Chalkida, the gateway to Evia is an ideal daytrip destination, just a stone’s throw away from Athens and loaded with a history stretching back over 3,000 years.
It felt like no time driving away from the capital and leaving behind its northernmost suburbs to reach Chalkida, whose suspended bridge, completed in 1993, connects the mainland and Evia, Greece’s second largest island.
For Athenians, Chalkida is generally regarded as an ideal getaway for a day trip during which a little tsipouro (potent spirit) and seafood can make for a relaxed and special day. The city offers numerous mezedopolia (eateries serving assorted meze dishes and drinks) renowned for their fresh shells and seafood, cozy cafes with sea views, as well as bars.
Chalkida, however, is not just an entertainment destination but a temptation to explore as well, blessed with a history, stretching back 3,000 years. Its influence in antiquity was wide reaching and its colonies spread all the way to Sicily and Italy. As other areas in Greece, it later fell to a succession of rulers – Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and Germans.
Walking around the fortress area is a cultural and religious experience. The buildings here have endured through the centuries, such as the old Aghia Paraskevi church and the 15th century Emir Zade mosque, featuring an impressive dome.
The Karababa fortress, built by the Ottomans in 1684 as protection against the Venetians, is an imposing site on the mainland side of Chalkida from where I took my best panoramic pictures.
If visiting Chalkida for the first time, the promenade along Avanton St and the esplanade by the sea, are appropriate starting points for tuning into the city’s vibe.
Avanton St is lined with shops selling brand name products, while the esplanade is ideal for a romantic stroll, a pit stop for coffee or to simply take in the view, of the harbor’s boats and cormorant seabirds.
Two Chalkida trademarks are located at either end of the esplanade, Kokkino Spiti (Red House), a mansion dating back to 1884 and the old bridge – one of two connecting Chalkida’s mainland and island sides.
The old bridge, located at the narrowest point of the Euripus strait and one of the world’s last remaining “sliding” bridges, opens every night a little after 23:00 to allow vessels to pass through the strait.
The effects of an unusual sea tide are are on full display here six to seven times a month, when the Euripus strait’s current changes direction, sometimes as many as 14 times during a single 24-hour period. This is why Chalkida is regarded as a city of “crazy waters”, while locals call themselves trelonerites, or people of crazy waters. It is said that, like the changing water currents, locals can be fickle. This can also be the case with visitors, who often arrive intending to stay just for the day and end up remaining for two or three days!
But if a day is in fact all you have, you can still get the best out of the city in just a few hours.
“Chalkida, the gateway to Evia is an ideal daytrip destination, just a stone’s throw away from Athens and loaded with a history stretching back over 3,000 years.”
9:00 | SMELLS LIKE PIES AND HOT BREAD
The scent of freshly-baked bread emitted from the Baltas bakery has permeated the surroundings in this part of the city since 1919. It remains the oldest bakery with a wood-fired oven in Chalkida and produces fourteen different types of bread daily– amounting to 300 kg– by the crack of dawn. A dilapidated grand old structure at the nearby corner once served as the municipal market which locals hope to see renovated and revived one day.
Just a ten-minute walk from here, look out for the Mecca of pies, Loukas, a 33-year old workshop on Avanton St. It is easily spotted because of the long queues overflowing onto the street. Some 20 different types of pies are made here. I enjoyed mine while strolling towards Antoniou Street, where I lit a candle at the Aghios Nikolaos church. During Ottoman times, the renowned Ursi mosque was located here.
[INFO | Baltas Bakery: Tel: (+30) 2221.022.228 • 49 El. Venizelou Ave. | Loukas: Tel: (+30) 22210.292.89 • 42 Avanton St. • 08:30-13:30]
10:00 | ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Locals describe the Archaeological Museum of Chalkida as a small place with plenty to offer. It is housed in a neoclassical building constructed early in the previous century. The archeological artifacts on show hail from all over Euboea and are dated between the Paleolithic Period to the 3rd century AD.
The museum’s delightful lemon tree garden is dominated by an oversized marble statue of a woman, as well as an arcade with Roman statues.. But of all the statues at the museum, the head of just one remains intact, that of Antinous, a Greek youth and favorite, or lover, of the Roman emperor Hadrian. The youth’s beauty will leave you dazzled. To recharge your energy levels head across the street to Passion for Life, a fresh juice bar serving 61 fruit and vegetable choices.
[INFO | Archeological Museum of Chalkida: Tel: (+30) 22210.251.31 • 13 El. Venizelou Ave. | Passion for life: Tel: (+30) 22210-261.91 • 14 El. Venizelou Ave.]
11:00 | STROLL AROUND THE HISTORIC FORTRESS DISTRICT
Housed in a part of the town’s medieval fortifications, the Folklore Museum of Chalkida features approximately 1,200 items that are displayed in three rooms.
