Our route took us through northeastern Greece in the ‘high season’ of August. We entered via the Bulgaria-Greece border and cycled the perimeter of Thassos island, before heading east to the Turkish border. Greece is a prime location for cycle touring; our only regret is that we didn’t have longer here.
We absolutely loved cycling in Greece. The undulating terrain can be challenging, particularly in the summer heat, however the scenery makes up for it. The food is unquestionably the best we have had and the people are very friendly. We also visited Thassos island to cycle the perimeter in August, which we’d highly recommend (but maybe not in high season…). Drinking the tap water absolutely fine, filling up at campsites and from readily-available taps. Accommodation is of course more expensive in summer. Wild camping is now illegal after the devastating wild fires and more difficult in high season. Legitimate campsites during peak season ranged from €18-23 for two people with a small tent. Like anywhere where wild camping is illegal, if you’re discreet and do not light fires, then you shouldn’t encounter any problems.
Having reduced our bike loads back in Bulgaria, we rolled down into Greece with a new-found lightness. The road that led the way after the border crossing was in perfect condition, although after a rather an unexpectedly wet few weeks in Bulgaria, the heat with little shade really hit us. The first stop we made was to a shady petrol station where we devoured ice cold cans of sugary drinks.
Now well-accustomed to the hills after Bulgaria, the undulating roads were a great introduction to the country. The winding descent via the E057 through Prosotsani was stunning, taking us down into Drama. Whilst Matt has been on family holidays to Greece in the past, this was my first time here and I was already in love.
We navigated our way through the city of Drama to the house of our Warmshowers host for the night. We arrived at the same as our host Kostis, who jumped off his bike to greet us outside of his beautiful home - a 1920s Greek idillic villa. Kostis had to go back to work at his bike shop for the afternoon, so we went for some Greek food in the modest ‘taverne’ opposite that he had recommended.
There was no menu at the taverna but luckily Kostis told us that we had to try the souvlaki, which we did along with a few other plates (not forgetting of course tzatziki, Matts favourite). We thought we had ordered two ‘local’ beers but what showed up was a bottle of 40% local liquor. I think asking for something local got lost in translation - but it was our first night in Greece so we did the right thing and we finished the liquor. We also devoured the food - I mean, we didn’t utter a word to one another during the five minutes it took for us to clear the plates. It was the most delicious food I have ever eaten, topped off by free dessert - apparently is custom in Greece, as we were gratefully informed by Kostis! I had found my spirit country.
We caught a festival with Kostis in the evening before being taken on the most in-depth night-time city tour by him and his friend Yannis. Their knowledge of the place was incredible and it made me embarrassed realising I know very little about my hometown. We finally got into bed at 1:30am - after hearing about the incredible story of Kostis’ grandma and how she had come to own this wonderful home. Despite being offered to stay another night, we were excited to see the coast for the first time since leaving the UK, so we decided to head off the next morning. On the recommendation of our new friends in Bansko, we cycled first to Kirindes Mud Baths for a mud cleanse. The male and female baths are separate, so Matt and I spent the hour alone with our fellow sex - mostly 60+ Greek men and women. As I was washing the mud off in the communal showers at the end, a elderly lady sneezed enthusiastically, which had the whole room in fits of laughter. She proceeded to sneeze again and again which increased enthusiasm - fully owning her moment - and the roar of laughter increased. It was infectious and I found myself laughing butt-naked along with this group of women.
Later on, we pedalled on to Kavala where we saw the sea for the first time in nine weeks! Kavala is a pretty city in northern Greece with steep narrow roads. We located the nearest beach and took our first swim in the ocean. The beach was on a daily busy road, and as wild camping is illegal, we decided to play it safe and cycle to the nearest campsite - Camping Alexandros around the headland in Nea Karvali. It turned out to be a stunning spot with its own beach where we enjoyed a beer as the sun set.
You can’t go to Greece and not visit an island - so the next day we cycled to Kerimoti and got the popular ferry to Thassos island. We arrived and started the winding ascent up to Golden Beach. The road was busy with cars making their way up from the port, and it was much further than I had anticipated. Matt was way ahead of me and I ran out of water pretty quickly. I stopped every few minutes under a tree and pleaded (inside my head) for a truck to offer me a lift. Of course no-one did, they only beeped at me in support. I eventually made it to the top and we enjoyed an all-too-quick descent into Golden Beach. The campsite here was heaving - I am not exaggerating when I say it was like Glastonbury Festival. We later learned that our visit coincided with the 10-day Greek summer holiday, hence way more people.
