Exploring the Old Town of Xanthi

When you think of the city of Xanthi, two aspects vividly come to mind, the excessive carnival celebrations and the Old Town. The best way I can describe the latter is encapsulated in one word: nostalgia!

The Old Town of Xanthi is an enchanting settlement in the heart of the city that has remained unaffected by time. It is a magnet for visitors, especially on a warm day, filled with colours and aromas. A concoction of picturesque cobbled streets, buildings with evident features of the Ottoman empire once ruling the city, rows of 19th-century houses with dilapidated balconies and throngs of tourists photographing every corner of it. A mixture of Edinburgh’s Circus Lane and Malta’s Mdina, if you like.

We embarked on a tour of the Old Town of Xanthi early on Sunday morning in an attempt to avoid the crowds. Our tour started on El. Venizelou 17 at Grand Maison, the beautiful house where the famous music composer, Manos Hadjidakis, was born and raised.

Built in 1895 by an Austrian architect, this neoclassical mansion with baroque elements belonged to Isaac Daniel, a rich Jew living in Xanthi, and not the Hadjidakis family as most people think.

The building was recently restored under the guidance of Hadjidaki’s relatives to honour his life and work in the best possible way. Nowadays, it serves as a museum and cultural centre open to the public.

It is said that the Holy Church of St. Vlassios facing Grand Maison has been the inspiration behind the artist’s composition of music mixing Byzantine and ancient Greek elements. The basilica was built in 1838 and in the courtyard lies a school and the priest’s residence. The inward-looking style of the three buildings is a common feature in Ottoman structures found in Turkey and Greece. The church courtyard is elevated three meters from the road level so that people can catch sight of it as houses on El. Venizelou were hiding the building.

The tour continued uphill on Agiou Vlassiou street with the mansion of Dr. Constantine Karabetsis on the corner. Built in 1896 by European architects in neoclassical style with a typically enclosed balcony (sachnisi) in the centre the mansion stands out for its aesthetic and character. The painting on the ceiling of the entrance hall was done by the Maltzi brothers, some famous artists from Aivali in Asia Minor (today Ayvalik, Turkey). Unfortunately, like many other buildings in Xanthi’s Old Town, the building is in deer need of restoration but visitors can still see signs of its former glorious life.

We kept walking on Agiou Vlassiou street and went past many neoclassical mansions until we met the magnificent Residences of the Michaloglou family, a complex of four dwellings built in 1890, built by the Northern Epirus tobacco merchant, Ioannis Michaloglou, for his children.

A bit further away on Botsari street lies Muzaffer Bey’s mansion (konah). The building features both Thracian and Ottoman elements making it one of the most remarkable examples of local architecture. It was built during the 1860s with three floors and two wings in the form of the Greek letter Π. Today the building belongs to the Municipality of Xanthi and it is under construction. Back to El. Venizelou street, we found a beautiful house and store built in 1880 by a group of craftsmen from Epirus. The presence of the blue arched windows is something often seen in commercial buildings of the early 20th-century in Xanthi.

Suddenly, we felt famished so we headed towards Antika square for some coffee and nibbles. This scenic square is a meeting point for many locals as it is surrounded by many well-known bars, traditional tavernas and bars. We sat at Favela Chic Art Bar and enjoyed the views of the little square and the crowds of people passing in search of a place to sit and enjoy the day. On the other side of the square is a round symmetrical building that now hosts one of the most famous cafe bars ‘Bread and Chocolate‘. This impressive building was once the harem of the Ottoman ruler Mehmet Pasha!

It was getting dark when we left so with no more time to explore under the daylight, we went for a quick wander around the square shops.

There is so much to do and see in the Old Town of Xanthi, we promised to be back very soon. Hopefully, this will be the time that we will get the full tour of the Old Town as there are still so many more mansions and historic buildings to discover.

Until next time!

Images by Anastasia Fountouli ©

Ferries from Turkey to Greece Set Sail Again 

It’s been two years since the last ferry ran from Turkey to Greece before closing indefinitely due to pandemic precautions, but tourists are now once again able to travel by sea between the two neighbouring destinations. 

