Hikes in Chalkidiki

Christina/ April 7, 2024/ The daily grind, Culture

Compared to Crete, Chalkidiki may not be known as a hiking destination. However, in my opinion, it is worth exploring parts of the island on foot. Since we are exclusively using public transportation, we embark on two excursions. The first one takes us to the mountain village of Kassandrino. The second hike follows the Kassandra mountain trail. We also undertake two more hikes near Nea Kallikratia. Our first destination is the wine village of Agios Pavlos. A second trek takes us along the coast towards Nea Moudania. We discover the beautiful route by chance. While our hiking guide claims that the routes are well-marked, we experience something quite different. More than once, friendly Greeks come to our rescue from somewhat difficult situations.

Le Petit Paris in Kassandrinó
Since the buses of the KTEL company travel along the eastern coast of Kassandra – for destinations on the western side, you switch buses in Kassandría – we decide on Kriopigi as the starting point for our hike to the mountain village of Kassandrino. The hike is described in our guidebook. However, as it often happens with descriptions, there are no signs of the mentioned signage anywhere to be found. As we search for the start of the hike, two larger dogs approach us from the other side of the street and stick to us like gum on a shoe. We try to ignore them. Suddenly, I feel the snout of one of them on my hand and get scared. It wasn’t meant to be malicious, but I wasn’t expecting it at all. The village stretches along the main street and appears like a ghost town to us. There’s no one in sight for miles. Eventually, we come across a teenager who naturally doesn’t know the hiking trail but can at least tell us the direction of Kassandrino. He also tells us that the dogs would bite the locals but not tourists because they often get fed by them. Hm, hopefully our faithful companion knows that we are tourists.

At the outskirts of the village, the dog, the second one had already given up earlier, thankfully stays behind. Susanne pulls out her GPS, and we find our way to the village. We are delighted by the landscape, which appears entirely different from Nea Kallikratia. When we reach Kassandrino after about an hour, many flags in the colors of the Greek flag hang over the village. Of course, it’s March 25th, Greece’s National Day. Kassandrino is wonderfully peaceful. Furthermore, the sun shines from a blue sky, and we head straight to the café “Le Petit Paris.” What more could you want? We secure a spot in the sun and enjoy our existence. Wonderful – this is relaxation.

Taxi to Kassándria
We strike up a conversation with the tavern owner. We tell him that we want to hike from Kassandrino to Kassandría on foot to take the bus back to Nea Kallikratia from there. On the outer wall of his café hangs a map of Kassandra. Here, he shows us the way. First, it goes to Foúrka, and from there, turn right to Kassandra. Greenhorns like us don’t really have an idea of how far the distance is. But we’re in good spirits. After another hour, we reach Foúrka. The friendly owner of Le Petit Paris had already pointed out to us that the Greek government likes to save on signposts. However, the few markings are also in the Greek alphabet, making it a bit difficult for us. So here we are, standing at the roadside in Foúrka, feeling quite lost. Susanne’s phone claims that it’s eight kilometers to Kassándra. That means we won’t catch the bus anymore. Now what? Luckily, at least one tavern is open in the small town on this holiday. The friendly owner arranges a taxi for us. Five minutes later, an older lady with a car is at the door. The woman tells us that she is from Skála Fourkas. When we see how far the way to Kassandría actually would have been, we are just glad that we called a taxi. The ride is also really cheap at 10 euros. The sweaty return journey on foot wouldn’t have been worth it anyway.

Dead quiet in Kassándria
Arriving at the bus station, we want to buy a return ticket first. I go to the counter at the bus station and see the saleswoman reach for the phone and give the impression that she wants to make a call upon seeing me. I prepare to wait a moment. But she hands me the receiver. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do with it. With gestures, she tries to make it clear to me that I should take the phone. I still don’t understand. Then she indicates that I should hold the phone to my ear. Huh? I don’t speak Greek. Finally, I give it a try. Then I understand. The lady doesn’t speak English and therefore called someone who can provide me with information. Eventually, I buy two tickets. However, the next bus doesn’t leave for another 1.5 hours. We’re not worried yet. We assume we can have coffee somewhere around here. Think again, the pedestrian zone is deserted, all shops and cafes are closed. So we stroll through the town a bit and ultimately have to settle for a fast-food place. Doesn’t matter, as long as we catch the last bus to Nea Kallikratia.

