A short break on Sithonia, Chalkidiki

A short break on Sithonia, Chalkidiki

It was official: We had a bad summer. Our family marred by illness, most of the holiday we had planned didn’t happen. So, in the midst of my annual leave, both the husband and I were home, slightly stressed, watching the weather in Germany cool down and the first Christmas chocolates appearing in the shops. “We have to go somewhere” he said.

And it might have been coincidence that the cheapest flights to somewhere sunny were to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city and a centre of trade and industry. Greece was good a few years back, when we needed a short sea- and city break and flew to Athens, so now we would try the Northern Aegean – a few days in Thessaloniki to seat, sit in cafes and look at Byzantine Churches, a few days in a civilised seaside town on Sithonia, the middle of the three “finger” poking into the Aegean Sea.

Why Sithonia?

Northern Greece, while having some great island destinations such as little-visited Samothraki and beach- and forest Thassos , has tons and tons of very accessible beaches at its Chalkidiki peninsula, about a hours drive from Thessaloniki.  They do tend to be on the “cheaper” end of holiday offerings, especially Kassandra, the busiest and most developed little peninsula, a swift motorway ride all the way from Thessaloniki to Kallithea.

Sithonia has a balance of inland villages, olive farming, beekeeping and a  few resorts dotted along its coastline which is narrow but accessible beaches pretty much all along its coastline.

Last not least, Athos has some beaches and two decent-size towns with fishing industry, but quarter way down the peninsula, the barrieres are lowered for non-pilgrim males and all females as the island is an Eastern Orthodox Christian Monastic Republic. Don’t expect mass tourism, as the administration allows just over 100 male pilgrims a day.

And for us, that makes it slear where we will be vitising…

Sithonia!

So, one sunny morning in September, we hopped on a city bus to the KTEL Chalkidiki Bus Terminal.

Now, next question was, where to stay? We wanted somewhere right by the sea, with some “normal” infrastructure, and not too noisy. So we got off at Neos Marmaras, a small town halfway down the West Coast of Sithonia. After three hours winding round the small roads of Sithonia, I was very happy yo leave the bus and check into our hotel.

View of the Aegean Sea from the Centre of Neos MArmaris
Neos Marmaris: small and pretty

So, as far as small Greek seaside towns go, this is not bad, is it? Mind you, it is neither historic nor particularly picturesque, but the clear sea mostly made up for it. I think if you want pretty, you need to go to the Cyclades and pay a lot more.  You get the clean water, a strip of beach, and, at the end of the season, an almost sleepy little town where you never have to wait for a table.

small Greek restaurant right on the sandy beach in Neos Marmaris
Low season: empty but excellent restaurants right by the water

After a night of being pretty ill and battling nausea on the way here, as the bus wound its way through villages for two hours, just to get halfway down Sithonia peninsula, I took great care with the food.

A Greek salad is unadventurous but given the quality of the local produce, always better than at home. The restaurant is called “Ta Kymata” . I recommend it! Nice setting, good food. One in a row of nicely placed restaurants on the eastern Side of Neos Marmaras port.

freshly made Greek salad in a seaside restaurant in Neos Marmaris
Classic Greek Staple: Choriatiki and fried aubergine… never had a bad one anywhere

As everywhere in Greece, we were watched carefully by a bunch of cats. I am pleased to say the cats in Neos Marmaras looked well looked after.

tabby cat outside restaurant
As always, cats everywhere. I want to take every single one

Doing not very much in Neos Marmaras

The next day, we went to the beach – what we kinda came here for. As we stayed right in the centre, it was a bit of a walk. The hotel staff said Neas Marmaras Beach to the south of the town centre is the better beach of the towns two beaches, so, a leisurely half hour walk later, we found this – pretty deserted.

Apart from a few Russians speakers, probably flown in from Siberia, nobody was in the water, and next door they started packing up the beach furniture. And I do admit, it was a bit breezy and I was battling acold and food poisoning and God-knows-what and was only too happy to lie on the beach and relax.

view from a simple Beach Club on Neos Marmaras Beach
Crystal clear turquoise water – but cold!

An let’s not forget eating. After a morning on the beach, we tried some fish in the company of yet more Russians, who ordered tons of food and kept the kitchen busy. The restaurant is called “Okyalos” and it has a wonderful sea-facing terrace. We went for lunch and it was already busy, but it is better to reserve at night. Again, faultless food, including a bit of seafood, cooked simply but perfectly.

