Places of interest in East Macedonia and Thrace
As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to East Macedonia and Thrace, Sarah Baxter selects a range of visitor attractions and other places of interest in this beautiful part of northern Greece.
St Lydia’s Baptistery, near Kavala
The beautiful riverside baptistery here only dates to the 1970s but is built on the site where the Apostle Paul baptised Lydia of Thyatira, making her the first Christian woman in Europe. The gardens are shady and peaceful, while the inside of the church dazzles with exquisite mosaics.
Silk Museum, Soufli
Soufli is inseparable from silk. The industry boomed here in the 19th century and put this small Thracian village on the map. Now that tourism is starting to increase – not least since Soufli was selected as one of the world’s Best Tourism Villages by the UNWTO in 2021 – a ‘silk route’ has been established here. Its smart centrepiece is the Piraeus Silk Museum. Housed in a neoclassical mansion (dating to 1883) and traditional two-storey ‘cocoon house’ that once belonged to Dr Konstantinos Kourtidis, this slick, well-presented space explains the backstory of Soufli’s booming silk production through info boards, old photos and documents. It also gives a primer on the lifecycle of the Bombyx mori – the hard-working larvae that spin the precious thread – via interesting videos and displays of old silk worm beds, spinning machines, dyes and looms.
Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park
Encompassing a tree-cloaked swathe of the southeastern Rhodope Mountains, this national park is one of the most important havens for raptors in Europe. With luck, it’s possible to see 36 of the continent’s 38 species of diurnal birds of prey here, from peregrine falcons and imperial eagles to griffon and Egyptian vultures, and the only breeding population of black vultures in the Balkans. The visitor centre, near Dadia village, is the best place to start; the interpretation is excellent with lots of informative, interactive displays. From here, forest trails lead into the park’s core protected zone up to either the Byzantine ruins on Gibrena Peak or to the observation hide – both vantages offer a chance to spot numerous raptors (best early, when it’s cool) as well as roe deer, wildflowers and many other bird species, from woodpeckers to black storks. The wider park can be explored by car, bike or on foot. dadia-np.gr
Petrified Forest, Lefkimi
The Petrified Forest of Lefkimi, within the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park, is one of the best places in the world to see extremely old trees. Regarded as unique due to its rareness, age and size, the fossilised flora that’s been discovered here dates back 40 million years; finds include petrified cinnamon and palm leaves, ancient oak trunks, the remains of fish and corals, and numerous shark teeth. At the small Fossil Information Centre you can learn more about the region’s rich geology and see some of these treasures on display, including a rare, high-quality fossil of a plant that’s the ancestral form of the modern grape. Two short, marked trails lead from the centre into the surrounding woodland, where you can see several half-exposed and weather-worn petrified trees still laying on the forest floor. apolithomenodasos.com/en/the-fossil-forest-of-lefkimi
Evros Delta National Park
The Evros River springs from Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains and runs along the Turkey-Greece border before emptying into the Aegean, forming a wide, wonderful delta that’s one of the most important wetland areas in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of birds, of over 300 species, find refuge here, some year-round, some migrating. There’s always something to see although winter is an especially abundant time when you might spot huge flocks of white-fronted and greylag geese as well as a flamboyance of flamingos. Also look out for elegant great white egrets and herons, hen and marsh harriers, osprey and enormous white-tailed eagles. The main visitor centre is in Loutra Traianoupolis; from here you can drive out amid the ever-shifting landscape of lagoons, swamps, marsh and reed beds, and book boat tours that navigate the narrow channels and head out to the open water to see the birds close up. https://www.evros-delta.gr
Photos: Richard Hammond
Xanthi historic district, Xanthi
The old town of Xanthi is a half-crumbling, hill-tumbling maze – a great place for getting semi-lost and soaking up the cultural mix of this historic settlement at the meeting point of European, Black Sea, Mediterranean and Asian cultures. A walking route, marked with brown information plaques, weaves via the most important buildings. Follow the trail past the handsome Memet Pasha house, the interesting ironwork of the Ladas Mansion, the old Akathistos Hymn basilica, the Achrian Mosque (once the heart of a thriving Muslim neighbourhood), the Christos Pavlidis art gallery (housed in one of Xanthi’s oldest buildings) and the fine-but-faded facade of the Kougioumtzoglou-Kaloudi Mansion. As well as cultural landmarks, there are numerous tavernas, cafes and craft shops to tempt a stop, while Plateia Emporiou, the main square, hosts a lively market every Saturday morning where you can buy everything from local fruit to cheap clothes and live snails.
