Our little rented Suzuki struggled to overcome the uneven dirt track that was supposedly to lead us to the secret beach: Mega Portokali. There weren’t any signs on the main road that led us to this path so we weren’t hundred percent sure if we were on the right one. But we liked to think that Google Maps could do no wrong. The path became narrower but we pushed on till we reached a clearing. There was another car parked haphazardly next to a tent. A gut feeling told us we were close by so we parked our car and got out.
This was it: a speck of blue appeared between the pine trees. We followed the smell of salt. Within minutes, we were standing at edge of the precipice, admiring the big blue sweeping below. The Aegean sea sparkled under the midday sun. It was absolutely stunning. Apart from another girl who was clambering down the rocks with her DLSR camera slung around her neck, there was no one else. The only sounds we heard were seagulls, rustling trees and the gentle lapping of the sea. We stood there mesmerised by the sheer beauty of it all for a while, before realising that we needed get back to the car for our beach gear.
It was our second day in Sithonia (okay, technically third, but we only arrived late in the evening two days before), a relatively unknown peninsula off the mainland of Halkidiki (also known as Chalkidiki), Northern Greece. Strategically located between the party peninsula of Kassandra and the monastic retreat of Mount Athos, it is no surprise that Sithonia combines the best of two worlds: a charming beach vacation but without the wild parties. Interestingly, if you look at the map of Northern Greece, you’ll find that the three peninsulas (or some call them fingers) that jut out, looking a little like King Poseidon’s trident. Hence, rumours have it, that Sithonia was named after Poseidon’s son, King Sithon.
I know, when you think of Greece, Mykonos and Santorini immediately come to mind. Or maybe Crete or Rhodes Island. Believe me, I did too. If it wasn’t for RyanAir’s ridiculously cheap flights to Thessaloniki, where Sithonia is only a mere 2-hour drive away, I wouldn’t have known. But how did it get to be one of Greece’s best kept secrets when locals, Germans, Scandinavians, Russians and residents from neighbouring countries have been flocking to this part of the world for years? The tourism industry on Sithonia has developed a fair bit over the years but in comparison to the more popular Greek islands, here you can truly find respite from chaos and gorgeous beaches for a fraction of the price. But what I love most about Sithonia is the vibe. Most of the villages manage to keep a level of local flavour while offering plenty of international options for cuisine, accommodations, shopping and tourist facilities.
Sithonia’s landscape changes as you drive around. Defined by vast highlands, virgin coastal areas and lush forests, you’ll find the road stretches through medieval villages and spectacular coastal views. Towering the center of the peninsula is Mount Itamos. Which means, hiking is in the picture if you’re a fellow trail wanderer.
WHEN TO GO TO SITHONIA
We were there on the third week of May 2018 and it was perfect. The water was no longer cold and the sun was hot but not scorching. At that time, beloved beaches like Orange beach and Karidi beach weren’t overcrowded. Peak season (like most places in Europe) goes from late June till end of August. The crowd would slowly trickle away in September but the weather will remain moderate and nice.
WHAT TO DO IN SITHONIA
Sithonia offers more than a 100 beaches, many of them with white sand and clear azure depths. Some take some effort to get to, some don’t. Some are “buzzing” and filled with beach bars and cafes, some wild and isolated. Beaches like Karidi, Sarti, Nikiti, Kalagoria, Lagomandara are great places for families with children as they are shallow and easily accessible. Beaches like Mega Portokali, Orange (Portokali) and Tigano are the ones you shouldn’t miss if you’re looking for postcard-like vistas. I tell you, they’re just as good as the ones in Maldives! I’ll put together a roundup of my favourite beaches in Sithonia in my next blog post.
Take a boat around Diaporos Island
Be a captain for a day and take a boat out to the nearby Diaporos Island. Make sure you take one full day for this and bring some snacks and drinks for fueling up. Most boats come with a cooler so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring some beers along. You can rent a boat from any of the boat rental shops in Vourvourou and you don’t need a license for boats with engines smaller than 30 hp. We took out one from Blue Waters Boat Rental. The two brothers who own it, Dimitris and Kostas, were extremely helpful in instructions and tips . We were taught the basics of how to drive the boat within 10 minutes and were given a map and recommendations on where to go. Noteworthy spots around Diaporos are Myrsini Bay and the Blue Lagoon. They really weren’t kidding when they named the Lagoon.
