The shores of Greece elicit blissful sighs, even from suntan-averse travellers. Halkidiki – the three-pronged region in Greece’s north – is especially rich in sparkling sands. But it would be a crying shame to head straight for the sunlounger in a region that ripples with vineyards, groans with ancient history and has terrain ripe for diving, kayaking and cycling. Why admire the shimmering surface when you can dive straight into it? En route to Halkidiki’s middle peninsula, Sithonia, stop off at Atlantis Diving Center. Located in Nikiti, one of the first stops as you drive into Sithonia, this expert-packed outfit can arrange diving expeditions geared towards first-timers and kids. One-day diving excursions for the chance to glimpse scorpion fish, sea bass and a sea floor fluttering with anemones.
On Kassandra, the westernmost tendril of Halkidiki, there are much more rewarding ways to break a sweat than sunbathing. Feel the heat on a mountain-biking tour with Break Free: excursions ply the pine-forested interior of the peninsula. The so-called ‘camel’s hump’ of Kassandra is sure to set thigh muscles screaming, but the agony and burnt rubber are well worth it once you catch sight of the glowing Thermaic Gulf. Major roads in Halkidiki hug the coast, so mountain biking the interior offers views that are inaccessible to drivers.In their hurry to reach the coast, travellers tend to skip Halkidiki’s interior, the great bulge of land before the region tapers into three beach-blessed peninsulas. But this area, with roads carved into the rocky substrate and cypress forests clinging to the hills, makes for a dramatic trip by car. Delve deep (literally) into this ancient land by exploring Petralona Cave , 50km southeast of Greece’s second city Thessaloniki. Excavations of Petralona during the 1960s uncovered Paleolithic tools and weapons, animal skeletons and the Petralona skull, the remains of a hominid as old as 700,000 years (though scientific debate continues to rage).
The crystal waters of Kassandra’s beaches are a therapy in themselves, but on its southwestern coast there’s an aquatic experience with even better health benefits. Within the Agia Paraskevi Thermal Baths you’ll find a surgically clean bathing complex fed by naturally toasty spring waters. In addition to public and private bathing areas, there’s a sauna and a hammam to let muscle tension ebb away. Sensitive nostrils might be alarmed by the tang of sulphur in the air, but the supposed therapeutic properties of the water (reputed to cure a host of minor skin conditions) are worth holding your nose.
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