A visit to the Mt. Athos peninsula
The largest part of the third peninsula is occupied by the monastic community of Mt. Athos, comprising 20 individual monasteries with their official administration in the town of Karyes. The monastic community is off limits to women, while men have to secure a special permit to visit**.
Our exploration of the third peninsula will take us as far as Ouranoupolis, known as the gateway to Mt. Athos. From here the boats depart taking visitors to the monasteries.
Choice of itineraries around Athos
There are three possible routes for this trip. Starting from Thessaloniki you can take the road to Polygyros and the left-hand turning to Agios Prodromos, a village famous for its tavernas and souvlakia. If you want a faster route, avoiding Agios Prodromos, wait until you come to a second sign on the main road, to Arnaia, and follow that route.
The second route involves driving to Polygyros (60km) and then following the signs to Vrastamas and then on to Gomati. This will bring you to Ierissos, from where you can reach your final destination.
The third option is to take the Egnatia Motorway from Thessaloniki to Kavala, turning off at the Mt. Athos exit. The road will take you down to Ierissos, Ouranoupolis and Mt. Athos.
The distance you will drive is about the same on all three routes, i.e. 127km from Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis. The difference is that while the first route is a winding road it does take you through picturesque Arnaia, Palaiohori, Stageira, birthplace of Aristotle, and then Stratoniki. The second road is easier, but with some winding sections, while the third route is definitely the easiest of the three.
If we take the first route, after 41.5km we come to the sign for Arnaia, Ierissos and Mt. Athos. 500m farther on we come to Agios Prodromos. We arrive in Arnaia** after a drive of 72km from our starting point. Drive through the town square, with its cafes and shops selling fabrics, honey and tsipouro, and carry on driving to Palaiohori (+5km). From here you can turn right to Megali Panayia, Pyrgadikia and Agios Nikolaos, or straight on through Neohori (+3km). 2km farther on there is a road to the left for Varvara**, Olympiada** and Stavros. Carry straight on for Stageira, birthplace of Aristotle, with the park containing the statue of the philosopher**. Just on from Stageira is Stratoniki, and then Stratoni, from where the road goes straight to Ierissos, site of the ancient Akanthos, one of the biggest country towns in the prefecture of Halkidiki**. As you come out of Ierissos you will pass the old boatyards** and after a drive of 6km you will arrive at Nea Roda**, a village built on the narrowest point of the peninsula. 2km farther on you come to Trypiti, where ferries leave for the little island of Ammouliani. For sailing times ring 23770 31376 (harbor office at Trypiti) or 2370 22666 (harbor office at Ierissos). Drive on another 7km and you come to Ouranoupolis**, built at the foot of Mt. Athos.