Travel to Halkidiki, Greece

 

Many people who visit Greece go to the islands for tourism.  Islands are beautiful, sunny, with endless sea. But some times they got a bit of wind as they are located in the middle of the sea.  Halkidiki on the other hand is sunny, with lots of trees, endless clean sea and seldom winds!

   
 

On the map, Halkidiki looks like a hand with three fingures but the Greeks call them "legs"...The closest airport is in Thessaloniki. From Thessaloniki you can reach N.Moudania (entrance to the first leg "Kassandra") in 45minutes by car or bus. 

   

 

  Halkidiki is a clean and fertile region with over 500 km of beautiful coastline, along the three peninsulas of Athos, Sithonia and Kassandra. With over 300 days of sunshine throughout the year and 41 E.U. blue flag awards for the clean waters of its beaches - more than any other Greek region - it's obviously an excellent choice for a relaxing holiday. You will be astounded by the unique monasteries of Mount Athos (the Holly Mountain) and the vast extends of Halkidiki's forests. You can also enrich your stay here by visiting the beauties of the inland Macedonia. For those of you who prefer the nightlife, here you 'll find some fine clubs, casinos and other distractions   halkidikimap.gif (34033 bytes)  
  kassandramap2.gif (1969 bytes) This westernmost prong, Kassandra, being the closest to Thessaloniki, is the most popular and populated of the three peninsula. Its plains are golden with cultivated fields; its rolling hills blessed with lush vegetation and sneer pine forests. Its inland villagers are farmers, who pursue their livelihood in the age-old manner and who welcome the stranger as a friend. Kassandra's population took part in the Greek independence uprising of 1821, but was defeated and massacred. In 1923 Halkidiki turned a new page in its history. Thousands of refugees from Minor Asia, East Thrace, and Bulgaria settled in all three peninsulas and contributed to the cultural and financial prosperity of the region. They built new villages named after the ones they left behind.  
  The word "neos/nea" prevailed in those villages names which in greek means "new". Its white beaches and rocky, pine-studded promontories were the first to attract visitors, both Greeks and foreigners. Here you will find all the amenities-hotels, traditional Greek taverns, discotheques, bars and other entertainment, as well as a wide variety of recreation facilities, particularly for water sports. But if peace and quite is desired, there is no shortage of pleasant, uncrowded hideaways, either.    
  kassandramap.gif (17808 bytes)   Taking the road from Thessaloniki to Kassandra and after entering the prefecture of Halkidiki, the first important resort you come to, is Nea Moudania (70km from Thessaloniki). Hydrofoils sail from here to the islands Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos, but only in summer, twice a week. The second resort, Nea Potidea (76km), is famous for its canal that once separated Kassandra from mainland Halkidiki. Nowdays a bridge takes you to the lively part of the resort with its youthful beach bars and watersports club. It has a laid-back feel, which attracts Greek families and a fairly young crowed. Following the road to the center of Kassandra you reach into a small but very attractive fishing village of Nea Fokea that offers the holiday traveler a warm welcome without being over-touristy! Nea Fokea is also known for its Byzantine towers and the miniature underground church of St. Paul.  

 

 

A turning to the right takes you to the other side (west) of the peninsula, at Sani an extensive beach and a vacation resort with its medieval tower of Stavronikita. Continuing south, the next east coast resort is Afitos (91km) with its traditional houses and a sandy beach. Next is Kalithea (94km), a large and busy holiday spot. Here you can rent bikes and mopeds on the main street, or windsurfs on the beach. Further south still is Kriopigi (99km), an old settlement with camping and beach, and then Haniotis (109km), a modern and sophisticated resort with a good long beach and numerous hotels and tavernas. Finally, at close to the southern tip of the peninsula, there is the village of Paliouri (122km).

   
    From here the road turns to the west coast of Kassandra, facing the Aegean sea. The first settlement on the road is Loutra and next is Nea Skioni (125km) a fishing harbor and beach. As the road follows the coast there are a lot of beautiful deserted beaches before arriving at Kalandra (111km) and cape Possidi with its marvelous pine-fringed coast. Next to the north, there is the village of Fourka with its lively atmosphere and night-life attractions and further, turning inland, the lively village of Kassandria (98km) the capital city of Kassandra with tavernas, banks and taxi service. From here the road turns back to Kalithea.  
  If Kassandra is the playground of Halkidiki, Sithonia is its park. The rugged, exciting landscape of this middle prong appeals to nature lovers and holidaymakers seeking refuge from the trappings of civilization. The coastline is attractively varied - a succession of fishermen's hamlets, picturesque little harbors, deserted beaches of all sizes surrounded by trees and bushes. Sithonia is a symphony in blue and green. Pine forests cover many of the slopes, particularly in the south, giving way to olive groves on the coast. Small sandy inlets with relatively discreet pockets of campsites and tavernas make a welcome change. But you don't have to "rough it" in Sithonia.   sithoniamap2.gif (1858 bytes)  

 

  sithoniamap.gif (17182 bytes)   There are hotels of all standards to choose from, including one of the most impressive delux complexes in Halkidiki with an 18-hole golf course among its many facilities. Tennis courts and water sports are widely available, and horseback riding through the pineforests is unequaled anywhere in Greece. Moving on to Sithonia, it's best to follow the loop road clockwise around the east coast, so that Athos is always before you. There you must take your time and enjoy the idyllic blue-flag beaches of Sarti and Vourvourou. Gerakini (84km from Thessaloniki) is at the base of the Sithonia Peninsula.  

