12 Reasons Why You Should Add Halkidiki to Your Greece Bucket List
Courtesy of Visit Halkidiki
The main summer destination in northern Greece, Halkidiki is a lush region with three peninsulas located near Thessaloniki. Kassandra, the first finger, or leg, is famous for its many tourist resorts and beaches. The second leg, Sithonia, is less touristy and boasts hidden coves, mountainous villages, verdant valleys and isolated beaches. The third leg is Mount Athos, a monastic community where only men are allowed. If you need some convincing on why to visit the beautiful Greek island of Halkidiki, read on.
The beaches in Halkidiki have the reputation of being some of the best in Greece. With 71 Blue-flagged beaches and over 550km of coastline, there is definitely a beach you will fall in love with. Known for their fine sand, turquoise waters and lush and wild surroundings, the beaches in Kassandra peninsula usually feature resorts. Sithonia, on the other hand, being less touristy, has hidden beaches and coves and is the perfect destination for camping fans.
Halkidiki, Greece | © Adrian Libotean/Flickr
Be close to nature
Halkidiki is a green and verdant region and features 12 areas protected by the NATURA convention. As such, it boasts rich scenery, protected areas, rugged mountains and stunning beaches. Take time to explore the Agios Mamas Laguna or hike the Mount Itamos and combine with some birdwatching and a pleasant picnic at Lake Mavrobara.
If you are a bike lover, you should visit Halkidiki as it offers endless opportunities for active holidays all year round. With its beautiful nature and breathtaking landscapes where the green of the forests contrasts with the intense blue of the sea, there are several beautiful cycling routes to explore. Luckily, there is a Halkidiki bike guide for those looking for directions and inspiration.
Reaching Fourka | © PixaBay
Actually, because of its temperate weather, Halkidiki is an ideal destination all year round. And as the area boasts fantastic scenery and landscapes, it is adequate for a plethora of outdoor activities, such as climbing and hiking. The region includes several trails and with its several peaks, including Mount Holomontas, Mount Itamos and Mount Stratoniko, you will have plenty of choice when it comes to climbing.
View of Mount Athos from the sea | © Gabriel/WikiCommons
The Mount Athos peninsula is the only monastic state in Europe. It is forbidden for women to enter the peninsula and it is difficult for men to explore it too, as a visit permit application needs to be submitted several months in advance to obtain permission. But don’t despair; you can still admire Mount Athos at a distance if you join a boat trip along the coastline. Several monasteries are visible from the sea and the lush greenery of the area is mesmerising.
The Holy Mount Athos | © World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations/Flickr
As well as several archaeological sites, Halkidiki is also home to the Petralona’s Cave, located in the western part of Mount Katsika. Accidentally discovered in 1959, the cave is full of red-earth covered stalagmites and stalactites, earning it the name it’s also known by: the Cave of the Red Stones. But this is not just any old cave; in 1960, Dr Aris Poulianos discovered the remains of the skeleton of a young woman approximately 700,000 years old, considered one of the earliest human findings in Europe. Subsequent excavations allowed the discovery of more pre-human remains, as well as animal fossils.
Petralona 630 80, Greece, +30 2373 073365
It’s near Thessaloniki
The second city of Greece is located two hours from Halkidiki, which makes it easily accessible from major European cities. With several Byzantine monuments, old mansions and a vibrant food and cultural scene, Thessaloniki is definitely another underrated destination that deserves more credit.
Besides being a destination for sun-worshippers, cycling enthusiasts and nature-lovers, Halkidiki is equally appealing to foodies. Every year in June, the Sani Gourmet Food Festival takes place and brings together Michelin-starred chefs from Greece and abroad, creating innovative dishes. Attendees get to discover new flavours, attend workshops and presentations and take part in tasting sessions.
Then there is the Sani Festival of music, from July to August, held at Sani hill, with a beautiful medieval tower and the sea as a backdrop, though several other locations are also used. Additionally, the Kassandra Festival also taking place throughout July and August in Siviri, features a wide range of music, including traditional and contemporary music from across the globe. And for Greek music lovers, the Polygyros festival is held throughout August and features folklore music artists and bands from Greece.
Forget Nemea; Halkidiki is equally interesting for oenophiles. With the wineries spread out across the area, this way of exploring the region allows visitors to discover an overlooked facet of Halkidiki. Make a stop at Agios Pavlos, sample the well-known PDO Slopes of Meliton red wine, produced on the lush slopes of Mount Meliton in Sithonia.
Grapes on a vine | © PixaBay
If you are looking for somewhere off the beaten track, than head to Ammouliani, the only island of Halkidiki. With about 600 permanent residents, this tiny drop of land in the intense blue sea is a little haven of small coves and beaches sheltered from the crowds. But besides its particularly beautiful landscapes, the island itself is perfect for exploration, as the residents hold tight to their traditions, brought back centuries ago by their ancestors from Asia Minor.
Throughout Greece, the northern part of the country is known for its good food. And you will quickly understand this in Halkidiki. With a long culinary tradition back influenced by Constantinople and Asia Minor, the gastronomy of the region is rich in delicious produce grown locally under the sun, and wine produced in the many wineries of the area. You will taste delicious bread and pies, satisfying meat dishes as well as homemade pasta, strong cheese and other memorable, fresh dishes.