Highlights of Ouranoupoli

Ouranoupoli  

Every secret garden has a gateway, a hidden entrance, old and decrepit, perhaps worn from the years and denying access to those without a key. Few know of this magical place and even fewer will ever have the concession to pass through, to enter and find out what lurks beyond its boundaries. Athos is this secret garden and the timeworn gate is Ouranoupoli.

If you come to Ouranoupoli, you are here for one reason and one only - Mount Athos. The pull to this untouched peninsula is irresistible, like the forbidden fruit of Eden many are drawn to taste the secrets that are hidden on Mt. Athos. This monastic state is the holy of holies for the Orthodox church, closed off for the last 1000 years to those who are forbidden. Women are not to step foot here since it is called Mary’s garden. Yes, tradition has it that Mary the mother of Jesus walked ashore when the ship she sailed was seeking refuge from a storm. Taken in by the natural beauty of Athos, Mary wanted it to be her garden, and so the legend was born.
If you get to Ouranopoli, you have reached the end of the road. The “city of the heavens”, as its name is defined, this is the entrance to Athos. Like a trading post on the road to the Klondike, Ouranopoli is where the monks come to buy and sell… and live a little. This is also the base that tourists use for their pilgrimages. Ouranopoli is a popular stopover for the Mount Athos cruises heading back to Sithonia and the beginning point for the ferries that shuttle people and goods between the monasteries. From here woman catch the ferry to Ammouliani where they wait out their husband’s lonely mission. This is the end of the road, the last port of call on your journey to Athos.
In the 5th c. BC, the Persians were on the march, fresh from their victory over the Babylonians the conquest had begun to be the largest empire the world had ever seen. Athens was an irritant that needed to be brought into submission. By 480 BC, King Xerxes of Persia had enough, having recently lost 300 ships and 20000 men trying to circumvent the treacherous waters around Mount Athos, he ordered a canal to be cut through the peninsula. See what’s left of Xerxes’ canal by Ouranopoli.
Take a day trip out to the Drenia islands off Ammouliani to experience the beaches of these small uninhabited Greek isles. Visit the Tsantali winery, one of Greece’s most renowned and sample the best that Halkidiki has to offer. Cycle or hike the hilly pine forests of Athos. Take an Athos cruise and get the closest you may ever to these dramatic ancient monasteries.

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