1. Swimming off the Middle ‘Finger’
Sithonia, the second peninsula of Halkidiki is renowned for its wonderful beaches, such as Kavourotripes where a pine-fringed stretch of fine sand meets stunning azure waters. Located 39km from the town of Nikiti – the administrative center of the municipality, it is one of the most popular beaches in the area and can get quite busy in the summer. However it is still well-worth a visit even during the high season.
Also gorgeous are the beaches in the area of Vourvoura (18km from Nikiti) such as Karidi and Livari with its adjoining wetland. Opposite Vourvoura are a number of uninhabited islands. Don’t miss visiting the largest, Diaporos by boat for incredible swims in pristine settings.
2. The “Parthenon” of Sithonia
Parthenonas is a village of the Sithonia peninsula located at an altitude of 350m on the slopes of Mount Itamos. It’s modern-day history reads like a Brothers Grimm tale, with a unpleasant twists leading to a happy ending. Towards the end of the 1960s the villagers began to move away in search of work – either to the larger Neo Marmara 6km away or further afield. Parthenonas was ultimately completely abandoned.
However only a few years later the village began to draw the interest of foreign visitors due to the charm of its old buildings and streets, eventually becoming listed as a protected village and entering a new era of prosperity. Today it is an impeccably turned-out settlement with stone buildings, well-maintained flagstone streets and a Local History and Folk Museum housed in the old municipal schoolhouse where you cans see old photographs depicting life in a bygone era. Parthenonas also hosts a film festival every summer during which classic films are screened in the village square.
This year the programme features the French film noir Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) by Louis Malle, Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Jaques Demy. The Folk Museum of Nikiti is open upon request, call (+30) 6948-076521 to arrange a visit. The 3rd Parthenon Film Festival will take place from July 14 – 16. Entry is free of charge.
3. The Village of One-Time Weavers
Arnea, located in northern Halkidiki in the foothills of Mount Holomondas, is a lively and bustling village with 2,300 permanent residents – and no trace of the melancholy that pervades many of the more sparsely populated Greek mountain villages. With flagstone-paved streets, homes with the bay windows characteristic of Macedonian architecture, wooden balconies and colorful walls, a visit to the village has the feel of a step back in time to an earlier era in Halkidiki’s history.
Of course if you stay a little longer you will come to realize that while the traditional architecture has been preserved, in the local economy, life has moved on. That is made clear through a visit to the Weaving Museum of Arnea which provides an in-depth look into traditional weaving – a onetime key source of income for many homes which has vanished today due to industrialization. Visit the museum to learn about the secrets of Arnean textiles and the village’s tradition in producing handmade carpets and blankets from wool, cotton and silk.
The Arnea Weaving Museum is open daily (except Thursdays) 10am-2pm. Entry is 2 euros. For more information contact the Municipal Community of Arnaia, Tel. (+30) 23723.50130.
4. Mountain biking and hiking on Mount Holomondas
Thick forests of chestnut trees, oaks and pines cover the slopes of Mount Holomondas in central Halkidiki, the peak of which rises to an altitude of 1,165m. Elsewhere fir trees are cultivated to be sold as Christmas trees during the holiday season. The mountain lends itself for marvellous hikes and bike rides in a lush natural setting.
If you prefer a guided tour to going it alone, check out Break Free MTB, a local company that arranges hiking, Nordic walking and cycling excursions. Your mind will be fully at ease as you plunge into the pristine forests – according to tour guides Vasilis Paradas and Fotis Vezyrgiannidis the company employs a ‘triple assistant’ method.
Each group is led by one guide while a second brings up the rear to ensure no one is left behind. At the same time a car outfitted with first-aid and bike repair kits follows along to make sure that any potential problems can be easily dealt with. For more information about Break Free MTB’s guided tours call (+30) 698.448.2610 or visit www.rsv.breakfreemtb.com
5. The Handmade Soaps of Polygyros
Located 68km from Thessaloniki, Polygyros is Halkidiki’s capital. “Here there is a tradition of families making their own soap as it is a major olive oil producing region,” Antonis Vasilakis tells us. Together with his father, Antonis has established a soap-making workshop to continue this craft once carried out by homemakers in their front yards and gardens.
Vasilakis Soaps come in attractive packaging and feature wonderful natural scents (lavender, bay, pine and eucalyptus). So if you are a fan of natural cosmetics head to www.soapvasilakis.gr. Vasilakis Soaps can also be purchased at various shops around Halkidiki. For more information call (+30) 699.840.1185
6. The 700-year-old village
Nikiti is located on the northwestern shore of Halkidiki’s middle peninsula, Sithonia. Aside from a walk along the seafront it is also worth visiting Palia, Nikiti, a village that is over 700 years old. Established in the 14th century, it has maintained its traditional air, with stone-built houses topped with ceramic tiled roofs. For an even more in-depth look at this past, visit the Historical and Folklore Museum which was created two years ago and features a wide range of exhibits chronicling the history of the area.
The Historical and Folklore Museum of Nikiti, Tel. (+30) 23750-23615. Entry is free. The museum is open from early June until late September.
7. The architectural treasures of Ouranopoli
Built in a strategic location next to the monastic center of Mount Athos, Ouranopoli is a small town with a big history. In 1922, following the end of the Greco-Turkish War many refugees from Asia Minor settled in the area, with some finding refuge in the Tower Prosforio, the largest and most well preserved such fortified building in Halkidiki. Today in the summer, visitors swim underneath the beautiful and historic building that still stands as a symbol of the grandeur of Byzantine architecture.
8. Mount Athos by Sea
The easiest way to see some of the monasteries of Mount Athos, at least from afar, is by sea. From the port of Ouranopoli a number of boats set off daily for seaside tours from which you can see 8 of the monasteries in this key religious center. During the 3-hour boat ride you will be told all about life in the community: its history, when each monastery was built, the various roles of the monks, etc., all while taking in the unparalleled beauty of the area and the imposing buildings.
Athos Sea Cruises conducts daily cruises along the coast of Mount Athos. Tickets: 20 euros. Tel. (+30) 23370.71606,
9. Music and gastronomy in Sani
The Sani hotel complex on the Kassandra peninsula organizes two very interesting summer events: the musical Sani Festival which is turning 25 this year and the Sani Gourmet event which is in its twelfth year. The Sani Festival is held on Sani Hill and lasts for almost a month and a half (July 8 – August 19). The line-up will feature international as well as Greek performers including the Norwegian Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (08/07), American singer China Moses (29/07), Greek singer Natassa Bofiliou (13/08) and the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra which will be performing a tribute to Maria Callas (19/08).
Sani Gourmet will be held from 23 – 27 of June and invites Greek and international chefs to the resort’s restaurants (Water, Domata, Katsu, Byblos, Caviar, Asian) to offer their latest creations to attendees. Among the distinguished chefs to take part are Adam Byatt who specializes in contemporary British cooking, Catalan cuisine expert Joël Castanyé Daniel and advocate of the ‘garden to table’ philosophy, Panagiotis Giakalis.