Exploring the wine routes of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki needs no excuse to raise a glass of the good stuff to life. So if you’re a wine-lover, there’s an extra special treat in store when you visit Greece’s second city. Just ask for a recommendation in a bar or restaurant and, odds are, you’ll be directed to a label from a winery just a handful of kilometers away.
What you’ll discover is that Thessaloniki’s vineyards are part of a network of Winemakers of Northern Greece, a group of wineries committed to advancing the name of Greek wines internationally. And we’re not just talking taste, tannins and body. When it comes to Thessaloniki’s winemakers, their goal is to make their wines a part of the city’s cultural footprint… every bit as much as its temples, markets, basilicas, castles, baths, mosques and art deco buildings.
So going on a wine tour is a great way to get to know the region. There are wineries within an hour’s drive in every direction. To the west, you reach Kalohori, on the outskirts of the bird-rich Axios Delta wetlands, and to the north are the vineyards around Langadas, in the foothills of Mt Ossa. To the east, is Askos (close to Koronia and Volvi lakes). And heading south, you pass the seaside escapes of Perea, Agia Triada and Nea Michaniona to perhaps Thessaloniki’s best-known wine-growing area, Epanomi, on the edge of the Thermaic Gulf. Many have been awarded protected geographical indication (PGI) status.
You’ll visit a winery that has incorporated a museum into its grounds (look for the collection of corkscrews and wine-growing tools) and another dedicated to changing the international perception of retsina (exporting Greece’s famous resinated wine to dozens of countries). And others have become 100% organic.
Touring the vineyards and cellars will give you an appreciation of the first-rate facilities, so make sure to book a wine-tasting session and choose which bottle you’ll be taking home with you.
Wine and tradition are inseparable so Thessaloniki’s cultural highlights are part of your tour.
The White Tower
Not just the emblem of the city and a focal point of the waterfront, but a museum that’s a great way to get a crash course on what makes Thessaloniki tick. Each of its floors is dedicated to another theme –urban and cultural development, people, commerce and the intellectual flowering and tastes of the city. And from the top, there’s a 360-degree view of the city and the Thermaic Gulf.
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
A sweeping journey of the great Macedonian dynasties that helped shape European history. The exhibits take you from the 3rd millennium BC (with the astonishing Petralona Hoard of tools and weapons) to the time of Caesar Galerius when Thessaloniki was the seat of the eastern Roman Empire.
An open sights tour
Now that you know the history, you’ll appreciate everything you see so much more. And the best bit is, just walking around Thessaloniki is like visiting an open-air museum. The Galerian Complex (comprising the Octagon, Apsidal Hall and UNESCO-protected Rotunda) and Roman Agora, the church of Agios Dimitrios (dedicated to the city’s patron saint) and the castles of the Upper Town (Ano Poli) are just a part of the experience.
- Many of the wineries of Thessaloniki are open to visitors all year round (some upon request so make sure to contact them in advance).
- The best experience is to visit during April-May, when the vineyards come to life and the weather is often ideal for walking and picnics. Or from mid-August to September during the harvest period.
- If you can, visit during the Thessaloniki International Wine & Spirits Competition, usually held in late February/beginning of March, which attracts winemakers and international oenologists. The public has the opportunity to taste award-winning wines at the end of the competition.
- Covering the whole wine route requires 2-3 days (including the cultural monuments)
- The experience at each winery (visiting the cellar, touring the vineyard, wine-tasting) can last 2-3 hours depending on your interests.