The ban on ferry services, which were halted for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was lifted on February 7, and the restriction also applies to private yachts sailing between Turkey’s Aegean coasts and the Greek islands.

Ferry routes that have, or will resume shortly include those from Bodrum to Kos, Çeşme to Chios, Fethiye to Rhodes, Ayvalık to Lesvos and Kuşadası to Samos.

Most of these ferry services leave in the morning and return the same afternoon, making a quick day trip to Greece and vice versa an option for many locals and international tourists to both countries.

During a day trip, many visitors choose to enjoy some lunch, have a coffee, or walk around the port area and shops- while others prefer to stay overnight or for longer to experience more of the islands. 

Ferry destination options between Greece and Turkey are expected to increase over the next few months, as international visitor numbers start to grow and the weather warms up. 

New Travel Rules For Entering Greece Come Into Effect Today

If you are planning a Greek winter holiday, the country’s Health Ministry has made important changes to Greece’s entry requirements for travellers, which come into effect today Sunday, December 19, 2021.

Beginning at 6 am today, all travellers to Greece are required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours or a laboratory rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of arrival in Greece.

Mina Gaga, Greece’s Deputy Minister of Health, announced in a press conference that the testing requirement will apply to all travellers 5 years old or older, regardless of vaccination status or method of entry to Greece.

Furthermore, travellers eligible to enter Greece, carrying with them proof of recovery from COVID-19, should also now be aware that the validity of their certificates has been shortened in half by the Greek authorities.

The Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority announced that COVID-19 recovery certificates will now be valid for entry into Greece for a shorter period of 90 days instead of 180 as it was previously.

The decision will affect travellers from 43 world countries who haven’t been vaccinated but have so far been eligible to enter with proof of having previously fallen ill, in particular those who were infected with COVID 19 between April 15 and July 15 this year.

These 43 countries are: Australia, Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Bahrain, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Canada, China, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Israel, India, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lebanon, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mexico, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Oman, Qatar, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Korea, Singapore, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Uruguay, and the Vatican.

However, the same can enter Greece if they take a PCR test for COVID-19 in the previous 72 hours before reaching Greece or a rapid test within the 48 hours before.

Please note, travel is open to all Greek islands and around the mainland. Hotels are open, operating with strict government-imposed safety protocols, as are archaeological sites & museums (with reduced capacity). 

Who Can Enter Greece Without Quarantine on Arrival?

If you belong to any of the following, you will not need to quarantine in Greece: Nationals and permanent residents of member states of the European Union & Schengen Area (including their spouses or partners with which they reside and their minor children). Additionally, permanent residents of the following countries do not need to quarantine: Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, Singapore, Rwanda, Israel, the Russian Federation, Serbia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belarus, Bahrain, Qatar, China, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Montenegro, Albania, Japan, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Jordan, Moldova, Brunei and Kosovo.

Current Rules

Outdoor entertainment venues 

  • Restaurants, cafes, bars & clubs are operating up to a maximum of 85% capacity, serving only seated customers and 10 people per table. 
  • Open-air cinemas and live theatre and music shows (for seated guests only) are operating with reduced capacity.

Indoor entertainment venues 

  • Restaurants & cafes, nightclubs, music spaces, theatres and cinemas will require guests to show an official certificate of vaccination (14 days since full vaccination) or recovery (within the last six months and minimum of 30 days since the first positive result). Paper or digital certificates are accepted.
  • Customers must be seated to be served at bars and clubs and under-18-year-olds are required to have carried out a Covid-19 self-test for all indoor venues.
  • The following signage is also being used in indoor restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres to reassure customers of their specific Covid-19 safety levels:

    1.   Covid-free– Catering only to guests able to show an official certificate of full immunity (vaccination or recovery)
    2.   Mixed space– Also admitting unvaccinated individuals with a negative PCR or rapid test, taken within the last 72 or 48 hours respectively.
    3.   Fully vaccinated staff – Indicating that all staff have been inoculated.

Mask Wearing

You will not be required to wear a mask in uncrowded open places. However, you will need to wear a mask in congested outdoor spaces and indoor spaces including public transport, shops, taxis and public utilities, as well as private communal areas including hotels.

