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It was difficult to get lost especially armed with the well-written and informative guide “Halkidiki Inside Your Dreams” by the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.
Yet even if one did take a wrong turn on the modern well-maintained roads that hug the coastline of the Halkidiki peninsulas of Greece you would be apt to discover a small Orthodox church on the side of the road, a centuries old Byzantine tower, an archeological site from antiquity in a field, another secluded beach and everywhere the sweeping vistas of farmland and blue water.
At the photogenic seaside village of Loutra, close by Nefeli Villas & Suites, lunch at Capitan Taverna combined excellent traditional Greek cuisine with a classic atmosphere. Costas Vamvakas has maintained both its popularity and quality since 1977. An old grape arbor heavy with fruit covered the flower bedecked dining porch. Olive trees anchored the corners and a fountain burbled softly.
Just a few miles from Loutra was the Spa at Agia Paraskevi. Known for its hot sulfur springs, southern Kassandra has long been sought by people suffering bone and muscle disorders. With a commanding view of the sea, the modern spa facilities include pools, saunas, steam baths and hydro massage.
Positioned on the west coast of Kassandra, Nefeli Villas & Suites offers spacious one to four bedroom villas in a village setting. Halkidiki’s three peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – have long been sun-kissed family oriented summer playgrounds. Easy access to dozens of public beaches, classic white washed villages climbing hillsides and the incomparable clear water of the Aegean attract tens of thousands of visitors annually.
Ermia Hotels and Resorts, a family owned real estate and hospitality company headquartered in Thessaloniki, develops resorts and manages villa rentals. Its portfolio includes the Premier Luxury Mountain Resort in Bansko, Bulgaria, Amaryllis Paros Beach Hotel on Paros Island and Sani Woods on Kassandra in Halkidiki. In Halkidiki as well they manage the Nefeli Villas & Suites, the Bellevue Villas and the unique Hastia Villa.
Giorgos Tsalikis and the staff of Nefeli Villas & Suites run a double operation. The units in this Ermia built complex are privately owned with the option to offer the unit for seasonal rental. It’s a resort and condo. The reception office maintains a compact shop with a nice selection of local Greek foods from cheese and wine to thyme honey and mastic liquor – especially convenient as gifts.
The four-bedroom, two-floor townhouse I enjoyed during my stay was more than spacious for the normal maximum of eight people. Premium furnishings and kitchen appliances, Wi-Fi, outdoor barbecue, washing machine, pool and beach towels are all provided. Breakfast is available at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.
The compact beach and tree shaded grass lawn provides comfortable lounge chairs with service from the Aelia bar and restaurant and protected swimming in the clear Aegean.
As a chef I’m impressed when a fine dining restaurant accents the food with simplicity. Greek yogurt topped with a few almonds in a simple and attractive dedicated glass container with a serene Aegean sea view provided by nature defines chic at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.
While a wedding reception was in the final stages of preparation, I was served an imaginative dinner starting with a salty white taramas mousse attractively arranged on crispy phyllo crackers. Meaty pleurotus mushrooms were marinated in vinaigrette of aged Kalamata vinegar and fresh herbs. Grilled on wood charcoal, the large mushrooms would please a vegetarian as a meat substitute.
Tender, savory lamb chops were bathed in a classic rosemary wine sauce. A rich but light chocolate soufflé rounded dinner. Thank you Maria Ntai for the warm Greek hospitality at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.
At Sani Woods Anna Xafoudi, manages eleven architecturally stunning suites, apartments and a large villa. Set within a carefully landscaped yet natural arboretum the two buildings sit on a hillside that gently slopes down to the pool. Bicycles and a continental breakfast are included.
A mini “supermart” is a five-minute drive at the entrance to the large Sani Resort complex, which has popular restaurants and a marina. Fokaies village is 6 km away and has larger stores. Yet If quiet is what you crave, Sani Woods is your refuge.
