The citizens of Thessaloniki and the surrounding areas have coined the phrase “There is nothing like Chalkidiki“ and they throw it around every time anyone talks about any holiday destination. One of my best friends insists: “I’ve been everywhere. I’ve even been to Cuba. There is nothing like Chalkidiki“. You realise that they are a bit sensitive about the place.
Last time I went to Chalkidiki was 15 years ago but it did leave a lasting impression. Having just been around the place with the s.o. (he practically grew up there) I can safely say that due to Chalkidiki’s size and variety, to really appreciate it you have to 1) be really well prepared and know what you want to see, and/or b) let someone who is from around there plan the whole thing.
In just a few days we managed to spent an awful lot of time in the car as Chalkidiki is actually quite big and it requires time and a driver who is happy to go the distance.
You will hear people talk about Chalkidiki’s “legs” (each peninsula is one leg). The first (left hand side) and the second are accessible. The third one is inaccessible generally (don’t ask). The first leg is the most densely populated and where you will generally find the most bars, clubs and general mayhem. The second leg, Sithonia, is still unspoilt. Do not get into a discussion about this with Chalkidiki fans. They all remember a time when the second leg was more unspoilt, those were the days, no electricity, more trees than now, less people blah blah blah.
The Beach Bars
Chalkidiki wrote the book on beach bars and everyone else in Greece has been playing catch up ever since.
We managed to travel around quite a lot so we went to a number of them.
Navagos at Paliouri (near the bottom of the first leg) was lovely all around. Ample parking, great seating, grass for games and such and a nice beach. Not sandy though, which I like. They also had too many bees flying around with a clear preference for our coffees. Clearly not the beach bar’s fault but I thought I’d mention it.
Talgo Beach bar at Vourvourou was another one we went to. The service left a lot to be desired (I’ve never seen a waiter not smiling at all) and the coffee was bad. However, the location is great, and we had loads of fun. It was one of our best days for people watching and gossiping.
The best beach bar we went to was Manassu. It is a little bit difficult to get to – which may explain why they’ve done such a good job. The sunbeds are comfortable and really well spaced out, the beach is clean and the sea just lovely. We also liked the service (the lady was smiling non stop, it was great) and their coffee. We stayed the whole day as we also grabbed a bite at their restaurant, more on that, below.
The worst beach bar we went to was Kohi at Porto Carras. Now, you have to understand why this is a bit shocking. Porto Carras is a grand resort and has had an amazing reputation for being one of the darlings of the international jet set. Some of the most senior Greek politicians used to take a helicopter to go there for a round of golf for god’s sake (don’t get me started). So you can see how some of that lustre may be rubbing off on Kohi. The Porto Carras “campus” is huge and enclosed. So one has to pay to get in (if you are not a guest) and then pay for the sunbed (only beach bar that we had to do that) and pay for the coffee (yep, normal). The enclosure just looked tired (rubbish everywhere, abandoned buildings, generally not good) and Kohi was even worse. No, I do not want to come to one of the allegedly best beach bars and be greeted by rubbish bins outside and have to visit the filthiest toilets of my whole trip by far (the smell was out of this world). Here is where is gets surreal though. Apparently, there are levels of VIPness that beach users have, with the spot right in front of the beach bar being the most important one. Fine by us since the music was a bit too loud. The maitre (I swear, there is someone in charge of allocating sunbeds) didn’t say it out loud but it was clear that the spot where we were being directed was considered second rate by the beach bar staff themselves (because that makes so much commercial sense. Not). The sunbeds were filthy (yes I did take a photo). The actual waiters were a bit of a mix. The lady was polite, the gentleman who brought the coffee was not too professional. All in all, it was a crying shame, especially considering the lovely location. Oh well, people will pay to be mistreated again and again but we are certainly not going back there in a hurry.
During this trip I discovered that the s.o. and I are quite similarly consistent when it comes to holiday food. The list was specific with just one or two variations (just to pretend we were doing something different from time to time).
