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General Information for Halkidiki

Halkidiki The unique nature of this region will fascinate you. Superb sandy beaches of over 300 miles of beautiful coastline extend in front of you. Whatever you heart desires could be realized in this peninsula from which three smaller peninsulas of: Kassandra, Sithonia and Mt Athos (the easternmost promontory of Halikidiki) elongate into the Aegean Sea. Visit the much-frequented tourist oriented places - with the cosmopolitan life - of Kassandra or, if you prefer low-tones, calm quiet vacations then Sithonia with the incredible beaches is for you, which also provides a lovely hotel complex, Porto Karras.

Sithonia's largest resort, of Neos Marmaras, offers a nice but crowded beach and an enormous luxury hotel complex, Porto Karras, with casino and many more facilities. In the southern tip of Sithonia, Porto Koufo, one of the most picturesque places of Halkidiki, you can enjoy a good swim and the best seafood. The asphalt-paved road connects the region with the Panaghias cove from there one takes the boat to the Holy Mountain (Aghion Oros). This incredible place of Halkidiki of Mt Athos, constitutes the only entirely monastic state in Europe. The awe-inspiring area occupies most of the Athos peninsula. The entrance of women and children - along with approaching ships to the shores bringing women - is forbidden.

A permit is required and only ten foreign adult males are allowed to enter. People interested should apply early through their consulates, since the number of applications is inordinate (or you may call the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace (Tel.: 231 270-092). Mt Athos - consists of countless hermitages and twenty fortress - like monasteries where rare objetcts of Byzantine art, priceless manuscripts and many other works of art exist. People who have visited speak with awe and reverence and they relate impressive experiences.

The pine and fir-tree verdant peninsula of Athos was renamed Aghion Oros in the 11th Century AD. The first fifty eight monks arrived on the mountain before the 9th-Century and compiled the First Statute, according to which all canon rules of operation of the monastic state are defined. The first monastery on Athos was Meghistis Lavras, founded by St Athanasios Athonitis (of Athos) assisted by the emperor of Byzantium, Nikiphoros Phokas, the year 963 AD.

More monasteries continued to be established around the 10th Century among them the Iviron and Vatopethiou and many more were built through the centuries. Orthodox men, allowed to visit, could stay (gratis) from four to six days at the monasteries provided they are willing to abide and follow the strict daily routine of the monks.

The majority of the monks are well-educated, much traveled individuals many of whom have periodically taught and lectured the world over. The monastic state follows the Julian Calendar (old calendar) which is back in time by 13 days. There is no land access to the Holy Mountain. Visitors enter taking the boat from Ouranopolis to Daphne - the tiny port of Athos, which provides few services as: a port-authority office, police and customs, a couple of stores and a cafe- one of the stores has a public phone.

Karyes is the administrative capital of Mt Athos and it is in the center of the peninsula. It provides plenty of services and the headquarters of the Iera Epistasia (Holy Counsil) are located there. The cathedral of the city occupies the center of town. Activity inside the Aghion Oros is possible by foot - since the entire peninsula has many age-old paths - by renting a mule or a horse (at Karyes), by car (very restricted radius) or by boat. In addition, there is a bus route between Karyes and Daphne. Proper attire (long trousers, not shorts and long-sleeved shirts) and certain behavior should prevail. Details on protocol - if permitted to go - should be requested. Urbane, wordly friends who have visited Aghion Oros, spoke to this author with the greatest admiration and enthusiasm referred to as a ''life-experience not to be missed''.