Updated: Jul 24, 2018
So like every good Romanian, I packed my car full and left to Greece this summer. More specifically to Halkidiki, the peninsula on the North-East coast of Greece that is about 9 hours drive from Bucharest and 13 hours from Transylvania, my home. Hence, Halkidiki is a very popular destination for Romanians in the summer, which made me a bit skeptical (not that I don’t like Romanians, most of the times I do, but when half of your countrymen flock to a destination you wonder whether that’s a good or bad sign). The reason for going there was the wedding of a friend, so my boyfriend and I decided to turn it into a longer holiday and explore the peninsula a bit. Which, like most spontaneous, unplanned decisions in life, turned out to be a blast.
The peninsula has three “arms” (or “legs”, as the Greeks refer to them) and we started our journey on the Eastern one, called Agion Oros which contains Mount Athos with its famous monasteries. Arriving into Ouranoupoli just before sunset, I immediately felt that I was in a special place, where nature stands still and where land and sea meet to create harmony. We checked into our hotel, Ayia Marina Suites, a beautiful 11-room boutique hotel designed and maintained with genuine love and care. Greek hospitality at its best, olive tree in the garden and all.
Having had 9 hours on the road to daydream about feta cheese and octopus, we immediately left walking through the sleepy town of Ouranoupoli in search of the perfect taverna. And we found it. Added bonus: the view, right on the beach, at sunset. Simple and fresh Greek food, I have no idea how to spell the name anymore, but you can decipher the Greek version from the picture below. Small note for beer lovers: we must have drank half of the beer in Greece during this holiday, and the best in my opinion was Mythos beer, but in this taverna they only had Alfa on draft, which was good too.
We had only booked 2 nights in Ouranopoli, so we made sure to take full advantage of our only whole day there, so after a delicious breakfast at Ayia Marina Suites on Saturday morning, we headed to the port of Ouranopoli (located behind the tower in the main square and composed of a total of 3 boats) and took a ride to Drenia Island. 15 minutes and 5 Euros per person later, we arrived on an island with crystal clear water, golden sand, complimentary sun loungers and one restaurant. No music, no fuss, just some kids playing in the water, families enjoying their day out and happy campers along the beach. Perfect start of our holidays in Halkidiki. The boat goes back and forth every 30 minutes so you can come or leave any time of the day and the 5 Euros include the return ticket.
That Saturday evening we opted for a more fancy dinner, at Kritikos Galleries & Restaurant located in the heart of Ouranoupolis. The grilled veggies were to die for, very fresh and tasty.
Next morning we woke up to another breakfast of champions (food was a highlight during this trip, I ate more feta and greek yoghurt than ever in my life) after which I went for a final walk and shopping tour through Ouranoupoli. Depending on your goal, Ouranoupoli can be great for a 2-3 day exploration trip or a full one week relaxation holiday. We did not go to Mount Athos and the monasteries, which is supposed to be one of the highlights, and we could have definitely spent more days on the beautiful island beach. My walk during that quiet and warm Sunday morning revealed to me that if I were to come back here, I would find the same. Walks through the sleepy town at sunrise, buying olives and olive oil from friendly locals, taking the boat to Drenia Island and watching the world go by. It is one of those places, where you can feel incredibly lonely or incredibly alive.
The second part of our trip took place in Afytos, on the Western arm of the peninsula, called “Pallene” or “Kassandra”. More alive than Ouranopoli, we started our Afytos experience with a 1-night stay at the Beach House, a bohemian house located 300 m from the beach, “in the bushes”. A good choice, but nothing compared to where we spent the remaining 4 nights, the Rigas Boutique Hotel - definitely a highlight of our holidays in Afytos.
Located high on the rocks Afytos with incredible views over the Aegean Sea, we did not want to leave the Rigas Boutique Hotel from the moment we entered it. We spent our days sunbathing at their pool while listening to lounge music and sipping on Frappes (the coffee, milk and ice mix that Greeks drink at any time of the day) and Strawberry Lemonades. In the evenings, we walked through the busy old town of Afytos, explored the handmade shops selling soap and lavender. Bought 3 litre of olive oil to take back home with us. Continued our fish, feta cheese, beer and wine marathon at authentic tavernas (one of the best being Thea Thalassa). On one evening, we dined at the restaurant of Rigas Boutique Hotel and I had to satisfy my Moussaka craving (the heavy Greek dish made with minced meet, potatoes, aubergine and bechamel sauce).
Afytos is a place we could always go back to. It is buzzing, but it has the charm of an old Greek town, there are beautiful beaches around it, good dining, shopping and accommodation options. A perfect destination to just relax or explore the peninsula from.
We left it relaxed and recharged, ready for a weekend of fun at our friend’s wedding, which took place on the other side of the Kassandra arm, 20 minutes drive from Afytos. As with wedding weekends where friends from all over the world gather, we had way too many drinks so that’s where my story ends. It was all worth it.