Xanthi: Excursion to the cosmopolitan city of Thrace

A jewel of a city, Xanthi stands at the interface between West and East. It was and is a melting pot of cultures living in harmony under the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains. The amphitheatrically built city has (among many other things) a unique characteristic: It is the part of Greece that connects the Black Sea with the Aegean and Europe with Asia.

Patras is not the only place that has a carnival. The famous in every corner of Greece Carnival of Xanthi is just one reason to visit the city. The combination of the special architecture, the beautiful old town, the cuisine that will make you talk, the fantastic excursions around it, the hospitality of the inhabitants and the stories they will tell you, will make you decide and start your excursion to the cosmopolitan city of Thrace.

Walks on the banks of Kosynthos and the alleys of the Old Town

The river Kosynthos starts from Rodopi, crosses Pomakochoria and passes through the traditional settlement of Xanthi, before ending up in Vistonida. The waters of the river flow calmly just outside the centre of the modern city and offer an idyllic setting for walks and romance on its banks. Kosynthos is also the natural border between the Old and New Town with the settlement “Samakov” which is more sparsely populated and characterized by its beautiful natural environment.
The Old Town of Xanthi and its narrow alleys are in themselves a reason to make the trip to the city of Thrace: Well-preserved mansions with distinctive architecture and the mixture of West and East are a stunning blend of different styles: Greek neoclassicism, local architecture and Ottoman style. If the churches, mosques and picturesque squares enter the frame, the Old Town is definitely a living open-air museum.

A trademark of Nea Polis, on the other hand, is the square with the Clock and the tobacco warehouses, especially in the famous “P” (Kappnergaton Street), named after the shape of the buildings of 1890. For food, it is worth stopping at “Sekletia” for perfect meat and “Perounies” for flavours from Thrace, European cuisine and a touch of the East. Although where to eat is also part of the fun, Xanthi is also famous for its nightlife. If you’re an early drinks type then make a stop at the “Baiser Café Bar”, while as night falls the youth (and not only) of the city rendezvous at the entrance of the Old Town and the “Dili Dili Disco Café”.

Escape to Nestos and Vistonida

A trip to Xanthi, however, does not only include walks in the urban landscape. The river Nestos is one of the most spectacular landscapes in Greece. And if you want to admire it in all its glory then it’s worth doing it… in person, by canoe. The trip lasts about 5, is suitable even for beginners and costs around 40€ per person.

On the border of Rodopi and Xanthi is one of the most beautiful wetlands in Greece, Lake Vistonida. It is the 4th largest lake in the country, in a heavenly location, where the green of the forest and the blue of the Greek sea are combined in a unique way. The wetland is an ornithological paradise for the entire European continent, as around 260 species of birds have been observed here to date. Also worth a visit is Porto Lagos, the quiet fishing village, which is located 26 km from Xanthi and in the 19th century was the export centre of the rich agricultural production of the region. To the right of the harbour is a small grove and 1 km away is the chapel of St. Nicholas, a part of the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi.

The unique Pomakochoria

A handful of traditional villages, scented with the fragrance of the East, built high on the slopes of Rodopi, near Xanthi and right up to the border with Bulgaria, stand Pomakochoria. The cluster of villages are situated right at the intersection of modern times and the tradition of the province, with the particular characteristics of the Muslim communities. The people live and move at their own pace which makes perfect sense considering that until 1995 they were blocked behind “border” barriers, which prevented the passage to and from Xanthi and, consequently, the rest of Greece. Pomaks, dressed in traditional costumes, plough their tobacco fields with ploughs, smoke hookah in traditional cafes while children play in the streets.

It is worth visiting the administrative “capital” of the region, Sminthis, with its ornate minarets rising to the sky. Echinos with its arched bridge over the stream that separates it from the main road and Thermae with its thermal baths and outdoor pool steaming from the naturally hot water by the side of the road. And the cuisine in Pomakochoria, however, is a different experience. You eat at “Kottani”, Cemil’s wonderful little tavern that he makes himself and serves one of the best yogurt kebabs, and also the tavern “Pilima” in the village of the same name.