The Mecca of Greece
Sell your ox, sell your horse, but make sure you pay at least one visit to Greece’s very own paradise on earth – Thassos. Situated in the northern Aegean Sea, right off the mainland coast of Keramoti, you’ll find the crowning gem of south-eastern Europe’s summer hotspots in all its viridian glory. If you’re looking to get away from it all for a couple of weeks and you don’t want to break the bank, look no further: find a map and stick the pin on Thassos!
Practical info: Getting There
There are quite a few options for getting to Thassos. Here’s a list of the three best routes from London.
London – Kavala – Thassos
If you book well in advance, a two-week return ticket can cost in the range of £200-270 to Kavala. There are no non-stop flights, so be prepared to travel around 6-8 hours. It will be well worth it though, because from there all you need to do is hop on the ferry and enjoy the 90-minute cruise, which won’t cost you more than €12 (£10) for a return ticket. If you’re travelling by car, bringing it on the ferry will set you back around €20 (£17). All in all, you’ll be travelling approximately 8-10 hours for a little over £300 tops, give or take a taxi ride.
London – Thessaloniki – Kavala – Thassos
In that same period, the cheapest round trip tickets to Thessaloniki range from £130-200, but some flights take longer than 10 hours. If you can book a non-stop ticket, the duration is usually around 3. Thessaloniki is about 145 km away from Kavala, and bus fares to Kavala are around €15 (£13) for a 3-4 hour single trip. In total, you’ll be travelling about 15-19 hours for no more than £260, but with double the taxi time.
London – Athens – Kavala – Thassos
Round trip flights to Athens are in the same price range as those above, but are almost all non-stop and take about 3.5 hours. From there, you can either take a €90 4.5-hour plane for Kavala, or take a 6-hour bus for half that cost (though it might take a couple of hours more if the bus passes through Thessaloniki).
Overall this route will generally take you just an hour longer than the first one, for more or less the same price. However it could potentially be much cheaper, so I recommend it anyway.
Legend has it that the island was named after Thassos, the son of the Phoenician king Aginora (the guy who invented money). While leading a sea expedition to find his abducted sister, Europe, Thassos reached the island that would later carry his name, and was immediately captivated by its beauty and freshness. He ended his quest and settled down there.
The kidnapper was Zeus. Those of you who are familiar with Greek mythology will already have read about him, but to those of you who aren’t, let’s just say that Zeus back then was kind of like an immortal version of Charlie Sheen. The scene where the god of thunder disguised as a bull abducts Europe is engraved on a memorial plate in the port of Limenaria. Be sure to check it out, as it’s a free lesson from Ancient Greece’s biggest pick up artist.
That is, if you can even reach the island. People say sirens have been living there for millennia, entrancing all who pass with their spellbinding voices. Even Odysseus had a hard time with those girls, though I bet getting there in the end was totally worth it.
The Golden Beach
A tip for those of you who have never been to Greece: unless you’re into spontaneous combustion, get a high factor sunscreen, because the summer can be murder. In fact, it’s so hot that before the economic crisis the Greeks had a habit of closing shops at around 2 in the afternoon until 5, since no one in their right mind would go out into that kind of heat. I did, unfortunately, and felt like a walking lump of charcoal as I did.
But who cares about scorching hot weather, that’s what you’re there for, right? Back on topic, Thassos seems to have more beaches than it does residents. Planning to visit them all in one go would probably turn out to be hopeless, which is why I would recommend that you choose your town and hotel carefully. Never fear, though: you can still get out and about for day trips relatively easily, so you’ll be able to visit various locations around the island and see whatever it is that has most piqued your interest.
Personally, I stayed at the Hotel Aloe in Skala Potamia. This resort lies on the southern end of the Golden Beach, a long stretch of the finest golden sand in the entire Aegean archipelago. Behind it is Ipsarion, the highest peak in Thassos, towering above everything at a staggering height of 1,204 m. Because of the island’s mountainous geology and soil, you can expect to see a lot of sycamores and pine trees, especially the latter as you climb higher up into the mountains.
Olive Oil and Richard the Lionheart
What does a king of England and olive fat have in common with Thassos? Well, for one, both can be found in the small town of Panagia. The town is famous for producing some of the finest olive oil in the region, and its mills are definitely worth seeing. Many even have a guide who will explain to you how olive oil is made, and let me tell you, it’s a slippery business (geddit?). Bad puns aside, do consider buying some for yourself, because you can be certain this oil is about as good as it gets and, naturally, it’s made with absolutely no artificial additives. It’s all nature, dude!
And where does Richard I of England play a role in all of this? Well, he himself doesn’t, but if you stop over at the church of Virgin Mary in Panagia (which itself is actually a name for the Mother of God in Greek), you might see his red-white banner. I have to hand it to him, the guy knew where to lead a crusade. The church is an integral part of Panagia and contains various ancient Orthodox icons from the 14th – 17th centuries. Definitely recommended for those who appreciate religious culture. If you plan your vacation around August, try and get to the church on the 15th, when the church commemorates the ascension of the Holy Mother on an annual basis with a great deal of music and a long table filled with all kinds of food, from beef with potatoes to rice and stews – a fantastic display of Christian generosity to those who visit.</p>
Making the Best of Thassos
My trip lasted about a week, so there was only so much I could see. What I have described barely scratches the emerald surface of this beautiful island. Yes, it might sound cliché, but its unspoiled scenery is truly magnificent and inspiring. Every part of the experience was absolutely worth it, from the watching the playful seagulls on the ferry to the island, to the seductive sands of its warm, sunny beaches. So, could you see yourself visiting? If you do I promise you won’t regret it. Carpe diem: seize the chance to see Thassos!