In the evening we strolled up to the hotel owned by relatives of the family - Hotel Dionysos. It is located on the cliff with stunning views of Golden Beach below. We had a delicious meal with lots of fresh fish and chatted with Stella and Cath who gave us great recommendations for places to see. The next morning we headed back up to the hotel for the best buffet breakfast, before carrying on our cycle tour of the island.
After indulging in more beach time, we rested at a campsite in the south. The next morning we cycled the short distance to Metalia Beach on the south-western coast. This place is like a mini Ibiza - white sandy beach, deck chairs with palm leaf umbrellas and ‘chill out’ music coming from a big cafe speaker. The beach is named after a redundant foundry and you can walk through the ruins down onto the beach.
We planned to wait it out until everyone had left and then camp here for our last night on the island, but there was no water tap. Instead we reluctantly cycled 25km in the evening to a campsite on the western coast, close to the ferry port in Prinos. We left early the next morning to catch the 7:15 ferry back to Kerimoti. We paid our bill and cycled off, only to be chased by a honking car five minutes later. It was the campsite receptionist speeding to catch us with my passport that he’d forgotten to return to us! We realise how lucky we were here.
After three days cycling the circumference of the island, we highly recommend it. The roads are in perfect condition, the scenery is sublime with many panoramic viewpoints and of course, the beaches are beautiful.
Back on the mainland we cycled 65km to a campsite on the beach in Mandara by the sea, where we are kindly given plates of barbecued food and beer from our Greek neighbours. The next day we continued around the coast in the direction of Turkey, passing many glorious (much quieter) beaches. Be aware that there are very few ATMs around this stretch of coast, unless you're willing to take a 30km detour into a larger town.
Determined to wild camp at least once in Greece, we headed in the direction of a remote looking area that Matt had earmarked (NB: this usually consists of a quick search on Google Maps for a path that ‘leads to nowhere’ and usually ends up hopeless, but I humour him anyway). Sure enough, this earmarked spot was at the end of a 3km ‘gravel’ track, only really possible by 4x4. Our touring bikes and 35-inch tyres barely made it but I will reluctantly admit it was worth the effort. There was a small secluded beach accessible by ‘steps’ carved into the rock by past beachgoers. We enjoyed a much-deserved dip before making dinner back at the top and covertly setting up camp in a clearing amongst some bushes.
The next morning we had to retrace our bumpy tracks along the gravel road, before climbing up into the picturesque village of Maroneia. We gorged on fresh croissants filled with oozing chocolate, before carrying on the climb through a winding road with views of the open countryside, spilling onto the coast line. A road cyclist whizzed past us and handed Matt a mini banana pulled from his jersey.
After a rolling descent through the mountainous Petrota, we pulled in for a break and a weathered man sitting under a timber hut beckoned us over for coffee. We politely accepted and took a seat whilst waiting for him as he clattered about inside. He eventually brought out a can of coffee granules, packets of milk, sugar, two cups and two straws. This was shortly followed by a shaker and two bottles of cold water. We came to understand that we were to mix the granules with the cold water, give it a shake and pour into the cups, adding sugar and milk as desired. We have never had coffee like this before - made with cold water and sipped through a straw - but I guess it did the job. He introduced himself as Nico and we made conversation through broken English as we stared out at Samifraki island. We thanked him for the coffee and continued along a steep dirt road through a number of small villages towards Alexandroupoli.
Another road cyclist - Christos - came to our aid to fend off a pack of angry dogs. We thanked him, chatted as cars beeped behind us, and took a selfie before he headed off up the hill. We soon arrived in Alexandroupoli for our last night in Greece. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best goodbye from our new favourite country. The pitch was littered with plastic bottles and we were kept awake until 4am by our loud neighbours. The next morning, with somewhat heavy hearts and somewhat heavy bikes ladened with tubs of tzatziki, we headed for the Turkish border. Asia awaited. B
Current Stats (as of 09.09):
Total days on road: 98
Total rest days: 19
Total distance completed: 5,537 Km
Best Greek food: Tiropita, souvlaki