New to the region, never been to Halkidiki before?
Here’s some information on Halkidiki that will help you decide when and where to spend your holidays in this wondeful region of Greece.
So, where exactly is Halkidiki?
As you will see from the map below, the region of Halkidiki lies to the north of Greece in Macedonia and has 3 unique penisulas that stick out like fingers reaching out into the Aegean.
The 3 peninsuals are called Kassandra, Sithonia and the Athos peninsula, more about these later.
Halkidiki also has a mountainous central area covered in forests and makes for some stunning scenery. The central region can be broken down into 3 areas, the west coast, the east coast and the main central coast and mountain areas.
Halkidiki is a peninsula formed by the extension of Macedonia into the Aegean Sea.
The deeply indented coastline of 500km’s forms four large gulfs. To the west lies the Thermaic Gulf and to the east is the Strymonic Gulf (or Gulf of Orfanou), while further to the south the shores of Halkidiki are washed by the Kassandra (or Toroneos) Gulf and the Mount Athos (or Sigitikos) gulf, and nowhere inland being more than 40kms from the sea, Halkidiki is rather like a huge island.
As a whole, the coastline of Halkidiki is of outstanding natural beauty. The combination of wooded landscape and the sea with with pine trees running down to the water’s edge and refelcted in the calm sea. The peninsula of Halkidiki stretches around, and largely to the south of, the densely wooded mountain area of Holomontas (1165 meters).
The ever-present sea gives the place a mild, Mediterranean climate, and so the summer is longer than elsewhere in Northern Greece.
Halkidiki can be easily accessed by car and bus, with regular bus schedules. It is also very close to Thessaloniki (60 km) and Macedonia Airport (Thessaloniki). The road network is among the best in Northern Greece. However, its close distance to Thessaloniki results in traffic congestion during high season periods.
Apart from the natural beauties, Halkidiki has been a place of cultural development ever since prehistoric times. Its vast wealth of archaeological treasures has caused it to be called “the Attica of Northern Greece”.
This picture of the place is rounded off with its population: the inhabitants are a blend of old-established people and refugees from Asia Minor, and they unite the flame of local tradition with that of the “lost homelands”
Halkidiki boasts an amazing 550km of coastline, featuring a thousand different beaches, some offering an endless expanse of golden sand, others rocky. Some beaches are crowded -socialising spots, while others are no more than deserted coves among the rocks. All of them though are blessed with crystal clear waters reflecting the deep green of the pine tree forests. The Blue Flags that Halkidiki is being awarded every year are rightly deserved.
The climate in Halkidiki is generally mild with limited rainfall whilst sunshine and warm summers are well known. It enjoys over 300 days of sunshine on average annually. In the northern part of the area the number slightly decreases. Average temperatures display limited fluctuations during the year. Naturally, fluctuations are more vigorous from south to north. The lowest temperatures occur during December to February ranging between 3.5°C to 19°C, while highest temperatures occur during summer months and range between 23°C and 38°C (although temperatures over 40°C are not uncommon). Temperatures below 0°C are limited in the mountainous areas.
The geomorphology of Halkidiki is extremely interesting. It resembles an inclined geological level, while moving from western to eastern. Thus, in Kalamaria (western side) and in Kassandra we find most of the plains, which are, also, its most fertile regions. In the central region there are raised the mounts of Hortiati (1201 m.), of Holomontas (1165 m.) and of Itamos (in Sithonia, 811 m.) and in the eastern point the splendid mountainous mass of mount Athos(2033 m) .
The three peninsulas, that give the impression that stick out from the Aegean Sea, make Halkidiki the prefecture with the biggest length of coastlines in the continental Greece.
The coastline of Halkidiki exceeds the 500 km, including every type of landscape. From the vast sandy beaches of Kalamaria, Nikitis, Toronis and Ierissos, to the rocky and woody sandy beaches of Sithonia, and from there to the graphic gulves of Vourvourou.
Halkidiki does not have rivers, and this is one of the reasons why the sea that encircles it is one of the cleanest of Greece.
Based on the recent excavation at the cave of Petralona it is calculated that the history of Halkidiki goes 700.000 years back to time. According to paleontologists that studied the findings of the cave, the first controlled fire lit in Chalkidiki about 700.000 years ago. The scalp that was discovered in the cave is estimated to be 250.000 years old and gave to science a new type of human. A lot of prehistoric settlements have been discovered along the coastline. These settlements depict that about 4000 B.C. Halkidiki was already a rich, densely populated area where art flourished and works of art graced everyday life of people.
