As Parlour X's resident expert in all things stylish and Greek, Sophia Kondilis is our oracle when it comes to exploring her family's beautiful country of origin. If you haven't already devoured her travel guides to Milos and Athens, we suggest you do before diving into her well-researched tips for living like a local in the beautiful beach-side area of Halkidiki, on the coastline of Thessaloniki.
Describe Thessaloniki's location and explain the difference between Thessaloniki and Halkidiki?
Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki is located in Northern Greece and home to the coastal getaway of Halkidiki. In summer local Greeks frequent the coast on the weekends for the best beach experience. There is a peninsula of three municipalities or 'fingers' - Mount Athos, Sithonia and Kassandra. To truly experience the vast scope and beauty of Halkidiki is to spend and explore for five to ten days. For me, it's one of my favourite destinations in Greece.
How do we get to Thessaloniki and Halkidiki?
Fly directly into Thessaloniki and enjoy 2-4 days in the city centre to visit cultural landmarks like the White Tower and Agia Sofia Church, strolling around Aristotelous Square and Portside before driving to the coastline of Halkidiki. Scenic drive time from Thessaloniki to any given peninsula is approx. 40 – 90 minutes.
Best hotels in Thessaloniki?
The Met Hotel - a modern, luxe boutique hotel with a spa and rooftop pool overlooking the city and bay.
Daios Luxury Living - panoramic sea views located right by Aristotelous Square where everything is an easy stroll away.
The Excelsior Hotel - Thessaloniki’s only member of the ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World’ group.
Where to shop in Thessaloniki?
Tsimiski St - find local speciality boutiques offering bespoke eyewear and fine jewellery stores in Greece. There are some great emerging Greek designer labels to look out for. During the week, stores stay open until 9pm with an early close on Saturday. All stores close on Sunday - a day for the beach, friends and family. As you weave through the European layout of the city, you will find luxury boutiques on the corners of Nikis Ave. and Mitropoelos St.
View from Daios Luxury Living hotel
Best Thessaloniki eats?
There are always new spots to try with a constant of innovative food and fit-out. Walk around the historical district of Ladadika, or port side and take your pick of café, bars. Kalapothaki Street is an ideal spot to take it all in.
Blé Bakery - one the most innovative bakeries in Greece, Blé delivers in-house baked goods, delicious desserts and traditional Greek foods for all tastes. An upmarket canteen experience and my top pick.
Trigona Elenidis - the 'trigono' is a sweet, fluffy pastry filled with custard and Thessaloniki’s signature dessert. Do not leave Thessaloniki without trying the authentic 'trigono' at Elenidis. While you are at it, indulge in the white chocolate chestnut 'tsoureki' at institution, Terkenlis 1948.
Derlicatessen - this hole-in-the-wall is famous for souvlaki and gyros or mushroom and haloumi.
Ypsilon - hot new opening providing all day coffee and urban art in a cool space.
Culinary Market - a former cinema converted to restaurant and deli, stocked with fresh Greek products.
Sinatra Espresso Wine Bar - specialist cocktail bar.
Local Thessaloniki - easy menu, open all-day and all-night.
7 Thalasses Seafood Restaurant - popular for seafood, it's set in a buzzy area ideal for people watching.
Mount Athos (Agios Oros)
One of the most sacred monasteries in the world, Agios Oros is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Visitors compelled to experience Agios Oros need a special license to enter and due to religious reasons, women are sadly not permitted.
Surrounding areas in the region include smaller style villages: Polygyros, Arnaia, the ancient Stagira, (the birth town of the famous philosopher Aristotle), Ieressos and Ouranoupoli.
My dad’s hometown is located in the neighbouring countryside village Megali Panagia near Arnaia. Make a detour or if you are driving through, spend the day of it.
Relax at the local corner kafeneo and bar, The Orb Bar. Walk to the hill-top church 'Megali Panagia' that this humble village notably takes its name from, to light a candle and drink from fresh-water taps. Continue on foot to reach Panagouda, a historic chapel built in 1007 which oversees the top of the village.
Go bohemian at Maori Beach Bar in Pyrgo and lounge about the beatnik beach lounges. This spot has a lazy, slow pace during the week but turns into a tribal house party on the weekends!
Enjoy a seasonal meal at Coco Ammos in Pyrgadakia or at biodynamic taverna and farm Platanorema - perfect for families.
From Ouranoupouli take a day trip by ferry to visit the only inhabited island in Halkidiki, Ammouliani Island, or view the sacred and spectacular Agios Oros from afar.
The cliffside coastlines of Sithonia are remarkable. Key areas include the popular Nikiti, the exclusive Neos Marmaras which is home to many large resorts, Vouvourou for its picturesque hidden beaches, Sarti (slightly touristic) and Kalamitsi.
To get taste of each widely dispersed beach, visit:
Agios Ioannis Beach Bar - the hottest spot of 2018, 4km away from Nikiti on the road to Neos Marmaras.
Kavourotripes - also known as 'Orange Beach', one of the most famous locations in Halkidiki due to its interesting cove formations and natural beauty.
Vourvourou - a beach-side village near Agios Nikolaos surrounded by lush greenery and exquisite coasts.
Karidi - an exotic pearl. Sun soak on the natural formed rocks and snorkel through the turquoise waters.
Manassu Beach Bar Restaurant - driving down to this cove-like, remote spot inhabited by mountain and trees is incredible. The beach bar and restaurant has a fun Mykonos-feel courtesy of house music, luxe beds and a lively crowd.
Porto Carras - a luxurious resort destination home to Kohi Beach and Plaz Beach Bar. The overall resort has a Cote d'Azur mood with deluxe beach beds and lounge music. Still one of my favourite swims and snorkels in Halkidiki!
Nikiti - a social spot for dining and shopping along the promenade. A bit Hamptons, visit at night - perfect for couples, families or groups. Grab dessert at newly opened gelato spot Ksilaki.
Porto Koufo - one of the largest natural harbours in Greece best for a humble and relaxing environment.
Kassandra is the most popular region of Halkidiki in touristic terms and offers many beautiful beaches, a vibrant nightlife and resort scene. Landmarks nearby include the Petralona Cave where you can admire the famous canal of Potidaia.
Oceanides - fish taverna with superb views and a Michelin star chef at the helm.
Also try the popular Yalla Beach Bar at Pefkochori.
Best places to stay in Halkidiki?
Porto Carras Luxury Resort - a luxurious casino, golf course resort with dedicated beach bars. You needn’t move from the beach bed to experience true holiday mode.
Ekies All Senses Resort - a warm and friendly resort that embraces a barefoot-luxury philosophy with sustainable design practices. For serious lovers of modern luxury and design, and the utmost relaxation.
Sani Beach Club Resort - with five-star minimalist design, this is a special place which is family-owned and sits on an ecological reserve stretching across 1,000 acres, with endless golden beaches. Very popular and often hosts many Greek singers.