The Kassandra mountain trail
With great enthusiasm and in flowery words, both the guidebook and the internet recommend the hiking trail from Ágios Paraskevi to the mountain village of Foúrka. And because all of this sounds so great, we certainly don’t want to miss this highlight. But how do we get to the starting point? Luck comes to our aid. As we wait for our bus to Thessaloniki, I notice that there is indeed a bus from Nea Kallikratia to the mountain village. Hooray! There’s just one catch, the bus only goes there once a day, and there’s no bus back. Well, no problem. The guidebook tells us that you can shorten the route at any time. Then we’ll just take a taxi to Kassandría on the way – now we know how to do that. Luckily, at that moment, we don’t yet know what’s in store for us that day.

How long is the route really?
According to our information, the bus from Nea Kallikratia to Ágios Paraskevi should take 80 minutes. After 90 minutes, we’re still on the bus. The vehicle empties further with each stop. We drive along the coast, this time on the western side. When we arrive at the starting point after 120 minutes, I’m already unsure if we can make it back to Kassandría in six hours. I’m not worried yet because it was said that you can shorten the hike at any time.

We are the last passengers when we arrive in Ágios Paraskevi. The place looks deserted. We see no signs of the promised signage. I search the internet for a hiking description for the starting point and find one. We actually find the starting point. From there, it’s easy because it’s just straight ahead. After a few meters, we also see a sign: Kassandrino – Agia Paraskevi. Oh, that sounds good, we think. We’ve already been to Kassandrino, nothing can go wrong now. The weather is very warm on this day, but unfortunately, there is no distant view. Although we know that the Aegean Sea is on the right and left, we can’t really see it. Additionally, the path is very wide and offers little variety. The temperatures rise during the day. However, we only have half a liter of water per person with us. We also realize that shortening the path is not so easy. While there are side streets visible from time to time, the signage is in Greek, and moreover, the path to the coast is quite far. Since we also mistakenly assume that it’s a circular route, we assume that one way is only 11 kilometers.

Although we have a lot of hiking experience, we were very naive and reckless that day. I can’t say why. But in the end, we have more luck than sense. At some point, it becomes clear to us that the route is a total of 22 kilometers, that we carry too little fluid with us, and that we will hardly reach the bus in Kassandría. At this moment of realization, luck comes to our aid again. A vehicle approaches us. I stop the driver. The window goes down. A woman and a man look at us skeptically. At first, I only see a mighty belly because the man’s shirt has ridden up. We ask how far it is to Kassandrino. One hour is the answer. We breathe a sigh of relief, but remain skeptical. We continue walking. By now, I’m only thinking about cold drinks and hoping that I can make it to Kassandrino. After another twenty minutes, the vehicle returns. We’re puzzled. Once again, the window of the car on the passenger side goes down. The man now looks at us pityingly and says it’s another two to three hours to Kassandrino. Oh no. And now? The man invites us into the car and says he’ll take us to the endpoint. Several stones fall from our hearts. We can’t believe it. Then we find out that the man works for the fire brigade and lives in Kassandría. Hurray, he’ll take us directly to the bus station. What luck, what a day!

Stopover in Nea Moudania
In Kassandría, we buy two tickets to Nea Kallikratia. I’m surprised that both tickets together cost only four euros. Two minutes later, the bus is already there. This is our lucky day. Well, at least until the ticket inspector points out to us that our tickets only go to Kallithéa. As a result, we’re “thrown out” at the transfer station in Nea Moudania to buy new tickets. However, our bus continues, and we’re stranded. The next bus leaves at 7 p.m., we find out. Great. We try our luck in the city center and succeed. We find a nice spot by the sea and watch the sunset with a glass of wine. Shortly after 7 p.m., we head back to our hotel.

