While the world and its cousins head to Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu Island, there are several other little knownyet spectacular Greek destinations that offer everything from jaw dropping natural beauty to good food to quirky adventures. Halkidiki is one such verdant region that features three peninsulas nestled Thessaloniki (yeah, quite a tongue twister that!).
The three legs are –Kassandra, Sithonia and Mount Athos. While Kassandra boasts of several touristy beaches, coasts and resorts, Sithonia is slightly off the beaten path and uncrowded. It has myriad mountainous ranges, tiny villages, hidden beaches, green valleys and isolated coves. Mount Athos, on the other hand, is a monastery region which women aren’t allowed to enter. Need more reason to visit this stunning Greek region? Well, we give you 11.
Abundunt Natural Beauty
Halkidiki is a flourishing emerald green destination that is endowed with 12 protected spots by NATURA. It takes pride in its abundant scenic wonders, secluded regions, rough mountainous landscape and strikingly beautiful beaches. Invest time in exploring the Agios Mamas Laguna or hike atop the dramatic Mount Itamos. Combine this adventure with birdwatching and a Lake Mavrobara picnic.
Besides being an important sun-worshipper destination, nature-adventure hotspot and food paradise, the region is also known for its endless festivals. Visit during the annual Sani Gourmet Food festival, held in June each year, where Michelin star chefs all over the world congregate to whip up an amazing array of international flavors, host workshops, conduct presentations and allow visitors to participate in tasting sessions.
The Sani Festival of Music, held in July-August, is another annual event to watch out for. Held in the backdrop of the mesmerizing blue Mediterranean Sea and a medieval tower structure, this is a true feast for music lovers.
The Kassandra Festival is hosted during July and August at Siviri, and features a good range of music, including modern and traditional renditions from all over the world. If you’re after authentic Greek tunes, don’t miss the Polygyros, which is held during August each year. It showcases the best local artists, performers and bands.
If you are looking for a destination that is not on the hackneyed touristy path, Ammouliani Island wins hands down. They tiny yet charming patch of land is inhabited by less than 700 people and features a hypnotically beautiful deep blue sea, unlike something you’ve seen before.
Then, there are mini coves and castaway beaches that look straight out of a film. Apart from its pretty landscape, the place is an explorer’s delight given its myriad hidden treasures. Spend time with the locals to understand their traditions, customs and way of life, dating back centuries.
Picturesque Wine Routes
Halkidiki has acres and acres dedicated to wineries that are sprinkled throughout the region, thus allowing travelers to discover a slightly unknown side of the region. Don’t forget to stop at Agios Pavlos to try the famous Meltiton red wine, which is grown on the verdant green Mount Meliton slopes of Sithonia.
Fantastic Cycling Destination
Cycling enthusiasts will have a whale of a time navigating through Halkidiki’s bike friendly paths. The surreal natural landscape combining an emerald green forest cover and deep sapphire sea works as a perfect backdrop for explore the region’s multiple hidden routes on a cycle.
The Ethereal Looking Mountains
Owing to its mild temperatures, Halkidiki is a perfect year round destination for sunshine seekers. The region is blessed with a gorgeous landscape and plenty of leisure activities such as mountain climbing. It has innumerable hiking trails and thrilling mountain peaks such as Mount Itamos, Mount Holomontas, and the lesser known Mount Stratoniko. There’s no dearth of options when it comes to mountain climbing experiences in Halkidiki.
Apart from a plethora of fascinating archaeological wonders, Halkidiki also houses the Petralona’s Cave, which is tucked into the western side of Mount Katsika. Discovered accidently during mid 20th century, the cave is replete with deep red stalagmites and stalactites. Thus, the moniker of Cave of Red Stones.
The specialty of this intriguing cave is that in the 60’s, a young woman’s skeleton was found here, dating back to a staggering 70,000 years. This is one to be one of the most ancient human life evidences in the continent. This led to even more excavations in the region, where archeologists stumbled upon even pre human life remains in addition to prehistoric animal fossils. Truly intriguing!
Easy Day Trips
Halkidiki is located at a couple of hours drive away from Thessaloniki, which makes it a fabulous base for day trips. It can be conveniently accessed from most European hotspots. Thessaloniki features many breathtaking Byzantine monuments, erstwhile mansions and a thriving food scene. There’s no dearth of art and culture too.
Rich Food Legacy
Greece is synonymous with fine food, and Halkidiki is no exception. The northern region is especially famous for its rich culinary legacy inspired by Constantinople and other surrounding traditions. Almost everything cooked here is made from fresh and delicious local produce, which is why it is high on taste. The bread and pies are mouth-melting. Plus, there is a rich variety of meat preparations for meat lovers.
Don’t go without sampling the pasta and cheese treats here – all homemade and freshly prepared. Few people have as much of an understanding and appreciation of food as the Greeks.
Life is a Beach
If there’s just one reason you need to visit Halkidiki for, it has got to be the island’s gorgeous beaches. There are around 71 beaches spread across 55o kilometers of sand. There is a beach for everyone here, without making it sound clichéd. Deep azure waters, fine white sand and untamed surroundings, the Kassandra peninsula has plenty of beach resorts.
Go beach combing, swimming, hiking and sunbathing on a Sithonia has lots of isolated and undiscovered beaches, hidden coves and is ideal for camping. Yes, life is a beach and we’re enjoying it!
The Mount Athos peninsula is the only monastery state in the continent, which means women cannot enter the region. Men also need a permit submitted many months ahead of their visit, which makes this a difficult to access region.
However, there’s light at the end of this seemingly bleak prospect of catching a sight of the stunning Mount Athos. It can be spotted on a boat trip through the adjoining coastline. The innumerable monasteries can also be seen from the sea. Bonus – the rich greenery in and around the region is a feast for the senses.