Forget Athens and the Cycladic islands. Instead, go to Thassos! You will find this remote piece of heaven easy to fall in love with.
Being part of the not-so-touristy Northeastern part of Greece, the Macedonian island of Thassos is not very well-known, despite being conveniently close to the coast.
It is accessible either by crossing over from Keramoti, near Kavala International Airport, or by taking a longer boat trip from the harbor city of Kavala, which is worth the visit – and where I have tasted the best frappé ever (really! I cannot emphasize that enough!) And you can get to Kavala via a 2 ½ hour bus ride from Thessaloniki.
Thassos is the Northernmost island in Greece, making it a green spot remote from the beautiful but sun-dried Southern landscape.
Thassos offers the same clean and clear-blue sea together with dense and varied forests: although in recent years the island’s woodland has suffered some forest fires, it is still known for its pine trees – what a wonderful scent permeating the island – and shrubberies near rivers and lakes.
Spring is the best time to visit the nature then reveals its magic at its full potential. Moreover, summer is also replete with heavy tourism from East Europe, Russia and England throughout the more touristy islands, but in underrated Thassos, it is easy to enjoy the warm climate of June or September while being the only stranger on the island: I know firsthand – I was the hotel’s only resident!
Once I landed in the island capital also named Thassos, or Limenas Thassou (“harbor of Thassos”), I took the time to go to its little and very well-arranged museum.
It depicts how Thassos was known for its fine products such as nuts and white marble – a great stone and marble wall had been encircling the harbor against intruders. But most of all, Thassos was famous for its fruity wine so particular that the wine god Dionysus’ head was engraved on Thassian coins.
The island was also a major commercial and political center because of its vast gold and silver mines. It naturally attracted the interest of colonizers: Phoenicians, Greeks – from the Cycladic island Paros or Athens’ central power – Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans… Not that Thassos complied easily. It sometimes even fought quite honorably for its independence; but as often times with islands, rebellions were crushed by the main power of the day.
Emerging from the museum back to the sunny outdoors, the options are plentiful. Go into the Ancient agora right next to the museum? Wander a little further and have a nice meal in a restaurant along the historical harbor? Take a walk up into the small and pretty pedestrian streets and bushy hill to end up on top of the city’s ancient theater, offering a splendid view of the sea and the city below? Or go the beach just at the end of the port, where you can swim in clear-blue waters beneath shadowy pine trees? The choice is not easy, among such a great array of pleasures.
Going further South, on the Eastern coast lies the Golden Beach, a whole kilometer of white-sanded beach against a backdrop of mountainous forest, waiting for towels to be spread, sand-castles to be built and photos to be taken. There are many hotels and camping places nearby – both denaturing and convenient. It is the most famous beach of the island, but Thassos is surrounded by beautiful spots and walks anyway, thus offering plenty of alternatives.
There are other historical sites spread throughout the island as well: on the Southeastern portion, the Monastery of Archangel Michael sits on the road between the villages of Astrida and Alyki, with a beautiful view of the sea; nearby is the worthwhile archeological site of Alyki, on the coast also named the “Holy rock of Thassos”; and on the Southwestern coast, Limenaria offers the earliest settlement to have been explored, with remains from the Middle and Late Neolithic.
Back in Limenas Thassou, I was advised to go to Prinos’ market when going back along the Western side. Open on Monday mornings, it is in fact a regular street market, but as everywhere else in Greece it is indeed something worth the trip. Whether it be for the low prices and juicy, sundrenched fruits, or just for the ambience with people chatting and sellers barking their deals, the Greek market is never a boring experience.
Back in the capital to take the last ferry – there won’t be any seagulls following the boat at that time, too bad – I enjoy a last walk along the harbor. Even at night the water is warm, and so clear that I can see the rocks on the bottom with my own shadow projected by the distant city lights.