Please note that you may find additional, temporary measures in place in some locations, such as a restriction on movement between 1-5 am and music is forbidden in public places. It is best to check with your holiday provider before departure for details of any local or updated measures.

Full details can be found at Travel.gov.gr 

Attica Crowned “World’s Top Seaside Metropolitan Destination 2021”

The title for “World’s Leading Seaside Metropolitan Destination 2021” at the prestigious World Travel Awards went to Greece’s stunning coastal region of Attica.

The region managed to clinch the coveted spot from leading international destinations including Cape Town, Dubai, Maimi, Shanghai, Jakarta and Perth.

Attica is the home of Athens, the epicentre of history and culture, stunning Cape Sounio, endless beaches along the glamorous Athens Riviera and allows easy access to the beautiful islands of the Saronic Gulf. 

This is the second important distinction that Attica received this year, after its accolade by the same institution, in October 2021, as “Europe’s Leading Seaside Metropolitan Destination 2021,” prevailing among destinations such as Barcelona, Venice, Istanbul, Lisbon, Porto and Dubrovnik. 

The top award comes as a result of the regional strategy of strengthening the area of Attica, by using the comparative advantages that make Attica a popular year-round destination.  

Attica received the top distinction, thanks to its award-winning “Eleftherios Venizelos” Airport, the ancient Acropolis, the luxury hotels and accommodation, Blue Flag awarded beaches, the cultural capital of Attica, as a whole, the Athenian Riviera, the impressive yacht marinas, impressive restaurants and wineries, unique combination of sea and land, and cultural experiences that make Attica suitable for tourism in all seasons. 

After receiving the award governor of Attica, George Patoulis said, “We set the bar high for an Attica more friendly to the visitor, more sustainable, more humane. For a Metropolitan Attica that offers visitors options 365 days a year and upgraded thematic tourism experiences.”

The World Travel Awards is a global body that has been rewarding the leading players in the travel industry since 1993. Today, it is internationally recognised as the ultimate travel industry accolade.

Greece and Italy Named Europe’s Best Destinations for 2021

Rich history, authentic cultural traditions, breathtaking landscapes, stunning islands, azure waters, delicious food – with so much in common- it’s easy to see why Greece and Italy are Europe’s leading travel destinations!

Greece, with its resurgent travel and tourism economy, was voted ‘Europe’s Leading Destination’, at the prestigious World Travel Awards, which took place this month. The awards are widely regarded as the “Oscars of the travel industry” and with Greece having a strong summer season (despite the pandemic) proved to be the most desired destination.

Greece’s Tourism Minister, Vassilis Kikilias, announced: “Greece managed the pandemic and followed medical and travel protocols in the best possible way, proving to the world that it is the most beautiful but also the safest destination. This international award for 2021 comes to confirm that when it comes to tourism we are champions in quality and the travel experience.” 

The results followed a year-long search for the world’s top travel, tourism and hospitality brands. Votes were cast by travel industry professionals and the public, with the nominee gaining the most votes in a category named as the winner.

 “Our winners represent the very best of Europe’s travel and tourism sector and my congratulations to each of them. They are all playing starring roles in leading the travel and tourism recovery,” said Graham Cooke, Founder, World Travel Awards.

Italy was a runner-up at these awards, however at the 25th Readers’ Choice Awards (RCA), which were also announced this month, Italy took first place with Greece ranking second on the list of ‘Europe’s Best Overall Destinations’ for 2021.

The annual American Readers’ Choice Awards are organised in the US by Worth Publications and the bi-monthly travel magazine Recommend. The coveted event recognises excellence among destinations, hotels, resorts, travel agents, cruise lines, airlines, and more.

The awards were determined based on the vote of over 135,000 readers, who participated in an online poll during July 8 – August 31, 2021; and are given to countries, travel/tourism agencies, and companies around the world that have established themselves in terms of excellence while attracting the strong interest of the global tourism industry.

Free Entry to Greece’s Museums and Archaeological Sites this Weekend

Entrance to state-run archeological sites, museums, and monuments will be free of charge this weekend September 25-26, to help celebrate European Heritage Days 2021. 