The oldest exhibit of all is an old beehive dated back to 1920.
A four minute walk leads to Pesonton Opliton (fallen soldiers) square and the monumental former mosque of Emir Zade which now serves as an exhibition space. The base of the minaret still exists. Just 50 meters away, look out for a marble Arabic-type fountain, engraved with prayers. The area is also the location of Aghia Paraskevi church, a structure with a wooden roof, a superb marble altarpiece, and three sanctuaries..
Measuring over 38 meters in length and roughly 20 meters in width, it operated as a mosque during the Ottoman era and, later on, was used as a warehouse, stable, and carriage depot. It is also worth checking out the recently renovated Venetian building opposite the church, the House of Vailos (Spiti tou Vailou), which belonged to the Venetian lord of the city and is nowadays used as an exhibition space.
[INFO | Folklore Museum of Chalkida: Tel: (+30) 22210.218.174 • 4 Skalkota St. | Emir Zade Mosque: Tel: (+30) 22210.-756.55 • Pesonton Opliton Sq. & Papalouka St. | Church of Aghia Paraskevi: Tel: (+30) 22210.255.79 • Vaki & Tzavara St.]
“The best panoramic shots of the city may be taken from the bastions of the fortress of Karababa.”
13:00 | SNAPSHOTS OF CHALKIDA FROM UP HIGH
The best panoramic shots of the city may be taken from the bastions of the fortress of Karababa. The weather was fine when I arrived here on foot, ascending the park steps at Fourkas hill. It is a quick route, a ten-minute walk through nature. At the end of the uphill stretch, beyond the Profitis Ilias church dating back to 1895, the western bastion of the fortress operates as an exhibition space.
A marble plaque that depicts Alexander the Great and a rare collection of Venetian Lions of St. Mark, which once decorated the castle’s walling and the Euripus Bridge, are stand-out items among the collection on show here.
The tomb of prominent Greek poet Giannis Skarimbas, who resettled in Chalkida, where he had spent most of his life, is located by the castle’s entrance. On the way down, a break for coffee or refreshments is ideal at the panoramic Xenia bar-café, commonly known as the Touristiko. The Hara Hotel, whose rooftop offers a sensational view, is located along the way.
[INFO | Karababa Castle: Tue-Wed: 8:00-15:00, closed on Mondays. | Xenia bar café, or Touristiko: Tel: (+30) 22210.246.16. | Hara Hotel: Tel: (+30) 22210.763.09 • 21 Karoni St.]
15:30 | FRESH SHELLS AND SEAFOOD
It’s not hard to find a good place to eat in Chalkida. Tsipouradika (assorted dish and drink spots mainly serving tsipouro spirit) are located all over the place. It is situated slightly out of the way yet worth tracking down for its quality.
Stenaki has been in business over the past 19 years, operating on a cobbled lane off Avanton St, wedged between two apartment buildings. It is open daily until 19:00. The establishment is run by Yiannis, who is at the market before dawn shopping for supplies for the kitchen, headed by his wife Evgenia.
Another worthwhile spot is Karanti, whose name is presumably derived from the word “guarantee”. This eatery represents a revival of old and authentic tsipouradika. It is run by three local women cooks, who prepare the seafood mezedes (assorted dishes) and offer ouzo as well as tsipouro (over 40 labels) to the sound of rebetika music.
For fresh fish from the day’s catch head to Thalami, located at the small picturesque port of Kourenti, To get there, take the road leading to Kanapitsa. The mezedes here are well prepared, and the shells could not be fresher. The Piato restaurant is preferred by diners interested in creative modern cuisine. Its desserts are a top menu item, too. A post-meal stroll around the port is essential. The ambience is very island-like here.
[INFO | Stenaki: Tel: (+30) 22210.251.74 • 40 Avanton St. | Karanti: Tel: (+30) 6973.743.921 • Athanaton Square & Dikaiarchou St. | Thalami: Tel: (+30) 22210.744.42 • 78 Ethnikis Simfiliosis St. | Piato: Tel: (+30) 22210.866.91 • Ethnikis Simfiliosis St. & Drakopoulou]
18:00 | STROLL AT THE SEA FRONT PROMENADE
AND STOP FOR COFFEE
At the end of the esplanade is the Kokkino Spiti, or red house, a landmark mansion built on a rock in 1884. It served as the local headquarters for the Nazi Germans during the World War II occupation of Greece.
Equipped with 30 rooms, the building nowadays houses the Chalkida House of Knowledge. If here during an exhibition, make sure to enter the premises for a look at its exquisite interior.
A building located directly opposite, the House of Statues (Spiti me ta agalmata), built in 1891, is also an attraction. Its roof is decorated with four statues.
In the early evening hours, the beach area typically fills with prams and parents, as well as dogs and their owners, all out taking their afternoon walks.
