Want to enjoy Greece without the crowds? head to Halkidiki in northern Greece.
If you’ve been watching Simon Reeve’s Greece on TV the past few weeks, then you’ll have realised quite how many surprises lay in store for travellers. One of these is the world heritage site of Mount Athos, an historic monastic community dating back to 1054, located on the Halkidiki peninsula in northern Greece.
When you think of holidaying in Greece most picture the scattering of picture-perfect Greek islands, but as I discovered, Halkidiki should also be high on any traveller’s list – especially if you’re after sun, sea, sunsets and complete seclusion.
I stayed at the five-star Eagle’s Palace Hotel & Spa, only 4km from the gate’s of Mount Athos in Ouranoupolis, and one of the very first hotels to set up in the area, a historic region known mostly for its Orthadox Christian monasteries. Although not a small hotel, you definitely still feel completely tucked away from it all, especially as it has its own stretch of beach, dotted with pretty thatched parasols. There’s a little patch of Greek paradise for everyone.
To really get away from it all, we hired a small speed boat from one of the local watersports centres to explore the island of Ammouliani the scattering of tiny islets called the Drenia islands. After mastering the basics, we sped off across the perfectly calm water; while I kept my eyes peeled for the pod of dolphins I’d seen the day before, leaping out of the water in the wake of the passenger ferry (I wasn’t lucky).
The Drenia islands are ideal for a mini castaway experience, with sheltered crystal-clear water, white sand beaches and – if you’re lucky – not another person in sight. All you need to do is drop the anchor or bech the boat right up on the sand. On the main island, if you walk up the hill you can even see Mount Athos in the distance.
For lunch, we simply drifted back off to find another stretch of sand and came across a tiny local restaurant, where there was one thing on the menu – fresh seafood. Sitting right by the rippling water, there’s nothing quite like tucking into a freshly caught catch, with straight-out-of-the-fryer chips. Bliss!
Evenings were spent back at the hotel, either tucking into the extensive buffet (with a different theme each night) or sipping house cocktails while watching the sun descend. Not one for all-inclusive all week, we spent time exploring too, and came across a fantastic traditional Greek restaurant a mile or so down the road in Ouranoupolis, where we gorged on incredible tzatziki, halloumi and courgette fritters. A quiet town, this isn’t quite the place to party the night away – but ideal for peace and quiet and the occasional cocktail.
The hotel also has a brilliant spa, considered one of the finest Spa resorts in Greece and recently named Best Day Spa in the World. It was the perfect spot to spend an hour once the sun had gone down, before heading to dinner and has various steam rooms, sauna, treatment rooms and they even host free classes like yoga.
Have you been to Halkidiki? Let us know your tips in the comments below.