With Love from Sithonia...
Greece and I, we go way back, way way back. In fact, we go so far back that I don’t even remember ever not remembering Greece. Greece and I, we are childhood sweethearts. Ever since my parents first took the 6 months old mini-me to Greece in 1984, I have been madly in love with the country, its people and its culture. And if Greece were a person, we'd probably be married by now. It most likely wouldn't be a picture-perfect marriage where we agree on everything all the time. We'd probably yell at each other and drive each other crazy with our little quirks. As any relationship, my relationship with Greece wasn’t void of difficulties. We had our fair share of problems, for sure. We went on trial separation a few times only to realize that we simply can't be without each other.
No matter where I was in the world, Greece was never far from me. Much of this was thanks to my parents who took Greece home with them. I would even go as far as to say that my family was just about as Greek as a non-Greek family possibly can be. I grew up eating my mom's homemade Greek food, listening to Greek music in my dad's car and studying the Greek language at an early age.
Greece, for me, that’s the kind of love that’s rooted deep down in your soul. And just like it is always the case with a love like this, no matter what amount of time passes during which you don’t see each other, you always pick up where you left off, as if no time has passed at all. Perhaps that is why returning to Greece always feels like coming home for me. Or perhaps it is because of the amazing people I had the pleasure of coming to know. Through the years, many friendships have formed. Some got lost again through the years, yet some withstood all tests of time and are still as present in my life today as they were in 1984. It’s these people who to this day are very dear to me and who will always be in my heart, one way or another.
During the many summers that I have spent here, I have been to all parts of the country. From the luscious Ionian Islands to the rugged Peloponnese, from the picture-perfect Cyclades to cosmopolitan Rhodes, from her grand majesty Crete to sophisticated Thessaloniki, from relaxed Thasos to bustling Athens. I have driven across the country from the port of Igoumenitsa to Kavala and from Patras to Thessaloniki. And while each of these places is unique of its own, there’s one region missing from that list. The Halkidiki peninsula in northern Greece is a place that is very special to me for various reasons and thus deserves a mention of her own.
Halkidiki, that’s the three fingers Kassandra, Sithonia and Mount Athos. Busy Kassandra with its large resorts and luxurious hotels, is where party animals will find what they are looking for. In the various seaside villages stretched along the eastern coast of the peninsula those seeking nightlife won’t be disappointed. Mount Athos, the easternmost finger of Halkidiki, is a Holy state belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. It is home to about 2000 Eastern Orthodox monks who live an ascetic life in several monasteries. As the peninsula is strictly off-limits for women, I don’t really have much else to say about it, though. Sithonia, the middle finger of the peninsula, is somewhere in between, not just geographically speaking. Sithonia is perhaps not the most glamorous, the most hip or most sophisticated region. It’s so much more than that. Sithonia is unpretentious and quaint, it is familiar unlike any other place I have ever been to. Sithonia doesn't try to con you with the promise of a trendy vacation where you hope to mingle with celebrities and wannabes. Sithonia simply welcomes you with open arms and a hospitality that I have yet to find elsewhere. Sithonia is the place that makes you feel at home away from home.
So, I now invite you to join me on a little photo tour around Sithonia. Starting in the North, the first village worth mentioning is Psakoudia. Although Psakoudia is technically still on the Chalkidiki mainland right between Kassandra and Sithonia it deserves a mention here. Psakoudia has been my base for all tours around Chalkidiki for decades. Psakoudia is a small seaside resort with a few taverns, small hotels and apartments and a 5* luxury resort hotel that stands out a bit like a sore thumb in the otherwise low-key village. A short drive from Psakoudia, a little further inland, you will find the little town of Ormylia. The old historic windmill towering over the town is every photographer’s dream come true and definitely worth the climb.
Neos Marmaras is perhaps the most cosmopolitan town of the peninsula, which is mainly due to the large hotel and casino complex on the outskirts of the town. Neos Marmaras itself has a charming harbour where fishermen’s boats and sail boats are neatly lined up in the water. The many shops, restaurants, cafes and bars will cater to anyone looking for a bit of excitement without the noise of a full-scale party town.
Next stop on our little tour around Sithonia is Toroni. Stretching over 2.5 kilometres long, the beach of Toroni is one of the longest in Sithonia. Definitely worth a visit are the ruins of Torone which tower on a hill south of Toroni. Unfortunately, recently the site has been chained off and trespassing was prohibited.
Only a short drive from Toroni is Porto Koufo. Porto Koufo is the largest natural harbour in Greece. While there is not much going on in Porto Koufo as far as restaurants and hotels are concerned, the view of the fjord is definitely worth a stop.
Kalamitsi is located along the south-eastern coast of the peninsula. It’s a bit tricky not to miss the sign pointing down to the narrow road leading down to the beach, especially when it’s your first time visiting. While Kalamitis has seen some development in recent years it has still retained its modest charm with a few charming taverns lining up right on the beach. On the road to Kalamitsi you will also have an amazing view over the southernmost part of Sithonia (as you can see in the photo below). So make sure you make a stop at one of the several parking lots along the way to take in the scenery.
Sykia is perhaps one of Sithonia's most quiet beaches. Much of this is because the village itself is located further inland. Sykia is very popular with campers.
Not far from Sykia you will find Sarti. Sarti is one of the most developed towns in Sithonia with plenty of restaurants, taverns and entertainment lined up along the boardwalk. The long, broad beach is, at least in my humble opinion, the most beautiful beach of Sithonia. With a wonderful panoramic view of Mount Athos Sarti is definitely worth a visit. Due to a strong current, waters are a bit tricky for untrained swimmers sometimes, though.
Vourvourou is the last stop on our tour around Sithonia. Vourvourou itself really is nothing more than a several kilometres long main road with hotels, apartments and restaurants lining up left and right. What makes this place popular with tourists, however, is the famous Karidi beach. Karidi beach is much like a huge natural swimming pool with shallow waters and pine trees right down to the water.
Being the foodie that I am I can’t write a travel post without a recommendation for dining out, of course. While you will find plenty of lovely taverns all over Sithonia, there is one place I would strongly recommend you to try: Tavern “O Kostas” in Psakoudia. It is owned by some of my oldest friends. And while you might argue now that this makes me biased, well, maybe you are right, but don’t judge until you have given it a try. Their food is really outstanding. They offer a daily changing wide variety of authentic traditional Greek cuisine. And if you’re still don’t believe my judgement: the tavern is also very popular with the locals, which is always a good sign. So, if you happen to stop by, tell them I said hi.
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