Forming extensions off Northern Greece into the Aegean Sea, Halkidiki proudly boasts some of the most beautiful beaches, and long spectacular coastlines overlooked by mountains with rich, colorful and lush vegetation.
Halkidiki is surrounded by water on three sides and to the south it juts out three peninsulas of similar size and orientation (Kassandra, Sithonia, and Athos). It is famous for its natural beauty which can offer a memorable holiday for those seeking bustling resorts or settings of relaxed and captivating scenery.
The northern region, adjacent to central Macedonia, is dominated by the mountain range of Holomondas (115 m height). The peaceful and fresh uplands are covered by dense forests while the lower slopes are set against a beautiful backdrop of meadows, pine, and cypress and olive trees.
The rest of the countryside comprises rolling hills of farmland and a coastline of sandy beaches with crystal clear waters. Beaches are long and gentle in the west while more secluded in the south and east. Important ancient sites not to be missed are the spectacular cave of Petralona, the excavated town of Olynthos, the museum of Poligiros, the birth place of philosopher Aristotle, and a number of towers. The larger towns and ports of Halkidiki are also to be found here.
Kassandra is the most western prong and practically an island as it is separated from the mainland by the Channel of Potidea. The top part of this prong is rolling farmland while moving south the landscape changes to higher hills covered with lush pine forests. Along the coastline lie numerous excellent long sandy beaches and popular resorts providing a wide range of facilities and entertainment. The western coast is less developed and even less is the inland countryside which is an especially attractive hilly area covered by forests and typical Mediterranean shrub vegetation.
Sithonia is the middle prong. It is famous for its natural beauty and dramatic views. Its backbone is a mountain range reaching a height of 750 m. Most of the slopes are covered with lush Mediterranean forests which reach the twisting, idyllic seashore with its numerous sheltered sandy beaches. The eastern side is particularly rich in vegetation while the western side is relished with vineyards and rocky outcrops of unusual shape. Preserved inland villages provide an extra interest to the area.
Athos (Holy Mountain)
Is a mountainous area dominated by the peak of Mt Athos (2000m). It s been an area devoted to monastic life and worshipping since the 10th c. Nowadays, it hosts 20 monasteries of remarkable architecture located in spectacular settings. Female visitors are not allowed in this area while Male visitors have to apply for a visit.
Resorts and towns
Along coastline of verdant landscapes and magnificent sandy beaches have made Halkidiki a very popular holiday destination. Small fishing villages have grown into resorts in the last twenty years. These memorable settings can now cater for a large number of visitors, providing ample accommodation (from luxury hotels to camping sites), an abundance of eating places (Greek and international cuisine), shopping, lively entertainment and sports. The large number of resorts and villages makes the choice wider and gives the possibility of finding quiet places, even in the high season.
Other than the main resorts there are smaller resorts suitable for a quiet holiday, in picturesque settings by the sea or inland. These are peaceful hideaway places except from mid July to mid August when they tend to attract a higher numbers of visitors. Halkidiki has a number of interesting towns, most of them to be round in the northern part. Poligiros (population 5.000) is the capital of Halkidiki and lies on a southern slope of Mt. Holomondas. Arnea (38 km from Poligiros) is a small market town famous for its well preserved architecture and handicrafts. Nea Moudania (population 6.000) and Nea Moudania (population 4.000) are two modern towns on the west coats. They are important commercial centers and fishing ports. Agios Nikolaos (population 3.000) and Kasandria (population 4.000) are smaller towns with well preserved old houses and alleyways. Neos Marmaras (population 2.500) is a small seaside town and busy resort with scenic surroundings. Ierissos (population 3.000), a small seaside town and resort and a busy fishing port.
Stretching over 850km, the coastline of Halkidiki has an abundance of unspoiled beaches varying in size and shape from long open stretches to small cove-like hideaways. In many parts the beaches are overlooked by trees and shrub vegetation making it easier to provide shade from the hot sun, while many large resorts have water sports facilities. For the busier beaches, head to the east side of the Kassandra peninsula, to the south-western coast of the northern part and the beaches near Neos Marmaras on Sithonia. On the other hand, for those seeking quieter and less crowded settings, these are to be found in the west side of Kassandra, on most of Sithonia and the south-eastern coast of the northern part of Halkidiki.
Greek food has a long history and has developed a lot through morals and traditions of the Greek people. Examples of such an influence can be seen in the number of special dishes prepared on certain days all over Greece: the meals according to fasting before Easter, fried cod and garlic dip on the day of Annunciation, sweet bread and colored eggs on Maundy Thursday, lamb on the spit and lamb soup on Easter Sunday, the biscuits and pudding from grape juice in September. Lunch is from 1pm to 3pm while dinner is normally late in the evening from 9pm to midnight.
