Greece Beyond the Islands
Top of my list is a new discovery: Greece beyond the islands. Earlier in the year we headed to Sithonia, one of the three spindly peninsulas jutting into the Aegean Sea in the region of Halkidiki (often also written Chalkidiki). It surpassed expectations by a long way. Think picture-perfect beaches, top-notch family hotels, welcoming and authentic-feeling villages and, of course, a healthy dose of sunshine.
What to do and see
Culture vultures and shopping enthusiasts speak highly of Thessaloniki, the gateway to Halkidiki. Greece’s second largest, the city is bustling with life and not at all touristy. We, however, made a beeline for the beach.
Halkidiki’s three peninsulas each have a character of their own. The first, Kassandra, is where the big development is—if you’re after an all-inclusive package, look no further. The second, Sithonia, offers a gentle mix of wilderness and civilisation, perfect for those who like to explore a bit of both. The third, Mount Athos is the mysterious showpiece of the region. A remote and intrepid playground for the more adventurous, even if you don’t travel there (children and women aren’t allowed on the mountain for religious reasons) it looms in the distance from most of Sithonia’s west coast.
Sithonia was the winner for us. Nikiti old village sits below Mount Itamos and is home to some of the region’s oldest houses. If a history lesson is on the agenda, this is the best place to do it; accompanying Greek yogurt, honey and coffee on the terrace of an 18th century cafe is compulsory. For something a little more varied head to Maramas: kids will love watching the fishing boats coming and going, fish being caught from the harbour walls and ducks paddling about the harbour-side beaches. There are lots of family-friendly restaurants to choose from and great fish tavernas in the north end of town, with tables right down to the water’s edge. Be warned, our plate of calamari could have fed us for the whole week.
When it comes to beaches there’s everything from the wild and remote south to sheltered Vourvourou, but our favourite was Karidi. No buildings or hotels, this beach has it all—soft, gently shelving white sand, crystal clear waters, rock pools, forest, dunes and just a couple of ice cream vans for sustenance.
Where to stay
There really is something for everyone on this little peninsula.
Danai Beach Resort is best for those who want total indulgence and relaxation. The only downside is it might be tricky to leave. We had the good fortune to be upgraded on arrival, which gave us three days to live it up in a two-bedroom villa with its own private infinity pool, extensive terrace and a whole lot of marble. A quick nose around other rooms confirmed that they are all beautiful and even the junior suite (smallest room) has plenty of space for a baby cot and two adults. On-site facilities include an indoor and outdoor pool, gym, spa, boutique stores, three restaurants and most importantly a private stretch of beach complete with watersports and luxurious sunbeds. For those in search of some quiet time, the hotel has a collaboration with Worldwide Kids Company who sort out activities for children from 4 months to 12 years old. Babysitting and a creche service are also available.
Ekies All Senses is an easier-going boutique hotel, which is just as welcoming of families. Everything here is hip, bright and eco-cool. Kids will love the beach, which feels more like a lake with very gently shelving sand for 50 metres or so. Fish dart beneath your toes and we even spotted an octopus from the hotel jetty. There’s also a large pool and playground. The surrounding coastline is fun to explore—rocky outcrops are broken up with secret bays and dunes. The hotel’s bar and restaurant welcomes children of all ages and there are several good pizzerias and Greek restaurants in the local village.
If self-catering is more your thing, we spied (but unfortunately didn’t get to look inside) Karidi Beach Apartments. Just a stone’s throw from the shore, these self-catering apartments don’t have a pool but have pretty gardens with communal BBQ areas and a small set of swings. With one of Greece’s top beaches right next door, this looked like the perfect spot for no-nonsense family fun.
EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Thessaloniki up to six times a week with prices starting from £32.99 per person (one-way, including taxes).