Birthplace of Aristotle and northern Greece’s favourite playground, Chalkidikí (‘Chalcidice’ in many history books, or ‘Halkidikí’ to keep holiday-makers from saying ‘chalk’) resembles a giant bear paw, with a history and spirit as distinctive as its geography. Along the three dangling claws, pines back sandy beaches lapped by a turquoise sea, planted with more Blue Flags per square metre than any part of Greece – 71 at the current count. This is your best chance in northern Greece to drop a serious chunk of change at a luxury hotel or gourmet restaurant (nearly all within the resorts) but there are also more affordable hotels, apartments, studios galore – often booked by package holiday firms – campsites and humble tavernas.
The closer to Thessaloníki and its airport, the busier the shore. The westernmost peninsula, Kassándra, is the summer resort for half of Thessaloníki. The middle peninsula, Sithonía, still has wild patches; while the eastern peninsula, Akté, is the way station to another world: Mount Athos, the last theocracy in the West, which after decades of decline is currently enjoying a boom, thanks in large part to Russian and other Eastern European Orthodox faithful, many of whom combine a family beach holiday with a visit, by dad, to Mount Athos. If Chalkidikí’s ‘claws’ get most of the attention, the inland is something of a bestkept secret, with farmland, mountains, gold mines, dense pine woods, and olive groves that produce a whopping percentage of Greece’s table olives, and literally tonnes of honey, the best made from wild thyme flowers.