Halkidiki charts a new course for seafaring Chinese

By Erik Nilsson ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-08-03 07:46:39

Few Chinese yachters have navigated Halkidiki.

But the globally celebrated luxury-travel destination hopes to lure fleets from the country, as a new wave of Chinese are exploring high-end travel by sea and seeking new ports of call.

Much of the 550 kilometers of coastline - the most in mainland Greece - twists around three picturesque peninsulas, whose attractions and activities beyond their 1,000-plus beaches have long lured holidaymakers.

Yachters can coast past Mt Athos' seaside monasteries but can't disembark. The orthodox community of 1,700 monks that inhabits Europe's only monastic republic, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is something like a state within a state. Even Greek men need special permission to enter, and women aren't allowed in at all.

Yachters can, however, anchor at Liotopi to explore the ruins of Aristotle's hometown, Stagira, which is also a botanical hot spot. Rare plants and animals abound in Halkidiki's 12 natural beauty and biodiversity conservancies protected under the European Union Network.

Other natural wonders enclosing historical marvels include Petralona's caves, where the 700,000-year-old remains of the oldest-known European were discovered.

Another land formation expected to appeal to Chinese are the Mamma Mia! Islands - Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonisos - where the namesake film based on the musical was shot. (Both are wildly popular in China.)

Halkidiki hosts extensive yachting facilities, including two private marinas awarded with the European Union's Blue Flag. It's flanked by six ports and 19 fishing shelters.

"Most are small traditional ports, offering an authentic Greek experience," Halkidiki Tourism Organization marketing manager Tania Akritidou says.

The Porto Carras Marina is Northern Greece's largest private marina, but Sani Port ranks among Europe's most eminent.

That's because the marina, with 215 berths for vessels up to 30 meters long, is in the Sani Resort - winner of the Conde Nast Traveller Reader Awards' Best Resort in Greece and Best Family Resort in Greece. Trip Advisor named it Europe's fifth best overall and second-best for families.

The 400-hectare Porto Sani Village is like a small city with 17 restaurants, plus an equal number of bars and cafes; a heliport; a sports center with a PADI diving school; three spas; a shopping center packed with high-end boutiques; a theater; and an open-air cinema.

Naturalists can explore Sani's 7 km of white beaches, vast pine forests and wetland bird sanctuary.

Halkidiki is a place where the natural meets the historical, the contemporary meets and quaint, and luxury meets leisure.

As such, its tourism planners believe this swath of Macedonia will moor Chinese yachters' interest as they chart new waters.

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