Sunday 2 August 2015

Halkidiki - Our Last Week in Greece

Greece, 25th July – 2nd August 2015

Halkidiki to the east of northern Greece has a central area of land with three peninsulas protruding to the south. Originally we planned to visit each but later heard that the first peninsula was highly developed so has little opportunities for motorhome parking and the third peninsula is owned by the church and covered with monasteries with restricted access only for men so was out of the question too.

Leaving Meteora we took the main road north leading into the Macedonia region where there was a change in landscape, the hills became lower and more rolling with level plains of fields between. We passed several bear warning signs and joined the A2 toll motorway again which was much of which was flatter now and like a conventional motorway compared to the cutting through the mountains with high rise bridges through valleys and tunnels that feature at the western end. It reminded us of the roads driving through Spain.

 As we got closer to Thessaloniki the road got busier which we weren’t used to and driving around the northern edge of the city, which seemed to spread over a huge area, from what we could see was unappealing mainly blocks of flats. There were a lot of businesses along this road including a caravan dealer with some new Knaus motorhomes and a shopping centre, both of these the first of them we’ve seen in the country, it didn’t feel like Greece. We were in need of fuel and handily a Shell garage we passed was the cheapest we’ve seen yet at €1.159 (about 83p per litre) so I pulled in and got half a tank. Whilst paying an attendant cleaned our windscreen, the second time we’ve had this done in the last few days at a garage, this time successfully removing some stubborn bird muck that we’d received whilst parked under trees in Ammoudia.

Six Lidls?  Motorhome paradise then.
Now in Halkidiki we headed to the Sithonia peninsula, the middle one of the three, where we had the GPS for a location from which looked very nice on their photo. From reading all of their blog this photo stood out to me and looked just the sort of place that sums up travelling in a motorhome so was one of the main places I was looking forward to going to on our trip. On several occasions at dull times in the office when I needed some motivation to get through the day I’d open the webpage, look at it and think of the future and being there.

View from our spot on the headland at Agios Ioannis
Our spot by the beach at Agios Ioannis
When we arrived at Agios Ioannis Beach (GPS: N40.19174 E23.69021) it was fairly busy with about eight motorhomes plus a couple of caravans and some tents all clustered together. With it being busy and having a lot of day-trippers using the beach due to the time of year, and also due to the amazing places it had to follow that we’ve been staying in Greece it wasn’t quite up to what I was expecting, however still a very nice spot. There are two areas you can park; on the headland over small cliffs, or down alongside the beach, we opted for the latter to be close to the sea for swimming. We had a swim in the sea which was the warmest we’ve experienced and didn’t cool us down much. The Rough Guide says the area is home to a lot of stingless jellyfish but Jo would beg to differ as she picked up a sting from something at the top of her leg so got straight out of the water. Doing 230 miles to get here today was the most we’ve done in ages, since before getting to Greece.

Somehow I don't think we'll need the No Entry signs to deter
us from driving up this road...
The water tank and drinking water stocks were both low so the next day we set off to deal with them and look out for anywhere else to stay overnight. We followed the main circular road before turning off onto a smaller road that passed through forest along the coast. We followed this for quite a while before getting to signs of life which might’ve been the edge of Porto Carras, it looked upmarket and outside the first hotel we passed all the cars were Serbian registered. We’d not seen anywhere that looked remotely suitable for overnighting and hadn’t seen a fuel station or shop since leaving the main road so decided to head back, stopping at a fuel station to get a small amount of fuel and to use their water tap. Whilst filling up with water a Slovenian lady from a motorhome we parked near us asked what we did about gas as they were having difficulty finding a bottle that would fit (with our Gaslow refillable system we don’t have problems with gas). We talked about where we’d been and got recommendations of three places around Halkidiki from her. Pulling into a local supermarket, we found again that some things are cheaper than Lidl including 6-packs of Vikos water and Coca-Cola. They had a good stock of spices so we managed to get bags of paprika, cumin and cloves, and a large jar or basil as that was the only size they had. Jo was excited that we could restock our spice rack after not seeing them elsewhere.

We decided to go back to Agios Ioannis and parked almost where we were before as a Czech van was on our bit of concrete hard-standing. We got the Cadac out and had Greek sausage hotdogs with potatoes and sat outside by the beach eating them. I’d seen a Police car moving around the campers on the headland while I was cooking which pulled into the space next to us and said they’d like to let us know “this place is not for camp, just for parking, no tables or tents out” and went again. The bed felt damp the previous night which we were not sure whether it was due to a lot of driving in the hot temperatures with the air con on, but it was the same on this night so it was probably due to the humidity here, the Rough Guide says this area has the most days of rainfall in July.