This year’s shared theme of festivities across Europe is “Heritage: All-Inclusive.” And in Greece, there will also be special events highlighting “Train Journey” which is part of the framework of the 2021 European Railway Year, as well as a special focus on Ioannis Kapodistrias- honouring Greece’s first governor after independence from the Ottomans, which is part of a series of events commemorating the bicentennial of the 1821 Greek War of Independence.

Some of the events will be broadcast live this weekend via the social media pages of European Heritage Days Greece on both their Facebook and Instagram.

The European Heritage Days are co-organised by the European Union and the Council of Europe, which launched the action in 1985. It is among the most widely celebrated participatory cultural events in Europe.

During the European Heritage Days each September, thousands of monuments and sites open their doors, some of them normally closed to the public for the rest of the year. This allows people to enjoy free visits, learn about their shared cultural heritage, and become part of safeguarding Europe’s heritage for present and future generations.

Messolongi, One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Wetlands

Just a 3-hour drive from Athens, Messolongi in Western Greece, is a quaint and non-touristy town where visitors can relax by the mesmerising sea lake filled with charming fishermen houses.

Overlooking the beautiful lagoon and striking mountains, it’s the ultimate escape for families, foodies, photographers and those who love fishing, cycling and bird watching. This ideal year-round destination is a place where you can enjoy peace, serenity and an authentic travel experience that’s rich in history, gastronomy and natural beauty. 

Here we share the best things to see and do when visiting Messolongi. 

Insights Greece - Messolongi, One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Wetlands
One of Europe’s most beautiful wetlands

Stunning Lagoon and Wetlands 

The lagoon of Messolongi, the largest wetland complex of Greece, is a natural paradise of islets, dunes, forests, rich flora and fauna. The twin lagoons of Messolongi-Aitolikos, together with the deltas of the Acheloos and Evinos rivers, form one of the Mediterranean’s largest habitats for birds and fish. The Messolongi lagoon is not only one of the most important wetlands in Greece, but all of Europe, as it’s home to hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, reptiles and sea turtles. The lagoon’s calm waters are ideal for kayaking all year long and if you paddle across to the islet of Agios Sostis you may even see flamingos.

Insights Greece - Messolongi, One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Wetlands
Fishing in the lagoon

Bird Watching and Fishing 

More than 300 bird species have been observed in different seasons, lagoons, lakes and other wetlands in the region and the surrounding hills, including 32 of the 38 raptors vultures in Europe, with many of them, nesting either year-round or seasonally around the lake and surrounding mountains, where they find abundant food. The sea lake of Messolongi offers great fishing and bird watching, which is even more special around the farms, where you will find stilts and waders and if you drive along a scenic canal to the beach of Tourlida, you will find a magical spot to throw in a fishing line.

Insights Greece - Messolongi, One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Wetlands
Mesmerising sunset

Swimming and Catching the Sunset

The region is ideal for total relaxation by the beach or in the countryside, with two of the most popular spots being Tourlida and Paliopotamos. And after a nice swim at one of the calm beaches, you can enjoy one of the most spectacular sunsets you’ll ever see in Greece. The best time of the day in Messolongi is late afternoon/early evening where you can watch the sun go down. 

Insights Greece - Messolongi, One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Wetlands
Cycle around town

Hiking and Cycling 

Another popular activity in Messolongi is hiking, with many old footpaths leading to historic monasteries, small villages, secluded beaches and hilltops with breathtaking views; keep in mind, hiking is best enjoyed in autumn and spring when it’s not so warm. Another great way to explore the town is on a bike and you will find most locals pedalling their way around Messolongi, as there are so many pedestrianised roads. Interesting fact: bicycles in Messolongi actually outnumber the 15,000 residents by 3 to 1. 

Insights Greece - Messolongi, One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Wetlands
Garden dedicated to war heroes

Discover History 

Also referred to as the “Holy” city, thanks to the heroic behaviour of its inhabitants during the independence struggle against the Turkish occupiers in the 19th Century, Messolongi was declared a sacred city in 1937. There are many monuments and museums around town highlighting the town’s great contribution to the Greek Revolution including a leafy garden commemorating the heroes of the Greek War of Independence of 1821. Here, you’ll find the tombs of many renowned patriots, as well as that of philhellenic poet Lord Byron, who passed away in Messolongi. Also make sure to visit the Museum of History and Art, in a neoclassical building and the Folklore Museum

Enjoy Local Delicacies 

Messolongi is famous for its fish roe, eels, sun-dried sea-bream, salted fish and quality sea salt. Make sure you try the butterflied grilled grey mullet (petali), grilled or baked eel and shellfish. One of its unique specialities happens to be one of Greece’s most unique Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) food products and is named Bottarga Messolongi, otherwise known as the “Greek caviar”. Made from the eggs of grey flathead mullet, it’s flavourful and described as a combination of salty and spicy. 