Recorded data refer to the colony of Chalkidiki at the times of the Trojan War. However, its systematic colony of the residents of South Greece seems to begin from the 8th B.C. century. Colonists came mostly from Halkida and Eretria. The first historical record that we have for Chalkidiki comes from Irodotos. In his scripts for the Persian wars, the father of history repeatedly mentions Halkidiki and gives historical and topographical details. He describes the destruction of the fleet of Mardonios from a great storm in Atho, and the digging of a channel at the isthmus of the peninsula from Xerxis. Irodotos refers to all these inshore towns of Halkidiki, where Xerxis imposed recruitment of men and gives important information about the Persian siege of Potidea and the enslavement of the residents of Olinthos from the Persian leader Artavazo. After the Persian wars (in the middle of 5th B.C century), most of the towns of Halkidiki became members of the Athens’ alliance. During the Peloponnesian war (one of the causes for its outbreak was Potidea), Chalkidiki was for many years a field of war between the Athenians and the Lakeidemonians. As a result, many of its towns were destroyed and its residents realized that in order to survive they would have to unite.
In 168 B.C. Chalkidiki, just like the rest of Macedonia, was conquered by the Romans. At the years that followed, Roman and Italian traders and technicians settled in its towns. In the 6th A.D. century, Chalkidiki was rummaged again, this time from the Ounous. Between the 9th and 15th century, Chalkidiki was basically a farming and cattle-breeding area. From the monuments of the medieval Chalkidiki only a few ruins have remained and the most remarkable of them are castles, towers and monasteries. In the beginning of the 16th century, a mint worked for a small period in Sidirokafsia(today’s Stagira). In 1821, Chalkidiki played an important role in Greek revolution. The battle began in 17th of May from Polygyros and quickly expanded in the entire peninsula. Emanouil Papas, trader from Serres and member of the “Friendly Association”, was the leader of the revolution in north Greece. Using the mount Atho as a fort, he organized groups of battle, which were successful initially, but as time passed they were defeated by the Turks and withdrew in the peninsula of Kassandra.
In the beginning of the 21st century, it was one of the resistance forts of the Macedonian fight , and was also used as a warrior sanctuary. Weapons and ammunition were off-loaded there and were passed on to the rebels. Many residents of Halkidiki took part in the resistant forces of Pavlos Melas and the other Macedon leaders. So, in October 1912, 20 days before the release of Chalkidiki, Chalkidiki regained its freedom.After 1922, the history of Chalkidiki came into a new phase. Thousands of refugees from Mikra Asia, Thraki and Bulgaria settled on its grounds. Today, 75 years after its third settlement it has a unique financial development with the prospective to become one of the most important touristic resorts of Europe.
The ancient name of Kassandra was Flegra, which means Place of Fire. It is believed that it was the ground of Giants and the field of battle of war between the Gods of Olympus and the Giants, when the last ones attempted to expel the Gods from the Olympus. According to a fable, Enceladus, the leader of the Giants, was crashed by a rock that the Gods of Olympus threw against him. So, the “Enceladus – Earthquake” giant, was buried in Kassandra, but not having really died, from time to time he tries to break free from his tomb and his efforts constitute the phenomenon of the earthquake. All these myths, of course, are not irrelevant with the geological phenomena that are met in Kassandra: subsidence in the centre of the peninsula, and steam from the hot sulphurs springs of Aghia Paraskevi.
At the other side of Halkidiki, the peninsula of Athos took its name from the giant Athos, who during the battle, threw an enormous rock at Zeus but missed him.
Sithonia took its name from Sithon, son of Poseidon.
The woman of Sithona was named Mentis and his daughter Pallini (Menti was the name of an ancient city in Kassandra, while Pallini is chronologically the second name of the peninsula of Kassandra).
The mild climate of Halkidiki and the high levels of sunlight, combined with the ground morphology, form a suitable environment for the production of a number of products.
Cultivable land covers 1/3 of Halkidiki, and according to the data of the 1997 inventory the cultivated and fallow land amounts to 956.5 million square meters, that is 32.8% of the total area of the region. The agricultural character of Halkidiki determines and justifies the relatively large number of processing units for agricultural products. From the total number of units, 84 (which is 85.7%) deal with agricultural products and 11 units (a percentage of 11%) deal with stock breeding products.
Most of the products are put into the market directly by the producers themselves in the form they are gathered from nature, while others are subjected to a stage of simple processing and a few others undergo some further processing (distillery). As far as the stock breeding products are concerned, the largest part of the production consists of products taken directly from animals without requiring the use of special equipment.
- Halkidiki Olives
Olives are an integral part of the life of the Mediterranean people, a fact that is apparent both in everyday life and in local myths and traditions. The olive tree is considered to be a blessed tree because there is no part of it wasted: the fruit can be eaten directly or it can produce oil, the leaves are used for forage and the wood for firewood and for furniture manufacturing. Since ancient times the olive tree was a symbol of prosperity, peace, fertility and euphoria: for example the winners at the Olympic games were crowned with olive branches. It is estimated that 93% of the 800 million olive trees in the world today are cultivated in the Mediterranean countries with Greece having a significant share.