On the wine route
For our third hike, we want to explore the area near our location. Riding the bus every day is quite tiring; we need a break. Susanne has chosen a route for us that takes us from Nea Kallikratia to Ágios Pavlos and back via the beach. That’s the plan. We follow Susanne’s phone GPS to the outskirts of town. Here we see the first big dog from a distance. After our experience in Thessaloniki, we’ve become quite cautious. We don’t want to push our luck and actually take a detour. This is the beginning of a martyrdom. Next, we walk through an allotment garden colony, and here it really starts. Wild barking dogs at every corner. Fortunately, most dogs are on a leash – still, it’s not fun. In between, we also get a little lost and end up in a cultivation area. Finally, we reach a kind of hardware store, thoroughly exasperated, and ask for directions. Of course, the information providers assume that we are traveling by car. Again, we receive incredulous looks when we reveal that we came on foot. Luckily, we’re quite close to Ágios Pavlos and are now looking forward to a cold drink.

Wine only in a canister
Unfortunately, there’s no wine tasting. The place is an absolutely sleepy hamlet and looks like the backdrop of a third-rate Western. How do we get out of here? We actually wanted to go to the Sahara Resort to treat ourselves to a cocktail. But Google tells us that the hotel complex is still closed. Can this be true? We go to a small grocery store to inquire about a bus connection. The owner seems quite surprised about what brought us to the village. We explain to her that we originally came because of the wine. This information elicits a smile from the lady, who then shows us a 5-liter canister of liquid that at least looks like wine in color. Since there don’t seem to be any wineries here, we ask about the way back. The bus would actually only come in two hours, and it’s not far to Nea Kallikratia. We take the return journey along the road, which luckily is not very busy. In a curve, we have to pass a junkyard. Suddenly, we hear angry barking and see a very aggressive dog, which almost manages to jump over the very high fence. That’s enough for us today. We reach Nea Kallikratia thoroughly exasperated half an hour later.

Cats eating chips
We settle in a café with chairs and tables overlooking the sea for a sundowner. Behind us sit two Dutchmen who have been given snacks with their beer. When the two leave the table, it’s time for the street cats. Before we know it, one of the cats has jumped onto the table and grabbed a chip from the bowl. She takes it to the ground to eat it in peace. Then she immediately jumps back onto the table and gets more. The second cat waits until her friend comes with the loot and then grabs a piece of the snack. The game continues until the waiter comes to the table and chases the two away. However, he throws the remaining nuts on the ground. To our surprise, the cats don’t reject them either.

Hiking with a sea view
On the penultimate and last day, we finally get to our long-awaited coastal hike. Just out of curiosity, I don’t turn towards the city from our hotel but towards the outskirts. I’m completely astonished when I realize that a completely different and unexpected world opens up here. In the evening, I take a walk with Susanne from Nea Kallikratia to Geoponika. We are completely thrilled by the views and the beautiful beaches and wonder why we didn’t discover this earlier? From a distance, we see a hotel. The staff is just making the final preparations; the season is set to open tomorrow. It’s the Georgalas Sun Beach Resort. We can’t believe our eyes. This is exactly the facility we imagined under the Secret Paradise Hotel. Too bad, that would have been just our thing. Dinner with a sea view and so on. But it wasn’t meant to be. But it’s nice that we still found this place.

On the day of our return flight, we take advantage of the beautiful weather once again and extend our coastal hike a little further. We can walk along the beach to Flogita. And the best part: at this time of year, we have the entire stretch of beach to ourselves! We admire the wonderful colors of the Aegean one last time, ranging from a deep blue to a beautiful turquoise. Back at the Georgalas, we treat ourselves to a last refreshment right by the sea before we walk back to our hotel, where we have our transfer to the airport.

Goodbye Chalkidiki. Thank you for your hospitality!

PS: So what’s the deal with the Greek bus system? After a week of intensive use of public transport, we believe we’ve figured out the mystery of the “missed” buses on the first day of vacation. Based on various experiences and observations, we have come up with the following theory: The coaches always follow a certain route and have only a certain number of seats. Because we once observed in our bus station how three women wanted to buy a ticket to Thessaloniki, and the seller told them that the bus was fully booked, we wondered how he could know that. Our assumption is that the bus stations exchange information about how many tickets they have sold for which route. Since we didn’t buy the ticket twenty minutes before departure on the first day, the bus station probably reported that no one was boarding in Nea Kallikratia, so the bus didn’t stop in the town.

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