Closer to the popular summer resort town of Pefkoahori the Bellevue Villas sit on a promontory with a panoramic view of the Aegean and Sithonia peninsula. The large, sleek ultra modern multi level villas each have their own private pool.
Nearby Hestia Villa is a large, unique late 20th century stand alone beach house. It has a 20th century mid-century modern look but it is of more recent construction. A long green front lawn spreads down to Hestia’s own entrance onto the beach.
For vacation nightlife, the fishing town of Pefkoahori has become Kassandra’s most popular tourist destination. On the east coast of the peninsula it’s a mere 20-minute drive from Nefeli Villas & Suites and Sani Woods – closer Bellevue and Hastia villas. During the summer season this family oriented resort town is a marriage of sun, sea and Coney Island.
A lengthy beachfront pedestrian walkway becomes a carnival of street food and vendors selling everything one expects from sunglasses to helium balloons. A small amusement park will delight children. Shopaholics will be pleased with the number and diversity of stores. Bar and restaurant hoppers will be sated with dozens of attractive beach venues and music opportunities.
Ermia Hotels and Resorts villas offer the ideal luxury accommodations for an extended beach vacation. From enviable locations, premium furnishings, fine cuisine and unique architecture Ermia is simply offering Greek hospitality. As a bonus explore Kassandra, a storied finger of fabled Halkidiki.
When you go:
In general the summer season runs from May through mid-October. Pefkoahori is an easy and picturesque 50-mile drive on modern highways from Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia.” The gateway city of Thessaloniki is served by direct flights from a number of European cities. Numerous flights from Athens are available and affordable for the short 35-minute journey.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Ermia Hotels and Resorts and Nefeli Villas & Suites. Special thanks to Kiki Petridou (Ermia Resorts) for the villa tours. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki.
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The sun glints off white sand and aqua water as I walk down the stairs to Alikes Beach. One of five major beaches on Ammouliani Island, Alikes Beach is so beautiful it’s as if a giant pool boy to the gods cleans the crystal clear Aegean Sea rock free for feet to walk on a soft sand floor and swim in pristine water.
I can assume that the god’s may have favored Ammouliani Island and wanted it for them. Its wide crescent white sand beaches are fringed with lush vegetation, wild flowers and craggy wind and wave formed rock outcroppings. The topography is gentle yet with hills of enough elevation to provide beautiful views of mist shrouded sacred Mt. Athos. Mysterious of all, rarely did a human live on Ammouliani Island for thousands of years.
For most of the past millennium Ammouliani was the property of Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos. It was used for fishing and farmland to provide for the monastery – one of 20 vast Greek Orthodox complexes on Mt. Athos. Only a few men ever lived there until 1925.
The disastrous aftermath of the First World War and upheaval caused by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to an unprecedented repatriation of ethnic groups between Greece and former Ottoman lands. Vatopedi Monastery ownership of Ammouliani Island ended in 1925 with the establishment of villages for Greek refugees.
Five hundred full time residents live on this tranquil island with great beach bars, small hotels, daily fresh seafood and relaxing restaurants. Summer tourism swells the population many times, but enough business remains open year round to attract winter visitors.
Less than two square miles in area and an easy 65 mile car or coach bus drive from Thessaloniki, Ammouliani is the only inhabited island of Central Macedonia and the Halkidiki peninsulas. It is located in the Gulf of Mount Athos two miles off the coast of Athos peninsula. In summer ferry service for the 10 minute ride from Tripiti on the mainland is regular and often. In winter the schedule is less frequent and subject to weather.
One permanent resident with a year round business is Sissy Neofitidou of Kastalia Hotel. Sissy is a calm driving force for tourism on the island. She was also my guide during my stay.
Kastalia Hotel, one of several properties owned by Sissy and her family, is typical of the comfortable accommodations found on the island. The well-appointed rooms have kitchens making them convenient apartments for extended island stays. Breakfast in the attractive split-level lobby is bountiful.
