Travel Diaries

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Thessaloniki & Halkidiki

In July 2018, we decided to spend a couple of weeks travelling the western area of Halkidiki. Starting our journey in Thessalonika, we headed west past lakes Koroneias and Volvi before picking up the coast at Stavros. From here we followed the road south to the sleepy village of Olymbiada, and on to the Athos peninsula. The final leg of the journey took us inland to the towns of Polygyros and Galatista before arriving back at Thessalonika.

  • Thessalonika
    A short flight from the UK brought us to the bustlingly hot city of Thessalonika in Northern Greece. We arrived at midday, dumped our bags in our room and headed out to explore. Our first walk took us to the older part of town that provided great views and a shaded opportunity to grab a Frappe and take in the scenery.
  • Thessalonika
    Like many Mediterranean cities, Thessalonika is a mish-mash of the old and new; crumbling decadence go hand in hand with modern concrete and the ghosts of millennia past. It is a city that begs to be explored, absorbed and photographed.
  • Thessalonika
    Not a technically brilliant picture, but it sums up the old and then new. The hotel we stayed in was located next to Roman ruins. No doubt much of the cities’ foundations rest on these older levels, which in turn rest on ancient Greek ancestry.
  • Thessalonika Market
    A walk around Thessalonika is not complete without visiting the market, where noise and smell pervade the senses. There is very little that cannot be purchased here, and if you are looking for souvenirs, they can be found significantly cheaper than Halkidiki’s tourist resorts.
  • Thessalonika Archaeological Museum
    One of the main reasons for us spending a couple of days here was to have a look around the archaeological museum. After several minutes of confused debating about what was permissible to drink while in the museum, we were allowed to leave the ticket desk.
  • Thessalonika Archaeological Museum Macedonian Gold
    Particularly interesting was the Macedonian Gold from the time of Phillip II. Having visited an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford a few years ago, I was keen to see more - and was not disappointed. It is hard not to be entranced by the delicate metalworking of gold wreathes, some of which contain flower heads and stamens no more than a few millimetres long.
  • Thessalonika Alexander the Great
    I have photographed this statue of Alexander the Great a couple of times in the past. It occupies an imposing position near the White Tower on the seafront, and the harsh lighting of late morning provided me an opportunity to reshoot with a contre-jour effect in mind.
  • Thessalonika Graffiti
    Graffiti appears everywhere in Thessalonika conveying everything from political messages to pure art. However, the artwork created on the side of this building transcends this, and illustrates what can be done with a large empty wall space – stunning.
  • Thessalonika
    City evenings can be a time of magic – lighting, smells and conversation blend to almost intoxicating effect. Wandering the streets as dusk fell provided more photo opportunities that I could handle. After a couple of hours I had to completely disengage from photography to allow a more mindful experience.
  • Thessalonika
    As the heat of the day subsided, a different side of the city emerged. Ambience pervaded the streets as bars and tavernas stirred into life, their sounds and smells luring in hungry passers by (us included).
  • Thessalonika
    Any fan of the olive would be hard pushed not to find something to their taste on this stall.
  • Olymbiada
    Leaving the city’s frenetic pace behind, we headed East to Olymbiada, a coastal village surrounded by heavily forested mountains. Just south of the village is the ancient settlement of Stagira, birthplace of Aristotle. Latest evidence suggests that the vestiges of a large tomb found amongst Stagira’s ruins belong to Aristotle. After leaving the town as a young man and spending a lifetime travelling, philosophising, writing and mentoring Alexander the Great, he died in Chalcis, Euboea. His remains were brought back to Stagira for interment.
  • Olymbiada Stagira
    The walk to the acropolis at Stagira was very hot and steep in places. However, the coastal views were stunning.
  • Olymbiada
    Olymbiada proved to be mosquito heaven, particularly when a heavy shower coincided with dusk… as was the case most evenings. I cannot describe the inconvenience I was put to getting this image of the village. At one point I counted 14 mosquitos feasting on one arm.
  • Olymbiada
    Baked Kalimari, one of my favourite dishes… cooked to perfection.
  • Olymbiada
    After one of several stormy nights, various species of marine life appeared to have been washed onto a nearby breakwater.
  • Arnea
    We came across this mangey little fellow while walking around the mountain village of Arnea. Like us, he had had enough of the rain and sought refuge.
  • Arnea
    The architecture at Arnea is traditional Macedonian, and many of the buildings have been beautifully preserved.
  • Arnea
    One of many attractive facades in the centre of Arnea.
  • Olymbiada
    Olymbiada harbour after a really heavy storm. The rain caused much local flooding that threatened Saints Day celebrations. Luckily it had blown over by the time festivities began, and villagers were soon enjoying plates of mussels, glasses of wine and much dancing.
  • Olymbiada
    Olymbiada’s church, Saints Day.
  • Olymbiada
