Stuart Forster reports from Ammouliani, a holiday island off Greece’s Halkidiki coastline.
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Think of Greek holiday islands and it’s normally the likes of Kos, Crete and Rhodes that spring to mind. Ammouliani, in Greece’s Halkidiki region, is, by comparison, far smaller and much quieter.
Ammouliani may not be well-known internationally but it is a popular destination among Greek holidaymakers looking to get away within their own country and enjoy sunshine, sand and sea. The island in the Gulf of Sigitikos – an area sometimes referred to as the Gulf of Mount Athos – has an area of just 4.5 square kilometres and is dotted with sandy beaches and small bays.
Secluded bays and beaches
Alikes Beach is one of the most popular destinations for bathers. A beach shack acts as a meeting place and serves refreshments. By comparison Karagatsia Beach, hemmed in by steep hillsides, seems small and secluded. The bay at Karagatsia offers calm water for swimmers. Locals say that the water around their island offers good visibility for divers and is rich with marine life.
Until the 1920s the island was inhabited by just a handful of Orthodox monks affiliated to Vatopedi monastery on nearby Mount Athos. However, from 1925 the population began to grow as an influx of refugees settled on Ammouliani. They were ethnic Greeks expelled from Asia Minor and the islands of Galleme, Passalimani and Skoupia in the Sea of Marmara. The refugees were part of the exchange of populations agreed in the Treaty of Lausanne, signed following the Greco-Turkish War of 1919 and 1922. Today the island’s permanent population fluctuates at between just 500 and 600 people but rises in the summer when up to 8,000 people stay on Ammouliani.
Ammouliani was settled by fishermen
Many of the settlers who arrived in the 1920s were fishermen and, naturally, they continued to fish off Ammouliani. It was only in the 1960s and 1970s that the islanders began to use their bays and beaches to attract tourists.
Inevitably, on an island settled by fisherfolk, the seafood and fish served in Ammouliani’s restaurants is fresh and highly the recommended by the islanders.
July and August are the peak months but the here weather is usually good in June and September too. There are plenty of inexpensive places to stay on Ammouliani. I visited the 46-room Sunrise Hotel , tel. +30 23770 51273), an unpretentious family-run place offering the warm hospitality that’s traditionally associated with this part of Greece.
the Mount Athos Area
If you stay on the island you can cruise around the autonomous Mount Athos peninsula, which is the home of 20 Orthodox monasteries. Only men are permitted to visit Mount Athos, which is often referred to as the “Holy Mountain” by members of the Orthodox faith.
One ancient monastery, Zygou, is on the outskirts of the town of Ouranoupoli and located outside of the restricted area of Mount Athos. You can visit the ruins of the monastery, which was abandoned in the twelfth century and is currently being excavated.
The Halkidiki region is also the home of Mount Olympus, where, according to Ancient Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses sat and looked on at mortals while enduring conflict and intrigue among themselves.
The ruins of the ancient Stageira are a half-hour drive north of Ouranoupoli. The walled city of Stageira overlooks the Gulf of Stymonikos and is best known as being the birthplace of the philosopher Aristotle, in 384BC.
Getting to Ammouliani
Easyjet flies to Thessaloniki from London Gatwick Airport. Ammouliani is 120km from Thessaloniki’s airport and 130km from the city centre. Transfers by bus or taxi to Ouranoupoli take roughly 90 minutes then the boat journey between the mainland harbour of Trypiti and Ammouliani takes 15 minutes.
Learn more about the island see the Visit Ammouliani tourism information website.
For more information about the surrounding region, take a look at the Mount Athos Area website.
For Greek travel and tourism information see the Visit Greece website.
Thanks for reading this article about Ammouliani, a holiday island off Greece’s Halkidiki coastline. Into the region’s cultural heritage? Here’s a look at the symbolism of Orthodox icons.
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