- Salad (Greek or boiled greens)
- Seafood (octopus, calamari, mussels)
- Fish (all sorts)
- Meze (tzatziki, fries, fried zucchini)
That was basically it, apart from one day when he got pasta and I got a grilled burger. Before you make fun of us do try the list above in Greece and then let me know if you would have changed your order. 🙂
A really nice place with yummy food was To Steki tou Vasila at Poseidi. Fresh fish, nice people and a faultless location, right on top of the sea. I do wonder if it is a legal building though. On the day we were a bit exhausted so the shade and light breeze were great.
Another really really good place was Aristos at Ormos Panagias. This is a truly great location where you will see small and big ships depart for daily tours. They have tables right there on the beach so it was great feeling the sand between my toes after a long and warm day. The service is really polite and speedy too. We ended up staying there quite a bit, just listening to the waves while the night was falling.
One of the so and so restaurants was Manassu. They have a great space and their service is very quick and polite. Their menu is sufficiently imaginative but the actual food is not impressive enough considering what the menu seems to promise. The best thing was the salad with slices of orange but all the other plates had something slightly wrong with them. The potatoes were a bit overdone in the potato salad. The burger was a bit burned outside (I like that) and undone inside (I don’t like that). The pasta was nothing special (even though the seafood was yummy) and the fried zucchini were too oily. I like what they are trying to do but they need to up the game a bit I think.
The best food by far was at O Psaras at Porto Koufo. This is quite a good location, in a quiet bay with loads of sailing boats. The area boasts a kind of fish called mousmoulia which is unbelievably yummy (and sufficiently expensive). Every single plate was great. I can’t stress this enough, the food was fresh and amazing. The service was really good too. If you manage to get down there (it’s a bit far) do visit them, they are worth it.
A quick drink
We are not big on clubbing (anymore) but I can tell you that the place to be when it comes to clubbing is Kallithea. Kallithea is where the party is at (as well as the youngsters, the alcohol, the short skirts, the hair gel etc.). We drove past the clubs’ part of the area (it exists) and it all looks amazing. If I was younger. You get the picture.
A nice little bar that gets high marks is Spitaki, near the middle of Kallithea and close to the beach. It gets extremely busy with all the “beautiful people” (everyone meets someone they know basically). The music is quite nice too. Their mai tai cocktail was very yummy but their jamaica mule was a disaster! Anyhow, if you are looking for a bar instead of a club this is highly recommended
My favourite spot for a very quiet drink was the bar section of the Sea You Up restaurant at Sani Marina. Sani is a bit of a legend, another grand resort but definitely looking great (unlike Porto Carras). It is of course a constructed/ artificial village offering a bit of a sterilised experience. Regardless, it has lovely restaurants and walking around the marina is a bit of an experience (hint: my flat is smaller than ANY of the yachts we saw there). Sea You Up for drinks is actually great and you might bump into a celebrity or two during the Sani Festival season. Service is *very* polite and a bit stiff. Smiling from time to time would work, I was wondering if the staff are slightly terrorised.
A note on prices
If we think about prices from the point of view of two people who work in the UK and had their accommodation sorted, the prices were reasonable. But, if you really think about it, Chalkidiki is expensive. We spent an average of 15 Euro at each beach bar for two people. That included coffees, water and maybe a bite or some fruit. The average for a good meal was 55 Euro for two even though that included fresh fish and alcohol in most cases. Considering that due to our schedule we ate once a day that’s not too bad for us but you can see how the expense can quickly mount up. A drink in a nice place (cocktails mostly) will set you back around 8-10 Euro.
The greatest spot…
… was not a spot at all. My most cherished memory of Chalkidiki (fit for the public domain) is driving around the second peninsula with the windows rolled down and listening to the summer. The cicadas, the breeze, the smell of sunblock. If you can I do heartily recommend that you drive around Sithonia, the second peninsula just for the fun of it. Seeing the mountains, the forests and the deep blue sea, the coves and the beaches I bet you that you will understand why they insist in Northern Greece that there is no place like Chalkidiki.
Check these out
Navagos Beach Bar
Talgo Beach Bar
Akti Oneirou, Sithonia, Chlkidiki
Kohi Beach Bar
Porto Carras, Chalkidiki
To Steki tou Vasila
Ormos Panagias, Chalkidiki
Porto Koufo, Chalkidiki
Sea You Up
Sani Marina, Chalkidiki