Macedonia

Macedonia: Why go

This fertile and lovely corner of northern Greece ducks under the radar of most tourists, apart from a few visitors from eastern Europe (for whom it is the nearest bit of Med). It's time to redress the imbalance.

The triple-pronged peninsula of Chalkidiki (or Halkidiki) has some of Greece's most idyllic, golden-sand beaches and, while the western finger of Kassandra may be marred in places by development and forest fires, the middle finger (Sithonia) and eastern (Athos) boast some gorgeous stretches of pine-fringed coast dipping into bright turquoise seas. We've unearthed a couple of secluded little hotels from which to enjoy them.

The tip of the eastern finger is legendary Mount Athos, the male-only monastic enclave, where 20 ancient and wealthy Orthodox monasteries perch on the foothills of the huge, often snow-capped mountain, overlooking an untouched sealine. There are no roads to speak of, no hotels at all, indeed no visiting rights for anyone except male visitors who have applied in advance for a 3-day permit - though others can admire the scenery from a spectacular boat trip around the cape.

Other highlights include the breathtaking site and tomb of Philip of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) at Vergina; the mythical peaks of Mt. Olympus, at 2,900m the highest in Greece; and the Nestos river gorge which offers spectacular rafting and canoeing (the landscapes up here are much lusher than further south in Greece).

Thessaloniki - Greece's second city, is the main hub for this region with direct flights from UK and other European countries, plus a lively music- and gastro-culture that puts Athens and many islands to shame. The Excelsior is our recommended base. Also popular is the lesser-known but perhaps more charming port of Kavala, which is actually just across the border in Thrace (Thraki), but worth including here because it is home to one of Greece's finest historic hotels, Imaret, as well as being the jump-off point for the island of Thassos and the breathtaking Greco-Roman-Byzantine site of Philippi.

16:32 | GMT +2 Hours