Located in Amoliani town, the ferry port, Kastalia Hotel is conveniently situated for hiking and biking. Alikis Beach is a mere ten minute stroll from the hotel. Amoliani town is a charming Greek island village of classic white stucco and blue shuttered houses, shops, the center for bike rentals and boat excursions as well as waterfront restaurants and relaxing bars.
Since many of Ammouliani Island’s first residents were Greek refugees from islands and towns on the former Ottoman Empire’s Turkish Aegean coast, they brought with them hybrid Near East Hellenic traditions and dress. The large stone paved old town square and its ecclesiastical buildings were constructed in the 19th century when the island was owned by the Vatopedi Monastery. Its Byzantine icons from Asia Minor venerated in the Church of Panagia are particularly prized.
The Folklore Museum, housed in a 1907 stone former monastery building in the old town square, is a living museum. The crafts and recipes of the past are practiced by members of the Cultural Association of Ammouliani and passed on to the next generation. Mrs. Marigo Vasiliou is an expert baker of amigdalota a traditional almond pastry formed into flower shapes, baked and served at weddings, christenings and name days. She demonstrated her skill on a Jamie Oliver TV show.
There is nothing complicated with the recipe for amigdalota cookies: finely ground almonds, sugar, eggs and almond extract. Sounds like marzipan but not as sweet. The skill required to form the delicate dough into intricate baked flowers takes years of training.
Mrs. Vasiliou demonstrated her art at the Hotel Erotokritos, owned by her daughter. The Erotokritos sits high on an island hill with panoramic views of the Aegean Sea and Mt. Athos. I was treated to what I can only describe as a Greek version of High Tea – a late afternoon treat of coffee and homemade desserts.
A buffet of classic Greek dishes and fresh Aegean seafood is available at any number of island tavernas. With an island as small as Ammouliani many are on the waterfront. At Taverna Tzanis you choose your fish from a market display of dozens of choices. A succulent grilled sargos fish with fresh lime juice was refreshing.
Taverna Glaros, another fine choice, continues the Greek love of having a number of small plates to share among guests. Cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms, fried fish balls, stuffed grape leaves, a variety of salads, raw anchovies marinated in vinegar and oil and wild sea greens gathered from the craggy rocks along the shore are just a few selections from island menus.
For a relaxing nighttime venue Dimitrias Boskos has created Aelia Summer Cocktail Bar on the Amoliani town waterfront. The American generated cocktail revolution has been slow to catch on in Europe, but Greeks have rapidly developed expertise in this art. Besides the quality cocktails and attractive modern multi-level seating on the waterfront, this being Greece, a meze (tapas sized small plate) is served with drinks.
Ammouliani Island is justifiably known for its beaches. They all have seasonal beach bars that make the experience more enjoyable. On Alikis Beach, the island’s most famous, Savana and Canteen «O Spiros» serve tasty burgers and Greek classics both on their covered terraces and under their beach umbrellas.
Mainos, the grandfather of current family owner Kostas Voutsac, founded Savana Beach Bar & Grill in 1967. Mainos started selling orange juice and candy from baskets by walking the streets of the island. Sissy remembers as a child waiting for him on his daily circuit.
In 1967 he secured a lease on a prime location at a major entrance to Alikis beach and within a 20-minute walk from town. He opened a taverna. Taking advantage of the beach for umbrellas and the rocky hillside for panoramic views of Alikis Beach, Mainos’ children renovated Savana into the beach bar in 1995. Its unique design takes full advantage of lush vegetation, rocks, wood and multi level seating made possible by the hillside.
Sissy, Mainos and Marigo are metaphors for Ammouliani Island. They work hard to create two square miles dedicated to effortless relaxation. The gods must have favored Ammouliani Island – its aura is timeless.
Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Ammouliani Island tourism and the businesses mentioned in this article. All opinions are the author’s. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki
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Five years ago a (very) young smiling Yannis Laspas first greeted me in the lobby of the Flegra Palace Hotel. Yannis and his sister Lena were already managing the family owned Flegra Palace that their parents had opened in 1989. In these past five years I’ve had the pleasure of being greeted by Yannis at his hotels (plural) twice more.