Then we had a nap, and then it was off to a small dinner in an organic cafe called “Eladia” right in the centre. It is a delicatessen, cafe, small restaurant, and guesthouse! The emphasis is on locally sourced organic food, a lot of healthy options, and a little bit different from the typical hearty taverna fare.

Local cheese fried in honey and sesame
Local cheese fried in honey and sesame in a cafe in Neos Marmaras

And so they went by, our two days in Neos Marmaras, walking, eating, and napping, doing nothing in particular. I had just been working, nursing a family member and dealing with a big health scare, so I was just happy to see everything resolving and doing… not very much. We did half-hartledly look at some scooters to rent, but in the end, we dragged our lazy bums to yet another cafe. And with views like this, I am happy to stay put.

Small strip of beach in Neos Marmaras town

Early the next morning, we set off to explore yet another part of the peninsula, and waited for the thrice daily bus to Thessaloniki. There is public transport to pretty much every village, but it is thin on the ground.

Travelling up: Nikiti

An hour later, the bus dropped us in a  leafy part of Nikiti village – downhill from the picturesque old village and a decent walk to the new village, which is basically a low-key seaside resort.

Halfway on our walk, we stopped for the first bougatsa in a main road cafe/bakery.

two plates of freshly baked cheese bougatsa, Nikiti
Moving on: bougatsa at the local cafe, Nikiti

Having dumped our bags in our hotel and taken a quick breather on the balcony and checked the water quality of the sea (clear but very cold) we set off uphill again. Up and up, past the bus stop, to the village of Old Nikiti. This is the “original” part of Nikiti, dating back to the Byzantine Empire. After liberation from the Ottoman Empire, and with tourism arriving in Northern Greece from the 1950’s, more and more houses were built closer to the sea, and the original village became depopulated – until recently, as the quiet backcountry retreat is making a huge comeback, and many Greeks and expats alike have bought properties there.

Cobbled street in Old Nikiti Village
Its a gentle walk up to Old Nikiti Village

The fact that there are people living in old Nikiti for some of the time, means, streets are pretty decent, most houses well maintained with a few neglected ones on between. If you like phantasy house viewing, this is your place.  But remain in phantayland… I actually looked at houses for sale and was a bit shocked to find them dearer than here in the Berlin suburbs. Also… you would be totally car dependent.

whitewashed multistorey house in Old Nikiti
Looking aspirational

We did see quite a few beauties, some requiring more work than others, and while we are okay with a spanner and a paint brush, some are real projects that are better left to real building professionals.

… and a project

Admittedly we have harboured the idea of moving somewhere a bit warmer (and not German) for a year now, and Greece is quite high on our list. Don’t think we will buy anything any time soon, as we would definitely rent for a year and see if we and the kits like it… plus there is the small issue of making money for me, as a consultation office isn’t easily moved to a different country across language barriers. I have taken a side job that can be done remotely, but we have not reached the five-hour work week level yet.

But mainly, we are just big chickens worrying about change!

A vintage travel agent sign in Old Nikiti
A long-closed travel agent in the process of renovation

Speaking of offices… travel agents don’t seem to do so well here either.

a closed bar in Old Nikiti
Closed and shuttered up – that’s shoulder season in Chalkidiki
cat in a garden in Old Nikiti, Sithonia
Every house in Old Nikiti has a garden of sorts

With roads free from traffic, and a lot of green and sunny spaces, I am sure our cats would love it here! They are all rescues from southern Spain, so they would love basking in the sun here.

Oh, and honestly, I would love it here, too. About 60-90minutes to Thessaloniki and the airport, with a car. Well. We will certainly make some more reconnaissance trips to the area. But now, having walked about 5km up, a very comfortable walk. Enough, for us, so we sat down for a tea in the only cafe of Old Nikiti still open, circled the village before sitting down for lunch in a local taverna opposite the bus stop.

We walked the ramining 2km back to our hotel and spent the rest of the day on the beach. The sea was clear and calm and inviting to jump in, but so cold! This and laziness and not feeling so great kept me from going swimming – normally I will jump into any body of water.

I noticed the Russian customers – they were, in fact, the only ones, who would dip more than a  toe into the sea, and apart from ordering absolute tons of food, they were quite well behaved and civilised. So, in peaceful times, Chalkidiki is very popular with Russian tourists, and the streets have disproportionate numbers of fur and leather shops. And signs in Cyrillic.

