The northeastern flank of the Halkidiki peninsula, from Taxiarchis to Varvara, is a rare mosaic of natural beauty, history, cultural heritage and local flavors.
Far from the hustle and bustle of Kassandra and Sithonia, but just a 40-minute drive from the Ierissos Gulf for those who do not want to go without the sea, with very budget-friendly prices for accommodation and food, with the rich Mount Holomon ecosystem nearby ideal for forest explorations, this is the perfect choice for those in search of a cool summer refuge.
Oenophiles, get ready!
From Arnaia to Megali Panagia, at an altitude of almost 600 meters, there are three wineries that offer an interesting route. Start from the Claudia Papagianni Winery, on the foothills of Mount Holomon, for a taste of their faintly yellow Sauvignon Blanc (Arnaia, Tel. (+30) 23720.231.20). Continue in the direction of “Akrathos Newlands Winery”, just outside Megali Panagia, and enjoy a glass of Assyrtiko with views over the gulf of Mount Athos (Tel. (+30) 23727.715.06). Finish your tour at “Estate Taraza” for semi-sweet wine and observe the old tools/objects that adorn the inner and outer spaces (Megali Panagia, Tel. (+30) 6944.9645.64). All visits need to be arranged in advance.
On the trail of Alexis Zorbas
From the footsteps of Xerxes, the Persian king who guided the entire Persian fleet through the narrow straits of Mount Athos, to the archaeological site of Aristotle and the Mademohoria (mining villages), eastern Halkidiki offers dozens of hiking trails, 16 of which are charted and mapped. Follow the footpath of Alexis Zorbas, who worked in the area as a miner. From Paliohori, where his house is located, to the ruins of the Byzantine Neposi castle, you will walk through aromatic herbs such as thyme and oregano, and let your mind wander through his adventurous life. The total length of the trail is 8 kilometers.
In northeastern Halkidiki, well-hidden in a thick forest with linden, beech and yew trees, the two waterfalls of Varvara stage a unique setting of natural beauty. The water flows to Mavrolakas, the river that is the boundary between Olympiada and Varvara. Approach the waterfalls for a dip in the refreshing waters from Olympiada. A gentle dirt road begins after the relevant sign, leading to a wooden kiosk. Approximately 300 meters to the left you will find the first waterfall, and the second is a little bit closer, on the right.
Time for food
For well-cooked souvlakia made with fresh meat head to Aghios Prodromos and with a bit of luck you will find a table at “Miltiadis” (Tel. (+30) 23710.960.79). Indulge in “agioritiko” eggplant dip, fasoulodavas (bean casserole) and roast suckling pig at “Jimmy” in Taxiarchis (Tel. (+30) 23710.942.20). You will find delicious gourmiedes, such as forest potatoes with truffle from Mount Holomon and luscious zucchini with katiki cheese and spearmint, at Bakatsianos restaurant (Tel. (+30) 23720.227.50) in Arnaia. Finally, for home-cooked meals and delicious game head to “Mygdos” (Tel. (+30) 6949.4611.79), in Varavara forest.
From edge to edge, this part of Halkidiki prepares delicious home-cooked food using local products and takes advantage of the natural delicacies growing on Mount Holomon, such as aromatic herbs and all types of mushrooms.
Strolling around Arnaia
This gem of a small town, with its traditional, two-storey stone houses dating from the 19th century, is ideal of a day trip. Wander around its narrow streets, visit the imposing cathedral of Aghios Stefanos, built in 1812, admire the old school from 1871 in Horostasi square and learn about the town’s history and culture at the History and Folklore Museum (Tel. (+30) 23723.501.00). The exhibits, ranging from daily tools to weaving equipment, present an overview of the residents’ professions and daily routines.
You must try moudovina, tsipouro made from honey and honeycombs, registered as a product of Protected Geographical Indication.
Instead of the small park of Aghia Paraskevi in Arnaia, head to the hill of Profitis Ilias and set up your picnic there, next to the chapel of the same name and the ruins of walls dating back to the Classical and Byzantine periods.
Aristotle’s park is perfect for a walk with children (Tel. (+30) 23760.413.27), on the hills of Stagira. This outdoor museum features scientific instruments/toys, such as a compass and telescope.
At the family patisserie “Kosmas” (Tel. (+30) 23720.224.11) in Arnaia, in operation since 1960, you will find ice cream made from fresh fruits. The most distinctive flavor is loukoum-rose.
The majority of beaches in the eastern part of Halidiki are not organized. A good choice is Kakkoudia, within the Ierissos Gulf, with its fine sand, crystalline waters and some rocks on the edge that look like natural statues. For even more privacy and quiet, head to Kouri, a large sandy beach located approximately 4km from Stratoni.