 

  At only 14km from Poligyros, the capital of Halkidiki, is a developed area with hotels, camping and port. Metamorfosi (98km) while relentlessly modern, has an easy-going air, a beach and a fair number of tavernas clustered in and around the village square. Nikiti (105km) is the next village on the road and offers to the visitors beautiful sandy beaches and traditional stone-built houses. Following the road towards east Ormos Panayias is the first of the east coast resorts, a picturesque hamlet and tiny harbor.    
    At 4km to the north is Ayios Nicolaos (117km), which is marginally more attractive and to the south the beach of Vourvourou (120km). For nightlife and other amusements associated with resorts, the cosmopolitan Neos Marmaras (126km) on the west coast, manages to combine traditional beauty and hospitality with contemporary pleasures.  
  The last prong, Athos, is probably the most serene of all. High mountains covered with virgin forests, wild rocks by the sea, sand beaches, crystal clear sea waters, a physical beauty almost overwhelming. Athos also called Mount Athos and Agion Oros (Holly Mountain), is in the most part a self-administered theocratic state. It can be easily said that civilization has not intruded into this part of Halkidiki, which is inhabited solely by the sea to a height of 2,033 meters. In 1060 A.D. an edict for "chryssobulo", issued by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Monomahos proclaimed it the exclusive domain of monks and hermits and forbade females from ever crossing its border. In 963, the first organized monastery was founded. A century later it was decreed that no smooth faced person be permitted to violate its sanctity. This prohibition is still enforced, and no female may set foot on Agion Oros. Men wishing to visit the Holy Mountain are admitted by special permit only. The rest must be content to end their journey at Ouranoupolis, Heaven's City, where they can be consoled with a cruise around the extraordinary peninsula. Known for its aquamarine waters and delightful beaches, Ouranoupolis may be as close to paradise as we will ever get.   athosmap2.gif (1846 bytes)  

 

 

Agion Oros: the monastic republic

Agion Oros, the Holly Mountain is a unique theocratic republic recognized by a Greek legislative degree of 1926. It is also a UNESCO monument of international cultural heritage and real Museum of Byzantine and post-Byzantine Art and Architecture. It has its own capital, Karies and is governed by a council of twenty monks elected every year by each of the monasteries called Ayia Epistasia, the Holly Superintedency. The population of this particular state has been exclusively male since 1060 when a Byzantine edict issued by the Emperor Kostantinos Monomahos, the Avaton, banned females permanently from Athos. Most of the now twenty monasteries were founded between the tenth and eleventh centuries. Today about 1.700 monks from around the world populate them and is still considered as the spiritual center of the Orthodox Christianity. In the recent years a noticeable change in the number of visitors is occurring. Formerly it was curiosity and tourist interest the main reason that brought people to Athos, but recently more visitors go there for spiritual reasons

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    . It is possible to visit and stay at Athos but a special three-day permit is needed. This can be obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of Churches (2 Zalokosta St. in Athens), or from the Holy Executive Bureau of Mount Athos . To remain overnight one must be over the age of 18 and must supply proof of religious or scholarly interest.  
  The visitor will be astounded by the Byzantine architecture of the buildings, by the frescoes, richness of the libraries, the mosaics and other art treasures. You can get to Agion Oros by boat from Ierissos. There are daily departures for the monasteries on the northeast and southeast coast of Athos. From Ouranoupolis there are daily sailing for the monasteries of the west side. The boat arrives to Dafni (between Monastery Xiropotamou and Monastery Simona Petras on the map) and then you get by bus to Karies.      
 

Visiting Agion Oros

After obtaining the special permit, you will have the possibility to stay and eat in the main monasteries and in certain skites, free of charge. If you offer money it will be refused, though pilgrims are encouraged to buy candles, icon reproductions and the like at those skites which specialize in their production. Accommodation is usually in dormitories, and fairly spartan, but you're always given sheets and blankets. Athos grows much of its own food, and the monastic diet is based on tomatoes, beans, cheese and pasta, with occasional treats like halva and fruit included.

   
  However you move around, you must reach your destination before dark, since all monasteries and many skites lock their front gates at sunset-leaving you out. Upon arrival on a monastery you should ask for the guestmaster (archontaris) who will welcome you and will guide you to your dormitory(archontariki). During your stay you'll have to observe some rules of behavior and respect towards the monastic customs and their daily schedules. Some Monasteries are called "Skites".  These are smaller monastic residences and it is more difficult to find accomodation there.  

