancy doing something other than lounging on a beach, discover the not-so-well-kept secret of the Domaine Porto Carras – the largest vineyard in Greece. Pop by for a very reasonably priced wine tasting of these locally-produced award-winning wines set against a backdrop of the Aegean in the distance. Looking for somewhere to eat? Look no further than award-winning seafood restaurant Ta Kymata in the Neos Marmaras harbour, where the region’s freshest seafood is served on tables that are literally lapped by the waves.
The third spit of land is the total antithesis to the hectic-holidaying present on its siblings and is dedicated to quiet, contemplative monastic life. It is not open to tourists; however, you can join a boat trip from Ouranoupolis and sail around Mount Athos marvelling at the impressive Byzantine monasteries from afar. In the 15th century, Athos was home to approximately 40,000 monks living in the 40 monasteries. If you’re male and want to embark on a spiritual journey into the monastery, you may be able to do so having submitted a request up to 6 months before your visit.
This article was produced in partnership with the Greek National Tourism Organisation | www.visitgreece.gr