Archaeological Site of Philippi, near Kavala
First founded in 356 BC by the Macedonian King Philip II, later developed by the Romans and visited by Paul, the apostle who brought Christianity to the continent, the city of Philippi lies at the foot of a hill on the Via Egnatia, the ancient trade route that linked Europe and Asia. What remains is impressive: visit the Archaeological Museum of Philippi to learn more about the history and view finds from the site, such as sculptures, coins, jewellery and mosaics, then head to the site itself. You can wander amid the old walls and gates, the remnants of the Forum, the Roman cistern where Paul was imprisoned, the large temple complex and the early basilicas, dating to the fifth century. Most impressive is the large amphitheatre, built by Philip, which still hosts performances as part of Kavala’s annual Philippi Festival (July to August). visitkavala.gr/en/sightseeing/arxaiologikos-xoros-filippon
Kavala Fort, Kavala
For the best views in Kavala, head to the city’s hilltop fortress. This commanding bastion at the highest point of the city’s Panagia peninsula was built from local granite in the early 15th century, atop the remains of the older Byzantine Acropolis of Christoupolis. Twisting up between the atmospherically dilapidated buildings of Kavala’s old town to get there is part of the fun. Once inside the walls of the fortress itself you can see the remains of the old guardhouse, arsenal, food stores and cistern; there’s also a little cafe and an open-air theatre that hosts frequent events and performances. But best is the central circular tower – climb the narrow, winding, uneven steps up to the top to look out over the city’s roofs to the mountains behind and Thassos island looming out to sea ahead. castle-kavala.gr
Art of Silk Museum, Soufli
Another stop on Soufli’s ‘silk route’, this museum and shop of the Tsiakiris Silkworks is housed in a fine neoclassical building. Exhibits run visitors through all stages of silk production from sericulture to weaving, and include vintage looms and working threading machines. silkmuseum.gr
Gnafala Folk Art Museum, Soufli
Run by the Bourouliti family, Gnafala is part textiles shop, part cultural museum. The owners have collected an array of items that tell the story of life in this outpost of Greece, from traditional costumes and wedding dresses to old photographs and farming equipment. A fascinating insight.
Givre Silk Factory, Soufli
As of mid-2022, the renovation of this early-20th-century silk factory complex was still in progress. It comprises a vast three-story cocoon house, 28m-high chimney, outbuildings and vast spinning mill where the old machines can still be seen. When finished it will provide an in-depth insight into the industrial process and an important social commentary. There will be a bar and workshops too.
Monastery of St Nicholas, Lake Vistonida, Evros Delta
Floating near the village of Porto Lagos, the Monastery of St Nicholas is built on two islets in bird-busy Lake Vistonida. Walk across the boardwalk to its white-washed chapel to see devout monks and Dalmatian pelicans. evros-delta.gr/en/the-management-body/information-center
Poros Stork village, Evros Delta
In 2016 the EuroNatur Foundation declared Poros an official European Stork Village due to its commitment to protect storks and their habitats. In season, the birds can be seen nesting atop telegraph poles along the main road; an annual Stork Festival, held in early June, celebrates the return of the migratory birds. euronatur.org/en/what-we-do/news/european-stork-village-2016-designated
Meligeysis Honey Farm, Komnina
Venture into the mountains behind Xanthi to find the tiny village of Komnina and the Meligeysis Honey Farm. The owners will show you around, talk about their bees and ply you with sweet treats; you can also buy a range of natural products, from sweet spreads to skin care creams. meligeysis.gr
Domaine Apostolidi, near Xanthi
The Apostolidis have been making wine since the 1950s but, in the past two decades, the vineyard has transformed from amateur family business to start-of-the-art domaine, with sustainable and biodynamic cultivation and production innovations leading to high-quality wines made using traditional Greek grapes. domaineapostolidi.gr
The google map below shows the location and details of all the places to stay, local food and drink, nearby attractions and activities in our Green Traveller's Guide to East Macedonia and Thrace
Green = Places to stay Blue = Local food & drink Yellow = Attractions Purple = Activities