The Perfect Five-Day Stay in Halkidiki, Greece
When I began to plan my trip to Greece everyone assumed I was going to Athens or Crete. On and on they went about the ruins and the history. After all, aren’t those the only Greek places anyone really cares about visiting? I think, more likely, they are the ones most people know about.
I was lucky enough to see the “other” Greece, Halkidiki. About an hour’s airplane ride from Athens, Halkidiki is shapped like Poseidon’s trident sticking out into the Aegean Sea. It’s very much like a fine complex wine; the more one takes the time to get to know it, the more things one finds to love. Think beautiful green forests, turquoise water tickling sunlit beaches, a distinct culture of its own, lovely wines, and a well-established culinary scene. If you miss going there, you’ve cheated yourself big time.
Here’s my suggestion for the perfect five-day stay:
Fly into the small (but nicely appointed) Thessaloniki Airport. Pick up your rental car and a map, and you’re on your way. Greek’s drive on the “right” side of the road, so Americans can breathe easy. Every main road I was on was wide, lit, and well maintained. You will find it a bit more challenging as you get into the smaller villages, but there’s always someone around to point the way. Most Greeks speak English or enough “tourist English” to help you out. Throughout your stay in Halkidiki, make time for a Greek coffee. It’s fabulous and reminds you to slow down and take some time for yourself. It’s by far my favorite tradition there.
Stop 1: THESSALONIKI
Now here’s a city I learned to love quickly. With its mini-urban feel, amazing shopping, cool beaches, smart museums, and first-class cuisine, you’ll find a plethora of things to do, see, and eat.
Stay at the City Hotel, once when you arrive and once when you return for your flight out. This four-star property has friendly staff, contemporary rooms, a full-on breakfast featuring many Greek breakfast items, and as close to world-class shopping as it gets. Don’t miss the open-air market scene. Eat dinner at the five-star Excelsior Hotel on the first night. It’s just across from the City Hotel on the corner and is perfect for people watching. The food is superb, dress is casual, and the wine list is impressive. When you return, make a reservation for dinner at the five-star Electra Palace Hotel. This is fine dining with a magnificent view. The chef is amazing.
Stop 2: HALKIDIKI
Stay at the Blue Bay Hotel. This is the beginning of the “personal” resort experience that defines a trip to Halkidiki. This four-star place beckons the visitor to relax, rewind, and disconnect. About 200 feet above the seashore, this classy resort offers unparalleled views of the Aegean Sea. You’ll love the design, comfortable feel, and superior service that are the key elements characterizing the hotel. The owners live on the property so things are done right 24/7. Good breakfast and lunch with great views are available on property, but take the time to also do a 20-minute walk to the nearby village for a different kind of seaside dining and shopping experience and your first taste of local art. You’ll want to stay at this resort for an extended period.
Stop 3: SITHONIA REGION
Head out mid-morning for lunch at the mega five-star Sani Resort. This is an all-inclusive facility where many visitors just drop their bags for seven to 14 days and never leave until it’s time to return home. It’s got everything you could want with every type of lodging, activity, and meal plan you could ever imagine. This place is perfect for honeymooners, girlfriend getaways, and families. You might want to time your trip so you can attend the Sani Gourmet Festival, a high-end showcase of New Greek cuisine. It is worth your time and a treasure. At Sani Gourmet Festival, it’s a big coup for a chef to be invited to this event. Talent and taste abound.
Next, arrive at the historical Porto Carras Grand Resort. Once a playground for movie stars and the wealthy, this five-star seaside hotel still shines bright with atmosphere and large, well-appointed rooms. It also has a nice gift shop. Be sure and check out the winery just a few minutes from the property. Yes, Greece has wine: crisp whites and dreamy reds. Buy anything coming from the Santorini wine region with confidence. You will thank me for this tip: Drink local wines. Leave the California, French, and Italian stuff for a different vacation.
Have dinner at the five-star Anthemus Sea Beach Hotel and Spa. This is a sprawling resort with nice rooms, beautiful beaches, gorgeous views, and great food. I attended a Chef’s Club of Northern Greece winemaker dinner. What a delight to not only taste the New Greek cuisine but also to interact with the chef who cooked it. Make sure you check out the Chef’s Club website before you go to see what event they’re working on that you can attend. These chefs are amazing, contemporary, and engaging.
Stop 4: ATHOS REGION
The Eagles Palace Hotel is your hotel for tonight. Before you check in, book a jeep safari tour. You’ll see and feel the mountain terrain of Chalkidiki. It’s an unforgettable experience with a stop for—what else—coffee in the green, mountainous terrain.
When you arrive at your night’s lodging, the Eagles Palace, expect spacious rooms with big balconies and every modern convenience. Have dinner at the hotel. The food is definitely first class, and the owners take their wine list seriously. The hotel offers first-class service, a beautiful pool, amazing views, and attention to all the details (including unique gift shops) that make this five-star hotel, well, a five-star hotel.
Book your cruise to Mount Athos here also. The three-and-a-half-hour trip to view the Byzantine churches is a must-do. Since only men can actually step on the island, this cruise is the closest any female will get to experience the glory and grandeur of Mount Athos. Make some time for shopping pre- or post-cruise. There are lots of nice jewelry stores in the gateway port city.
TIME TO HEAD BACK
On your way back to Thessaloniki, stop at the Germany Hotel and have lunch at its Akrogiali Taverna. The beach, sand, and sea are just steps from your table.
This is large-portion, delicious, hometown cooking. The chef is a local television cooking celebrity. Her cooking certainly lives up to all the hype and will leave you even more in love with the food, wine, sea, people, and good times that make Halkidiki a premiere Greek destination.