Coming off the trail for what feels like the 10th time, I stop for a moment. My fellow mountain bikers race ahead or get lost behind me in this deep coastal forest. My lungs fill with oxygen-rich air scented with the sea and the pines in a stillness only punctuated by jerky bird cries. A bright green lizard scurries over a warm rock to join me among the tall, sun-dappled pines.
A cry goes up “Hello?” and my group of cyclists are reunited on the new 15 km forest trail on the Greek peninsula of Halkidiki, which my guide Giannis spent two months creating himself.
I had come to the multi-hotel Sani Resort in northern Greece to explore its green credentials and discovered a natural playground, protected and gently maintained by its owners. After a refreshing swim in the calm ocean and sunset yoga in the cliffside woods, I am completely immersed in nature and feeling the healing benefits of a good long vacation after only a few days of discovering this beautiful destination. . The new bike path – marked with 5, 10 and 15 km trails and navigated on the resort’s supercharged e-bikes – is just one of many initiatives to help guests connect with the environment.
birds and bees
Popular with visitors, the Wetland Birdwatching Walk is much longer established and features up to 225 different species. In the spring, guide George likens it to a busy international arrivals terminal, but to me it’s the wildflowers, not the birds, that are the most surprising aspect of the morning hike here. We see yellow and red poppies, purple flowers and bright yellow meadows – a spring rainbow scattered across the lush green backdrop of Halkidiki.
We are led on a well marked path through a rapidly changing landscape – a minute forest, the next rolling barley fields, then vast lakes and green tufted dunes behind a long deserted beach. Using the provided binoculars, we spot a few royal swans preening on the lake as coots zoom past, dodging underwater.
This haven is maintained and protected by its Sani keepers – “an all-inclusive wildlife resort,” says George.
Perhaps the profusion of wildflowers is helped by Sani’s new Bee Camp pollinator project. The largest of its kind in Greece, it was set up to increase the insect population and harvest honey. Like the Olive Plantation Project, it’s something guests can get involved in, both educational and leaving a lasting connection to the land.
Over lunch at Sani Dune’s Beach House, Sani’s sustainability maverick, Dr. Eleni Andreadis, tells me about the resort’s ever-evolving green orientation. Named the first carbon-neutral resort in Greece, it hasn’t just whitewashed its operations by banning plastic straws or asking guests to change towels less often.
Living in harmony with nature is the basis of everything the resort does. Some of the solutions – like replacing plastic bottles with cartons – are simple. Others, like the solar tree for charging appliances and the restaurant’s new food waste robot Tomata that tracks the type and weight of leftovers, harness modern technology.
For those who prefer plants to plastic, a stay at the Sani Club is ideal. From the crisp apples in my suite’s fruit bowl to the arching pines and gardens refreshed with recycled sewage, everything looks clean and green.
Wellness activities such as forest bathing, for example, are integrated into the experience without being pushed like a USP. For traditional R&R though, Sani has heavenly spas. When I spot a jasmine-scented candlelit tea room behind a wall of rushing water at the Sani Asterias boutique hotel, I swear to seek refuge there later.
Nestled on the edge of a pine forest, my nautical-chic villa suite is a peaceful retreat with a soundtrack of birdsong above and gently lapping waves below. Sani’s 7km curve of fine white sand beach is a short walk up the hill from my wooded abode, and a marked hiking trail winds around coastal cliffs where gnarled branches frame acute views. seascape and the shadowy shape of Mount Olympus rising above the ocean.
Sani is decidedly family friendly, but for those who love peace and quiet, it’s so prevalent that little people are delightfully seen and not heard. This low-rise holiday village is just one of the accommodation options within the Sani Resort, with four other luxury resorts – Sani Beach, Porto Sani, Sani Dunes and Sani Asterias – catering to varying tastes.
In the heart of Sani, close to the charming Blue Flag marina, Porto Sani adds the finishing touches to a substantial extension, blending a new set of refined suites and swimming pools with the existing complex.
My days in nature are fueled by long lunches and dinners of social sharing at Sani’s fantastic local restaurants. Gourmet Greek tavern fare — a mix of top-notch meze and trendy fare such as delicate sea bass ceviche — is served throughout the resort, but each spot has its own vibe. Guests can take advantage of the resort-wide Dine Around program – my favorites include Psaroyannos at Sani Marina, Beach House at Sani Dunes, and Ouzerie at Sani Club.
With food waste being a huge issue for the hospitality industry, it’s wonderful to know that Sani is leading the way in balancing supply and consumption, and I can eat my meals with a clear conscience. As this luxurious resort on a platinum-dusted peninsula proves, it’s possible that tourism and the environment truly exist in natural harmony.