When most people think of Greece, they think of the ancient city of Athens, the blue domed roofs of Santorini, and the windmills of Mykonos. On our holiday, we explored Halkidiki, known for its unspoiled landscapes, forested peninsulas, and white sand beaches. To start our journey we began in Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki, with an overnight stay at a luxury accommodation in the Hotel Olympia.
On Our Way to the Hotel Olympia
For our arrival, we decided to forgo the traditional taxi and use a service called Welcome Pickups. When we arrived at the airport, our driver Falkos waited for us with a sign and a friendly smile. En route he told us about Thessaloniki—its dining district, its university, its historical sites—and took us on a hill behind the city so we could see it spread out before us.
Then we drove down past the walls of the Byzantine fort and into the heart of the city toward our hotel. It was a great way to meet a local and learn about the city, and I highly recommend.
Hotel Olympia—Steps Away from the Civic Center
We arrived at Hotel Olympia in the late afternoon. After a long day of traveling, we felt immediately welcomed by its minimalist style of grays and whites with touches of color and plenty of lounging areas.
After a quick check in, we headed up to our 6th-floor room that featured the same urban chic style with oak parquet flooring, two single beds pushed together (very common in Greece), white against soothing earthy tones, a desk and chair, television, a safety box, fridge, and a contemporary, very cozy marble bathroom.
One of my favorite features of our room soon became the balcony with a view of the activity on the street and the Roman Forum a half block away.
The hotel opened in 1964, next to the beloved Olympia baths where city dwellers came for showers, massages, and physiotherapies. For many years it operated with the baths, but in 1980, the hotel closed the baths and renovated the hotel to become one of the city's first luxury hotels. Today, the hotel has 97 rooms with five different room types. The hotel also has a restaurant, H2O, and the Campari Bar serves snacks and cocktails.
Hotel Olympia Room Service
Jet lagged from a long day of traveling we ordered room service and chilled on the balcony, taking in the sounds and activity of cars zipping by, people walking along the streets and birds flying from rooftop to rooftop. When our dinner arrived, we knew we had made the right decision as our dishes were fresh and the flavors mouthwatering.
As lovers of fresh veggies, we ordered the Greek salad with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, green peppers, chunks of feta cheese, spices and bread. It could have fed two or three people.
We also ordered a Caesar salad with lettuce, shaved parmesan cheese, croutons, pancetta and Caesar dressing.
And, a pasta chicken with fresh mushrooms and grated parmesan.
Exploring by Foot Around Hotel Olympia
The next morning, refreshed thanks to the soundproof rooms, we decided to go for a short walk around the city. On the way out, we noticed rental bikes and decided that after breakfast we'd take those for a spin. The tree-lined streets were quiet and very few people were out, which might have had something to do with it being a Sunday, but it gave the early morning a dream-like quality and made it easier to imagine the hustle and bustle of its past centuries.
Our first stop, the one we'd been gazing at from our balcony, was the Roman Forum. It was built in the 1st century A.D. and served as the hub of political and social life in the city.
We continued down through the Civic Center, past the palatial buildings in Dikastirion Square toward Aristotle Square to join the walking/biking trail along Nikis Avenue. The morning weather turned out to be a little cloudy, but we enjoyed the fresh, salty breeze as we walked along the waterfront to the White Tower and back to the hotel.
Breakfast and a Bike Ride at Hotel Olympia
Breakfast took place in the dining room and the hotel had quite a spread. It featured eggs, sausage, sliced meats and cheeses, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, feta cheese, coffee, tea, juices, cereals, bread and pastries. One of the specialties included bougatsa, which is phyllo with cheese, and one with cinnamon, which soon became my favorite.
Afterward, we rented bikes (2€ for an hour) and cruised through the city, which was surprisingly still quite. With barely any traffic on the roads, we easily located the city bike bath (which is noted by a sign with a bike) and weaved our way back to Nikis Avenue. There, we were the only bikers on the path and enjoyed the freedom of the wind in our hair and seeing the art and statues along the way.
On a detour, we found the Archeology Museum, which opened later in the morning. To our surprise, we discovered a free open-air exhibit called Memory in Stone which showcased stone antiquities from Thessaloniki and Macedonia.
The White Tower Near Hotel Olympia
The last stop, one of Thessaloniki's famous landmarks – the round, six-story White Tower. Entrance cost 4€ and included a handheld audio device that explained the exhibitions in several languages, including English.
I found the exhibits to be a great introduction to the history of Thessaloniki. By the time we made it to the top we'd learned about the city's history, trade routes, architecture, archaeology and its diverse ethnic population. We also discovered that fires once ravaged the city. Intriguingly, we learned of the tower's infamous time as a jail for death row prisoners, which earned it the name Blood Tower for the blood that ran down its sides.
I particularly liked the varied displays; some were visual, some text, and others historical items, which made for a more interactive experience. And, the reward, the stellar view of the Gulf of Thessaloniki, seen from the top of the tower.
The Hotel Olympia made our first days in Thessaloniki restful and a pleasure. You can book your stay on their website. Hotel Olympia is a 25-minute drive from Thessaloniki Airport Macedonia.