What is special about the olives of Halkidiki?
In the Halkidiki the olive is the main agricultural product. Its cultivation is based on age-long tradition and experience. Two major varieties are cultivated, the “kalamon” and the “bulky-olive”. The most prevalent is the bulky-olive which is so well-adapted to the local climate that it is now called bulky-olive of Halkidiki. It is a variety used both for oil and for table olives. Its special feature, which is responsible for its good adaptation, is that it requires low temperatures in the middle of winter in order to fructify.
How large is the olive production in Halkidiki?
The cultivated areas amount to 210 million sq. m. (1/8 of Halkidiki), while the annual production of table olives is around 40,000 tons (which is about 50% of the country’s production), from which approximately 10,000 tons are exported either abroad or in others parts of the country, and the rest is consumed within Halkidiki. In total there are 69 farms in the Halkidiki involved in olive products.
Olives produced in Halkidiki follows tradition in order to become edible, which involves a rather time-consuming and troublesome process, but the product is tasteful and of high quality. So, whatever type of olive you prefer, “lined”, “cracked”, “shrunk”, “raisin-like”, “Spanish type”, with stone or stuffed, you’ll find them all in Halkidiki.
- Vine Leaves
One of the areas with the greatest grape production in Greece is southern Halkidiki and particularly the part adjoining the prefecture of Thessaloniki. It is a really impressive sight for someone starting his journey from Thessaloniki towards the three “legs” of Halkidiki. Slopes full of vineyards welcome the visitors and embellish the route with bright green images.
In this area, close to Nea Kalikratia and just before Agios Pavlos, there is small and relatively unknown village, Nea Gonia. It was established by refugees who came from Eastern Thrace after the Asia Minor disaster. Coming from Eastern Thrace, the residents of Gonia brought with them the knowledge of viniculture as well as the familiar to all of us now tastes of the East. One of their favourite dishes was the stuffed vine leaf – known as “dolmadaki” or “sarmadaki”. So, they were naturally involved in the systematic utilization of this product that comes from the grapevine.
Why are the vine leaves of Nea Gonia special?
At the same time, the sensitisation of some farmers and the adoption of more environmentally friendly methods led to the gradual conversion of their vineyards form conventional to organic ones. Because the vine leaf is harvested in the early summer when it is still tender, that is May and June, a time when the grapevine is in great need of insecticides and fertilizers, the organic cultivation is the only method which guarantees that the product reaching the consumer is both healthy and tasteful.
Marianna Kazaki played a major part in the development and spread of organic utilization of the vine leaf and vine tops in the area of Nea Gonia. She started, as early as 1989, the harvest of vine leaves and their
conservation with traditional methods, without preservatives, pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Her main aim was the satisfaction of her family and friends. At the same time, other farmers from Nea Gonia and the proximate village of Agios Pavlos decided to take advantage of the leaves of their grapevines promoting them into the market with their own brand names.
Where are the Nea Gonia vine leaves supplied?
Today, Nea Gonia is well-known for the Vine Leaves it produces. Over 100,000 vine leaf jars are produced annually in these slopes of Halkidiki. Of course, most of them are consumed in Greece, but a large amount is exported all over the world. For instance, Marianna’s Vine Leaves (a main product of the Kazaki family with production that exceeded 60,000 jars in 2004) were exported to Germany, Britain and even Japan, China and the U.S.A.
Why is the cheese of Halkidiki unique?
Greece produces a great range of white cheeses in saltwater depending on the type of milk and the methods of production, preservation and packaging. It is likely that these types of cheese had a common origin and they diversified later on with modifications of the original technology.
In the region of Halkidiki, due to the typical Mediterranean dry-warm climate conditions and the lush self-sown vegetation, goat breeding has developed since ancient times. The goats in the area are completely adapted through natural selection to the natural conditions of Halkidiki and as a result the milk they produce is unique regarding its composition, taste and nutrients.
Ancient findings confirm the age-long relationship between the residents of Halkidiki and cheese-making. Over the years, tradition was enriched by technology and modern hygiene rules. The superiority of the Goat Cheese of Halkidiki against other types of white cheese is due to all the above, that is excellent quality of raw material, traditional experience and up-to-date production methods.
- Halkidiki Honey
Halkidiki has got 30% of the total number of bee swarms in Greece (400,000 from a total 1,200,000), with 50% of the professional Greek bee-keepers (2,500 from 5,000). The bee-hive density is 84/km2, while the average in Greece is 10/km2.
Halkidiki alone has twice as many bee-hives as Britain, four times more than Belgium and Denmark and more than Portugal (210,000), Holland (85,000), Luxembourg (10,400) and Ireland (16,000) combined.