I entered Carpe Diem, a café that differs from the rest in Chalkida because of its unique setting. More importantly, it also serves well prepared classic beverages and Greek coffee with mastiha, cheesecake, homemade lemonade with ginger, while it makes it own desserts. For a quiet coffee amid vintage surroundings and a wonderful view, opt for the Paliria hotel café.
[INFO | Kokkino Spiti: Karaoli Dimitriou & Giardini. | Carpe Diem: Tel: (+30) 22210.830.87 • 12 Voudouri Ave. | Paliria Hotel: Tel: (+30) 22210.280.01 • 2 El. Venizelou Ave.]
“If visiting Chalkida for the first time, the promenade along Avanton St and the esplanade by the sea, are appropriate starting points for tuning into the city’s vibe.”
19:00 | SIP WINE WHILE WATCHING THE SUNSET
Sunset in Chalkida, where the sky over the Euboean Gulf can turn strawberry red, is ideal for a glass of wine at Pantheon 1900, a wine bar with a well-stocked cellar. Pantheon, which has been in business for the last four years sporting an industrial chic look, has injected new life into the listed neoclassical building that houses it.
Located next to the Chalkida town hall, the building had been abandoned for many years. It was constructed in 1900, according to the engraving on its main metal pillar. During World War II, it was used as a base by the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police. In the decades that followed, up until 30 years ago, the building operated as a hotel, offering a limited number of rooms. Back to the present, the bar serves wines s from all of the region’s wineries, as well as labels from all over the world, including French wine priced at 400 euros a bottle.
The food menu is comprised of trattoria-type dishes. Make sure to leave a little space for dessert. The calzone with nutella and mascarpone cheese is recommended. If this hour is still too early for dinner, consider an ice cream at Gelato Tartufo, one of Chalkida’s oldest ice cream parlours. Then, with ice cream in hand, cross the old bridge and head left towards the old train station, dated back to 1905 and located by the sea. The trains from here connect Chalkida with Athens and Piraeus port on a daily basis.
[INFO | Pantheon 1900: Tel: (+30) 22210.231.23 • 22 Voudouri Ave.| Gelato Tartufo: Tel: (+30) 22210.741.59 • 11 Ageli Goviou St.]
21:30 | DRINKS WITH A VIEW OF THE OPENING BRIDGE
For cocktails, coffee, bourbon whiskey, chilling out and non-stop dancing, Monstar is the top choice; its location being the fundamental reason. The club-bar is situated below the Euripus Bridge. Sitting at a table by the window front offers a view of the small boats as they bob up and down with the changing tide. Seated outside feels like you’re on the deck of a boat deck. While sipping on a drink at night, look out for the old bridge as it opens to let little boats pass through the strait.
[INFO | Monstar: Tel: (+30) 22210.812.13, 4 Konstantinou Karamanli Ave., Old Bridge]
24:00 | SHOULD YOU END UP STAYING THE NIGHT
Chances are that the dilemma of whether to stay or go will begin pestering your mind if still in Chalkida after midnight. If so, stay on, go bar hopping, and then spend the night at the historic Paliria Hotel, dating back to 1904 and offering a fabulous sea view. Its rooms and suites have hosted celebrity figures such as Christina Onassis and famous Greek politicians.
Slightly further down the road, the emblematic Lucy Hotel, whose entrance features an embalmed lion, there since the 50s, is another option with a celebrated past. Celebrities such as the opera diva Maria Callas and Italian actress Monica Vitti, best known for her starring roles in films directed by Michelangelo Antonioni during the early 60s, have spent time at this hotel’s suites. Many Greek films were shot at this hotel during the 60s and 70s, a prolific period for the local film industry. For breakfast, try the local specialties, such as Mantoudi pudding with almond, trahana (traditional pasta) from Evia’s Psahna area, and pumpkin pie.
[INFO | Lucy: Tel: (+30) 22210.220.51 • 10 Voudouri Ave. | Paliria: Tel: (+30) 22210.280.01 • 2 El. Venizelou Ave.]
• Car n Motion : Tel: (+30) 2221038.00, at the sixth kilometer of the Chalkida-N.Artaki national highway.
• Marka cars : Tel: (+30).22210.889.27, 22210.266.40, at the fifth kilometer of the Chalkida-N.Artaki national highway, G. Papandreou Ave.
• Budget: Tel: (+30).22210.888.62, 17 Ageli Goviou.
Car n Motion: Tel: (+30) 22210.438.00, at the six kilometer of the Chalkida-N.Artaki national highway. Mountain bikes, 8 euros per 24 hours, delivered to points requested by customers.
Little train rides
Beginning from Aghios Nikolaos square, the little train’s route covers the old bridge, Karababa Castle, Emir Zade mosque, Archaeological Museum, and Kokkino Spiti. (The ride’s duration is 25-30 minutes and costs 4 euros per adult and 3 euros for children under the age of 12).