Greece the ideal destination


Halkidiki the Ideal Destination

The Culture and Nature Destination

Halkidiki

A large peninsula culminating in three long slender fingers, Halkidiki boasts 550 kilometres of coastline and more Blue Flag honoured beaches than any other Greek province. The sun, vegetation and the sea reign jointly and in harmony, sharing justly their influence over this piece of land. The Aegean Sea, which laps upon the shores of all three fingers, Kassandra, Sithonia and Mount Athos, sends its spray and breeze across the geranium-filled courtyards, the stairways and wooden corridors, the streets and churches. The peninsula was inhabited approximately 700,000 years ago, as revealed by prehistoric era finds in the Petralona Cave. Neolithic settlements from the Copper Period were located in the west and central peninsula.

Halkidiki has a well-developed hotel infrastructure, with accommodation ranging from small, clean traditional lodgings to large, luxury hotel complexes. Its micro-climate with over 300 days of sunshine throughout the year offers visitors many opportunities to enjoy a favourite sport: golf, sailing, scuba diving, yachting, fishing, mountain climbing and trekking. Some of the beaches are bordered by well-organised resorts where all types of water-sports are available, while others are completely unspoilt apart from an odd, solitary taverna. The main body of Halkidiki has a ruggedly mountainous hinterland, bordering the beautiful lakes of Koronia and Volvi to the north, while its southern shores are fringed by fertile agricultural plains. Keen walkers and nature-lovers will be in their element here, for the area offers a wide range of different terrains to suit all levels of stamina and enthusiasm. Halkidiki makes an excellent base from which to visit Thessaloniki.

Located at a distance of 69 kilometres from Thessaloniki, Polygyros is the capital of Halkidiki, built amphitheatrically at the foot of Mt. Holomon. It has an archaeological museum exhibiting sculptures and pottery from excavations in the surrounding area.

The westernmost finger of Halkidiki, the gentle Kassandra, is the most popular and populated of the three fingers. For the best part it is covered by pine forests, its plains are golden with cultivated fields, its rolling hills blessed with lush vegetation. Its white beaches and rocky, pine-studded promontories were the first to attract visitors, both Greeks and foreigners. Travellers will find here all the amenities, including hotels, traditional Greek taverns, discotheques, and facilities for water sports.

Nea Moudania is the first resort on the road from Thessaloniki to Kassandra, after entering the prefecture of Halkidiki. Hydrofoils sail from here to the Sporades islands in the summer. The next resort is Nea Potidea, where a bridge leads to its lively part with vivid beach bars and water-sport clubs. The place has a very casual ambiance, attracting mostly families and a fairly young crowd. Next on the road to the centre of Kassandra, Nea fokea is known for its Byzantine towers and the miniature underground church of St. Paul. Sani, Afitos, Kallithea and Haniotis are vacation resorts with extensive sandy beaches, hotels and tavernas. On the west coast of Kassandra facing the Aegean sea, there are a lot of beautiful deserted beaches before arriving at Kalandra and cape Possidi with its magnificent pine-lined coast.

Further to the north and turning inland is the lively village of Kassandria the capital of Kassandra with numerous tavernas, banks and taxi service. The cave at Petralona just outside Kassandra is the site where in 1960, the skull of a Paleolithic hominid was discovered. Its age was determined to be between 250,000 and 700,000 years old. It was subsequently determined as representing a missing link between Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens.

Remains of what some scholars believe as the earliest known controlled use of fire were also found here. Adorned with stunning stalactites and stalagmites, the cave is sightseeing must. The bones of long extinct animals excavated from it are on display in the adjacent museum.

Sithonia, the middle finger of Halkidiki is lined with small, picture-perfect coves, long sandy beaches, thickly wooded stretches and tiny fishing villages. It is a symphony of green and blue. Pine forests cover many of its slopes, particularly in the south, giving way to olive groves on the coast. Sithonia boasts a wide range of accommodations, including one of the most impressive lush complexes in Halkidiki with an 18-hole golf course. Tennis courts and water sports are widely available, as well as horseback riding through its pine forests. Starting out from Nea Moudania, a paved road takes to Olynthos, an ancient Athenian colony. A little further up, Gerakini has a beautiful sandy beach, crystal clear waters and all the facilities of a modern tourist resort. A detour takes to Ormilia with its characteristic architecture and churches. Metamorfosi, ultra modern, as well as Nikitas, are the next villages with a fair number of tavernas and sandy beaches lined with pines. At 4 kilometres to the north is Aghios Nicholaos with its old houses made of wood and stone, Pirgadikia with its island look, Vourvourou and Ormos Panagias a picturesque hamlet with a tiny harbour.

The cosmopolitan Neos Marmaras on the west coast manages to successfully combine exciting nightlife with traditional beauty, contemporary pleasures and hospitality. On the southwest tip lies the mysterious enclosed harbour at Porto Koufo, called the "deaf" port because the sea is so still it makes no sound here. On the south side of Port Koufo, at the site of ancient Toroni, visitors can still see the ruins of the old fortifications dating back to antiquity and continually augmented until Byzantine times, as well as the ruins of early Christian basilicas.

Halkidiki's most spectacular landscape, however, must be Mount Athos, 2,000 metres high, the easternmost peninsula and also known as the Holy Mountain and the spiritual centre of Orthodox Christianity. The first monastic communities were established in Athos in the 9th century. Recognised by a 1926 Greek legislative decree, Agion Oros (The Holy Mountain) is a unique theocratic republic, sheltering 20 Byzantine monasteries. It is also a UNESCO monument of international cultural heritage and a real-life museum of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art. Mount Athos has its own capital, Karies; it is governed by a council of twenty monks elected every year by each of the monasteries. Its population has been strictly male since 1060 when a Byzantine edict issued by Emperor Constantinos Monomahos permanently banned females from Athos. However, the stunning scenery of Athos and the beautiful architecture of the monasteries can be admired from the sea. Regular boat trips depart throughout the summer from the harbour town of Ouranoupolis, and also from Ormos Panagias on Sithonia. Travel agents in these places also offer cruises along the coastline of the Holy Mountain so that both sexes can get a glimpse of its centuries-old monasteries.

Another popular pilgrimage on the east coast of Halkidiki is a trip to ancient Stageira, the birthplace of Aristotle. As for Olympiada, while formally an idyllic fishing village, it now attracts the tourist with its crystal clear and blue-flag awarded waters, the fresh fish served in its traditional taverns and its family style hotels.

Nea Roda at the narrowest point between Mount Athos and the main Halkidiki peninsula is also of historic interest. Here the Persian King Xerxes dug a channel to shorten the route for his fleet during his second attempt to invade Greece in 480 BC. For a change of pace, the route inland from the splendid sandy beaches of Ierissos to the traditional villages of Gomati and Megali Panagia travels through lush landscapes. The solitude found here could not be in greater contrast to the lively coastal scene.

There is frequent bus service connecting Halkidiki to Thessaloniki. Boat owners will find a very well equipped marina at Porto Carras in Sithonia, and also at Sani in Kassandra.

Halkidiki

Halkidiki

Halkidiki

Halkidiki

Halkidiki

Halkidiki

Halkidiki Hotels