Born and raised in Servia, a small town set between a lake and the mountains in the region of Kozani, Anastasia Fountouli was drawn to nature, gardening and her family’s vegetable patch. So, it comes as no surprise she went on to study Agricultural Sciences at the University of Thessaly in Volos.
“Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of this experience was that through meeting people from different countries, I was inspired to travel abroad and immerse myself in different civilisations,” says Anastasia who continued her studies in England and later on moved to Scotland for her PhD all while travelling around Europe.
“What began as a fun, one-year adventure, resulted in a life in the UK for a little over a decade. After all this time, I now consider Scotland as my second home,” says Anastasia.
Once the uncertainty of the pandemic hit, she began to re-evaluate her life, and, “it soon became clear to me that I had to return back to Greece. Once the travel restrictions were lifted, I quit my job, flew to Volos and I found myself in my old flat contemplating what my next step should be. Then, totally unexpectedly and on a night I didn’t even want to go out, I met my now-husband.
“Our attraction was instant, and our chemistry was so strong we both knew we were made for each other. Saying ‘yes’ to his proposal was the easiest decision I ever made in my life. Once I got pregnant, we decided to move to his city, Komotini and the rest is history. If there is one thing I have learned so far is to take the risk, it’s worth it!”
Since 2007, Anastasia has also been a popular lifestyle blogger, sharing travel, restaurant, and fashion tips with her loyal followers who are inspired by her beautiful images and recommendations. Over the last year, she has shared a lot of stunning photography, footage and information about her new hometown, which she has fallen in love with, and is keen to share with the rest of the world.
We recently had a chat with Anastasia about her new life in Komotini, as well as where to go, what to see and the best places to eat when visiting this pretty town in eastern Thrace.
Firstly, please tell us when you started blogging and more about Natbee’s travels.
Natbee’s is an extension of my childhood habit of journal writing but with a modern twist! It started in 2007 as a way to keep in touch with family and friends and flourished while living abroad. I write about my travels, hotel and restaurant recommendations and, so far, people enjoy following along! Essentially, I am the brand, I photograph everything myself, I write and edit the articles and I come up with the creative side, too. It is a one-woman band but I love it! The blog has constantly evolved as my life was evolving and it was nominated for the ‘Best Newcoming Blog’ award in the 2012 Cosmopolitan Blog Awards, for the ‘Best Fashion Blog’ award in the 2013 Company Magazine Blog Awards and got a spot in the Top 10 Scottish Blogs list. At the same time, I was a travel contributor to The Gaudie newspaper and Trend Aberdeen magazine which persuaded my love for travel writing and photography even more.
How would you describe your new hometown to those who have never heard of this charming city?
A hub successfully mixing Western and Eastern civilisation; from mosques to Christian churches, tell-tale signs of modern Greece and the Ottoman Empire are all over the city making Komotini’s cityscape and architecture exceptionally unique. Much like London, in Komotini people come from different backgrounds and religions and they live here harmoniously, tasting each other’s cultures through friendship, food, and trade -a thing that I love the most about living here.
What are the must-see monuments and historical sites of Komotini?
In no particular order, if visiting Komotini, you must visit the Tsanakleios School (that’s the pink building you often see on my Instagram), the Yeni Mosque with its Clock Tower, Ermou Street and the surrounding cobbled streets where the traditional shops belonging to the Greek Muslim minority are tucked away, the ruins of the 4th-century Byzantine wall, the Byzantine fortress of Komotini, the Old Temenos (also known as Eksi Mosque) and last but not least the central square with the adjacent park that features The Central Heroon, Spathi, a monument dedicated to the fallen WWII heroes.
What would you recommend for cultural and leisurely experiences in Komotini?
Komotini is known for its large number of museums making the city a meeting point for history aficionados. The Constantine Carathéodory Museum tells the life story of the man who is known as Einstein’s mathematician, the Archaeological Museum exhibits pieces from the Neolithic to the Byzantine period and reveals much about the prehistory and history of the Aegean Thrace and Komotini; and the Folklore Museum displays a collection of ecclesiastic items, traditional dresses and various materials. There is something for everyone’s taste really! If, however, escaping the crowds is your thing, there are also beaches with fine sand to visit in less than half an hour’s drive away. Located just outside the city, Mesi Beach and Fanari are two of my favourites. The stretch of sand of Mesi beach would make many Greek islands jealous: it goes for a mile and on a sunny day, the azure waters make it impossible to resist a swim. Fanari Beach runs down from the port of Fanari village up to the nearby village of Arogi. In summer it is a top tourist attraction and it has a handful of bars and restaurants to sit and relax when the heat gets too much.
Favourite restaurants and cafes?
Visiting Komotini is like going on a gastronomical pilgrimage! Visitors can enjoy Greek coffee at cafes hosted in old buildings, ‘Varosi Art Cafe’, ‘Gecko’ and ‘Lou.Ki’ are just a few of them. As for food, try the local cuisine at ‘Kapsouli’ and ‘Elia kai Duosmos’. Then for dessert, there is ‘Nedim’, possibly the most famous patisserie in the city that has a sterling reputation for its Turkish desserts.
Any local dishes or delicacies visitors should try?
I’d definitely go for Bougatsa at ‘Takis’, Lahmacun at ‘King Food’ and Kazandibi at ‘Nedim’.
Your favourite day trip(s) from Komotini?
Situated between the beautiful cities of Xanthi and Alexandroupoli, the sandy beaches on the south and the mountain of Nymfaia just a short drive away, we are spoiled for choice! My favourite day trip would include a drive to the city of Xanthi for a wander around the Old City and a spot of shopping. Then, on my way back I would go through Porto Lagos, have a quick stop at the Monastery of Saint Nicholas and end up at Fanari village for a cocktail at the beach just before the sunset.
What do you love most about living here?
The friendly people and its long cycle lane going through the city centre. It makes mobility for a new mum with a buggy so much easier.
A few of your overall favourite destinations in Greece?
The magical land of Crete has to be on the very top of my list -the history, the people and the food make this island irresistibly attractive. Santorini and Corfu are next. Santorini for its magical sunsets, white-washed houses with blue-painted doors and abundance of wineries, and Corfu for its Venetian vibes, colourful cobbled streets and luxury hotels. But Greece is not all about the islands as the mainland has, too, so much to offer and even more. I have a soft spot for Macedonia as it has a strong history and a lavishness of things to do and places to visit comprising of mountains, lakes and beaches. It is no surprise that the saying ‘like Halkidiki nowhere’ has been posted all over Instagram over the past decade as the crystal-clear waters and evergreen beaches of this part of Macedonia make this place unmissable.
You recently became a mum. Are there any places you can’t wait to visit with your baby girl?
My list is never-ending! Be it the travel restrictions, or my new, tiring role, there hasn’t been a time that I have dreamed of travelling more than now. This pent-up wanderlust has created that compulsion to write meticulous travel itineraries which I am hoping we will go on the soonest as possible. One of them includes a Balkan road trip where we will be visiting Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro. Fingers crossed we make it happen.
Discover more about Natbee’s travels and Komotini here.
Images by Anastasia Fountouli ©