Not content with totally renovating the Flegra Palace Hotel, Yannis and his sister Lena have built a select hospitality empire in Pefkoahori on the Halkidiki peninsula of Kassandra – the flagship Flegra Palace Hotel, the waterfront Flegra Beach Hotel, and the new Apanemia Apartment Hotel, which opened in 2017.
Halkidiki’s three peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – have long been sun-kissed summer playgrounds. Easy access to dozens of public beaches, natural hot mineral spas, classic white washed villages climbing hillsides and the incomparable clear water of the Aegean attract tens of thousands of visitors annually. The fishing town of Pefkoahori has become one of Kassandra’s most popular summer tourist destinations.
During the summer season, this family oriented resort town is a marriage of sun, sea and Coney Island. A lengthy beachfront pedestrian walkway becomes a carnival of street food and vendors selling everything one expects from sunglasses to helium balloons. A small amusement park will delight children. Shopaholics will be pleased with the number and diversity of stores. Bar and restaurant hoppers will be sated with dozens of attractive beach venues and music opportunities.
The Flegra Hotels are ideally situated to maximize a beach vacation as well as to explore natural beauty and local antiquities. The Flegra Palace’s rooms surround an opulent pool that is the hotel’s focal point and includes the Soleil Bar with its dramatic glass floor jutting over the water. In the warm Greek evening the entire scene is lit by a computer controlled LED system that cycles through soft colors. The light plays on olive and palm trees, flowering plants as well as fountains and a waterfall. Dozens of candles flicker on the tables of the Soleil bar and the Flegra Palace’s two restaurants – the poolside Ambrosia and the main building’s glass walled Titanes room.
The open air Ambrosia restaurant offers superb a la carte dining for lunch and dinner. Titanes is both a buffet and an al la carte dining room. Guests at the Flagra Palace can opt for a rate that includes the buffet. Classic Greek, Mediterranean and Eastern European dishes are prepared with the freshest local meats, seafood, fish and produce. Executive Chef for the Flegra Palace and Flegra Beach’s Yalla restaurant, Michael Voulgaris, is pushing the envelope for a family oriented tourist destination.
In cooperation with Visit Greece’s promotion of pan-Hellenic regional foods the Flegra Palace offers special rotating themed dinners as part of the buffet as well as regional breakfast dishes. The dinners themed menus range from foods of the Byzantine Empire, ancient Thrace, Asia Minor to Macedonia, Greek fish and Chef Michael Voulgaris own creation, recipes based on the philosophy of Aristotle.
Chef Voulgaris used Aristotle’s five foundations for life – air, fire, water, either and earth.
Air: A cold soup, slight bitter appropriate for ancient times, with wine, wine vinegar and rose petals.
Fire: A seafood dish of barley and vegetables served at room temperature. Nice flavors and raisins sweeten the dish. Olives and raw onion add counterpoint.
Water: Bitter greens steamed in sea and fresh water with apricots and feta cheese. The apricots add that touch of sweetness ancients loved so much to balance bitterness and the feta adds salt. Served at room temperature.
Either: A dessert soup of fruits with honey and molasses in wine served at room temperature. Once more contrasting bitter and sweet since quince is one of the fruits along with berries. One of the more complex of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints.
Earth: It was the most radical of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints. A beautiful cold soup of wine, rose petals and herbs.
It was a risk taking meal, and diners were taking the plunge. Yet for an all-inclusive buffet, even the regular selections are imaginative and well above the average hotel in quality.
To offer the Certified Greek Regional Breakfast a restaurant has to guarantee that 65-75% of the dishes are made from local ingredients and products and prepared using traditional recipes from designated regions of the country. Many of the selections are sweet and savory pastries of differing shapes with fillings including nuts, spinach, fruits and cheeses.
