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.
It was a scorching hot summer day, but Jake was of the
perception that you should grasp every opportunity offered to you to enjoy life
to the fullest. The renowned waterfalls were very close to his holiday stay so
he decided to go on the expedition early in the morning.
His car wouldn’t go that far though. It refused to budge
further than the asphalt-paved road. So Jake had to get out, put his hat on,
grab a bottle of water and take the trail on foot. Trekking was always one of
his passions. He thought it would be an easy task.
But along the way, the road became steep downhill and
slippery. Then small, sharp steps were added to the challenge, along with
pointy branches that hit you abruptly. The temperature became humid and hotter
as it took much longer than expected to arrive to the sought destination.
After an hour of trail – given that Jake took a wrong turn
and had to go back to find the right road-sign for where he was going – he finally
reached a rainforest-like path and could hear the sound of running water.
There was a crowd leading up to it.
Too many people meant he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as
much as he would like. Tourists often did not appreciate the cultural
significance of what they were looking at.
Jake finally reached the foot of the waterfall.
You could hear the stream running from the top of the hill
into a 3metre-deep pool. But that was pretty much it. There was not much to see
and Jake was unimpressed.
Expectations often lead to disappointment. That was his
thought at the sight.
And then he had to take the opposite route to return. And it
was all uphill now.
It’s a strange feeling not being able to communicate due to language barriers. It’s something like feeling helpless and incompetent; as if somehow you are found wanting in certain circumstances. However, this is not always your fault.
Barry found himself abroad on his first trip in years. He had finally overcome his fear of flying – as much as possible to be able to take a quick trip to the neighbouring country he had heard so much about. The target was to relax and get away for a couple of days. To regroup and return stronger and rejuvenated.
But instead… the opposite occurred.
There are some people who see it as a matter of nationalistic pride to refuse to speak in a language other than their own. No matter how much their economy needs tourists, they do not seem to care to put on a smiling face or to even demonstrate the minimum amount of courtesy. In their view, they are not paid enough to serve others. At least not the way they should – politely and brightly. They see foreigners as intruders that come to disrupt their own routine and who inconveniently what things done differently. So many even refuse to speak to them in a language different than their own, one that is universally understandable.
Barry had never faced a similar situation before. In the seven languages he spoke, he always had one way or another to talk to almost every one he met. But here, everything was different. It was almost a stubbornness, a not wanting to communicate. They spoke in their language and their interlocutor could simply sense the tone. Or see the gesture. S/He would get the point sooner or later.
Barry felt unwanted. It was very bad to feel so inhospitable in a country you invested money into going. You were injecting cash into their economy, the least they could do was show they appreciated it.
In the end, relaxing was not as much as trying to remain calm. The best he could do was acknowledge that he was not going to be the one to alter an entire mentality or culture. Being upset about things you can’t change won’t help. All you can do is decline to fall to their level, and maintain your own dignity.
There are few cities that invite you back no matter how much time has passed. Cities where you spent a significant part of your life, your ‘formation years’ and which draw you back to inject in you every now and then that adolescent hope which you had when you first set foot there. Few cities actually have something new to offer every time you visit. And even fewer make you feel as if you arrive at home. Every time.
The highway ends and you can begin to sense the excitement creeping up inside you. As you turn on those winding roads lined with blooming green trees, you feel that you are returning somewhere familiar. And the moment you see that first building, that first location which springs a memory to mind, you know you’re there. Where you left a piece of your heart, a piece of yourself. At a place which is filled with experiences and a best friend who always awaits you with arms wide open. It’s a place where you have a family and it feels like home no matter how long it’s been since your last visit. All it takes is a couple of hours to rediscover it all and blend right back in, as if you never left. As if a part of you continues to live here, evolving along with the city and yearning to remain free, independent and energetic, just like your youthful self when you first arrived.
Perugia is a city that registers in your mind and heart. With historic medieval stone buildings, situated in the heart of Umbria at the centre of Italy, between Renaissance Florence and the capital Rome, Perugia is famous. It is a well-known cultural and artistic centre of Italy, rich in architecture.
Situated in the Umbrian hills with an elevation of 493 metres, Perugia is a beautiful medieval city where you can go pretty much anywhere on foot. It is actually more convenient to walk rather than try to drive a car through the narrow winding roads, especially in the city centre.
With so many uphills and downhills, it is also an ideal city to exercise naturally. Perugia is one of the rare cities that even require the presence of escalators and lifts – hundreds of steps exist throughout the city joining the different levels created due to its very particular geographic location.
And the most exciting thing is that every strait around every winding corner leads to a magnificent scenery, a stone balcony full of colourful flowers smelling like spring and a series of steps that invite you to follow them to quench your curiosity.
Perugia is a city that inspires and encourages you to enjoy its elegant and interesting lifestyle to the fullest. It was only fitting therefore that the city chose as its protector during the Renaissance the mythological griffin – il grifo. With the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, the griffin – found all over Perugia – is the city’s symbol, its emblem, its mascot, and during a football match, the city team’s nickname. It is associated with strength, courage and intelligence. The wings give it speed; the claws give it ferocious power – a proper combination of the king of beasts and the king of birds.
Even more fascinating is the presence of an old city, buried when Pope III Farnese at the end of the ‘salt war’ in 1540 decided to build a fortress – Rocca Paolina – to keep the Perugians in line. Five levels high and symbolic of the papal domain, it encompassed an entire medieval neighbourhood, complete with houses, towers and streets. It was finally razed to the ground in 1860 and all that remains are the charming and unique basements, crossed through by escalators and used for cultural exhibitions.
No matter how long or how little you stay, there is always something new to discover – a small artisan shop, a tasty dish, a delicious drink. With festivals taking place all year round – be it Umbria Jazz in the summer (when the streets fill with music) or Eurochocolate in the winter (when the city is overflowing with chocolate) – the city invites tourists worldwide to discover the fascination of being a Perugino (and this is not only in reference to the famous Baci chocolates).
In addition, few cities can boast an ideal balance between provincial traditions (the city’s population counts a mere 170,000) and technological progressions. With almost everyone in possession of a smartphone, the Umbria region even offers free Wi-Fi for two hours a day wherever you are in the city. Plus, the Perugini are avid recyclers – with containers separating waste found throughout the town, thus making the city exceptionally clean.
The best thing about a constant stroll up and down the city is that you return home tired but upbeat. Particularly since most of the high-ceiling houses here are naturally cooler inside than outside in the summer and in the winter do not require heaters to retain their warmth. This is when you truly feel fulfilled, when you are falling fast asleep in the warm embrace of a bed bigger and more comfortable than the one you usually lie in, to wake up refreshed, elated and safe of being among family.
Then when the time comes you don’t want to leave. You already feel accustomed to this tranquil life, carefree and stress-free. Why return to the other side of reality? But departing will only make the next return taste sweeter. Because you will return. That is for certain.
N.B. All photos are mine taken in Perugia, Italy on 15-24 July 2014
Every now and again everyone needs to get away for a while. From the routine, the noise, the crowds, the hectic lifestyle, the stress, the things that simply aggravate you. You need to devote some time to yourself, to things and people you love, and most of all to relax and rediscover the beauty of life.
What better place to do so than on a beautiful Greek island just an hour away from the bustling capital city, Athens?
Islands like Aegina offer you the getaway you long for since the start of each week. And it is close enough that you can decide to go for the weekend only a few hours before jumping on the ship. Watching the waves foam as the ship skids through the ocean leaving the city behind, you can feel your shoulders lighten a little as you leave your troubles behind.
Calmly sliding through tranquil waters, you can already feel the anticipation of what awaits you on the island – sun, sea and relaxation.
Even the seagulls can sense it and come to escort you into port as a VIP entrance should be!
And then you reach the marina. That awesome place with all these shiny white yachts finely lined up for you to gaze and wish you owned the one on the right, between the two smaller ones, that one with the large mast and sail.
Being on an island – a small one that is, no matter for how long, makes you wish your life was as relaxed and carefree as the days you spend there.
Taking long strolls along the golden beaches and watching your feet sink into the sand.
Watching the sunset in the arms of your loved one.
Having a drink and a snack at wonderful, picturesque villages.
Enjoying a carriage ride by a horse you just met and became friends with before taking you around to see amazing old manor houses that even featured in a movie.
Re-discovering the joys of life, simply by forgetting that every day needs to have a schedule and a to-do list.
Love is like an island. Endless, calm, and ready to embrace you as soon as you set foot there.
With friendly smiles greeting you immediately and conversations that can start as easily as you take a breath, it makes you wonder why exactly it is that you live in a busy city where you are constantly pushed and shoved around and not there – there where you walk into the supermarket and the next time you go the cashier even remembers your name. Where you are given discounts simply because you engaged in an amusing conversation with the proprietor. Where you make friends that are always ready to welcome you back.
We all need a sanctuary to recharge our batteries. To re-energise us, at the same time as it calms us down. To remind us that life is not as hard as we all make it out to be. It’s just that we have forgotten how to live.
N.B. All photos are mine taken on the island of Aegina on 03-04 May 2014
There are few cities in the world that enrapture you from the moment you enter their borders. Cities that overwhelm you with their distinct architecture, their harmonious environment and their cultural warmth. Strasbourg is one such city.
The capital of the Alsace region is situated on the borders between France and Germany and has over the years been the subject of dispute between these two great powers. Its historic city centre – the Grande Île– is surrounded by the river Ill flowing beneath the stunning 18th century bridges that are found throughout. It was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre.With its picturesque buildings, the city combines Germanic discipline and French finesse. It is a city that keeps you mesmerised with its stunning architecture, its scenic landscapes, and its breathtaking skylines.
The Cathedral dominating over the city with its 142 metre spire was described by Victor Hugo as a “giant and delicate marvel”. Its appearance of carved-like stone make it a magnificent sight right in the heart of the centre in one of the busiest squares all year round.
Inside it is just as elegant with its colourful stained glass windows, and its Madonna vitro with a crown of stars on a blue background which inspired the European Union flag.
And there is the skillfully carved Pillar of Angels standing right next to the Astronomical Clock – a wonder of craftsmanship that every day at 12.30 features the twelve Apostles passing in front of Christ to receive His blessing, while a cock crows thrice.
After taking a spiralling 332 steps up the tower that literally take your breath away, you discover a view of the city that makes it all worth it.
Situated just opposite the Cathedral is the imposing Palais Rohan, formally an episcopal residence, which now hosts three museums: the State Apartments and Decorative Arts, the Fine Arts, and the Archaelogical Museum.
With Louis XV being the royal apartments’ first guest in the 18th century, the palace was built along the lines of Versailles.
But that is not the only thing that is reminiscent of the rest of France in Strasbourg. Petite France is the former tanners’ quarter which originally hosted a hospital treating patients with the “French disease” (syphilis) which was spread at the end of the 15th century. Now it is a prominent tourist destination for a drink and a traditional dish under the shade of the large trees, admiring the timber-framed charming houses interwoven with four canals.
But the most majestic view of all is at the Ponts Couverts – the four Medieval Towers that served as fortification. The towers originally guarded the entrance to the city and were linked up by wooden bridges, protected by a roof until the 18th century.
Exactly opposite the bridge stands the Barrage Vauban, a barrage and lock designed in the 18th century to inundate the waterways of Strasbourg and defend the city in the event of a siege. In 1966 a panoramic terrace was built on top granting access to one of the most beautiful views of the city.
A walk along the river bank is essential as it reinvigorates the sense of nature that is usually lacking in big cities. Swans and ducks glide gracefully in the tranquil water, disturbed only by the occasional boat tour around the city.
The regal neo-Renaissance buildings around Place de la Republique – the Palais du Rhin, the National and University Library – appear all the more beautiful viewed among the colourful spring flowers, while the hundreds of youth in the city rush to the parks to absorb the cloudless sunlight.
Strasbourg encompasses the beauty of the countryside with the prestige of a European capital as many EU institutions are situated here – most notably the European Parliament, the Court of Human Rights, the Ombudsman and the Council of Europe.
With only 273,000 inhabitants Strasbourg draws people of all ages from all around the world. A vibrant city and a lively atmosphere, it embraces you to its core and invites you to explore every corner of its fascinating culture. There is always something more to see from a European capital. And when it is as elegant, heart-warming and enchanting as Strasbourg, there is no doubt it will have you back sooner than you know it!
N.B. All photos are mine taken in Strasbourg on 9-13 April 2014.
Salt is considered perhaps the most important element on earth. Among its many uses, salt is essential for seasoning and savouring. Thus, a place that produces salt would be historically important with a huge heritage to deliver.
Such a place is Salzburg. Not just because of the salt, but because it truly is a city of music and arts. With its most famous resident being the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg boasts a plethora of cultural, historical and artistic monuments and many, many, many churches! Here even the cemetery is a must-see place to visit. In fact the whole of the city’s historic centre was named UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Salzburg, one of Austria’s most beautiful cities, developed over the period from the Middle Ages to the 19th century when it was a city-state ruled by a prince-archbishop. Its Gothic art attracted many craftsmen and artists before the city became even better known through the work of the Italian architects Vincenzo Scamozzi and Santino Solari, to whom the centre of Salzburg owes much of its Baroque appearance.
This meeting-point of central and southern Europe features breathtaking panoramic views, with the Hohensalzburg fortress situated high on the hills, as Salzburg’s famous landmark. People from all over the world flock to the city, not only due to Mozart or the famous chocolates that bear his name, but also to see the picturesque settings that formed the background of one of the most famous musicals of all time “The Sound of Music“. There are even specific tours just for this! (Just make sure you board a relatively new bus, otherwise you’ll feel as if you’re on an old carriage off to a Renaissance market place!).
Salzburg is a city that is just as beautiful covered in snow as it is in spring with its blooming flowers and colourful gardens. Its palaces, squares, and pedestrian alleys are a pleasure to walk through and given the warm weather, a boat ride across the Salzach is ideal!
And since you’re in Austria, don’t forget to visit the famous historical Sacher Hotel with its renowned torte with a bit of sahne (fresh cream) and a capuccino! It is mouth-watering and an essential part of a day at one of Europe’s most scenic and idyllic cities!
All photos are mine taken in Salzburg on 02 January 2014.
It is truly surprising how much you can learn of a place from its people’s everyday habits, like their food and drink. In Bavaria in particular, everyone knows that beer is drunk like water. It is like that quote from Cocktailwhere barman Doug told the inexperienced Brian that “Beer is for breakfast around here, drink or be gone.” That is exactly how a first-timer feels in Bavaria. In fact, in Munich, the beer capital of the world and home of the Oktoberfest, beer often costs less than water. And the smallest beer you can get (at least without being laughed at) is a half-litre glass. Beer here is drunk from the late mornings to the early hours of the next day. It truly is gulped down more easily than water, a liquid which is hard to find in a large bottle and costs up to even twice as much! For some strange and yet to be found reason.
But as the New Year approaches, champagne is in order. The bubbly alcohol is the best way to start the New Year with a bang. And the popping of the cork is an excellent accompaniment to the sparkles and bursts of the fireworks that will fill the night sky.
So raise your glass (whatever it may be filled with) and make a wish that this New Year will be 2014 and more times better than the last!
Every little girl dreams of being a princess. Be it Cinderella (the rags-to-riches type), Snow White (the I-have-seven-dwarves-to-protect-me type), Little Mermaid (the sea-lover type), or even Sleeping Beauty (the I’ll-wake-up-when-reality-is-better type), being part of a royal kingdom is part of every girl’s dream.
Heck, everyone at some time or other dreams of being royalty, because it fits into the idyllic image of being able to do whatever you want, having whatever you desire, without a care in the world. But the best part of it all, is that you get to enjoy royal castles and palaces. Especially the ones hidden away in the Bavarian Alps, like Neuschwanstein. The one Walt Disney used as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle. And one of the most famous and beautiful royal castles in the world.
Having already completed the idyllic scenery of this castle in a puzzle a few years ago, it was only fitting that we would also visit the ‘life-size’ Neuschwanstein.
After all, there is always something majestic about visiting a palace, or royal castle. Even a smaller one like Linderhof.
Both built by and for King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century, the latter was intended as his summer residence and modeled on the Versailles Palace, idolizing the absolutism of the French monarchy, something he could not have in Bavaria where he was forced to share power with parliament.
Adorned with gold inside and endless gardens and statues outside, Linderhof is a treat. Even covered in snow it is truly magical.
And then, secluded and enwrapped within the Bavarian Alps appears the fairy tale castle.
Visiting royal castles and palaces and listening to the myths and stories behind the history of the places and people who inhabited them transfers you to a different time. When people needed horse-drawn carriages to climb up to their palaces, that featured hundreds of steps and in which each room served a different purpose – and in which in order to get from one end to the other you needed a map, or even an entire day!
Yet, there is a beauty in being inside these 19th century castles. You imagine yourself living in the time when court jesters where the entertainment available, not playstations and tablets; when the longer and more extravagant the dress, the more elegant it was considered; when gentlemen courted the ladies; when the court was a symbol of richness and power.
And no matter how high or how far you need to travel, sometimes visiting such places is worth the trouble.
Even if you slide down iced-snow slopes and fall flat on your bottom and lose your breath for a minute or two. The experience of walking in the same corridors and rooms in which a king lived over 200 years ago certainly compensates any fall!
All photos (apart from the interior rooms – not allowed) are mine, taken in Bavaria on 27 December 2013.