What is special about the honey of Halkidiki?
Bee-keeping is one of the major branches of the local economy and this is due to the rich apiarian flora (pine-tree, heath, arbutus, almond-tree, chestnut, linden), the ideal climate (warm summers, mild winters), the excellent quality of the honey of Halkidiki, the tradition and transfer of the mastery of bee-swarms handling from one generation to the next and the appropriate co-operative organization of the apiarists in the area.
The development of tourism in southern Halkidiki and the vicinity of Thessaloniki have also contributed to the development of apiculture in Halkidiki, which induced the apiarists to modernise their units in order to satisfy the increased demand.
Halkidiki is of great apicultural interest because of the advantages it has over other regions of the country. All the pine forests of Halkidiki have the honey-producing insect Marchalira Hellenica L. and they offer a stable annual production of honey. In Halkidiki there is a special breed of bees called Apis Mellifera Macedonica, which is one of the calmest breeds. It is sufficiently productive, it has got little tendency to form swarms and it is tolerant to diseases.
Why should someone prefer the honey of Halkidiki?
Thus, following the tradition, but also being lucky enough to live in an environment suitable for apiculture, the people of Halkidiki produce one of the finest honeys in the world which contains an abundance of those qualities which make honey one of the most valuable foodstuffs. Pine-tree honey is the most commonly produced honey in Halkidiki, but there is also heath and chestnut honey production in smaller quantities.
So the choice is honey from Halkidiki if you require inexhaustible energy, muscular strength, stamina in fatigue and diseases and mental abilities augmentation.
- Fir Trees
Where are Christmas trees obtained from?
The Christmas tree custom started after World War II and it was then adopted by a lot of people. The thousands of trees sold before the holidays every year are not cut from the forests of Greece. A small part is imported from other countries, but the greatest part is produced in private artificial plantations created for this particular purpose.
Is there fir tree cultivation in Halkidiki?
In the municipal department of Taxiarhis, which belongs to the municipality of Polygyros, the main agricultural activity is fir-tree cultivation in order to sell it as a Christmas tree. This is due to the fact that Taxiarhis is situated in a quite high altitude that makes any other type of cultivation impossible or unprofitable because of the climate conditions. It is worth mentioning that at least 75% of the national demand for Christmas trees is covered by the area of Taxiarhis.
Why is fir-tree cultivation important in Halkidiki?
From all the above we realise that fir-tree cultivation is of great financial significance for the village of Taxiarhis as it provides the residents with an additional income, which is not contemptible for the their financial standards. We should not fail to mention that there is also fir-tree cultivation in other areas of northern Halkidiki.
Apart from the financial significance for the area, fir-tree cultivation is also an important environmentally-friendly activity because:
* After its use the discarded product is easily assimilated by the environment, contrary to the synthetic Christmas trees.
* Areas that would otherwise remain uncultivated and exposed to erosion are now green thus preventing erosion and floods.
* It offers an indirect protection to the forests since farmers in the process of protecting their cultivations from fires act preventively and repressively against forest fires.
Considering the above, we can see that fir-tree cultivation is very important for the area as it preserves tradition, protects the environment, supplements the residents’ income and contributes to forest protection.
- Wines of Halkidiki
Halkidiki is one of the richest grape production regions in Greece. It is a really impressive sight for the traveller who begins his journey from Thessaloniki in order to visit the three “legs” of Halkidiki. There are hill or mountain slopes full of vineyards that welcome the visitors and embellish the journey with verdurous images.
In the Halkidiki there are about 18 million square meters of vineyards, from which 7 million sq. m. have grapes used for winery, and 5 million sq. m. belong to two large local businesses. The rest are traditional small vineyards, scattered all around the region, whose production is absorbed by local consumption. The amount of wine produced is 1,500 tons annually.
What is special about the wine of Halkidiki?
There are 6 wineries in the region with approximately 120 employees. The carefully selected varieties and the dry-warm climate conditions combined with the semi-fertile, well-drained soil and the terrain of the area offer superb results in terms of wine-grapes quality and their acid and sugar levels, thus providing a local wine of marvellous flavour and quality.
Which are the most common varieties in Halkidiki?
The most common varieties are:
* Asyrtiko:A very dynamic variety, among the most remarkable in the Mediterranean. It produces wines with discreet aroma (citrus fruit), rich body and acidity.
* Roditis:A variety with many variations, one of the most widespread in Greece. It offers white wines with fruit aroma, body and finesse.
* Limnio: An ancient Greek variety found in Limnos and Halkidiki. It produces high-degree wines with special aroma and characteristic flavour.
The wines of Halkidiki are well-known for their flavour and rich aroma and they receive international awards in food and beverage exhibitions. They are consumed either on their own or accompanying meals.