Insights Greece - Messolongi, One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Wetlands
Nature at its best

Don’t leave until…

Just minutes away from the Marina lays the best-kept secrets of Messolongi- the natural mud and salt spas. Every season thousands of locals from around the country come here to take a refreshing and healing mineral mud or salt bath. The seawater in the region has increased salinity due to the microclimate of the area and swimming in this water is wonderful for both the skin and body. 

Visiting Knossos, One of Europe’s Largest Archaeological Sites 

Those wanting to discover one of the largest and richest archaeological sites in Europe should add Heraklion- with its ancient treasures, historical riches, and ruins of the grand city of Knossos to their list.

Knossos Palace was once a thriving spot and the capital of Minoan Crete- it is grander and more luxurious than any other palace of its time. 

Insights Greece - Visiting Knossos, One of Europe’s Largest Archaeological Sites 
Minoan Palace

In fact, Knossos Palace is said to be one of the most beautiful ruins in history, making the striking palaces of Knossos and Phaistos Crete’s most famous and visited ancient sites by both local and international visitors who travel here all year round.

Once the imperial seat of the Minoan King, Minos, Knossos is the perfect destination for history buffs who want to discover more about myths like those of the Minotaur; and the artwork and intricate mosaics allow visitors to feel as though they’ve stepped into a magical world. 

History of the Knossos Palace

-The Minoans slowly began settling in the area starting from the Neolithic period, approximately 7000 BC; until the Mycenaean invasion, then the area was used by the Mycenaeans until it was completely abandoned. 

-Human presence on the site is evident for thousands of years, before the construction of the first palace. 

-Knossos is the largest palace in Minoan Crete. It is double the size of Phaistos, Mallia, four times the size of Zakros, and seven times larger than Gournia.

What you will Discover at Knossos 

Insights Greece - Visiting Knossos, One of Europe’s Largest Archaeological Sites 
A room at Knossos

Walking around the historical site, you will discover a massive civilization that was thriving 4,000 years ago. You will come across a drainage system that is so intricate and villas that were luxurious; many houses were five levels. Public and private areas were adorned with ornate frescoes, pottery, and wall paintings; Minoan artwork is so famous that it continues to inspire artists from all over the world.  

As you stroll through, you will also be able to see how the Minoans used three separate water-management systems and you’ll get up close to the Minoan columns- differing from the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian style Greek columns – these columns are narrower at the bottom and wider towards the top.

Facts about Knossos 

-Knossos Palace is huge and sprawling (43,000 square metres).

-The palace had 1,300 rooms connected with corridors around the main courtyard. 

-The archaeological site of Knossos was discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, a Cretan entrepreneur who was fascinated by archaeology.  

-In 1900, English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans led excavations in Knossos, which lasted around 35 years. Evans found that the Palace of Knossos was destroyed and rebuilt at least two times; with the first palace built around 1900 BC and the second palace built after 1700 BC.


Insights Greece - Visiting Knossos, One of Europe’s Largest Archaeological Sites 
Clay pots at the site of Knossos

-If you’re planning a trip to Knossos, it’s a good idea to stay in Heraklion, the capital of Crete. There are many options for accommodation, eating, and a great base to explore other nearby sites.

-To fully understand the history and culture of Knossos and to explore it in detail, it’s best to join a tour with a licensed guide.  

Getting there

From the centre of Heraklion, Knossos is about 5km away, which makes it very convenient to get to by car. The Line 2 bus will take you directly to Knossos, otherwise, you can take a 5-minute taxi ride to the site. Alternatively, if it’s not a hot day and you enjoy walking, it’s about an hour’s walk from the heart of Heraklion.