Kavala is all about unexpected blends: History and culture, architectural landmarks and flower-filled courtyards, organised beaches and natural treasures. They’re everywhere… in the buildings, monuments, shops, food, archaeological sites and beaches. You just need to know where to look.
Tucked away in northeastern Greece, it’s a seaside city that effortlessly blends east and west and has a knack of rewarding its visitors. Easily reached by plane or road, it will reveal to you a very different face of Greece.
Go time travelling in the Old Town
When it comes to time travel, the Old Town of Kavala is a past master. The district of Panagia squeezes in over 2,500 years of history with effortless charm. With culture-blending architecture and multicoloured mansions with wooden balconies and flower-filled courtyards, every step on its cobblestoned streets reveals more. Climbing to the hilltop fortress (variously ruled by the Lombards, Franks, Byzantines and Ottomans), you are rewarded with sublime views of the northern Aegean. Below you, the Imaret has rightly taken on iconic status. Built in the early 19th century by Mehmet Ali (founder of the last Egyptian dynasty) as a gift to his birthplace, it has been refurbished as a hotel where you can have a bite or a drink.
But no less emblematic are the empty or renovated tobacco warehouses (a remnant of Kavala’s early 20th fame as a major international tobacco exporter). The same goes for the Kamares, the 270m-long arched aqueduct that was once the city’s lifeline. And no stroll is complete with an able right along the promenade to the charming and on to the Old Lighthouse. What better way to end the day than with panoramic views of the sea and – on a clear day – Thassos.
Explore a coastline of beaches
After all that walking, you’ve earned yourself a day on the beach. There are sunbathing spots right down the coast, but let’s start at Nea Peramos, around 30mins away by car, with its great collection of tavernas, cafes and hotels and, yes, a lively sandy beach. A few kilometres further along, it gets even better. Ammolofi Beach attracts sunbathers from far and wide – and with good reason. With 3km of fine sand and clear blue water, it ticks all the boxes and has sunbeds, shade and beach bars. In fact, it’s more like three natural bays, so you can spread out towards the quieter ends. And finally, in the opposite direction, 45mins east of Kavala, is Ammoglossa Keramotis, near where boats depart throughout the day for Thassos. This exotic curve of pine tree-fringed sand melts into the Aegean. The shallow water is ideal for families.
Spice up your life with tastes that stay with you
It wouldn’t be possible for Kavala’s multicultural past not to be represented in its tastes. East meets west, sweet meets savoury, spicy meets aromatic… It’s all there, whether you’re eating traditional food or something more modern. You’ll love the tastes here, whether you’re into spiced pilafs or half moon-shaped kourabiedes (almond-based biscuits covered with icing sugar). The region is well known for its small-scale producers and excellent products, from honey and a variety of cheeses to kiwi fruit and asparagus. From the surrounding and mountains, fish and meat are staples. And there are 23 wineries producing 99 types of wine. It goes without saying, of course, that you won’t be allowed to leave without being offered a glass or two of locally-distilled ouzo or tsipouro.
Unearth the past in a single archaeological site
If it’s a deeper kind of time travel you’re after, then head 25mins north of Kavala to Philippi. A 360BC settlement of Thassian islanders, a fortified city founded by one of the most powerful kings of Macedonia, the site of a pivotal Roman battle and the location of one of the most important apostles of the early Christendom. Philippi saw it all. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can visit its Archaeological Site, Museum and Theatre – all named after the city created by Philip of Macedon. Plays are still staged in the theatre during the summer and the museum tells the story of the area, from the original settlers from Thassos to the 42 BC Roman battle of Philippi and the arrival of the Apostle Paul, who founded the first Christian Church on European territory in 50 AD.
Just don’t forget to pack your binoculars
Lastly, we couldn’t be here and not head 28km east of Kavala to the Nestos River which, after 230km enters its final stretch here – though not before meandering through a delta of wetlands, inland lakes, lagoons, sand dunes and estuaries. Protected by the Natura 2000 and the Ramsar Convention, it supports a wonderful variety of flora and fauna (300 bird species, 11 amphibian species, 21 reptile species and a large variety of mammals and plant life). Needless to say, pack a pair of binoculars. Better still, how about hiring a canoe or some gentle rafting? You won’t be disappointed.
Kavala: A city true to its deeply multicultural roots
So there we have it… Kavala, a blend of experiences reflecting the rich history and life of a city with a wonderful story to tell. Each month throws a different light on the city, with sandy beaches and nature-rich wetlands ready to greet you even beyond the high-summer months, and an old city with buildings and landmarks that stand ready to reveal all.
Bonus: Just because you’re discovering a city steeped in culture and history doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy the best of Greek island life. Just 12km from Kavala airport is the port of Keramoti, from where you can hop over to Thassos. Greece’s northernmost island is an absolute gem, with a coastline of sandy beaches and an emerald-green mountainous interior with quaint villages.
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