Not content with simply new hotels and three vibrant restaurants, Yannis has embraced the cocktail revolution, which has swept North America the past decade. The new menu and trained mixologist of the Soleil Bar now offer among other drinks a Gin Basil Smash with aromatic fresh basil, simple syrup and lime juice. A Nigorni with gin, compari and sweet vermouth has a rich color and a great bitter/sweet balance. Sparkling Tarragon Lemonade is a summer cooler with the unique touch of a star anise garnish. Naturally they can stir a classic “Prohibition Era” Martini.
The 29 individually decorated rooms of the Flegra Beach Hotel, at the quiet end of Pefkoahori beach, each come with kitchenettes. The sleek, modern understated silver gray color scheme, accented in teal and black, is mirrored in the public spaces but with splashes of red and window walls looking onto the pine tree shaded beach and Aegean Sea.
Flagra Beach’s Yalla Restaurant and Beach Bar also benefits from Chef Voulgaris’ imagination and passion for fresh seafood. A salad of bitter rocket and sweet cherry tomatoes with balsamic continues his fascination with bitter/sweet contrasts. A medley of seafood with pasta and saffron scented sauce was photo perfect. Both food and drinks can be served under the extensive number of shade umbrellas on the beach.
The Apanemia Apartment Hotel is the newest addition to the Flegra Hotels collection. Although not on the beach, it’s convenient to the center of Pefkoahori and has its own parking – very desirable in old Greek villages. Each apartment is equipped with a well-designed compact kitchen. The balconies over look Pefkoahori or interior gardens. The wifi reception is excellent; laundry service is available and most of all it’s nestled just far enough from beach activities to be very quiet.
The Halkidiki peninsulas are not as well known to North Americans as the more famous Greek islands, but that is changing through imaginative marketing by the Halkidiki Tourism Organization and forward thinking young entrepreneurs such as Yannis and Lena. Based on the relaxed, comfortable, affordable and delicious hospitality offered by the Flegra Hotels, 2018 ought to be your year to explore timeless antiquity, tranquil beaches, lively night life and imaginative cuisine from the pan-Hellenic world in this less discovered corner of one of Earth’s most fabled destinations – Greece.
When you go:
The Flegra Hotels 2018 season runs from May through mid-October. Pefkoahori is an easy and picturesque 50-mile drive on modern highways from Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia.” The gateway city of Thessaloniki is served by direct flights from a number of European cities. Numerous flights from Athens are available and affordable for the short 35-minute journey.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Flegra Hotels.
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What may seem an oxymoron, an agnostic recognizing the sacredness of Mt. Athos, is perfectly normal to me. I do not believe in a divine being, but freely accept the holiness of humanity and creation, whatever caused the big bang. I accept holiness because it’s impossible to deny visceral emotions when immersed in surroundings that dwarf ordinary human expression.
There are certainly impressive mountains that tower over 2,033 meter/6,670 foot Mt. Athos, even in Greece. It’s not about size. It’s all about perception.
Read more about my experiences on Mount Athos in the Hellenic News of America…
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The Asterias is the flagship restaurant of Yannis Laspas’ new Flegra Beach Boutique Apartments. Like the airy decor of the dining room, Chef Kostas Tsoutas has a light modern touch with traditional Greek ingredients.
The waterfront Flegra Beach Boutique Apartments and Asterias are located in Pefkochori on the Kassandra peninsula with window walls looking onto the pine tree shaded beach and Aegean Sea.
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The evidence of Greece’s long and turbulent civilization lay scattered throughout the country. It was as easy to stumble across remnants of an ancient site in the middle of a farm field as it was to visit the impressive ruins of the 10th century Monastery of Zygos
Between Mt. Athos and Stagira the 250-room Alexandros Palace Hotel resort complex, a veritable village on a 90-acre hillside just outside Ouranoupolis, is an ideal location to explore this fabled peninsula.
My article details it all…
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