I was invited to Xanthi for a 2-day conference in April. As I had never been to mainland Greece before, and was fascinated as a child by Greek mythology, I decided to make the most of it and stay for a few more days to discover what this part of Northern Greece had to offer. I knew practically nothing about the area when I arrived, but the local people I met along the way helped me to suss out the area in and around Xanthi.
Here are some of the many things I discovered along the way:
1. Xanthi Old Town
Because of tobacco production from the early 18th Century, Xanthi was one of the wealthiest regions in Greece, The city was redeveloped at the end of the 19th and early 20th Century and you can still still buildings from that period today.
It’s pleasant strolling through the small, cobbled streets of the old town, wandering around the antique shops, having a coffee in one of the many coffee shops, or a glass of something stronger in the evening. You can even go to a Milonga, if you are a tango dancer.
There’s a folklore museum you can visit, although it freaked me out a bit. The mannequins reminded me of the invisible man with his bandages on and it’s quite dark in there. There’s also an interesting art gallery called the House of Shadow that’s worth visiting.
2. Xanthi Bazaar
The bazaar (market) is on every Saturday and you can buy pretty much everything there. I had no intention of buying anything because I knew I didn’t have the room in my backpack to take anything back with me. I was there purely for the atmosphere. I love going to local markets in different countries. If I did buy anything, it would have been the olives and herbs, which were in abundance.
3. The Rodopi Mountains
The Rodopi mountain range straddles Bulgaria and Greece, with the majority located on the Bulgarian side. The southern Rodopi mountains are in Greece.
There’s an interesting story from Greek mythology about these mountains. Zeus and Hera must have been pretty mad with King Haemus of Thrace because, after he compared himself and his wife (Queen Rhodope) to Zeus and Hera they were turned into mountain ranges with Queen Rhodope becoming the Rodopi mountains.
This mountain range has 7 forests, one of which is inaccessible to travellers and has been designated as a Virgin Forest to preserve it. Depending on where you are, you might spot brown bears, grey wolves, deer, wild horses, and a variety of birds.
4. The Nestos River
The Nestos River flows through Bulgaria and Greece, terminating in the North Aegean Sea. A great way to really enjoy and make the most of the peace and tranquility of the river, while observing the wildlife, is to go kayaking. It’s also great fun.
I went truffle-hunting once before in Romagna, Italy, so it was great to have the chance to do it again. It’s interesting to watch these cute dogs do what they love to do and are good at, which is finding truffles. The dogs found one black truffle within a matter of minutes, so it was a successful morning.
6. Thassos Island
While I was in Xanthi, the locals went on and on about Thassos Island. It’s the closest Greek island to Xanthi and many of the locals go there on their holidays. I always find it difficult to trust the hype, so I had to investigate. Unfortunately, I only had about an hour there, which really wasn’t enough time. Nonetheless, it gave me a glimpse of what the locals were talking about. That day, the sun was shining, so combined with the crystal clear, blue sea and almost cloudless sky, it was a perfect day to be out on the North Aegean Sea and get a little taste of the island. What I like about it is the fact that it doesn’t have to be a typical beach holiday. With the opportunity to go hiking and discover the ancient history of this island, as well as its picturesque setting, I’d be interested in going back and spending more time there.
7. Ancient Avdera
According to Greek mythology, Hercules founded the ancient town of Avdera in honour of his friend Avderus, who was killed by the carnivorous horses of Diomedes (the king of the Bistones – Thracian people who lived between the Rodopi mountains and the North Aegean Sea). There is an archaeological museum there now, where you can learn more.
There is also what remains of a Byzantine fortress, which lies on the coastal hill above the ancient port. From there, you get a great view. It’s lovely being up there as the sun sets, although you will have to contend with the mosquitoes.
8. Vistonida Lake
Hercules performed his 8th labour out of 12 in the region of Porto Lagos. He killed Diomedes’ horse after it killed his friend, Avderus, by opening a coastal canal, which caused the sea to flood the lower lands of the plain, thus creating Vistonida Lake. You can see flamingos there today.
The administrative region of East Macedonia and Thrace, in which Xanthi is located, is connected with the historical evolution of Christianity and Orthodoxy in Greece and Europe. During the Byzantine period (9th-10th Century), the area flourished as a Christian and Monastic centre. There are two lovely little chapels (Saint Nicholas and the Virgin Mary), each on small islets in Porto Lagos lagoon, between Lake Vistonida and the sea, which are maintained by monks from Mount Athos (the Holy Mountain).
9. Visit Kavala
If you are in Xanthi, it’s worth going on a day trip to Kavala to see the Old City as well as going for a stroll along the seafront.
Both Xanthi and Kavala are located in East Macedonia and Thrace, which is in the north-east of Greece.
It’s fairly easy to get to Xanthi from other parts of Greece and Europe by plane, train, or bus. Easyjet and Ryanair have regular flights to Thessaloniki. From the airport, you have to get the No. 78 bus to the bus station. From Thessaloniki bus station, you can get to Xanthi as well as other parts of Greece or Europe by bus. There is also a train, but the bus is quicker. It only takes about 2 hours to get to Xanthi. At present, only charter flights use the airport in Kavala, although that could change in the future.
Other places you can go to from the bus station in Xanthi include Kavala, via Chrisoupoli, which takes just over an hour. If you want to go to Thassos Island by bus, you’ll have to change in Chrisoupoli for a bus to Kermoti to get a boat to Thassos. Other destinations from Xanthi bus station include Bulgaria and Turkey. You can get a bus to 3 destinations in Bulgaria, which terminates in Plovdiv, and there is a bus from Xanthi to Istanbul.
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to get to some of the places mentioned above if you don’t have access to a car. I really hope this will improve because there are so many great things to see and do in and around Xanthi. Until this changes, you will have to hire a car or go on a tour to some of these places.
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I would like to thank the Chamber of Commerce in Xanthi for providing me with the means of getting to and from Xanthi and for helping me to acquaint myself with the region of East Macedonia and Thrace. Special thanks goes to Ilias from Riverland who went out of his way to show me as much as he could during the relatively short time I had there.