Sithonia is the centre prong of the triple pronged peninsula of Halkidiki and far less developed than the more commercialised Kassandra to the west. The Sithonia coastline has more variety with a succession of fishing ports, secluded inlets and attractive coves. Like both it's neighbours, east and west, Sithonia is covered in pine forests but it is generally more hilly and more rugged that Kassandra.
Accommodation is more limited than in Kassandra, with fewer large hotels but there are still plenty of small apartments, and rooms to rent. Camping is also very popular in Sithonia and there are any number of attractive and extensive sea resort campsites.
Sithonia roads are generally good but public transport is more patchy that elsewhere so a car is needed. Sithonia roads are usually uncrowded except at weekends when Greeks from around Thessaloniki and other regions take off to a weekend break on the coast.
The west coast of Sithonia is the 'softer' side of the peninsula, more commercialised than the east with long and deep beaches of good sand and busy yacht marinas.
The coastal strip between Nea Moudania and Nikiti is where the main resorts lie with Porto Karras the centre of the hugely commercial luxury hotel strip. Further south the facilities peter out and the beaches get a little less tame.
Roads are good and all resorts can be reached with relative ease although the main road tends to run a little inland, so you don't get to see much of the coast until you turn off on a side road to head down to the resorts. The road network is not as good nor as extensive as on Kassandra but its still not bad.
Gerakini is the first substantial resort on the Sithonia peninsula. It lies about 20km from Nea Moudania and 75km from Thessaloniki. The main beach is a long white sandy strand with pine-coated hills at both ends.
There is an abandoned mine at one end of the beach, a reminder of the days when this was just a hamlet for workers at the granulite mine. It was developed as a holiday resort in the 1960s.
Now it gets thousands of visitors each year and there are plenty of are hotels, apartments and even a campsite. Nevertheless, the village has not been overrun with development and holidays revolve around sunbathing, dining out in one of several tavernas and bars and browsing the souvenir shops.
For days out there is a waterpark within easy reach, boat cruises to the monasteries of Mount Athos and some ancient ruins. Its location is ideal for those who fancy exploring all three peninsulas of Halkidiki as it sits at the heart of the region with good road connections in all directions.
The small, but attractive, resort of Psakoudia was once the port for an old quarry. Today the main occupation of the 120 or so residents is tourism. It lies just south of Gerakini and there were at the last count five large hotel complexes, several apartments and a campsite, all set back from the seafront with tracks leading down to the sands.
The Psakoudia coastal resort is all modern, mostly developed in the 1970s and 80s as a purpose-built tourist resort. There are several restaurants and cafes to supply the needs of visitors which can swell numbers to 4,000 at the height of the season.
Psakoudia beach is clean and sandy, slightly sloping, and with plenty of sunbeds. There are some basic watersports and volleyball on the beach. Walks along the shore lead to small coves and small isolated stretches of sand and rock. Psakoudia resort has a good variety of restaurants, pizza eateries and cafes along the waterfront and a minimarket too.
Above and inland from Psakoudia is the old, traditional village of ORMYLIA and it is worth the trek up there to see the attractive, traditional homes and the narrow streets.
Metamorfosi is a small and very attractive beach resort just south of Psakoudia and about 100km from Thessaloniki. It is built on a pine covered hillside. Here the pine trees sweep down to stretches of smooth, flat sand and a few small beach coves of sand and pebble.
Metamorfosi is considered one of the most beautiful coastal resorts in the area and with good reason. There has been considerable building of small hotels and apartments but most of the accommodation is buried in pine trees and is quite inconspicuous.
Many Metamorfosi apartments have been built behind the road that follows the coastline pretty closely. Metamorfosi beach is dotted with rocky outcrops and stands of pine that give plenty of natural shade.
Metamorfosi village has about 400 inhabitants but these swell to thousands in the summer. The resort is very popular with Germans and East Europeans.
There are several tavernas and cafes to meet the needs of summer visitors as well as a few music bars, though entertainment in Metamorfosi is very low key. There are a few souvenir shops as well and a campsite nearby.
The village of Nikiti sits around the bay from Metamorfosi and is one of the oldest villages in Halkidiki with a history dating back some 700 years.
Nikiti village is composed of traditional stone houses nestled among the pine trees with a couple of churches worth a visit and also a folklore museum. A market is held every Friday morning selling local produce, including the noted Nikiti honey.
The churches are those of Agios Nikiti, dating from 1867 and the ruins of a 16th century chapel with frescoes dating from that period. Several prehistoric settlements have been unearthed in the surrounding hills.