This fellow expressed an interest in sharing the bed with us.
Jo didn't approve.
After lunch the next day we headed south down the peninsula to Toroni (GPS: N39.99162 E23.89287) which the Slovenian lady had told us about, and I read afterwards that Our Tour had stayed at too. We hit the water straight away for a cool off then whilst I was getting dried outside the van an old blue Renault Trafic van pulled up next to me with two young ladies in and asked if I spoke English and asked if it was possible to stay here overnight as they were concerned after seeing the large “Freecamping is Forbidden” signs as they entered the peninsula. After reassuring them we chatted for a bit before they parked up and went for a swim. They’d asked for any recommendations of places to stay so shortly after I went to talk to them to show some places on the map. They were sisters from Holland, similar age to us (the first ones we’ve seen), on a 7-week holiday and had spent two weeks travelling down through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albana, and were planning to spend three weeks down here along the stretch of coast towards the Turkish border. After they said they plan to take three days to drive home and I said that sounds very short they clarified that would be driving near enough none stop taking it in shifts driving and sleeping which they did last year to drive to Portugal in a day! I noted down the GPS for a few spots that they had but that they couldn’t use after finding when arriving that their sat nav didn’t have maps for Greece.

After saying bye to the Dutch girls (I didn’t get their names) the next day we got on our way, and moved on to a spot near Sarti (GPS: N40.07562 E23.98389), recommended by the Slovenian lady, accessible by a tight road. With five vans already here filling the space facing onto the beach we parked just around the corner. We spent most of the time writing blog entries ready to upload when on WiFi at the site, and had a swim in the sea.

In the morning we drove the short distance back down the coast to Camping Melissi near Sikia (GPS: N40.04588 E23.98404, €20 inc electric and WiFi) arriving early at 10ish to make the most of the day there. Jo had picked it out from our ACSI guide for its facilities (namely site-wide WiFi and washing machines) and description, it was also good value for peak season and would’ve been a bargain €12 with ACSI discount out of season. We got shown to a pitch under the shade of the trees behind a Dutch Dethleffs and got set up and on with our jobs. We decided on the second day to stay another night to try to get the blog up to date and do some Bulgaria route planning. The laundry bag was overflowing with us having almost no fresh clothes left in the cupboards so with two machine loads we got all our clothes, bedding and towels washed plus had a few things leftover that we did by hand in the laundry sinks. We also cut my hair and Jo gave the bathroom an overdue clean. We had a very busy couple of days both spending the rest of the time working on uploading and writing the blog, only stopping to eat or go for a cold shower to cool down.

We’d expected the campsite to be basic for the price but the toilets and showers were the cleanest and tidiest we’d seen in Greece, there seemed to be somebody cleaning them almost every time we used them, and the site was well maintained with a man going around sweeping up leaves. It’s one to be recommended. Most people on the site were in caravans with large awnings and outdoor areas set up who were from Serbia, Hungary and Romania. The only downside was it was a faff to drain the grey water as the point wasn’t accessible to position our drain off pipe over so they had a length of plastic flexi-pipe to link your camper to the drain but this was too small to fit over our outlet pipe so we improvised with a coke bottle funnel between the two.

Driving up the east coast of the peninsula we arrived in Nikitis and did a Lidl shop before going back to Agios Ioannis Beach. This time we parked above the cliffs looking over the bay for the night (GPS: N40.19086 E23.68952) and did some more work on the blog as it was so close to being up to date but our mobile internet was slow. A group of gypsies nearby seemed to be having a party with loud music playing, and a nearby van decided to play their own music load too which was annoying but luckily didn’t go on too late into the night.  The next day on the way out we noticed loads of rubbish, packaging, bottles and even part of a fridge strewn all over the grass where the gypsies had been the scruffy animals!

Our next stop was on the bottom of the east coast of Halkidiki at Ierrisos (GPS: N40.41809 E23.85991), a long, quiet undeveloped beach. There were a few possible spots to park and a Greek van was parked in the best location, however while we got out to look and decide whether to stay they started packing away so we waited and got the great spot parked on some raised rocks on the beach. We had a swim in the sea and I snorkled seeing a lot of small fish. Jo made us a veggie stir fry for dinner as an attempt to eat less meat to save some more Euros. It was a very pleasant spot and quiet until later in the evening when loud music in the distance started with someone having a party, probably from a house further along the track. We got our blog finally up to date so from that point on (starting with this one) posts would be on a live basis as we travel. It was windy in the night and this morning the two large tents that had been pitched yesterday on the beach had gone so maybe it was too much for them, or they started getting wet as they were close to where the fresh high tide line was.

Amongst the trees was full of tents
As it was such a nice place we were at we got the chairs out and relaxed there for a bit in the shade of the awning, I did some reading of others’ blogs on Bulgaria and Jo updated our accounts for this week, and found that this was the cheapest week we’d had so far at £82.56, well under budget. It was pleasant with the temperature having dropped a bit combined with a nice breeze. After a dip in the sea and some lunch we drove up the east coast of Halkidiki to Stratoni which the Slovenian lady had recommended, and parked by the beach (GPS: N40.50965 E23.82656) joining two Czech motorhomes. It’s a more developed dark sand beach with a beach bar that was playing loud music and was quite busy (but quietened off later). Jo was ready for a cool off so we went in the sea, however it didn’t seem very clean with a lot of debris floating about, maybe because of its sheltered location in the bay, or from the wind last night.

The town of Stratoni
This marks the end of our time in Greece which is a shame, we’ve really enjoyed it here and could happily spend a lot longer but after spending over two months here we’ve been here twice as long as planned and there’s a lot more of Europe still to see! Tomorrow all being well we should be in Bulgaria.

- Matt

ps. Sorry for the long post, it seems there was more to write about than I realised when I started typing this!

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