Like a Greek tragedy straight from the quill of Sophocles, the now infamous Greek bailout has been playing out for the world to witness over the past number of months. Grecians from Athens right over to Mikonos have faced a series of harsh austerity measures, submerging Hellas, as it’s known by locals, in a sea of cutbacks. Despite what we’ve heard, the descendants of Zeus and Poseidon have not let an unstable economic climate get them down. Nitelife’s Editor-in-Chief, Darragh J. Mullooly (and his cohorts) took a spin over to the Northern City of Thessaloniki to see if those olive-skinned beauties still know how to party like Dionysus!
Kassandra Peninsula, Chalkidiki
So, where to first? Approximately 73 km (1 hour in a taxi) from Thessaloniki Airport lays the bijou, fairy-tale village of Afytos. This quietly majestic community sits smack-bang on the Eastern shores of the stunning Kassandra Peninsula – an area famed for its picturesque landscape, agriculture and tourism industries, and of course, the parties. Our base for the first few of days was Hotel Stamos – a boutique hotel with as much charm as the incredibly welcoming owner, Thanassis.
Landing at the end of high-season (October) meant the social scene was M.I.A. Of course that wasn’t going to stop us partying with the locals! A mere two minutes from our new home we found the gorgeous guys and girls at Soboro Beer Bar & Restaurant. Thanks to Soboro’s owner, Alex, we felt right at home the second we stepped inside the door. The intimate atmosphere, totally friendly staff, and delectable dishes are certainly not to be missed when visiting this locale. It was here that the gang and I bumped into a few hilarious Britons: Tracy, George and their band of merry travellers coerced us into a long night of impromptu Karaoke. Yes, full of local wine and shots of Uzo, the team and I belted out Aretha Franklin, Imelda May, and my personal favourite, an ensemble rendition of the Queen classic Bohemian Rhapsody.
Other than our new local, Soboro, Afytos boasts some amazing bars, restaurants and tavernas: Lime Bar, Thea Thassala, Eat 7, Ta Bakaliarakia tou Pirati, and Christos – all offering nomads a selection of traditional Greek cuisine: Souvlaki (grilled meat on skewers), Tsatziki (yogurt & garlic dipping sauce), moussaka (like a lasagne made with eggplant), Haloumi (Greek cheese) and plenty of beautiful fresh fish straight from the Aegean Sea. Not to forgot the mind-blowing cocktails; these lads do not skimp on the measures!
Travel down the coast road of the Kassandra Peninsula to find acres of pine-wood forests, stretches of olive trees, and miles and miles of exquisite sea views; you’ll also come across the luxurious 5* Agean Melathron Hotel and Spa, where we stopped off for the most amazing massage AND a trip around the complex in a golf buggy (and had another cocktail – travelling is thirsty work.) The Melathron will set you back around €130 for one night – so we downed our overpriced margaritas and legged it!
If you’re knocking around Kassandra (during the high season) check out rowdy haunts like Club AHOY!, Amnesia, and Stigma, all running from May-September; or, if like us you’re travelling from late September on, head straight over to Thessaloniki, where we spent the second half of the trip.
Thessaloniki, Northern Greece
A €9 bus ride (F*** you Bus Eireann), one hour North of Kassandra sits the historic City of Thessaloniki – AKA The City That Never Sleeps. ‘Thess‘ is a picture-perfect example of a metropolis where old and new co-exist in magical unison: A vibrant landscape with a healthy dollop of hedonism, against the backdrop of the Byzantine walls, rotunda, and plenty of architecture to whet your culture appetite.
Nestled among the cobbled streets of Sachtouri, Upper Town (Old Town), we came upon our first residence in the guise of Studio Arabas – a cheap, cheerful, cosy-wosy hostel run by the loveliest people (seriously the Greeks are friendlier than the Irish). It’s a great resting spot for groups and individuals with quaint cottages, balconies, spiral staircases, and they serve homemade vino too. Rooms go for as little as €12 per night.
Upper Town is the most traditional part of the City, maintaining the Ottoman-era vibe, most of which was destroyed in the great fire of 1917. In this area, you’ll find small stone-paved streets, old squares and houses in traditional Greek and Ottoman style. Warning: it’s the highest part of the city, so ditch the stilettos, there are plenty of hills. During the Ottoman period, it was the main Turkish part of the city, while the Greeks and Jews lived around the port. If you’re lucky, on a clear day, you’ll see the ancient Mount Olympus peeking from across the gulf.
Aside from the architectural and historic splendor, Thessaloniki boasts some truly amazing clubs, bars, and restaurants. Around almost every corner, expect to find pumping Greek and international live music in most of the street side restaurants, offering local fare at varying degrees of prices. Something for every taste and every budget.
After dinner – which doesn’t seem to end until 1 am – check out the Ladadiki & Port District, where we just so happened to find a two-day street party. Good timing! With amazing DJs on the main stage, everyone sipping the local beer Mythos and dancing in the streets, it felt oddly like the Latin Quarter street party back home in Galway. Of course, we can’t go into too much detail about what went down at the TWO DAY PARTY. What happens in Thessaloniki stays in Thessaloniki. La Rosa Negra, Dogs, and The Pub are some firm Ladadiki favourites. The beers are cheap, the people are fantastic, and there’s no shortage of booty-shakin’ beats.
There’s also a vibrant gay scene with hotspots like Bar Me, DADA Club, and Decadence. We went to check out DADA – where the bears hang out – but sadly, there was not one single beard in the joint.
The final night of the trip was spent in the gorgeous Hotel Egnatia, right in the centre of the City on Egnatia Street. If shopping is the order of the day, this bustling thoroughfare is for you. Here you’ll find a shoppers paradise: Zara, H&M, Massimo Dutti, Diesel, Intimissimi, and Louis Vuitton, as well as some bargain hunting markets.
So, Greece. It combines the most amazingly beautiful people, sumptuous cuisine in top class eateries, an awe inspiring landscape, one the best party scenes in the world, glistening beaches and azure blue seas. What’s not to love? Maybe just the hangovers!
Turkish Airlines & Lufthansa fly direct from Dublin-Thessaloniki, €350 during high season. Check out Skyscanner.com