Weekend: Travel: A Slice of History in This Secret Paradise; the Three-Pronged Peninsular of Halkidiki Is a Holiday Treasure Trove Well Worth Visiting, Discovers Cathy Gordon on a Trip to the North of Greece
Byline: Cathy Gordon
Greece - been there, done that, got the souvenir T-shirt and the tacky trinket you thought was just so perfect after downing a large ouzo or two?
You may think you've 'done' the land of feta cheese retsina, but if your summer jaunts have thus far been confined to the Greek islands, then it is time to think again.
For the spectacular three-pronged peninsular of Halkidiki, in the north of the country, is a holiday treasure trove well worth discovering.
Dubbed the 'secret paradise of Greece', it boasts 300 miles of coastline, under three per cent of which is developed.
One of the greatest pleasures of the lush green landscape of Halkidiki is that it remains delightfully unspoilt, despite its ever-growing popularity as a tourist destination.
There is no major industry and the emphasis is heavily on environmental protection.
If you are looking to get away from it all, but with plenty of activities to choose from if you feel like surgically removing yourself from your sunbed -- then this is an ideal destination.
Even if you are staying in a hotel in one of the busier resorts you don't have go too far to find peace and solitude.
Halkidiki is very popular with Greeks, too. August has the highest temperatures and the biggest crowds.
A good way to get around, particularly if you favour deserted coves and traditional villages and perhaps want to visit the many historical sites for a fix of culture, is to hire a car.
But, if you don't fancy getting behind the wheel, then you can opt for organised trips and local buses.
And, of course, you can explore by hiking or cycling. Several trekking routes have now been waymarked. Watersports are also popular.
The peninsular of Halkidiki ends in three smaller peninsulars, which are all very different in character.
These prongs or 'fingers', which jut out into the Aegean sea, are Kassandra, the main tourist area, the picturesque Sithonia and the majestic Athos.
A photo-opportunity 'must' is a cruise trip around Athos, also known as Agion Oros, the Holy Mountain, to view the fascinating monasteries clinging to the cliffs or nestling in sheltered coves.
Athos is a self-governing entity under the exclusive control of Orthodox monks who live and work there.
Females - including female creatures - are not permitted to set foot in the State of Athos and the limited numbers of men allowed to visit have to obtain special permission.
Of course, one important thing women are not barred from in this part of Greece is retail therapy. …