Nikiti beach is long and narrow, the sand soft and flat with a shallow drop into the water. Pines line the back of the beach giving natural shade and there are sunbeds and brollies to the south where the sands deepen.
There is an attractive harbour at one end of Nikiti, sheltered by a long sea wall. There are several restaurants, bars and cafes around the village along with other shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs.
South of Nikiti are a clutch of small, sandy beaches at Kalogrias, Elias and Lagomadra> all commandeered by various beach hotels.
The former fishing harbour of Neos Marmaras is now one of the most popular holiday resorts in Sithonia. Backed by pine clad hills it sits in a horseshoe cove at the northern end of a large bay about 110km from Thessaloniki. The land once belonged to a monastery but the area was settled in 1922 by Greek refugees arriving from Marmaris in Turkey, hence the name Neos Marmaras.
There are beaches to the east and west of Neos Marmaras resort, both of soft pale sand that slopes gently into the sea, providing safe bathing for children. The beaches, however, are quite small given the numbers that holiday here and although there are some watersports there is more on offer at Porto Karras, across the bay to the south just 2km away.
Neos Marmaras resort centre is fairly lively with plenty of tavernas, restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. Traders set up stall at night and pavements often have artists and craftsmen selling their work. There are also a good number of shops supplying provisions as well as the usual gift and souvenir shops.
Restaurant menus in Neos Marmaras are aimed at international tastes but there are some excellent fish tavernas around the extensive harbour. Clubs and music bars stay open late but are generally low key.
Offshore is the uninhabited islet of Kelyfos (Greek for shell) to add interest to the scene and there are plenty of walks to be had in the pine forests surrounding Neos Marmaras .
On the hillside inland lies the beautiful old hill village of Parethenon, worth a visit just to wander the narrow streets and enjoy the well preserved buildings.
Porto Karras was originally developed by a wealthy Greek as a private resort for up to 3,000 guests, with its own yacht marina, a 4,500 seat theatre, sports centre, shopping area and vineyards.
The land was sold off after his death and Porto Karras is now a self-contained tourist holiday complex with three large luxury hotels on the 18km2 site. This was the venue for the 2003 European Union leaders' summit, so it's not exactly your quaint Greek hideaway.
The main Porto Karras beaches have been gobbled up by luxury hotels. Regimented ranks of sunbeds line the immaculate flat white sands that lie on either side to the inlet to the ultra-smart yacht marina.
Much of the area is also a nature reserve, surprising given the amount of landscaping and grass grooming that has taken place. The reserve is owned by one of the hotels but open to visitors who can walk down to the sea on a road that is closed to normal traffic.
The biggest hotel, the Porto Carras Grand Resort, is a huge monster of a place built in the shape of a cruise liner and anchored beside the enormous marina. Artificial lakes have been created in the grounds, which also include an 18-hole golf course.
If you don't fancy or can't afford a pampered stay in one of the thousands of luxury rooms you can still find your way through the place to several small coves along this part of the coast.
Turn off the main road at the sign for Eurocamping and follow the road for 5km through the pine forest to a small car park where you can climb down to any of several small sandy coves. There are other small tracks that give access to the various coves from the camping site which can also be reached, of course, by boat.
Toroni is found on the south-west coast of Sithonia, just south of Porto Karras and about 130km from Thessaloniki. The big attraction here is the beach of fine golden sand, about 2km long with wooded hills behind.
The woods actually look a little out of place here as the southern part of Sithonia is generally pretty barren and clear of trees. Toroni beach is long, sandy and deep with shallow waters into the sea. Cars can park near the beach and trees provide plenty of natural shade.
Much of Toroni resort is now given over to small hotels and apartment blocks, fortunately none too intrusive. Tavernas and cafes can be found in the resort which is popular with Germans and Czechs.
In classical times Toroni was the local centre of power and controlled Koufo, the biggest and safest harbour in northern Greece. The castle ruins are worth a visit just for views over the bay.
Toroni village dates back to the 8th century BC and there are good several archaeological sites in the area, but none of them open to the public when I visited. There are ruins of fortifications and a couple of Christian basilicas. The church to Agios Athanassios has some excellent frescoes and mosaics.
To the north of Toroni there is a large sandy beach at Tristinika, sometimes called Aretes. Narrow tracks lead from the main road down to the long beach where there is a campsite. Another long crescent of sand lies a little further north at Azapiko beach, a favourite spot for day trio boat cruises. There is no resort as such, just the sand backed by low scrub and tents and caravans parked there semi-permanently by weekending Greeks.
Porto Koufos is the most southerly resort on Sithonia and in a most attractive setting at the head of a large enclosed bay. Surrounded by steep cliffs and with one of the deepest natural harbours in the Aegean, this was used as a German U-boat base in World War II. Many wartime fortifications are still to be seen.
Koufo is Greece for 'deaf' and the resort earned its name because it is so well protected that villagers used to say you could not hear the sea, despite being on the coast.
Porto Koufo is reached down a steep road through pine forests with magnificent views around the enclosed bay. It is basically a fishing village and has only about 100 inhabitants. It is about 140 km from Thessaloniki.
Despite its pretty setting the village is not particularly attractive, just a huddle of houses, some apartments and a couple of tavernas along the harbour. In September, Porto Koufo hosts a festival to tuna fishing.
Apart from the tiny village, the harbour and very small sand and shingle beach just around the bay, Porto Koufo has only the wild and rocky landscape around to recommend it.
A campsite can be found on a small beach to the south opposite the three islets between Cape Papadhia and the tiny hamlet of Lykithos.
The eastern coastline of Sithonia is a little wilder than the west. There are plenty of good beaches but the sand tends to be much more coarse. Offshore breezes also make the waves more choppy in the east - good for windsurfers but for youngsters or for sunbathers, though there are plenty of sheltered coves with shallow waters. The meltemi wind can occasionally create very stormy conditions in August.
The best eastern shore beaches are to the north between Vourvourou and Sarti, with many fine bays. There are good spots to the south but far fewer facilities, Many Greeks use the more remote beaches for weekend visits and the habit has grown of parking unsightly caravans and tents at the back of beaches for weekend use. Camping is very popular everywhere on the peninsula but nowhere more so than in the east.
The inland village of AGIOS NIKOLAOS marks the beginning of east Sithonia and sits about 110km from Thessaloniki. nestling in the hills above the coastal resort area at Ormos Panagias, basically the village port but which has now developed into a resort in its own right.
Agios Nikolaos is a traditional hill village of stone houses and cobbled streets, dominated by the main square with its water fountain. The square is lined with cafes and tavernas and its a popular place at night.
The rest of the village is noted for its 19th century town houses with their impressive wooden balconies and the two good churches of Agios Georgios and Agia Paraskevi. In the plains east and south-east of Agios Nikolaos there are olive and citrus groves. In the south the Itamos mountain rises out of the pine forest while to the north it is mostly forest with cultivated olive groves and fields on the lower hills.
The Agios Nikolaos area is well known for the wine from its vineyards, honey and olive oil as well as the production of a strong local ouzo called 'tsipouro' - drink with care.
There are plenty of facilities here as the village is quite large, with around 2,500 inhabitants. As well as the usual cafes, tavernas and souvenir shops there is a post office, minimarkets, medical centre, pharmacies, garages and so on, with apartments, small hotels and rooms to rent.
There are daily bus services to Thessaloniki, Sarti, Polygyros, and Nea Moudania - about three buses daily in the summer, fewer in the winter.
The small harbour of Ormos Panagias is only 2.5km from the Agios Nikolaos and from here there are daily cruises around the Athos peninsula, as well as trips to the islet of Ammouliani.
Ormos Panagia is mainly the small fishing port that once served Agios Nikolaos, but the number of good beaches in the area and their popularity means it can be considered a resort in its own right.
It is about 2.5km from Agios Nikolaos and the small harbour is used by the local fishing boats and for daily cruises around Mount Athos and also for boat trips to the offshore islet of Ammouliani and to the resort across the bay at Ouranoupolis.
There are several pleasant tavernas and cafes around the harbour and along the back of the sands. Small hotels and apartments are in evidence as well as many private homes and weekend retreats.
Visitors will find several sandy beaches along this stretch of coastline, the best being at Pyrgos and Livrochio, where there are long stretches of sand and stone. Pyrgos is probably the better of the two, a deep stretch of sand, overlooked by ruins but with no facilities.
Vourvourou is a popular holiday spot on Sithonia's east coast about 120km from Thessaloniki. It can hardly be called a village. The long ribbon-like development follows the main coast road as it cuts it was along the pine trees and olive groves. Among the trees are newly built villas as this has become a favourite getaway for weekending Greeks.
There are the usual tourist facilities for a popular resort. Vourvourou village has minimarkets and shops, cafes, tavernas and pizzerias.
The long beach of white sand reaches the narrow peninsula of Xifara and beyond that the isolated bay of Karidi with another splendid crescent of sand. There is little in the way of shade at Karidi but a beach bar opens there in the summer.
Vourvourou itself has several small bays and coves that are relatively quiet, even in the main summer season. The main beach can get very busy though, especially in August.
The seas are very shallow here so it is ideal for families with young children. It is possible to walks metres into the sea without it getting very deep. Watersports are in evidence with jet skis, windsurfing and boats for hire. An offshore coral reef is a magnet for divers.
Offshore are nine islets that attract day trippers. Some, such as the largest one at Diaporos even have their own small sandy beaches.
Behind the Vourvourou main beach is Livari lagoon, separated from the sea by the long sandy beach. Beyond the main road and resort is Mount Itamos and here are many walking trails through the pine forested hill slopes with outstanding views over the bay and to Mount Athos.
Armenistis beach used to be a quiet, sandy beach bound by pine forests on the east coast about 130km from Thessaloniki. Now it has been swallowed up by one of the biggest camping centres in Europe.
The organized camp centre is a big tourist attraction in itself. Some of the Armenistis camping facilities include a medical centre, supermarkets, kiosks, cash machines and even a cinema.
Armenistis beach sits at the foot of a pine slope and the long, sandy beach is populated by campers day and night with beach parties, music nights and annual watersports festivals. Access used to be better before the campsite blocked off the road to the public
There is good sand and Armenistis beach is well protected from the wind, unlike some other beaches on the east coast. Shallow water makes it fine for children. A large beach bar in the centre of the beach morphs into a music bar at night and sometimes a stage is erected next to it where bands perform.
For those who don't relish canvas there are self-contained villas with air-conditioning, cleaning services and car parking. Cafes, tavernas, and beach volleyball are available on Armenistis beach, along with sunbeds to rent. There are a few hotels and apartments near the beach.
The main problem is the Armenistis beach's isolation and those without a car must pay expensive campsite prices or walk to nearby resorts. There is a bus but it is not frequent.
The beach at Platanitsi has virtually been given over to campers as the campsite is strung along the whole of the back of the beach. Entrance is through the campsite where there is a small minimarket about 3km north of Sarti, the nearest village.
There is no settlement here as such, just the Platanitsi beach, which is long and deep with good sand and very shallow water, and the campsite which is strung along most of the shore beneath the trees.
Platanitsi beach is very quiet most of the year bit does get very busy in August when the Greeks take their annual holidays. Recently a watersports firm has set up within the campsite so expect the whine of jet skis and motorboats to fill the air at weekends.
There are several small coves to the north of Platanitsi which are a favourite with naturists. The most popular is called Portokali, or Orange Beach, which is much smaller but very attractive and with a beach cantina that opens there in the summer.
If you are prepared to scramble over the rocks you can reach the neighbouring beach at Kavourotrypes, an astonishingly beautiful beach of smooth white boulders and the odd patch of sand. This was once the 'unofficial nudist' beach but has become very popular lately. Both these beaches can be reached from Platanitsi or from the main road where there are signs showing the way.
The resort at Sarti is one of the most popular on the east coast of Sithonia, about 140km from Thessaloniki, and attracts many visitors from Germany and Eastern Europe.
It was named after the ancient city of Sarti, probably situated in the same area, but long since vanished, although some ruins can be visited around the gulf of Sikia.
Today Sarti it is very much a homage to concrete, with scores of small hotels and apartment blocks for visiting tourists, as well as camping and caravan sites.
It's narrow streets are full of signs for rented rooms, and the hotels and apartments jostle with souvenir and tourist craft shops with the odd minimarket and bakery. The street tavernas and cafes are full of tourists.
On the beach promenade there are more taverns and restaurants with views over the beach to the Mount Athos peninsula. On a clear day you can make out some of the monasteries dotted on the hillside.
The big attraction is Sarti beach which stretches for 2km along the shore, though much of it is sharp, coarse sand that can be uncomfortable underfoot and the offshore breeze can often make the waters very choppy - good for surfing.
Rocks add interest at either end of Sarti beach and there are several small coves to both north and south that naturists seek out. Sarti resort has a good complement of tavernas and cafes and there are all manner of watersports on the beach.
The village of Sikias lies to the south-east, about 160km from Thessaloniki, and is split between the inland village and the beach at Paralia Sikia. The hill village is quite large, with a population of about 3,000, and hidden by steep hills and pine forest.
The Sikia area was once owned by the monasteries of Mouth Athos and large properties once supported the monasteries financially. Today locals make a living from tourism, farming and fishing.
Sikias is an old village, much of preserved as it was in the 19th century. In the village centre is the church of Agios Athanasiou which was burned down a couple of times before it's reconstruction in 1860. Near the church is the old schoolhouse which dates from 1870 and is one of the oldest school buildings in Halkidiki.