Meals are served in taverns and restaurants. The distinction between the two is not very clear but the former tends to have a more relaxed atmosphere and service can be cheaper than the latter. Pizzerias serve a wide range of pizzas and a selection of pasta dishes. Service charge is always included in the price of the menu. Ordering and eating a meal in the Greek way can be a unique experience as it is common for the food and particularly the starters to be shared by all around the table. A full meal would consist of starters which can be a very filling part and a difficult task to choose from the big range of dips, pies, fried vegetables, salads, salted fish and fried seafood. The main course can be meat, fish, poultry, cooked vegetables, all accompanied by salads. Desserts and coffee of a better quality can be found in one of the many pastry shops which stay open from morning to around 2am. For a snack, there are take away shops serving bread, pita or pancakes with various fillings, pizza slices and burgers. There is a wide range of fish to choose from. Small are usually fried, while large ones are barbequed and served with oil and lemon as a dressing. Fish can be chosen from the kitchen, its freshness can be checked by its eyes which should be clear but not cloudy, and the body firm to touch. The Greek breakfast consist of fresh bread with honey or jam, cheese on toast, cheese and ham sandwich, and a range of pies and fruits. It is often served in sweet shops and some take-away shops. The ones in resort are likely to serve omelets and fried breakfast too.
There are different styles of wine to try which are produced locally and throughout the rest of the country. Wine can be ordered with a meal at a tavern, restaurant or at a bar. It is also possible to order the house wine or retsina wine at a tavern. It is popular to accompany starters with strong drinks such as ouzo or tsipouro. Greek people drink mainly herbal tea. Black tea is not a common drink but can be found in cafes in resorts or big towns. You need to order fresh milk if you want to add it to your tea. You can find all types of coffee ranging from instant, filtered, ice coffee, the famous Greek coffee, and recently expresso.
Traveling through time
For visitors who wish to experience the history of Halkidiki there are many sites dating from the recent or ancient past. Churches and monasteries have always been places of particular importance in the life of Greek people and so many have been preserved for centuries. Some of the oldest churches in the area are:
- Panagia (Virgin Mary)(19th c.) on the road from Megali Panagia to Gomati
- Agia Paraskevi (19th c.) in Galatista
- Panagia Faneromeni (17th c.) 2 km south of Nea Skioni
- Panagia (17th c.) 1 km west of Kalandra
- Taxiarhon (19th c.) 1 km south of Potidea
- Agios Dimitros (19th c.) in Athitos
- Agios Athanasios (18th c.) in Sikia
- Agios Pavlos (19th c.) 10 km south of Nikiti
Other old structures include towers, castles and remains of ancient towns. The best excavated town is Olinthos which in ancient times played a significant role. Today one can appreciate and see the well organized layout of the town in a rectangular pattern, the well-preserved mosaics and paving. The ancient town of Stagira is located in the north-east of Halkidiki and is famous as the birth place of the philosopher Aristotle (4th c BC). The castle of Lecythus dates from the Byzantine period and stands on a small peninsula at the southern end at the bay of Toroni. In Nea Potidea there are remains of the fortification which used to separate the peninsula of Kassandra from the rest of Halkidiki. The channel of Potidea was mentioned from the 1st c. AD. The shape of the channel as seen today was constructed in the 1930s.
There are a large number of towers scattered all over Halkidiki that were built to protect land that was owned by monasteries on Mount Athos. Such towers are:
Phosphorion (14th c.) is the biggest and best preserved tower standing on the sea front of Ouranoupolis, Krouna (height 15m) 2 km north of Ierissos, Agios Nikolaos (height 15m) dating from the 14th c., 4 km north of Olintos, Zografou (14th c.), Galatista (14th c.), Agios Pavlos (height 17m) dating from the 14th c. in Nea Fokea, Stavronikita (height 8m) dating from the 16th c. in Sani. The lighthouse of Possidi was built in the late 19th c. and stands on a wide sandy beach.
There are villages and small towns which have maintained their local character and even today one can admire the architecture of the houses and beauty of their location.
The cave of Petralona is famous for its stalagmite formations and findings which prove that human life existed 700.000 years ago.
Local fairs and religious celebrations are excellent opportunities for visitors to mingle with locals, join in Greek dances and taste the local cuisine. Every year on last Sunday of July brave Greek and other origin swimmers take part in the crossing of the Toroneos gulf.