Poseidon’s Trident, Riviera of the North, Three Legs, Greek Caribbean……
…..and the most popular destination in Northern Greece.
Well, I for one had never heard of it. I only came across it when looking for beach options for our last few days before flying out of Thessaloniki airport. But one thing’s for sure – it’s no secret to the Greeks and, if car registrations are anything to go by, to their Balkan neighbours.
Located in Macedonia, south of Thessaloniki, Halkidiki divides into three smaller peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – reaching out into the Aegean Sea.
Beaches, turquoise water, wine, forest, cheese, festivals, bars, fish restaurants, caves, dive centres, ancient sites, cycling routes, monastic settlements, nightlife….
…..throw in some heat and sunshine….
…. what’s not to love!
And there, in the distance – on the third peninsula – is the famous Mount Athos.
In 885, the Byzantine emperor recognised Athos as a territory for male hermit monks and banished resident laymen, shepherds and all females – yes – even female domestic animals! After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottomans heavily taxed the monasteries but, otherwise, they were mostly left alone. There was a gradual decline over the next centuries until a revitalization during the 1800’s.
Today, this is still home to some 1,400 monks, residing in 20 Orthodox monasteries and subsidiary living units. It actually forms an autonomous state under Greek sovereignty so is pretty much self-governed (although the representative governor of the Greek state oversees public order and safety).
The monastic settlement is not open to tourists. Men may apply for a day permit – there are 100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox permits issued per day – but most people (and all females of course!) admire from afar. Those opting for boat trips around the peninsula are rewarded with great views of the monasteries.
The region is less than an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki Airport. While there is a public transport service, it is relatively limited – this is an area that is best explored by car.
Where we Stayed
The three peninsulas all have their own personalities – Kassandra is the most crowded and hosts the greater number of resort hotels; Sithonia (with over 100 beaches!) is quieter and is particularly popular with campers; Athos, of course, has its monasteries.
We opted for 4 nights at the Kassandra Palace Hotel and Spa (€247 per couple, per night, half-board). En route from Thessaloniki we drove through Sithonia and then on another morning we drove the length of Kassandra but that was it! The rest of the time we sat on the beach and read, peeling ourselves away from the sunbed only for a snorkel or self-catered lunch. So I cannot really comment on the tourist attractions or restaurants. – but can say that there is plenty in the region to justify a full holiday here. The only thing I might have made an effort with was a boat trip to view the monasteries…. but it seemed a bit of an exertion at the time!
There I am – last one to leave the beach ….. (note the romantic sunset dinner being set up behind me)
This was part of a 17 night trip to mainland Greece which included: