Low-key but with elements that will charm even the most demanding traveller, Thrace is a destination full of surprises. A fulcrum in the northeastern part of Greece, two continents meet here, but even more cultures mingle and unique ecosystems abound. Its main cities Xanthi, Komotini, Alexandroupoli, Orestiada, Didymoteicho will enchant you a taste of the East through menus, mosques and bazaars. There are Christian and Orthodox communities that have coexisted for centuries, whilst the region also preserves a wealth of Byzantine and medieval cultural elements.
And you’ll be enthralled by the natural wonders such as the virgin forest of Rhodopi, the meandering Nestos River, the lakes and wetlands of Vistonida and Porto Lagos, the WWF bird sanctuary at Dadia and the magnificent Evros River delta. And if that’s not enough, there are a plethora of antiquities and fine museums to explore.
Worth a dip
At Fanari beach, near Komotini, and all along the coast from Makri to Alexandroupoli, you’ll find lovely beaches that are easily reached by car, with a great variety of cafes and restaurants. Several large hotel complexes in the area also have organised beaches on their grounds.
A date with Thracian culture
One destination, dozens of attractions: Get to know Ancient Abdera, the birthplace of Democritus, and its wonderful museum. Then visit the Pomak villages, scattered throughout the region. Herdsmen and tobacco farmers, the blue-eyed, blond Pomaks are a Muslim tribe of unknown origin, who have remained apart from both Turks and Greeks. Take a tour of the Ethnological Museum of Thrace in Alexandroupoli, one of the country’s most important, with its exhibits of local costumes and description of the cycle of religious worship and daily life in years gone by. Visit the dolmens, monolithic grave monuments from the Iron Age, between the villages of Mikros Dereios and Roussos, and the old Muslim cemeteries at Mylopetres, Dikella and Dadia. Finally, head north to Soufli, where a fascinating museum will walk you through every stage of the area’s tradition in silk production.
Getting close to nature
Thrace is the perfect place for activities in nature. Get to know the Nestos Forest by canoeing or kayaking down the river that has cut a winding route between two steep mountains. You can hike along its bank or head east to the Dadia Forest, which has four well-marked paths. Birdwatchers will be in heaven, flocking like the birds themselves to the Evros Delta in a little boat, checking out the wetlands at Vistonida and Porto Lagos, and then spying on the last refuge of the rare Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) at Dadia. You can also ride horseback in the Nestos Valley, mountain bike in the Kotza Orman forest near Xanthi, or go on an off-road adventure there and around the Pomak villages of Evros. The route between Maronia and Mesemvri Zoni is unforgettable. Thrace is a nature lover’s paradise.
Thracian cuisine, a multi-culti feast
You’ll notice the heady aromas of cumin and paprika in the local cuisine. And you’ll taste them in local sausages and preserved meats like pastourma. Keep a lookout for kouskousi, similar to Moroccan couscous, which you can buy from the Thracian Women’s Cooperative, pickled cabbage in pies, as well as lamb with rice, a shepherds’ dish. Komotini is famous for its roasted chickpeas (a popular snack), pastelli (sesame bars) and soutzouk loukoum (the gummy snack known to others as Turkish Delight), and sweets made with tahini. You’ll find excellent fish and seafood in tavernas and fine restaurants at Alexandroupoli and other coastal towns and farmed game at many inland eateries, such as Pentalofo near Evros. Xanthi’s treats are wide-ranging, spanning both the Anatolian and mainstream Greek repertoire.
Nine picture-perfect sights in Thrace
- Komotini: Make a point of walking through the bazaar of Komotini – half-Anatolian, half-Western – and the narrow lanes behind Orpheus Street, where old trades are still practised.
- Xanthi: The old town of Xanthi, with its aristocratic tobacco mansions and pretty riverside and Muslim quarters, is characterised by labyrinthine streets and typical Balkan architecture.
- Alexandroupoli: Alexandroupoli’s emblematic lighthouse welcomes visitors from Asia to their first city in Europe.
- The Evros Delta: 200,000 sq m of wilderness that is home to 316 of the 420 bird species found in Greece.
- Agios Nikolaos -Porto Lagos: A lovely church set on an islet in the middle of the lake.
- Lake Vistonida: More than 300 species of bird living in a unique ecosystem.
- Didymoticho: Small but with significant sights, such as the twin Byzantine walls and an enormous mosque, the oldest on European soil.
- The Pomak Villages: In this special corner of Thrace, close to Xanthi, are 50 isolated settlements with their own identity, within an area of unsurpassed wild, natural beauty.
- Haidous Forest: An earthly paradise in the Rhodope Mountains, with 30m high beech trees.