A short insight about our local community – Chalkidiki, Greece

Our experience in Greece, Chalkidiki… We had fun, we laughed, and we explored it, but it’s now time to learn more about it. Don’t sigh, it’s gonna be fun too!

Chalkidiki except for a great place for vacation or an Erasmus+ program is a natural gem of Greece. Lying in the Macedonia region and being one of the 13 units of it, it is the end of Central Macedonia in the Aegean Sea, which penetrates deep into it (talking about geology please concentrate), forming three elongated peninsulas, which give the region its characteristic shape (“feet of Halkidiki”) or shaped like Poseidon’s trident (mythology always helps).  The peninsula of Chalkidiki is administratively divided into the Regional Unit of Chalkidiki and the Autonomous Monastic State of Mount Athos which is the third ‘foot’.

Hereby I’ll only share a few things about Athos (which I think are interesting to share). Athos (the so-called “Orchard of the Virgin”) is the largest and most important monastic state of the Orthodox East (that why inscribed on UNESCO’S World Heritage List). An all-consuming, mystifying, age-old place, mount Athos is the second most important religious/pilgrimage destination after Jerusalem, for more than 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide! The institutional status of Mount Athos was established in the year 972. Today, it is an autonomous part of the Greek territory. The entry of women is prohibited (unfortunately, sorry girls), but any man, citizen, or foreigner, regardless of religion, can enter Mount Athos as long as he has written permission. For you, the lucky ones it is a unique opportunity regardless of your religion or personal worldview and belief, to discover the unique beauty of this corner of Greece. Having promoted that one enough, I’m moving on.

Nea Moudania is the largest city of Chalkidiki with a population of 10,342 inhabitants and is the economic, commercial, and administrative center, although the ‘capital’ of the regional unity is Polygyros and the total population of the area rises to 101.324 (2021).

Starting from the first ‘foot’ – cosmopolitan Kassandra, the westernmost peninsula you’ll find beautiful beaches of all kinds, I mean rocky, sandy, with lots of trees or not at all, private marinas, casinos, luxury shops, and restaurants. Also, important archaeological sites such as Ancient Olynthos and Stageira, are the birthplace of Aristotle. Furthermore, you’ll be able to enjoy activities such as windsurfing, kitesurfing, scuba diving, and water skiing. For the more skilled ones, you can take part in the swimming event that takes place every July, where you’ll cover 26km from Kassandra to Sithonia. And by that, we’ll move to the second ‘foot’ where our project took place.

Pine trees all the way to the beach, white sand, dreamy coves, turquoise waters, this is Sithonia. The scenery is much more ‘wild’ and ‘pure’ but you should not miss out the festivals that occur every summer. Concerts, arts events, open theatre, and if we combine them with famous wines and vast vineyards, as well as delicious local dishes your time here will be one of a kind. If that’s not enough, there is also a little hidden secret. Between the second and third ‘legs’ of the peninsula, there is Ammouliani, an islet that is the only inhabited island of Chalkidiki.

Didn’t I convince you to take the vacation you’ve always dreamed of?

I’m sure I did but, just in case, I talked to a local that also owns a hotel near our camping, in order to convince you even further, but also to learn some things from the ‘local’ perspective. What life looks like in Chalkidiki in summer and winter, which are the difficulties people may face, their occupation and of course the relation with the tourists! Keep reading and you’ll find out much more. Couldn’t think of the best way to learn all that, rather than having a short interview:

1. What is the main field of occupation in the peninsulas?

The main field is mostly tourism during summer, beekeeping, and cultivation of olive trees, and production of high-quality olive oil. There is also the production of wines made from our vineyards.

2. Why did you choose Sithonia as starting point for your tourism business?

Because of my roots and my love for the place. Furthermore, the physical environment is really beautiful, and the beaches are also amazing in our peninsula, in my opinion. Also, it was relatively cheaper for a small business to be established here in contrast to the main Greek islands, not to mention the big asset of easy accessibility of both northern Greece and the Balkans.

3. What is the relationship between the locals and the tourists? Where are they coming from? Is there deeper interaction with them or just a customer relationship?

Except for Greeks from all over the country but mainly from northern Greece (Thessaloniki, Serres, Kilkis), we have a lot of tourists from the Balkans. Mostly from Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria but lately there are a lot of tourists coming with caravans from Central Europe like Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
As far as the relationship with the locals is concerned, I can say that, due to the fact that most of them are having long-term vacations, not to mention the rise of real estate in the area, locals and ‘tourists’ have built a deeper relation, based in their love about the peninsula and their common goal of growth and improvement of the area.

4. What are the differences with Kassandra on the touristic level as well as on the geological and environmental one?

Kassandra is also a nice place but way more touristic since it’s closer to Thessaloniki and lots of people own cottages there and because of the general proximity to the co-capital and main roads to the neighboring states. Geologically there is a big difference between Kassandra and Sithonia as you could see in the scenery which is ‘wilder’ – ‘purer’ in Sithonia.

5. What do you think should be improved in order for Chalkidiki to be in total more competitive as a tourism destination?

Well, we said that accessibility is a pro so definitely the improvement of the road network! I would also say the readjustment of the prices is based on the situation of the country, especially in order to attract more locals and expand the tourist season. That would also lead to the state and the necessity of considering Chalkidiki an equal touristic destination as the main islands and its promotion among Greeks and in international campaigns.

6. Are there fires in the area frequently? How do they deal with them?

As a Mediterranean place, the outburst of fires can be frequent but honestly despite the problems southern Greece (and especially the Attica region) faces, the patrols here are quite often and the firefighting really effective.

7. How is life, especially for young people, living permanently in Sithonia?

I could say quite well and easily. Despite the tourism, we mentioned the cultivation of the area providing working opportunities for young people, and once more the fact that the second biggest city of Greece lies just 2 hrs away means that they are not isolated. People are going often for work or fun there, especially during winter and combining the sea and vacations here in the summer, I guess it’s a good deal.

8. Is there anything worth mentioning about the flora and fauna of the peninsula?

That is harder to answer but I know about a pine. (I did research here so the info’s based on the internet. Pinus halepensis is an endemic species in the Mediterranean area and there is a big population of this tree, especially in Sithonia peninsula).

9. Can you briefly describe the discrepancies you observe in the area between summer and winter?

Well, summer is always overcrowded and ‘full of life’ while winter with an appreciable difference on touristic level (almost zero tourists), and only 30% of locals keep staying here is the main one I can refer to. Of course, cultivation gains ground, and businesses such as bars, cafes, and hotels reopen in the next touristic season. I suppose that this is a never-ending circle but we are kind of used to it.

10. Northern Greeks say: “There is nowhere like Chalkidiki”. Do you agree with that?

Of course!

Hereby I have to say I’m grateful to Mr. Georgios P. and his willingness to answer to all my questions.

Having a lot of information about the whole peninsula and also a ‘local insight’ of the area with his answers, I really hope you did actually learn something more about Chalkidiki which is much more than emerald beaches, dense pine forests, small settlements by the sea with fish taverns, beach bars and archaeological sites.

It was our Erasmus+ home for 4 days. It was our dreamy place where we became family and created some of our best memories.

The only way to surpass?

To do it again!

#Euroactive #Neomenioi #NIE

Are you ready?

The content for this post is part of our online blog called “Ecoventure” which aims to share our experience in the Erasmus+ Youth Exchange ”Ecotourism Ventures for Youth Environmental Education”. The project was financed with the support of the European Commission through Erasmus+ Programme. This blog reflects only the author’s views, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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