The main attraction of Chalkidiki's jutting peninsulas are its beaches, writes Tobias Schormann

The call goes out: a monk off starboard! Immediately, the tourists' binoculars scan the scenery off to the side of their ship. And sure enough, there's a monk.

And what is he doing? Hanging out his washing to dry.

It goes to show that monks are only human. But this monk on the Greek peninsula of Chalkidiki is also an attraction.

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Most holidaymakers will get only a glimpse of the monks because the monastic republic of Athos, on the easternmost tip of Chalkidiki, allows only small groups of male pilgrims to enter.

Everyone else boards small boats that cruise off the shoreline, looking at the monasteries through their binoculars and getting the occasional glimpse of monks sunbathing, or hanging their washing.

Apart from the monks, there are few attractions to see up close in Chalkidiki - none of the ancient temples or archaeological sites you find in other parts of Greece.
But there are beaches - and what beaches!

Take Karidi Beach, near the small village of Vourvourou on Sithonia, the middle finger of the peninsula. Karidi sounds almost Caribbean, and the scenery looks very much so - a turquoise-hued sea and gleaming bright sands.

The entire setting is framed by bizarre-shaped cliffs, while hovering over everything is the shimmering form of Mt Athos.

During the high summer season, the trendy set from Saloniki, about two hours' drive away, go there to drink their sundowners. As a result, there are many hip beach bars scattered among the small bays.

On Karidi Beach, one such bar, is an old VW bus in which, to the sounds of reggae music, two young men serve up drinks.

But those who wait until the season is over to come to Chalkidiki won't have to worry about trendy crowds.

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This is a quieter season, when most bars are closed. The party crowd has disappeared and their camping vans have been parked out of sight in special lots for the winter.
Then there is nothing interrupting the view.

In towns such as Kalamitsi and Nikiti, however, many welcoming restaurants are still open for business, although at a somewhat higher price range by Greek standards.

The real gluttony takes place after guests have finished their dinner - when stray cats steal in to pick at whatever morsels are left. In fact, during their meal, the guests have their hands full defending their food against the felines.

Ekies All Senses resort, Sithonia. Photo / Getty Images
Ekies All Senses resort, Sithonia. Photo / Getty Images

It's the price paid for dining directly on the beach, sitting at white-painted wooden tables with cloth-covered table lamps.

But it would be a shame to miss any of the tasty treats, such as the fried zucchini, the grilled feta cheese and the fish paste.

Sithonia isn't without a rustic old mountain village. Parthenonas isn't ancient, but looks as if it is. Grapevines and fig trees grow in front of stone houses, and from the inn in the upper part of town, the view is of green slopes and in the distance, the sea.

From there, a hiking trail leads down through olive groves to a dried riverbed leading to the bay at Neos Marmaras.

Once there, you can dip your feet in the turquoise waters and, with a sundowner in hand, watch the setting sun. Maybe, a few kilometres further east, a monk is doing the same thing.

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Trafalgar

's 8-day Best of Greece holiday departs from Athens and is priced from $2075pp twin share for travel from March 2018. The cost includes sightseeing, guides, accommodation, many meals, transport and the services of a travel director. Choose to add on a 3, 4 or 7-day Aegean Cruise.

- AAP