As students, the image we form of Greece is a mythical land once home to Zeus and the gods of Mount Olympus. We read about Hades and the underworld, Prometheus carrying the earth upon his shoulders, and Dionysus cultivating his grapevines. We learn about Jason and the Argonauts and Medusa’s vile head of serpents.
But we’re never enlightened as to the natural paradise Greece was and still is. Deep blue skies, virgin forests, pale waters, and air so fresh it’ll keep you pumped up even as night falls. It’s no wonder some of the world’s fleshiest olives grow here, why plump, sweet grapes are harvested to ferment into wine.
Today when we think of Greece, our health-conscious minds conjure up visions of strained yogurt, figs and honey. Greece is where the Mediterranean diet thrives, and if you visit its lush landscape, you’ll immediately understand why.
So a month ago, I packed a solitary carry-on and boarded Aegean Airlines out of Beirut to Thessaloniki, via Athens, on a trip organized and hosted by Lebanon’s premiere travel agency, Wild Discovery. 9:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, we were already zooming across Halkidiki’s verdant terrain, destined for the tip of one of its jutting peninsulas called Kassandra.
|The colors of placidity|
Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort
An hour and half later, we arrived at Greece’s newest luxury resort and oasis, opened in May 2016. Miraggio is everything you’d associate with paradise, from the azure sea glistening from every angle you stand poised, to the soft sand sifting through your feet, to the amphitheatric setup of the 300 suites and rooms that frame this veritable Garden of Eden.
|View from the lobby terrace|
Nothing will prepare you for that walk-turned-sprint across the marble floors of Miraggio’s lobby, as you near the automatic glass doors that welcome you to the terrace and big blue yonder. This is no mirage: you’re seeing the seafront enclave 100% clearly.
|The Miraggio lobby|
And the suites are equally reflective of that majesty. A walk-in shower closet, a bathtub, sinks for him and her, a separate room for a toilet…you’re almost compelled to hole yourself up in your room and enjoy all the honey-based amenities.
Did I mention a big firm bed with a cluster of pillows representing the range of the softness scale? Or the cantilever table running the length of the room, festooned with art-worthy dessert and a bottle of spumante prosecco compliments of Miraggio? There’s a partial barrier dividing the bedroom from the salon area; slide open the door to admire your deck and plot of lawn.
|A sweet welcome treat in-room|
Once you come to grips with the fact that is your room, and you can seek respite in it as often as you fancy, you allow yourself to go explore the premises. You could lounge by one of the several pools, sprawl out by the sea, take a dip, or just listen lazily to the gentle water lapping at the shore.
For the ultimate pampering, Myrthia Thermal Spa is your utopia. Occupying 3,000 square meters, this space features thermal water pools with hydrotherapy jets in addition to seven modern treatment rooms to suit the needs of every guest. You feel the years sloughing off your skin as local thermal source water floods your pores and rejuvenates every iota of your being. To complete the effect, request a special fresh juice from the café situated inside the thermal spa.
|Myrthia Thermal Spa with hydrotherapy jets|
When it’s time to dine, Kritamo main restaurant packs in a buffet of handpicked local ingredients reflecting the Greek tradition of caring when cooking. For breakfast, expect a mind-boggling array of strained yogurts, honey, jams, cheeses, charcuterie, fresh fruit and cereals. There are omelets, pancakes and waffles being prepared à la minute, aside from over a dozen hot dishes cradling eggs, beans, steamed veggies, potatoes, and more.
A “Healthy Corner” comprises organic fruits, smoothies, gluten-free and bio products, honey from a native beekeeper, home-churned Greek yogurt, local delicacies and superfoods such as dried goji berries and flaxseeds. You’ll feel like royalty as you fill your silver tea kettle with hot water and select one of a variety of gourmet teabags.
Lunch and dinner can also be had here. Pile your plate high and amble out to the terrace, where breathtaking vistas will lull you into gastronomic ecstasy.
|Kritamo opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner|
Sani Beach is located by the spellbinding Cape Sani and extends to Bousoulas Beach, whose sands are fringed with 6 km of pine. For a more private setting perched among hills, Sani Club houses bungalows with magnificent views over Mount Olympus and the Aegean. Porto Sani is ideal for families and boasts a sensuous spa suite with tailor-made aromatherapy treatments, while its lagoon pool is a hit with children. And finally, Sani Asterias is all about exclusivity and intimacy, from VIP beaches to Michelin-starred executive chefs. No extraordinary request is too far-fetched here.
We stayed in a double room trimmed with contemporary design and featuring its very own balcony, peering over Bousoulas. Families with children can opt for a number of accommodation types, from multi-bedroom family suites to deluxe beachfront properties. And that’s what truly distinguishes Sani from other resorts – the sheer diversity of lodgings available to guest parties of every size and character.
Besides the beach, Sani Resort harbors a luxurious haven for yachts along its marina. The piazza is studded with a dizzying array of eateries (don’t miss Vosporos Grill House and its succulent kebabs), as well as a row of chic boutiques selling top international brands.
Be sure to have breakfast at Ammos, a chic bar-restaurant where guests can dig into the finest Greek and international cuisine against a backdrop of water caressing the shore. Crepes, omelets, fresh fruit and yogurt figure among the edibles, and you’d do well to sample the bulbous dried figs.
|Greek strained yogurt, bananas, flax seeds, goji berries and honey|
If it’s greenery you long for, there is an easy path through the woods skirting the long sandy Bousoulas, with views across the wetlands and bird sanctuary. Twice a day, a biodiversity expert leads tours originating from the lobby of Sani beach and winding through the forest. Spot tortoises and beehives along the way before reaching the Sani wetlands, declared a European Important Bird Area and home to more than 180 different kinds of birds.
|Reach the forest mere minutes' walking distance from Sani Beach|
|Sani wetlands is a bird sanctuary|
The beautiful thing about Sani is that you could never tire of it. With 34 bars and restaurants, endless expanses of blue waters and clear skies, and a suite of excursions you can embark on to animate your stay, Sani is a self-sufficient community. Come here to capitalize on its natural beauty and disconnect from the duress of daily life.
For a country as steeped in history as Greece, it’s surprising so much of it feels undiscovered. Halkidiki in particular, shaped like Poseidon’s trident and poking out into the Aegean Sea, is painted with blooming forests extending to the beach; golden sunlight reflected in the turquoise waters; and endless coves adding their own pristine touch to the unique natural canvas.
The major hotel complexes nestled here only underscore this intoxicating blend of blue and green. Rather than deter, they reverence. Rather than destroy, they preserve. It is this compatibility of nature and manmade habitat that make Halkidiki so enticing.
For many, Halkidiki is an annual mecca. In fact, 60% of business at Sani Resort is repeat, and customers are known to book the following year’s getaway upon checkout. I expect Miraggio will in time reap a similar statistic, because such idyllic environments can’t be found just anywhere.
Yet somehow Halkidiki would fool you into thinking they can. Because here, every corner of land is natural nirvana.
|Sani aerial view|
Wild Discovery offers a variety of destination packages to Greece. If you're interested in visiting Halkidiki, start making plans for a trip next year anytime between April and October. For more details, consult a travel advisor at +961 1 565646.
This trip was organized and hosted by Wild Discovery Lebanon, in partnership with Aegean Airlines.
For the purposes of this article, a selection of pictures was reproduced from the photo galleries on the Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort and Sani Resort websites.
More images from the trip can be found on my Instagram account.