The beach at Paralia Sikias is a long swathe of coarse sand that is for the most part empty. A couple of beach bars provide sunbeds and that's where the crowds tend to gather. The beach is exposed, with little shade and it can be quite a sharp drop in places.
Sikia is a popular spot for campers and there are at least six campsites in the area. Near Sikia beach are two large windmills that were built in the 19th century.
Other small beaches coves around the bay at Sikia are Kriaritsi, Klimataria, Linaraki and Agrida - good to head for if you prefer your own company, though expect campers to have commandeered some of them. Kriaritsi for example has golden sand, a beach bar and two campsites but is still virtually empty in June.
The most southerly resort on the east coast of the Sithonia peninsula is Kalamitsi, about 160km from Thessaloniki.
Kalamitsi resort is set in a double bay with a tiny offshore islet. This is a very quiet and peaceful location with several inlets around the bays, many blessed with small and sheltered sandy coves. There are campsites in the two biggest bays.
The main Kalamitsi bay is very attractive, the sand as soft and white as you will find anywhere on the peninsula. The beach is long, straight, deep and backed by olive groves.
It would be an idyllic spot were it not for the ramshackle lines of rusty caravans, camper vans and makeshift tents parked right along the back of the beach and only used by weekenders; they are empty for much of the year. Makeshift tents at Kalamitsi just add to the scruffy outlook.
The northern beach is a shallow crescent of sand with houses and small apartment blocks behind. The main road runs close to the beach here and there are rooms for rent, a minimarket and a sprinkling of tavernas.
As this part of the Sithonia peninsula is much less developed, you get little choice when it comes to eating, drinking and shopping but this is countered by the serene surroundings, the good beaches and the lack of crowds, at least outside the camping season.
That said, Kalamitsi is also a favourite with weekending Greeks so the south beach in particular often gets busy at weekends. A track to the north leads to a small sandy cove, much favoured by naturists, that has clean sand and shallow water.
The Sithonia region is heavily wooded with steep hills of pine forest and olive groves on the lowland plains. Inland hills have vineyards and citrus orchards. Apart from tourism the main occupations are farming and fishing. The land is fertile and products are mainly grapes, honey and olives.
Sithonia is noted for its honey, most of which is produced in the Nikita area. It is bottled and canned in Polygyros and mainly goes for export. Halkidiki as a whole is a sloping geological table, rising from the west to the east. In Kassandra, to the west, are the low plains while Sithonia is more hilly. It has the Singitic Gulf to the west and the Toronean Gulf to the east. The mountain Itamos or Dragountelis is found in the centre of the peninsula.
There are plenty of interesting places to head for in Sithonia but you will need a rent car or motorbike to see most of them as bus services are few and far between.
In Nikiti there are some notable traditional stone-built homes and nearby are the Paleo-Christian Basilicas of Agios Georgios and Elia. Also worth a visit are the Church of Apostle Pavlos and the Monastery of Evaggelismos. Boats will also take you across to the nearby islet of Kastri.
At the resort of Neos Marmaras is the ruins of the 9th century settlement of Parthenonas and there are tour boats to see the Roman ruins on the turtle islet of Kelyfos. There are plenty of good walks in this area too, especially Psaria and Itamal Mountain.
The extensive vineyards at Porto Karras also do tours of the winery and it is always pleasant to stroll around the vast marina and check out the expensive boats.
At Toroni are the extensive remains of Toroni Castle and the Paleo-Christian Basilica of Agios Athanasios. It is also worthwhile making a detour to visit the Xiropotamos Monastery in coastal resort of Sarti.
Nearby, at Sikia, are the ruins of the Ancient Temple and a couple of 19th century windmills located near the beach. In the north-eastern resort of Vourvourou there are plenty of boat trips to the many offshore islets that crowd the bay.
Most Sithonia villages have a few bars, cafes and tavernas where you can enjoy a quiet meal or drink. For nightlife, most visitors suggest heading to Neos Marmaras, Nikiti and Sarti, where you will find a number of clubs, bars and music cafes along the shores.
Like most of Greece, Sithonia has an endless string of village festivals throughout the year. They always welcome strangers to these things and it is worth joining in the cultural and religious festivals in the region.
The most notable are at Sykia on June 22 which hosts the Festival of Agia Triada and at Nikiti, famous for its athletic festival 'The Crossing of the Toronean Gulf', which takes place every year in July.
There are major village celebration in Neos Marmaras on July 27 and on August 15 in Sarti for the Festival Panagia (The Virgin Mary). In September, the village of Porto Koufo hosts a festival called 'The Fishing of the Tuna'.