As Thessaloniki celebrates 100 years of independence, Andy Sotiropoulou nominates the five places in northern Greece you must visit
From dazzling beaches with turquoise waters, to ancient monasteries clinging to impossibly steep cliffs, Northern Greece is an area of inexhaustible charm.
Central Macedonia’s ancient capital Thessaloniki is Greece’s second city. Home to 1 million people, it has a vibrant nightlife, year round temperate climate and a fascinating history which dates back over 3,000 years. 2012 is a special year for Thessaloniki, marking 100 years since its liberation, however the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans all once ruled here, each leaving their own marks on its architecture and character. The Byzantine Churches are particularly notable and have been given World Heritage Status by UNESCO.
Food and wine is an important part of life in Thessaloniki. The weather in Northern Greece is fantastic for the cultivation of grapes and many of the country’s best red wines are produced in and around the area. This is reflected in the city’s expansive selection of bars and restaurants.
Over 550km of pristine coastline make Halkidiki a mecca for beach lovers and one of the most visited destinations in Greece. Accommodation options are endless and some of the best hotels and resorts in Greece can be found here.
But it’s not all about sun, sand and sea. Away from the beach Halkidiki offers some of the best outdoor activities in Northern Greece including mountain biking, riding, bird-watching, trekking, and the proximity to Mount Athos means that there are numerous religious tours as well.
With spectacular mountain landscapes dotted with countless lakes and rivers, Kilkis offers wonderful walking for nature lovers. Picking particular highlights is a difficult task but don’t miss the cave in the hill of Agios Georgios in the town of Kilkis, the Paiko mountains with their beautiful waterfalls, and the Mouria Forest, a listed natural monument. There are also many folkloric and cultural events held annually in the Kilkis area. If you are visiting, make sure you do some research before you leave so you know where the parties are happening!
Pieria truly is a land of contrasts. Home to the legendary Olympus mountains, with the mighty summit of Mytikas climbing to nearly 3,000 metres, this largely rural area is also blessed with 70km of top class beach, and a large wetland. This variety in relatively close proximity makes Pieria a great spot for outdoor adventure and rural pursuits.
The area of Mount Athos (also known as‘Holy Mountain’) is surrounded by 300km of sparkling coastline and is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, great gastronomic tradition and, of course, religious history, for which it gets its name.
Mount Athos itself is inhabited only by monks, 2,200 of them in total. There are 20 Byzantine monasteries, 12 cloisters and 800 monk’s cells. A great way to explore the area is on foot and there are many walking routes that combine natural and historical exploration. Each spring, the region also hosts the ‘Mount Athos Gourmet’, a month long festival which attracts foodies from all over the world.