 

 

From the Ancient Times

  halk2.jpg (65880 bytes) The findings in the cave of Petralona prove that man has been present in this area for over 700.000 years. The skull of a primitive man that was found here, is estimated to be more than 200.000 years old. The peninsula of Halkidiki is often mentioned in ancient Greek mythology: Egkelados, the giant that causes the earthquakes, would be buried in Cassandra. The mountain of Athos would be a rock that the giant with the same name has thrown against the Gods. The name of the peninsula of Sithonia would derive from Sithon, a son of Poseidon. There have been organized settlements in Halkidiki ever since 4.000 BC, its oldest in habitants were Thracians and Pelasgians, in the 8th century BC a large number of colonists arrived in the area, mainly from Chalkis (honcho the name Chalkidike) and from Eretria.  
  In the 5th century BC its major cities were: Poteidaia, Sane, Siggos, Akanthos, Anthemous, and Stageira, the place were Aristotle was born. At the and of the 5th century, 32 cities of Chalkidike were founded, under the leadership of Olynthus, the ''Chalkidean League''. In 348 BC King Phillip incorporated this area in the Macedonian Kingdom. During Hellenistic times three major cities were founded: Kassandreia (in 315), Ouranoupollis (in 315) and Antigoneia (in the center of Kalamaria, in 280 BC). In 348 BC, Halkidiki fell into Roman hands and declined. During the Christian Era, it was often looted: by the Goths (in 269), the Huns (6th cent.) and the Catalans (1307).   halk5.jpg (108616 bytes)  
    After the 9th century the largest part of the peninsula became the possession of the monasteries of Athos. From the settlements of the monastic dependencies, many new villages emerged, which subsequently developed next to the existing ones. After the 12th century, the area was divided in ''Kapetanikia'' following the administration reorganization that was then undertaken: Kalamaria, Ermeleia, Ierissos, Kassandreia and Longos.  
    In 1430 it was conquered by the Turks. With the exception of Kalamaria, where the Muslim population settled, the other regions and mainly the Mademochoria organized to fight back.  
 
In May of 1821 the population revolted, but the uprising was unsuccessful, and as a consequence many villages were completely obliterated. In 1854 a new insurrection took place under the leadership of Tisanes Karatasios.
     
  The freedom so desired was finally achieved in1912. The prefecture of Halkidiki has an overall area of 2.945 sq.kms and a population of 92.117 inhabitants. Its capital is Polygyros. The peninsula of Halkidiki has a rare beauty. All shades of green of the vegetation set off the colors of the deep blue see.    
    Its peculiar geographic shape with its protrusions far into the Aegean Sea, makes Halkidiki the peninsula with the longest coastline (more than 550 km). Vast sandy beaches alternate with hidden little bays sheltered by tall pine trees, creating a landscape of great beauty. Thanks to this exceptional natural beauty, its traditional architecture and the hospitallity of its population, Halkidiki has developed tremendously during the last decades. Each year, its beaches are explored by visitors, who come to enjoy the clear cool water of the sea and the shady spots in the woods.  

 

  The sea and the many clean beaches receive every year more blue flags from the European Community than any other prefecture. Moreover Halkidiki has a well developed hotel infrastructure, with accommodation ranging from small, clean traditional lodgings to large luxury hotel complexes. Halkidiki has a micro-climate with the same number of sunny days a year as Attic, and it offers the visitor many opportunities to enjoy a favorite sport: golf, sailing, scuba diving, yachting, fishing, mountain climbing and trekking. Recently several trekking routes have been marked. A major cultural event during the summer period is the Festival of Cassandra-Halkidiki, which involves many artistic shows. Apart from the capital Polygyros, other important towns and villages are: Arnea, Ierissos, Agia Paraskevi, Afytos, Agios Nikolaos, Nikiti, Galatista, Gerakini, Kallithea, Kallandra, Nea Moudania, Nea Kallikratia, Nea Roda, Nea Fokaia, Ouranoupoli, Petralona, Stagira, Neos Marmaras, Vourvourou, Stratoni, Nea Potidea.    
    There is an infrastructure for tourism with hotels and rooms to rent, offering comfortable places to spend the night. You can also have guided visits at the historic and archaeological sites. Especially noteworthy is the cave and the museum at Petralona, the archaeological site of Olynthus, the early Christian basilicas in Nikiti and the museum in Polygyros.There is a frequent bus service connecting Halkidiki to Thessaloniki. . If you have your own boat, you will find a very well equipped marina at Porto Carras, Sithonia and also at Sani, Cassandra. From Halkidiki you can travel to the nearby city of Thessaloniki.  You might also want to visit the island of Amouliani, connected on a dally basis by a small ferry-boat from Trypiti. During the summer months there is a hydrofoil connection at Nea Moudania, Pevkohori and Neos Marmaras with the islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos.