Beyond the Fence
In the northernmost part of Greece there is a prefecture – one of the largest regional units in the country – home to beautiful places you’ve never even heard of. Because the Prefecture of Evros, part of the East Macedonia and Thrace region, is better known for the huge fence across the border between Greece and Turkey, aiming to keep out irregular migrants, rather than the dozens of other wonderful things that invite you there. The truth is, there is not much sightseeing to do here. But was is certain is that you’ll have a great time and you’ll manage to relax. Because here, there are large areas of natural forest that will replenish you with tranquillity that only nature can offer. There are museums and natural wealth, that unfortunately is not promoted sufficiently, nor it is it exploited adequately. There is so much more beyond the media-focused fence to see here. There are people who are among the most hospitable you will ever meet; simple, calm and hard-workers, who know how to enjoy life in a milder rhythm and seize every single day that comes.
The capital of the region is Alexandroupoli, one of the newest cities in Greece, as it was only a fishing village settled by the Ottoman Empire until the late 19th century. It benefits from its position at the centre of land and sea routes connecting Greece with Turkey. Landmarks in here include the city’s lighthouse in the port, the archaeological sites of the Mesimvria Zone, the city’s waterfront (the centre of commercial activity), the Ethnological Museum of Thrace, the thermal springs (Hana) of Traianoupoli which have been recognised by the Greek state for their therapeutic abilities and are considered among the most important in Greece, as well as the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus in Makri – a coastal village, which also offers a range of beach bars and restaurants by the sea.
The city’s large coastal road is closed every afternoon, transforming it into a long promenade along the beach, with a view of Samothrace island, and the majestic colourful sunset that allows your thoughts to wander as you acknowledge the slower pace of life you too are entering.
For nature lovers, the area has a lot on offer: the nearby Evros Delta is one of the most important wetland on a national, European and international level. Extending over 200,000 hectares, with a significant number of rare animal and plant species, it has been branded a Special Protection Zone, as well as a proposed Site of Common Interest in the Natura 2000 network.
The Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park is also one of the most important protected areas at national, European and international scale. It is one of the first areas in Greece to be declared as protected since a great deal of flora and fauna species found in the Balkan Peninsula, Europe and Asia coexist here. The landscape mosaic formed by pine and oak forests, interrupted by clearings, pastures and fields is the ideal habitat for birds of prey. The Park is near the village of Soufli, notable for the silk industry that flourished there in the 19th century. The village hosts a unique Silk Art Museum, which aims to highlight and preserve the region’s rich tradition of silk production and processing.
The northernmost and newest city of Greece and the second largest town of the Evros regional unit of Thrace is Orestiada. It was founded in 1923 by Greek refugees from Adrianople after the Treaty of Lausanne when the population exchange occurred between Turkey and Greece, in which the Evros River became the new border between the two countries. Despite lacking in sightseeing, the city is full of options for leisure, as it offers a range of all kinds of traditional cafes, taverns, restaurants, and modern bars that are not far from any other found in larger, more urban, cities. There is a particular café situated in a large pine park, allowing you to enjoy shade in the summer, while children can play carefree in the playground. A small theatre here, also hosts the Panhellenic Amateur Theatre Festival every end of August-beginning of September, while the city itself organises a variety of concerts and performances, especially during the summer.
Here, you’ll manage to relax, as you’re only true concern is where to have your next cup of coffee, where to dine, and where to have a drink later on. In this northernmost part of the country, you’ll come to acknowledge that you don’t need a lot to have a good time. It’s the company that makes that time worthwhile and memorable.
The city has a characteristic solar tree dominating its central square, an equivalent of which exists in Milan and other cities around the world. The city’s central square won the first prize at the 2016 Best City Awards Contest. Noteworthy is the fact that the city is constructed in a square-like manner, making it hard to get lost even for those with no sense of orientation whatsoever, while it is remarkably clean, peaceful, and with the character of an urban-village.
Further up north, there is an endless green scenery by the river Ardas that makes you wonder why these amazing destinations are not better promoted. The area here by the river that unites three nations (Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria), is an attraction for a pleasant walk, and a relaxed coffee with a unique view. Here, every summer, a music festival is organised with the participation of renowned Greek and international artists.
The traditional town by this river, Kastanies, whose name derives from the huge chestnut trees that once featured in the town square, hosts the only land border between Turkey and Greece (of length 11km), given that the rest of the border is along the river Evros. It is said that this is one of the oldest towns of the prefecture and has never been occupied by Muslims. Although it is highlighted by media for political issues, this town is full of vitality, demonstrating the warm hospitality of the people of Evros, and uniting people beyond the borders who cross over for work, leisure, a cup of coffee, or a delicious meal at the famous pizzeria “Lakis”.
A trip in this region will not be complete without a tour of Didymoteicho, a town associated with the military presence it is best known for, due to its proximity to the borders (it is only 2km from the Greece-Turkey border). The town once served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire, while it holds the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Plotinopolis. The city had been built in a very strategic position, because it had for exploitation a very fertile plain and also controlled a passage of Erythropotamos, through which passed a branch of the via Egnatia leading in the middle and upper valley of Evros river and on the shores of the Black Sea.
The city offers a mesmerising view from the ancient medieval hilltop citadel complex – Fortress/ Castle, while an important sight of the town is also the Çelebi Sultan Mehmed Mosque, also known as the Bayezid Mosque and the Great Mosque, an early 15th-century Ottoman mosque, which is considered one of the most important Muslim monuments, not only in Greece, but in all of Europe, as being the oldest mosque on European ground. It has been a protected monument since 1946. Due to a fire during restoration works in 2017, the entire roof was destroyed, while damage to the interior and the walls remains unknown. The mosque, like many other buildings, today remains unexploited. The city, however, is a great escape from the urban routine, as it hosts a range of cafes and restaurants with a breath-taking view.
With endless valley green, riverfront walks, and tranquillity we desperately yearn for, this border prefecture illustrates some of the most beautiful areas of Greece, despite the fact that it is rundown by mosquitos (so much, that even cafeterias have mosquito-repellents available!). But that is the minimum price you pay for relishing the so many benefits this region has to offer. Whatever you are looking for: relaxation, adventure, exploration, food and drink, this place is ready to impress you, so much that you’ll want to return soon.