Halkidiki: Greece’s best-kept secret
Ancient ruins, unspoilt forests and secret sandy coves – it’s Greece, but not as you know it. The three-fingered peninsula of Halkidiki is tucked away in the north of the country, far from the established southern tourist resorts. Aristotle was born here, and the beauty of this time-forgotten region might just bring out your own philosophical streak.
Kassandra, Sithonia and Mount Athos make up the three peninsulas. Kassandra is a popular holiday destination with golden-sand beaches and the luxurious Sani Resort. Sithonia is wild and rugged with a laid-back charm. Mount Athos is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to 20 monasteries. With an easy flight from Glasgow airport, you can now wander the cobblestone streets of traditional villages, relax in natural hot springs or sunbathe on some of the world’s cleanest beaches in Halkidiki.
The combination of a spectacular location and plenty of interactive displays has made this high-brow park a true hit. The experimental instruments dotted around the park are governed by laws of physics mentioned in Aristotle’s textbooks.
Address: Stagira-Akanthos 630 74
Opening times: Daily 0800-2100
Greece has some spectacular caves and the Petralona cave is particularly well-known – it was here that archaeologists discovered a skull belonging to the oldest identified European hominid, assessed to be about 800,000 years old. Visitors can see ancient cave paintings and marvel at the underground display of stalactites and stalagmites.
Address: Petralona 630 80
Opening times: Tue-Sun 0900-1900 (Jun-Oct); Tue-Sun 0900-1500 (Nov-May)
Separated from the mainland by the ancient Potidea Canal, Kassandra is renowned for its butterscotch sands and perfectly clear turquoise waters. Time your visit to coincide with the Kassandra Festival. Held in July and August, this festival has welcomed prominent artists such as Ray Charles and BB King. Kassandra also has a vibrant nightlife that will delight club goers.
Quirky things to see and do
Visit Mount Athos
Only 100 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox visitors are permitted – and no women are allowed – to visit this peninsular every day. If you can get your hand on a permit, it’s a fascinating experience. An easier alternative is to view the UNESCO site’s beautiful Byzantine churches from the sea on a boat cruise.
Address: Karyes Agion Oros 630 86
Opening times: At the discretion of the Holy Executive of the Holy Mount Athos Pilgrims’ Bureau. Reservations must be made six months in advance by phone +30 2310 252 578.
Take a tower tour
There are dozens of beautifully preserved Byzantine fortresses scattered around Halkidiki, and visiting them all is a great way to immerse yourself in the area’s history. Towers that should top your list include Nea Fokea, which dates back to 1407, the museum of Pyrgos Prosforeiou and the 15th-century tower of Krouna.
Food and drink
Sample Mediterranean cuisine at its best in this famously foodie-focussed region, which produces everything from olive oil and flavoursome goat’s cheese to honey, organic fruit and succulent seafood.
- The Water Restaurant, Asterias, Sani
- Tzitzikas, Porto Koufo
- Garry’s The King of Gyros, Hanioti