Thessaloniki doesn't need much of an introduction: for more than a decade it has been a favourite shopping as well as holiday destination among Bulgarians and expats alike. Once the "ignored little sister" of Athens, Salonika is lively and young, with its own rhythm and spirit as well as cultural, economic and gastronomic life.
Now that winter is over, the city is beautiful and bright in the daytime, gets wrapped in a foggy mist at night and is always abuzz with cheerful crowds during the wee small hours.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Luxembourg (6 Komninon St, phone: 0030 2310 252 600, www.hotels.greece-bookings.com) is a charming hotel, benefiting from its premier location in the heart of Thessaloniki. It is ideal for shopping on and around Tsimisk and Mitropoleous Streets, and is close to Ladadika, the centre of the city's night life.
City Hotel (11, Komninon St, phone: 0030 2310 269 421, www.cityhotel.gr) is even closer to Tsimiski Street than the neighbouring Luxembourg. And after all the shopping is done, you can go back and get a treatment at the hotel's famous Elemis Spa.
Hotel Nikopolis (16-18, Asklipiou St, Pylaia, phone: 0030 2310 401 000, www.hotel-nikopolis.com) is rightly considered very hip among the five star hotels. The Lobby Lounge Café has become the ultimate hotspot to see and be seen. This is the ideal place if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, and IKEA is just around the corner. Do check for the special weekend packages preceding the holidays.
Electra Palace (9 Aristotelous Sq, phone: 0030 2310 294 000, www.electrahotels.gr) dominates Aristotelous Square and boasts magnificent views over the Gulf of Salonika. Make sure you pay am visit to Ayoli, one of the restaurants at the hotel. Every month a new guest chef spoils the clientele with his modern take on local cuisine.
Daios Hotel (59 Nikis Ave, phone: 0030 2310 250 200, www.daioshotels.com) is the ultimate in luxurious urban living. Situated directly on the Paralia (the waterfront), Daios commands breathtaking views of the bay of Salonika. And once on the premises, you get the red carpet treatment with an Aegean touch. Let yourself be pampered.
WHAT AND WHERE TO BUY
The following is an eclectic selection of brands and shops. These are not the usual high street names but rather makes with a distinctive flair and image. The uniting elements are attention to detail and personalised service.
Fena Fresh (8 Pavlou Mela St, phone: 0030 2310 257 447, www.fenafresh.gr) is the brainchild of a mother and her two boys, now old enough to make decisions of their own. Forget about main stream ideas and ordinary fashion. Experience the arty atmosphere, starting from the eccentric window displays and Indie music in the background to exploring the merchandise. And before heading to the cash desk, take advantage of expert advice from a knowledgeable shop assistant - they all speak English and will be more than happy to serve you. The perfume department boasts a heady selection!
Carouzos (43 Tsimiski St, phone: 0030 2310 228 770) spans a few floors and will please even the most discerning customers looking for the latest from the fashion runways. Take your time and make sure your credit card limit has been duly extended.
Louis Vuitton (6 Mitropolitou Iosif St, phone: 0030 2310 225 052). Parisians would be green with envy if they knew that you don't have to queue here and are given special treatment. The staff provide an impeccable service and it is guaranteed that even the latest goodies (no apparel yet) will be in stock. Enjoy!
Georgina Kostara (24 Proxenou Koromila St, phone: 0030 2310 262 685) is a young local designer, trained at St Martin's in London. Her hip, humorous and colourful clothes cohabit in the quirky premises. Take your pick and let Georgina have her say, too - she can delicately guide you in deciding on the right garment to complement your figure best. Upon request you can also book a personal shopping appointment. Additionally, a few more brands will be available for the new spring-summer season, such as Vivienne Westwood-Anglomania, K by Karl Lagerfeld, Sonia Rykiel and Joseph.