An empty beach in Nikiti, Sithonia, Greece
Another empty beach, September 2022, Nikiti

When the sun set, the fairy lights in the tree by our hotel went on, and our somewhat basic hotel turned into a happening nightspot with decent food. Fuelled by a bit of ouzo, we had a jolly night out with a bit of seafood –  a rare  holiday treat as we are vegetarians at home and most other times. But these were well worth it, fresh, grilled, just perfect. Not for me the frozen uniform aquaculture supermarket shrimps – I would rather wait a year for these ones.

 

After a rather sleepless night, wondering how much noise some drunk old fogeys can make at 4am (not us, I hasten to add), we staggered out at 7am, ready for an uphill walk for the bus back to Thessaloniki. But worry not, there is a second installment coming of churches, brioche and being bedbound in my favourite Greek city!

Practicalities

If you want to be independent and do lots of side trips, rent a car.

Getting to Sithonia

That said, we were too lazy and wanted a lazy beach holiday so we took public transport. There are about three buses a day to villages on Sithonia from the Chalkidiki Bus Terminal, more in summer. Buses leave from the main throughfare, Egnatia Road, in the centre. There is a bus every half hour or so (No.45) linking the main Bus Station KTEL Macedonia, with KTEL Chalkidiki at the other end of the city.

There were only three buses or so per day as we were in shoulder season, so for someone not wanting to faff with the buses, renting a car at the airport and heading straight to Chalkidiki might be a better option! If you want to take the bus, here is a route planner – in my opinion, no need to pre-buy a ticket online.

Where we stayed

We picked lower budget hotels for our two beach destinations. We wanted somewhere in a village as opposed to a resort, and did not want to pay a bomb.

Neos Marmaras

We stayed at the Hotel Papagalos for three nights, paying around 65 Euro per night for adouble. A small family -run hotel right by the sea in an older building which was seriously modernized a couple years ago. Rooms are small, but had everything we needed, including a little balcony. And it can get a bit noisy at night – there is a parade of cafes out the front, and those balconies are very close, even at the back. You are next to the sea, ther eis no beach to speak of, but you can get into the water for a swim easily. The nearest “proper beaches” are a 1.5km walk away. I still liked the location because it is right in the centre of the small town and despite lots and lots of toursits, retains a local flavour  –  and some very good restaurants.

If Papagalos is full, the Aqua Marine Luxury Rooms next door are of a similar standard- and have huge balconies. A little simpler, but getting rave reviews, is the Hotel Glaros. If you prefer to be a bit closer to a proper beach, you might want to consider the cheap and cheerful  Greek House Hotel, a short walk from the Neos Marmaras Beach, which is over a kilometre long, so it won’t get crowded even in summer.

Nikiti

The bus drops off halfway up Old Nikiti, full of charm but a mile from the sea, so I recommend staying in New Nikiti by the sea and one of the nicest resort beaches I have seen, backed by a featureless but pretty inoffensive village. For charms, walk the 3km up to Old Nikiti, where you can view wonderful gardens, old houses, and visit the odd cafe. The road is paved and suitable for anyone, it is a long uphill walk but not steep, so doable for all fitness levels. Old Nikiti is, of course, wonderful, but accommodations here don’t come cheap and there are no facilities.

We stayed at the Marina Hotel, right by the small port, a great location. I am being honest here, the hotel was okay, a bit too 1980’s budget Southern Europe hotel with some questionable plumbing and paper-thin walls, if it were not for the clientele we had the misfortune to share with – some old men, coming home drunk at 4am, shouting and screaming and keeping everyone awake. But it was cheap – about 40Euros per night. So my recommendation is stay elsewehere, but the restaurant is really good.

I recommend not going too far from the sea, as the village is nothing to shout about. Try Traditional Arsanas Apartments  – right on the beach. with prices starting from 100Euros per night.

The Small Print

I visited Sithonia with my husband in late September/early October 2021 when it was definitely winding down, with some hotels and restaurants already closing and the water a little cold for swimming. Early to mid-September and May to early June is probably the best time for a relaxed beach break. Late June to August will get very hot and crowded.

We paid out own way, as usual, and used public transport everywhere. This was certainly doable, but we had to  pay attention to public bus schedules and did a fair bit of walking to get tot beaches and scenic points. Mos thotel links on this page are affiliate links to Booking.com. This means I might earn a small commission if you book through those links.

I am unsure how COVID-19 measures will develop. We have the EU vaccination certificate, which was checked thoroughly at immigration, as well as a COVID-related entry form. Once in the country, I do not remember anyone asking to see it.

 

 



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