If you’re looking for more to your holiday than a stop and flop beach affair and want to participate in a little destination immersion then we highly recommend that you look to add a couple of nights in the city! There are plenty of options to look at both in Europe, (Split and Hvar, Croatia, Lisbon and Cascais, Portugal for example) and beyond, (Havana and the Cayos, Cuba, Ho Chi Minh City and Mui Ne & Con Dao, Vietnam, Marrakesh and Essaouira, Morocco) to name but a few, but for now I’m staying closer to home to bring you one of my favourites.
I thank Victoria Hislop for first introducing me to Greece’s second city. Certainly my first trip to Thessaloniki brought life to her novel “The Thread” with many of the locations easily recognisable. The “new waterfront” promenade, spanning 3 km, links the sea with the city and from here on a clear day you can look across to Mount Olympus, a clear reminder of your location. The city itself is steeped in history with notable Byzantine monuments, as well as evidence from Roman and Ottoman empires, making the city a kind of living museum, although the architecture is some what of a mishmash as the great fire of 1917 destroyed vast areas of the city.
It’s true that Greece has and is suffering from austerity measures and economic chaos as depicted by many media articles and indeed a recent travelogue from Simon Reeve, but I was struck by the vibrancy on the busy streets and the bustling bars and restaurants on a short visit to Thessaloniki. Home to 4 universities, which certainly have an impression on the demographic, and the hipster, sneaker wearing but business savvy mayor, Yiannis Boutaris, there is so much life in the city that you can’t help to feel alive and almost full of hope. Bars and restaurants spill out onto the street and despite the multicultural ethnicity of indeed most large cities, there is a very Greek flavour to the food and entertainment.
Needless to say that as with other metropolises there are a great number of hotels at all levels, targeting both leisure and business travellers so the choice can be based on budget. The Capsis Hotel is one of the largest city hotels in Greece and perhaps not an obvious choice but the refurbished rooms and the fabulous roof top pool and bar with views to the old city make this a great base for exploration and top marks go to the hotel gift shop selling local crafts. For a more top end option the Makedonia Palace located on the waterfront but not far from the city, offers all the facilities of a luxury hotel with uninterrupted views from the terrace and pool area to the waters-edge – a superb position with large comfortable spaces – you might not even want to head to the beach!
But once your time in the city comes to an end, Thessaloniki couldn’t be better position to head to the beach with Halkidiki and her peninsulas just a short 1 hr or so drive away, depending on your choice of resort. If time is limited then I’d certainly recommend you stick to Kassandra, the first peninsular although Sithonia the second is not too much further. As this is one of the busiest areas there are plenty of accommodation choices and my heart has been slightly lost to the preserved village of Afitos with it’s balcony overlooking the coast. The village is walking distance from both the Petrino Suites and Blue Bay Hotel. The former, located just the other side of the main road, is just delightful and has been built in traditional style to offer an authentic but stylish holiday. The pool area has a very cool “vibe” and as guests here you have access to the private beach at sister hotel the adult only White Suites.
From the Blue Bay you’ll enjoy the most fabulous views as she sits majestically on the cliff overlooking the sea. The steps up from the the beach will take a while to get used to but warm hospitality and modern comfort await you on your return and you’ll certainly be rewarded. A stroll to village takes you past meadows and olive groves and is perfect for pre or post dinner to appreciate this very special location.
Blue Bay Hotel
If you’re looking to step straight out onto the sand then by heading a little further south to Pefkohori (100km from the airport) you’ll find the very well appointed Flegra Beach apartments on the most gorgeous beach which certainly draws you into the azure waters. This is a great and flexible option with kitchenettes in all apartments in addition to some lovely onsite dinging options. There is of course the sister hotel, Flegra Palace, with pool and full dining plan as an option too, but sometimes only a beachside location will do!
Flegra Beach Apartments
All the beach stay options offer amazingly warm hospitality in a very beautiful location and while we’re sure that your Thessaloniki city experience will stay with you forever, your beach stay in Halkidiki will transport you to a very different place no matter how short your visit!
We travelled in May 2015. A beach / city combo is great for the shoulder seasons when temperatures allow for city exploring and the beach resorts are not yet brimming.