Chalkidiki: a whole other Greece
Here rest is sacred. Mysterious, out of time, Mount Athos reserves surprises for those who love the sea. You dive into crystal clear waters at the foot of the monasteries and discover seaside taverns, designer bars, excellent cuisine. To be discovered in the journey of our envoys from Ouranoupolis to Sithonia
Blasphemous? A dive in front of the monasteries of Mount Athos. Impossible? Even women can swim around the sacred mountain. Yet … this monastic republic, which forbids entry to the other half of the sky and has rules of life frozen a thousand years ago, is only part of a peninsula stretched out for 50 kilometers in the Aegean, one of the three “fingers” in which it cuts off the Chalkidiki Peninsula. A charming bathing destination, as are the beaches and islets around the sacred mountain, perpetually hooded by snow spray on the summit, at 2,033 meters. Although women are excluded from the territory of the monastic republic, they have access to the rest of the Mount Athos peninsula. On the contrary, they can see the most important monasteries from the sea, renting a boat or with cruises that parade in front of the coast for three or four hours. This limb of Chalkidiki, which in the imaginary is consecrated to a theocratic and monastic world, is a surprise.
Base for the holiday is the village of Ouranoupolis, the coming and going of hunters of beaches, of orthodox pilgrims and of mountaineering enthusiasts directed to Mount Athos (at least 30 thousand people a year), for a mystical experience or trekking among 20 monasteries, 250 cells and caves of anchorites, olive groves, vineyards and forests. The most famous beach is Komitsa, long, sandy, with the sea fading from transparent to emerald. On the left, a promontory covered with pines, the champagne bar and the English lawn reserved for guests of Avaton Luxury Villas; on the right, the Mediterranean maquis and the Athos Villas for rent. Or you can go to Skala, which faces Ammouliani and the Drenia, six wild islets, and book the Eagles Palace & Spa, a large hotel, with many services and solutions, from large rooms and marine colors, to the garden or beach bungalows. In addition to organizing water sports and picnics on Goat Island beach, with white sand and crystal backdrops, the hotel rents boats to swim around the Drenia or Ammouliani. The latter has a rocky side and a softer one, incised by small beaches. The most important is Karagatsi: yellow sand, blue and tamarisk waters. Even if you do not stay at the Eagles Palace, the suggestion is to treat yourself to a dinner on the terrace of his restaurant Kamares by Spondi; the menu is designed by Arnaud Bignon, starred chef in London and Athens. Otherwise you will have dinner in the village, from Kritikos, which is supplied directly by the caiques and is also a creative fashion boutique.
The symbol of Ouranoupolis is the Byzantine tower near the port, from which one embarks to sail along the sacred mountain. An indelible emotion. Seagulls and kites fly in the sky. The sea has something absolute, pure, inviolate. In front of the eyes, here is the thousand-year-old forest of plane trees, poplars and pines of Aleppo; then the main monasteries stand out: Simonopetra and Dionysiou, similar to fortified towers; the golden stones of Hilandar, Serbian; the sumptuous immensity of St. Panteleimon, Russian, frequented by Putin. A mumble comes from the sea. It is the engine of a small boat that approaches, unloads high prelates from the vestments that display silver reliquaries with relics, while the simple monks set up a banquet of olives, honey, white wine Mylopotamos, forcibly bio, because Mount Athos is cultivated as Byzantium times. They come from Xenophontos, a monastery founded in 1,010 BC. Meetings with a world that is thought to have vanished, but it is not. Returning to port, as unforgettable, by Byzandino (phone 0030.23.77.07.10.82), the shop of Socrates Chadalis, who speaks Italian because he sells icons to a shop in Borgo Pio, in the Vatican. Great storyteller, Chadalis tells anecdotes of the monasteries, shows the icons of the painter Paulo Evangelopoulos, who have cheerful colors, depicting Virgins gripping roses, saints from life worthy of a saga, as “Giovanni Damasceno, Doctor of the Church and administrator of an Umayyad caliphate “. Chadalis will remain the classic memorable vacation meeting. Which continues without more holy steps.