‘The envy of the gods’: an eco-friendly beach escape in Halkidiki, Grecia

A postcard-worthy scene of white sand beaches, azure waters and lush pine forests, Kassandra is one of the three so-called “legs” that branch off the Halkidiki peninsula in Greece. The other two are Sithonia, which is more mountainous and less developed, also blessed with forests and secluded beaches; and Athos, a male-only autonomous monastic state (although largely closed to visitors, you can view the splendour of its Byzantine monasteries from excursion boats that skirt its rocky shores).

Arriving on Kassandra is an impressive experience. Effectively an island, it’s connected to Halkidiki by a bridge, which traverses the Potidea Canal, delivering you to a land of natural beauty. As you drive south, cultivated fields give way to verdant forests of towering Aleppo pines, which fill the air with the delightfully pungent aroma of pine resin when it rains. Amid Mediterranean maquis shrubland grow fragrant herbs such as mint, oregano and thyme. And then there’s the magnificent coast, where soft white sands fringe the turquoise sea, and rocky shores are speckled with samphire, rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Qui, the Sani wetlands host more than 225 bird species, many rare and protected, so be on the lookout for purple herons, black storks and greater spotted eagles.

According to mythology, Halkidiki’s rugged topography was created when the giants who lived on Kassandra went into battle with the gods, who lived on Mount Olympus – which looms on the opposite side of the deep blue Gulf of Thermai and is visible from Kassandra’s west coast.

Kassandra’s fertile soils and abundant fishing waters attracted early settlers, especially on the east coast. Behind the beach in Kallithea stands the Sanctuary of Zeus Ammon, dating from the fourth century BC and the oldest place of worship on the peninsula. Dopo, in the first century AD, St Paul visited Kassandra as a missionary, and in Nea Fokea, you can see the small cave where he lived, accessed through a narrow tunnel inside a church. Then there’s Afitos, Kassandra’s loveliest village. Qui, 19th-century stone mansions rim a cobbled main square with a local folklore museum, while a cliffside promenade affords stunning views down on to the Toroneos Gulf.

In the fertile interior, you’ll find small family-run organic wineries, open for tastings, and small stores specialising in extra-virgin olive oil and olive-oil-based cosmetics. Hiking paths traverse pastoral landscapes, with some leading to stunning beaches, such as Possidi Cape, a sandspit on the west coast, which changes shape depending on the sea currents. Above Possidi, hidden in pine forests, stands an enchanting amphitheatre. Each summer it hosts the Kassandra festival – past performers include Joan Baez, Cesária Evora, Goran Bregović and Mikis Theodorakis.

The terrain becomes wilder as you head south, towards the tip of the peninsula. Qui, Agia Paraskevi is known for beekeeping. Its honey, which can be infused with thyme, orange blossom, chestnut blossom and wild flowers from the surrounding mountains, is prized for its purity and intense flavour. Each summer on 25 luglio, the village hosts a honey festival. The gods of Olympus would be impressed, as would the great classical philosopher Aristotle, who was born in Halkidiki in the fourth century BC and was known to have praised honey for promoting longevity.

Qui vicino, Loutra is home to a modern spa built over sulphurous thermal springs that emerge from underground caves at 39C. Said to relieve various ailments, they are yet another example of the extraordinary life force, bestowed by nature, that Kassandra embodies.

Stay at ‘the world’s leading luxury green resort’
If you decide to visit Kassandra, your ideal base is Sani Resort on the west coast, about an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki airport. Set in a 405-hectare ecological reserve of pine forests, criss-crossed by hiking paths, cycling trails, and wetlands populated by rare birds, alongside more than four miles of Blue Flag beaches, it was named the world’s leading luxury green resort at the 2021 World Travel Awards.

Having become Greece’s first carbon neutral resort in 2020, every aspect of Sani’s vast offering is underpinned by the consciousness of its environmental impact. Running on 100% renewable electricity since 2019, the resort has also been investing in carbon efficiency upgrades with the view to retrofitting all of its properties as part of a larger four-year project, which will see significant investment in solar parks within the Sani area. And in terms of its food sustainability credentials, the resort prides itself on sourcing more than 60% of its fruit and vegetables from local growers.

Centring on a 215-berth yachting marina, Sani encompasses five separate five-star hotels, each with its own distinctive identity: Sani Beach, Sani Club, Sani Dunes, Sani Asterias, and Porto Sani. Between them, they offer a wide range of activities, from tennis at the world-class Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre, scuba diving, sea kayaking and cycling, to sailing excursions, tours through the resort’s olive groves, and birdwatching in the Sani wetlands with expert eco-guides. And for those who really want to learn more about living in nature, there’s the Bear Grylls Survival Academy.

If you’re visiting in July or August, Sani hosts its own internationally renowned festival, this year celebrating its 30th anniversary. Primarily a jazz event in its early years, the programme has expanded to include classical, contemporary Greek, and modern dance and performance – all taking place against the dramatic backdrop of a ruined Byzantine tower and the views of the Aegean afforded from Sani hill.

In terms of dining, the resort’s 40 restaurants and bars span from traditional Greek seafood at Alexis taverna to Spanish fare at El Puerto, sushi and sashimi at Katsu, modern Peruvian at Lima, and Thai fusion at Asian. And on top of that vast array of gastronomic options, Sani has no fewer than five spas offering restorative natural treatments when you’re ready for some pampering – a reminder that the earthly pleasures available to us on a trip to this culturally and ecologically astounding corner of Greece are enough to be the envy of the gods.

Book your Halkidiki holiday to Sani Resort at ba.com/sani

With British Airways Holidays, you can reserve your well-deserved break with deposits starting from just £60 per person and pay the balance in as few or many instalments as you like*. All package bookings are ATOL-protected (5985) and include a 23kg baggage allowance per person. Their Customer Promise is a commitment to quality and service that ensures that their hotel partners adhere to strict safety standards, you’ll get a speedy refund should your holiday be cancelled and there’s a 24-hour helpline if you need any assistance on your holiday – just some of the reasons why 92% of customers** say they would choose British Airways Holidays again.

*T&Cs apply. Deposit balance due 7 weeks in advance for long haul and 28 days in advance for short haul. Travel restrictions may apply.

**From over 27,000 independent Reevoo reviews in the last 12 months – as at March 2022

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