Have an ouzo in a local taverna
You can’t go to Greece and not try Ouzo. It’s a strong liquor, served usually icy-cold or with ice on the side. It’s flavoured primarily with anise and also other secret herbs and spices, which makes you feel like you’re drinking liquorice, but in a good way! After dinner, seek out one of these bustling tavernas at night. If the place is good, it’ll be packed with locals playing cards, smoking and chatting. The merriment is infectious. Get some mezze (Greek’s version of tapas) to go with your ouzo. You won’t feel like a tacky tourist because everyone else will be doing just the same.
Visit the local markets
On Friday mornings, the road leading to old Nikiti is closed because it’s market day! Here you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables of all sorts, homemade honey, dairy products, savoury foods, clothes, bags, textile, plants, and oh–lots of homegrown olives! I didn’t know they were so many kinds. Sampling a few before buying them is all part of the fun. The market reminded me of when I was little, my parents used to take me to the morning market in the neighbourhood nearby. I remember hating it (because which kid likes to get up early?) but now, I enjoy the sensory overload. Nikiti Market opens 9.00-14.00 on Fridays.
Eat in pretty places
Eating well is so easy in Sithonia. The charming restaurant decor and accompanying vistas just make the meals more appetizing. Don’t limit yourself to the restaurants around the corner. Travel around and seek a picturesque dining option out. 5 Steps In The Sand in Sikia is a fine example of a pretty place with fresh seafood, homemade greek specialties, great coffee and cute decor. Free lounge chairs are also available if you plan to hang out at their private beach after. Another food porn worthy place is Arsanas on Nikiti Beach. The prices are slightly higher there, but the portions are gigantic and the food is not run-off-the-mill. It’s a great place to share meals if you are party of more. The best thing? It runs 24-hours and service is par excellence.
Drive around the island
As we didn’t have much time to spare, we drove around the island without stopping in too many towns. Else we would have loved to sit at the quiet Porto Kuofo, a seaside village or spend a day at Neo Marmaras, a more developed touristic town, where things are supposed to be livelier there. But if you have time to spare, go to various parts of the island. To do a round trip around Sithonia, starting from Nikiti at far north would take 2 hours at a leisurely pace. That leaves plenty of time for you to stop and get an ice-cream in towns you haven’t been or to have dip. From Vourvourou to Sarti, the lush pine forest growing along the roads offer a shady and cool drive.
WHERE TO STAY IN SITHONIA
This was something I struggled with before going. As there weren’t much concrete information on the Internet, we couldn’t decide so easily. One place seemed just as good as the other. We only had three nights we wanted to make sure that we picked a good area to stay in. We wanted to be near the pretty beaches but also enjoy a strategic location that makes driving to both sides of Sithonia easy. An quiet cottage right in front of the beach would have been nice but we would have needed to drive out every time for a meal and thus, couldn’t drink. We also wanted to be close to restaurants and supermarkets and some sort of promenade where you can walk along at night.
In the end, we chose to stay in Apartments Mantsiou in Old Nikiti which turned out to be a great choice. During the day, we would drive out to beaches in the East and hang around there and come back at night. We’d park our car at our apartment and then walk down towards Nikiti promenade. If you come here during the day, you’ll find that Nikiti main beach is just as beautiful as the others. It’s calm, clean and very clear water. On beachfront, Nikiti feels swanky and chic. But if you head uphill, in the opposite direction towards Old Nikiti, the atmosphere takes on a more medieval feel. There you won’t find selfie-taking travellers but only locals going about their daily activities. I love the extreme contrast between the two. Nearby the centre, there are at least four big supermarkets where you can stock up on groceries and supplies.
HOW TO GET TO SITHONIA
Most airlines, including budget ones like RyanAir and EasyJet, fly daily from major airports to Thessaloniki. We flew with RyanAir from Berlin and it took three hours. From Thessaloniki airport and drive. You’ll have a lot more mobility freedom instead of depending on public transportation. Busses don’t run too often during the off-peak season. A car is also the best way to beach hop and to check out the rest of the island.
How to rent a car:
We rented a compact Suzuki from a reputed company called Enterprise for 40 euro for four days. There are many other car rental companies available so prices are competitively priced. Some car rentals are not found within airport compound but the companies will offer a free shuttle bus service. Naturally, due to the slight inconvenience, the prices are also lower. For example, we were greeted by Enterprise staff at the arrivals hall at the airport. A shuttle van came to pick us up and drove us to the car rental company. The whole rental process was a breeze and took less than 30 minutes.
Have you been to Greece? Where’s your favourite place? Do share with me your experiences!
did you enjoy the article?Follow me on facebook if you like to read more