About Halkidiki beaches
Halkidiki in northern Greece, close to the city of Thessaloniki, is made up of three ‘fingers’ jutting into the Aegean Sea. The western-most peninsular, Kassandra, is the busiest and the most visited, due to its proximity to Thessaloniki. Here, a good range of accommodation, from vast, modern 5-star hotel complexes to basic rooms to let, overlook fine, white sand beaches backed by pine trees. The largest resorts, Kalithea, Pefkohori and Hanioti (all on the east coast), attract those on all-inclusive package deals. The middle peninsular, Sithonia, is considered the most beautiful, with its unspoilt fishing villages and rugged, pine-forested interior. Less developed and less crowded than Kassandra, it caters for a rather more elite brand of tourism, and offers a large sailing marina at Porto Carras. The eastern-most peninsular, Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain, is a semi-independent monastic state and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its forested slopes are home to 20 monasteries and some 1,700 monks. Only men are permitted to visit Mount Athos, and they must apply for a permit in advance.
Halkidiki is gifted with aquamarine water and fine sand beaches, 46 of which have been awarded the Blue Flag for cleanliness. On touristy Kassandra, the most popular beaches are Hanioti, Sani, Kalithea and Pefkohori, all of which are equipped with sun beds and umbrellas for hire, plus good watersports facilities. On Sithonia, the largest and best equipped beaches are overlooked by upmarket hotel complexes and backed by unspoilt nature. In contrast, on Mount Athos bathing is prohibited due to the presence of the monasteries. However, the nearby resort of Ouranopoulos offers a couple of decent beaches plus regular taxi-boats which shuttle bathers to the islet of Amouliani.
Beyond the beach:
Halkidiki’s top cultural attraction is undoubtedly Mount Athos, with its beautiful Orthodox monasteries displaying religious frescoes and icons. However, proclaimed the exclusive domain of monks and hermits by the Byzantine Emperor, Basil I, in AD885, it is open to male visitors only. Anyone hoping to gain entry should apply for a permit at least six months in advance. Failing this, men and women alike can take a boat trip around the perimeter of Mount Athos, departing from Ouranoupolos. Halkidiki’s other attraction is Petralona Cave, with almost 2km (1.25 miles) of corridors decorated with impressive stalagmites and stalactites. It lies a short distance inland from Nea Moudania, just north of Kassandra peninsular.
Halkidiki’s sandy beaches are perfect for kids, but if these begin to pall, visit Waterland (www.waterland.gr), a vast water park in the southeast suburb of Thessaloniki, with a large wave pool, numerous slides and a crazy river, plus bars and a restaurant. Many of the big resort hotels offer babysitting services.
Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, offers a host of Roman, Byzantine and Turkish-era monuments, plus a truly Balkan vibe with open-air cafés and eateries working into the small hours. Check out the city’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Byzantine churches and the world-class Archaeological Museum.
Visit the luxurious Porto Carras Grand Resort, on the west coast of Sithonia (www.portocarras.com). The complex includes an 18-hole golf course, a sophisticated Thalassotherapy and Spa Centre, a sailing marina (315 berths) and a vast casino.