Iosif (1 Venizelou&Mitropoleous St, phone: 0030 2310 266 360, www.iosifcollections.gr) is a delightful and intimate jewellery shop, the merchandise of which bears the stamp of Iosif - a charming Greek jeweller and a former graduate of the Academy of Arts in Sofia. If you are the kind of girl who likes romantic and unusual, chunky and provocative gems, then this is an address to remember. And if it is your lucky day, Iosif may help you make the right choice.
Fratelli Karida (28 Tsimiski St, phone: 0030 2310 226 511 and 69 Mitropoleous St, phone: 0030 2310 220 299) boasts a great shoe collection, being housed in two stores. The owner, Mrs Karida has exquisite taste and she will gladly guide you through the array of brands. Check out Pedro Garcia's beauties!
All big shops accept major credit cards. Please bear in mind that in most cases you may be asked to show proof of identity.
The opening hours of shops in Greece are generally as follows:
Monday, Wednesday and Saturday: 10am till 3pm, some till 4pm
Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 10am till 3pm and 5pm till 9pm
Some shops, such as big supermarkets, IKEA, Marks&Spencer, Fena Fresh and department stores are open daily from 10am till late in the evening. Contrary to Bulgaria, shops here are closed on Sundays - the odd exception being zaharoplastia (confectioner's and patisseries).
WINING AND DINING
Thessaloniki is considered a gourmet city, and quite rightly so. However, this refers to the excellent local specialities and cheerful tavernas rather than to haute cuisine or an array of foreign restaurants.
Miami (18 Thetidos St, phone: 0030 2310 447 996) is the ultimate fish restaurant in the area of Nea Krini, facing the sea. It would be a shame to be in town and not pay a visit to the place, frequented by locals, tourists and celebrities alike.
Garcon Brasserie (Nikis Avenue & Agia Sofia, on the seafront, phone: 0030 2310 253 033) is an elegant establishment catering to morning visitors enjoying their coffee, to lunch goers and to the smart evening crowd, listening to the live jazz music on Mondays and the DJ's selection the rest of the week. To take full advantage of your visit, go to the second floor and enjoy your meal while taking in the beautiful view.
Seven Seas (10 Kalapothaki St, off Komninon St, phone: 0030 2310 233 173) - although they have just moved premises, everything else is the same: the cuisine is Mediterranean and the staff are efficient and speak English. The shell fish are the most popular item on the menu. If you love mussels, you should try the midopilafo (risotto with mussels). Save some space for the liqueurs at the end - there are plenty of them and they are on the house. The Mastiha from the island of Hios is divine!
Kitchen Bar (Warehouse B, Marina Zeas, phone: 0030 2310 502 241) is a modern, spacious place, literally on the water, offering light dishes, a good selection of salads - the best Salade Nicoise in town - and great desserts, accompanied by some good wines. No reservations are necessary - a first come, first served policy applies. Reserved parking for customers is available. Order your favourite tipple and let your eyes wander over the waters of the Aegean. This is Thessaloniki at its best.
Ta Louloudadika (20 Komninon St, across the road from City Hotel, phone: 0030 2310 225 624) is an authentic fish taverna and ouzo spot where clients are well looked after by the owner - Mr Nikos. If you happen to be there at lunch time, do try the fish soup! And after you ask for the bill, your party will be Thessaloniki has it all: from five-star hotels to cheap tavernastreated to dessert - it is not a language misunderstanding, it is a gesture of the house.
Thessaloniki has it all: from five-star hotels to cheap tavernas
Meat Me (Modiano Market - once at the market, ask for directions; phone: 0030 2310 222 466) is a restaurant set in the historic Modiano market, featuring only meat. The meat, as you would expect, is excellent, cooked expertly and the atmosphere is appropriately laidback. This is a great place to relax with a nice meal and some fine wine.
Zythos (in Ladadika - the area close to the port, 5 Katouni St, phone: 0030 2310 540 284) is a wellknown spot for beer lovers. In the evenings it gets really cosy, so drink in moderation.