From southern charm to northern magic
I am a Peloponnesian through and through, born and bred literally where the Ionian waves break upon the shore. She is a self-confessed “hillbilly”, raised in Northern Greece but long since ensnared in the south’s net of charm. The decision came out of the blue; from Thessaloniki, instead of going back to base, we would make a short detour. For her, a trip back through her memories; for me, a new experience.
From courgette flowers and honey fried bread to transparent waters
Our First stop was Kallikratia, at her aunt’s place. Every self-respecting Greek northerner has at least one aunt in Kallikratia. Hers welcomed us with a huge hug and an equally huge platter of fried courgette flowers, dusted with sugar and cinnamon. As we were leaving she handed us a perfectly rounded loaf of honey fried bread & cheese. “For the road,” she said and I was convinced that getting to our next stop would take about five hours. Well, in less than an hour I was experiencing the magical, crystal-clear waters of Halkidiki for the first time, in a tiny cove in Sani, where fragrant pines bow down to the shore and scent the air. I swear I could see the bottom all the while I was swimming and it was genuinely difficult to wrench myself out of the friendliest and best-natured sea I had ever encountered. A bit further north, the hospitality and air of discrete luxury and refinement we experienced at Ikos Oceania makes the perfect complement to this journey… and that was just after checking in!
Late afternoon found us in Athytos, wandering the picturesque alleyways and then ensconced in a gourmet restaurant in the village, tucking into coq au vin and sipping wine courtesy of the gorgeous Claudia Papagianni and the mountain vineyards of Halkidiki.
Diving into the charm of Cassandra
Our evening was spent in Pefkohori, in her friends’ traditional two-floor Halkidian house. Under the mulberry tree in the yard, it was time for sweet reminiscences of bygone student holidays and falling slowly and surely under the charms of Halkidiki’s famed first leg, Cassandra. The way back to the hotel was a piece of cake due to the new road that runs along its entire length, connecting us seamlessly with all we love about this amazing place. I drove the comfortable car, thinking how fast one could go from one exciting moment to the next. On reaching the entrance of the hotel complex, my northern friend was still in full flow extoling the virtues of her very own Halkidiki! But with our ultra-comfortable room beckoning, I had already decided that this place needs no such endorsement; it’s a wonderland that speaks entirely for itself. It was still summer, early September, and the moonlight sprinkled its glistening pearls across the calm sea creating a necklace of memory and tranquillity; time for that last glass of wine, the perfect send-off for a memorable day.
It’s a wonderland that speaks entirely for itself
On the second day we took in Psakoudia, Vouvourou, Sarti and in the evening we ended up tired but contented in Toroni. My eyes were filled with beauty and myriad shades of turquoise. Fresh fish and steamed mussels, garnished with finely chopped celery, completed our delight. I drifted off to sleep with a single thought, “Lord, you must love this place”.
On Xerxes and her first travels
On the third day, we made a bee line for Pyrgiaditika, with a friend regaling us with stories of Xerxes’ passage through the narrow passes of Mt Athos interspersed with tales of her own fledgling steps in Halkidiki. As we crossed over from Tripiti to the island of Ammouliani, I was seriously considering switching my allegiances and abandoning my life-long love affair with the Ionian!
Diving with child-like bliss into azure waters was followed by a lunch of fresh fish in the same spot Prince Charles and Camilla had enjoyed a meal earlier this summer and then resting to a chirruping chorus of cicadas, a sure sign that summer is still going strong.
And as I was surrendering to the beauty of the sea, a decision was made. We would come back, next time taking on the mountainous parts of Halkidiki. And it would be soon. And we would sample the other Ikos gem, the Olivia in Gerakini, which gazes out over the Toroneos Gulf. It goes without saying that Halkidiki was one dream we were determined to keep alive!