Last Updated on December 19, 2023
When most people plan a trip to Greece, they usually consider visiting Athens or spending time on its popular islands, such as Mykonos and Santorini, bypassing other, less familiar parts. These travelers don’t know what they’re missing.
On a fall 2023 trip, I had the opportunity to explore northern Greece, and I believe it’s one of the best-kept travel secrets in Europe.
I walked through centuries of ancient history in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece. During a tour of Veria, I stood at the exact location where Paul the Apostle preached the Gospel. In nearby Vergina, I saw the tomb of King Phillip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. I also spent several days traveling around scenic Halkidiki.
Halkidiki is located southeast of Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea consisting of three peninsulas: Kassandra, Sithonia, and Mt. Athos (from west to east).
Locals from Thessaloniki and Veria, and visitors in the know from across Europe, enjoy its luxurious beaches lined with bars and tavernas. They visit for the charming mountain villages and relax in one of many thermal spas and wellness centers.
I stayed at the Philoxenia Hotel in Psakoudia, located at the entrance of Sithonia, and found it to be the ideal location for exploring Halkidiki. Psakoudia is a small coastal village along the Aegean Sea with an expansive beach.
The Philoxenia Hotel offers rooms and suites in several sizes to accommodate couples, families, and groups of friends traveling together. Rooms include small refrigerators, and suites have a living room that can be converted into a bedroom. All rooms have a patio or balcony with a garden or pool view.
Wi-Fi is complimentary, and the service was fast and reliable during my stay.
The hotel provides a full array of toiletries, including shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion. I mention this because although most U.S. hotels typically offer these items, many in Greece do not.
One hotel I stayed at didn’t even have shampoo—just liquid soap in the shower. The Philoxenia Hotel was the only place I stayed in Greece where all toiletries were provided.
Guests will find plenty of complimentary parking at the Philoxenia Hotel.
Based on my experience, this isn’t common in Greece, especially in cities like Thessaloniki and Veria. If a hotel has a parking lot or garage, you usually pay to use it. If there’s no lot, you must park in a public garage unless you’re lucky enough to find a space along the street.
The Philoxenia Hotel offers a fitness center, sauna and steam room on-site. Car, motorcycle and bike rentals are also available.
The hotel provides programs and services to accommodate families, such as cribs, babysitting services, children’s activities and a play area.
The beach and Psakoudia village are only a 5-minute walk from the hotel. The property sports two pools onsite – a main pool and another exclusively for guests in select buildings. My room was in one of the three buildings and included a patio overlooking the pool.
Philoxenia Restaurants and Bars
The Philoxenia Hotel has two restaurants and a bar. The main restaurant, Symposion, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets. Breakfast is included in your room price with an option to add lunch or dinner.
Symposion’s breakfast buffet has been awarded the “Greek Breakfast” certificate by the Hotel Chamber of Greece. Greek hotels and restaurants earn this certification by serving traditional local products such as freshly baked bread, nuts, olives, olive oil, yogurt, honey, and regional delicacies.
The chef and his staff use fresh, organic meat, vegetables, and fruits from local suppliers. Meals include fish caught daily by local fishermen, and all items are seasoned with herbs from the hotel’s own garden and with Halkidiki virgin olive oil.
I was impressed by all the fresh salads on the dinner buffet and could have easily made a meal of them alone. However, there were always several tempting hot items, including two made-to-order pasta or meat dishes.
Kukunari (pine cone in Greek), the hotel’s second restaurant, offers a private dining experience. Guests can enjoy a quiet candlelight dinner while listening to relaxing music and enjoying the aroma of the pine forest that surrounds the hotel.
The ‘chef’s choice’ menu offers Greek cuisine four times a week and Mediterranean cuisine on the other three days. A typical meal includes gourmet appetizers and salads followed by homemade pasta, risotto, expertly prepared meat and fish dishes and assorted desserts.
The Local Bar by the main pool hosts live entertainment each night. It’s the perfect place to meet other guests, enjoy a cocktail, have a leisurely lunch or snack or join a fitness class such as Zumba or water aerobics.
The Philoxenia Hotel is the perfect place to stay to explore Halkidiki because you can easily drive to attractions on all three peninsulas. The Baths of Agia Paraskevi on Kassandra is an hour’s drive from Psakoudia and includes magnificent views of the Aegean Sea.
Ouranoupolis, a village on Mt. Athos, is an easy one-hour drive through hills and along the scenic Aegean coast. It was founded in 315 BC on the ruins of an ancient city and is best known for offering cruises to the monasteries on Mount Athos, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Holy Monastery of the Annunciation in Ormylia, only minutes away from Psakoudia, is one of the largest and most famous monasteries in Greece and home to over 100 nuns from all over the world.
Agricultural products they produce include olives, olive oil, honey, jams and liqueurs. The sisters also create hand-painted icons, woven and embroidered handicrafts, wood carvings and mosaics.
Traditional mountain villages like Polygyros and Athitos are a 20-30 minute drive. Athitos is known for its stone houses, cobbled streets, and stunning panoramas of the Aegean Sea. In Polygyros, you’ll see traditional Macedonian architecture and visit the Archaeological Museum.
Getting Around Greece
Many people have asked if it’s hard to drive in Greece and I have to admit that I was a little anxious at first.
With English and a working knowledge of French, German, and Dutch, I can either read the signs in most of Western Europe or figure out what they say because the words are similar to one of the three languages I know. I’d never driven in a country where I didn’t know the alphabet, much less the language, but getting around wasn’t a problem at all.
Some signs are in Greek and English, especially near cities. Many aren’t, but Google Maps is amazingly accurate. So, if your Smartphone plan includes service outside the U.S., you shouldn’t have any problems. Internet service can be spotty however. So, before you go, it’s wise to verify that your plan also includes unlimited data to avoid excessive roaming charges.