Leaving from the beautiful city of Thessaloniki, the drive down the trident that extends into the turquoise/blue waters of the northwest Aegean, is a destination to be considered. Not as well known as the many Greek islands of the Aegean, this area is definitely one to be explored and appreciated for its beauty and diversity as well as its history. An easy drive from the city will take you to the Petralona Caves, not only amazing in it’s spectacular formations and colors of the stalactites and stalagmites, but because it has huge impact on our present theories of our early ancestors. The human skull found there may be as old as 700,000 years and might be an important link in the evolution of Homo sapiens.
Continuing down this part of the trident of Kassandra, it’s worthwhile to schedule a visit to Nea Fokea where there are two outstanding examples of history. One is the famous Byzantine Tower, still standing intact along the shore. The other is the Cave of St. Paul. Here, you can enter the cave which is purported to be the one in which Paul lived while he was preaching to the Greeks. The entry chamber holds important icons and further down the passageway is the interior chamber where Paul is said to have lived two thousand years ago.
Still continuing down this leg of the peninsula, there are many small villages and towns, but the one that we stopped in was the ancient town of Athitos (Afitos), small and charming and easy to explore. It’s just a short walk from the Blue Bay Hotel overlooking the intensely blue water, where we stayed. If you wake up early enough from a good night’s sleep on the super comfortable beds, you can see a stunning sunrise, to be followed by a delightful breakfast of an assortment of Greek offerings, tempting and delicious.
While in Athitos, we visited Eat 7 which has offerings of locally made foods, but the Afytaion Gaia Winery wine is the feature. Downstairs is what what was thought to be an original winery, showing the remnants of the stone-built apparatus dating back to ancient times. Now, the wine produced by the winery is done with sophisticated equipment and the wine production is of excellent quality. It’s easy to see why this village is a much loved destination of artists. Although there are plenty of interesting looking cafes and small restaurants, we drove just a short way to have lunch at the White Suites Resort where we were treated to an array of fabulous, fresh seafood and fresh vegetables, salad and marvelous dessert accompanied, of course, by fine wine. The location was on the beach where lounges and umbrellas ringed the shoreline, inviting a dip into the warm water and relaxation on the beach. That evening we dined at another fine Restaurant at Rigas Hotel. They featured some excellent seafood and the wine offered was from the Afytaion Gaia Winery.
The following day can take you to another leg, the peaceful Sithonia, We included a stop at the famed Mt. Athos leg of the peninsula, inhabited entirely by the many monestaries. Although women can’t visit the monestaries, men can if they acquire a special permit. But everyone can take one of the cruises on the large ferries that provide great photo shoots.
Quite different is a visit to the iconic Porto Carras Grand Resort Hotel on this Sithonia leg of the peninsula. Here you will have the chance to experience the luxury and elegance enjoyed by famous 20th century personalities such as Salvador Dali and Melina Mercouri who stayed at the hotel’s famous Villa Gallini, perched high up on a hill. The view is spectacular, reaching out past miles of vineyards, with the grand hotel nestled in a cove in the distance. Back at the hotel, you can have a chance to taste the award-winning wine of the Domain Porto Carras winery. Not only is the location of the Porto Carras Grand Resort Hotel so spectacular, but you can feel it’s special elegance as soon as you enter the spacious lobby, beautifully appointed with art and sculpture.
From this stop, a drive to eastern Sithonia, first settled in the 8th century B.C., toward Vourvourou village, can include a stop at Ekies All Senses Resort for a light lunch and spa treatment that feels very natural and relaxed. Then, you’ll probably be ready for a night’s stay at the Blue Dolphin Hotel. Here, you might find yourself treated to one of their luxury suites with wrap-around deck, one section overlooking the pool and the other with a view of the sea.
The following day can be a study in contrasts. We drove to the Eagles Palace Hotel, another example of elegance and hospitality with the feeling of opulence. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and having lunch outdoors on a deck close to the water is the perfect setting for the fine food, as always, featuring an array of fresh seafood and salads, along with enticing side dishes and fine wines.
From there, it’s a picturesque drive to the village of Olympiada where we stayed at the small, very personal, family owned Hotel Liotopi, run by the owner with the affectionate name of LouLou. When we checked in, a cooking class was being held in the living room. A roomful of people looked on while calamari was sizzling on the cook stove. In our room, we were welcomed by plates of homemade sweets as well as refreshing fruit. With just a few rooms and the personal attention of LouLou, the cozy feeling was that of staying at someone’s home.
By the time we left to explore the small village, the living room was empty of people and we had a chance to spend a little time with our hostess, before leaving for dinner at her brother’s restaurant. This was located practically in the water of a small cove. The food was excellent as was the company of this most interesting man, no doubt a philosopher in real life. Relatively close by, in the ancient city of Stagira, is the birthplace of another philosopher, Aristotle, an important reminder of the connection this area holds to the time of his student, the famed Alexander the Great of Macedonia.
Finally, the drive back to the airport in Thessaloniki was a beautiful one, through pine forests and low mountains….a nice way to end this brief glimpse of what the Halkidiki Peninsula has to offer, a special part of Greece to be discovered.
If You Go
Blue Bay Hotel
Afytaion Gaia Winery
White Suites Resort
Porto Carras Grand Resort Hotel
Ekies All Senses Resort
Blue Dolphin Hotel
Eagles Palace Hotel
Ancient city of Stagira