    We spend a lot of time walking along sections of the coast and this cormorant wasn’t shy when we stopped for a snack.
  • Olymbiada
    While stocking up on supplies at Stavros’ weekly market, we came across what must be the smallest commercial 7D cinema in the world!
  • Nea Roda
    Travelling south, we stopped for coffee at the village of Nea Roda. The chapel on its headland was stunning both inside and out.
  • Nea Roda
    Another view of the chapel at Nea Roda.
  • Nea Roda Xerxes Canal
    Of course Nea Roda’s claim to fame is that it is built on the site of Xerxes’ canal, a fact that the locals are keen to advertise. Somewhere here, around 480 bc, the Persian King ordered a canal to be cut in preparation for another attempted invasion of Greece.
  • Nea Roda Xerxes Canal
    We spent some time trying to trace the course of Xerxes’ canal. The only tangible place we found evidence for its existence was on the other side of the isthmus from Nea Roda. Here, a 15 minute walk from the Tripiti Ferry Port, a stagnant and silted up inlet populated by curious turtles could actually be the spot where Xerxes fleet passed into the bay. This avoided strong currents around the Athos peninsula that wrecked his fleet during a previous campaign.
  • Ouranopouli
    A few miles south of Xerxes canal is the little town of Ouranopouli, where we based ourselves for several nights. A little way beyond this is the border with the Monks Republic of Athos, and the end of the road for most mortals lacking a permit. Women are banned from entering, therefore most tourists take one of many sea excursions along the coast to view some of the monasteries. Many are located along the coastline, but this one was set back in the hills requiring a telephoto lens to capture any of its architectural detail.
  • Athos Monastery of Gregoriou
    Towards the southern end of the Athos peninsula, the Monastery of Gregoriou perches on a rocky outcrop, exposed to the might of the elements. Dating back to 1345 and rebuilt on more than one occasion, its treasury contains many valuable artefacts that miraculously survived Gregoriou’s turbulent history.
  • Mount Athos
    The summit of Mount Athos stands at 6,669 feet (can’t help but notice the succession of sixes in that information). Given its exposed location at the end of the peninsula, there is little wonder that it attracts cloud from sea-blown condensing moisture. Occasionally the cloud would part revealing tantalising glimpses of the summit.
  • Athos Monastery of Dionysiou
    Monastery of Dionysiou; perched on rocks above the sea and surrounded by spectacular scenery, it was founded around 1347 and devastated by fire in 1535. The fire was so destructive, most of the buildings with the exception of the tower were destroyed. Rebuilding followed and today it is the home of many beautiful wall paintings, precious icons and liturgical artefacts.
  • Athos
    The boat we were on doubled up as a supply vessel. We were met by a contingent of monks who boarded for a while before departing with several large crates.
  • Amouliani
    A few miles across the bay from Ouranopouli lay the island of Amouliani. Typical of many smaller Greek islands, it only became busy when the ferry arrived. After 15 chaotic minutes of loading and unloading, the port quickly slipped back into a catatonic state. Amouliani is a good place to explore on foot and there are some excellent hidden beaches waiting for those who care to put the effort in.
  • Amouliani Port
    This view of Amouliani’s port could be anywhere in Greece.
  • Halkidiki
    Pine fringed beaches typify Halkidiki. The soundtrack of cicadas and sea mixed with the heady smell of pine resin makes for an intoxicating walk.
  • Athos Border
    A hike to the border with the Monks Republic of Athos was on our ‘to do’ list, especially as we were lodging just a few miles away. Fair warning was given to any unauthorised crossing and anyone caught would be met with severe penalties.
  • Athos Border
    A very dilapidated building on the Athos border. It was difficult to tell if it was occupied or not.
  • Athos Border Zygou Monastery
    The ruins of Zygou Monastery are located on Athos’ border, and are open to the public. We arrived here at midday, under a baking hot sun, heeding warnings not to venture off the paths due to snakes. The remains of Zygou are not very impressive, but there are remains of fresco’s that hint at its former grandeur.
  • Athos Border
    A perfect view.
  • Ouranopouli
    Ouranopouli, as another hot day draws to an end.
  • Ouranopouli
    Watching the sun set in Ouranopouli was a moment shared by many, including us. For me, the play of light across mountains stretching away into the distance conjures up feelings of excitement and mystery.
  • Akanthos
    Situated on a bluff outside of the village of Ierissos lies the ruined and largely un-excavated site of Akanthos. With the exception of a small part of the circuit wall and a small area that was excavated in the 1970’s, there is little to see. But this does not detract from the sense of mystery oozing from it. Founded in the 7th century, and occupied through until the Byzantine period, I can only image what lay beneath my feat as I scrambled through the undergrowth in search of clues from the past.
  • Akanthos
    Ancient road in Akanthos, with a section of the circuit wall in the distance. Sitting on the wall looking out to sea in a moment of mindfulness, it was hard to imagine a more perfect place for a city.
  • Ouranopouli
    A perfect sunset on the last night of our stay, and a fitting final image to this travel diary