​Hidden Halkidiki’s quiet charms

​Hidden Halkidiki’s quiet charms

The Sithonia Peninsula is the middle of the three fingers of Halkidiki province that jut out into the Aegean in Macedonia in Northern Greece. Ramblers intern Kate found much to enjoy on this tranquil walking holiday on mainland Greece.

This is a glorious area for hikers, with plenty to offer in the way of flora, fauna, sun-kissed beaches and more. We spent the entire week at Athena Pallas Village – a resort kitted out with fantastic swimming pools, a quiet beach, and various bars to choose from for those much-needed drinks after a long day’s ramble – not forgetting the spa!

The first day's walking eased us in with a five-mile hike up to the chapel of Peter and Paul, which conveniently began at the hotel. The route after the chapel followed a forest track, with beehives lining parts of the track, filling the air with the smell of sweet Greek honey – it really is wonderful and a part of nature some of us had never experienced before! We were even joined by some goats and their shepherd on our walk.

 

The next day took us on a short boat ride from the port of Neos Marmaras to Porto Carras. From here we did a 6.5 mile circular route through the Porto Carras nature reserve, which was fenced for security reasons when an EU summit was held here in 2003. Still easing our way in, this walk follows quiet lanes through pine woods and waterside paths, passing several coves where the marine life and corals are protected, so no swimming allowed!

Day 4 was our big day trip up to the Holomondas range near Thessaloniki. First stop was Arnaia, a small town in the heart of the range, filled with small, cobbled winding streets, old buildings and the magnificent church of St Stefanos. The largest of the area, St Stefanos was destroyed by fire but has been beautifully restored thanks to an EU grant in 2005. It was a very worthwhile pitstop en route to Polygyros, where we began our 5-mile walk past Profitas Elias chapel, ending at Stavros chapel. Many of our walks ended up at one chapel or another, as the Greeks built many on top of the hills

 

to be closer to God. This hike was my favourite of the week due to the sheer amount of flora and fauna to be seen. We saw many varieties of fungi, lichen, birds, butterflies, and even an adder crossed our path!

On our day off, half the group stayed on Sithonia to enjoy some relaxing holiday time, whilst half of us went on a trip to Mount Athos, the third finger of Halkidiki and the home of 20 monasteries and various skete (smaller monastic communities). Mount Athos has been a self-governed monastic state for over 1,000 years, since 975. However, as much as you may want to visit, men need a permit to be allowed to enter for only three days at a time, and women cannot set foot on the Holy Mountain at all. So our trip there consisted of a boat ride along the coast, viewing the monasteries from afar and catching the odd glimpse of a monk if we were lucky! A really interesting trip, as Mount Athos is unlike anywhere else in the world.

 

Our next walk took us on a 7.5 mile circular route. First we wandered through the old town of Nikiti, which I have to say was my preferred town of the trip. Houses with wonderfully elaborate gardens full of pomegranate trees and aubergine plants, amongst others, stand next to dilapidated old houses which would be the perfect fixer-upper if anyone gets a real feel for Halkidiki! The walk follows a track up and down hill to Agios Nikolaos, passing a few churches, olive groves and vineyards along the way.

The last walk of the week followed a track up to the village of Parthenonas, where we stopped for a fantastic taverna lunch looking out towards the sea and Kassandra peninsula – although this lunch may not have been needed due to all the wild strawberries, figs and blackberries we ate along the way! This 8.5 mile route rounded off our week perfectly, and generated much excitement on the way back down the hill in the form of very narrow paths weaving through scrub, really taking us into the depths of "Hidden Halkidiki"! The Greek buffet night at the restaurant, accompanied with music, finished our day, and week, off nicely. I will be back!