Explore an Laidback Emerald Island in Greece: Thassos
CONTRIBUTED BY MICHELLE W.
Do you ever dream of swimming, snorkeling or scuba diving in crystal clear warm waters while on vacation? Would you like to visit Greek ruins nestled close by? Do you have a weakness for delicious seafood? Do you love friendly and warm hospitality? Rest assured, Thassos can make this exact dream a reality!
One day while scouring the airfares for a summer vacation, I found a very inexpensive plane ticket to Thessaloniki, Greece. Since our family leans more towards “destinations unknown” or lesser-known destinations—we decided to go for it and booked it right away!
From Karlsruhe Baden Baden airport, the flight to the Macedonian capital was a little over four hours. We rented a car and drove to Keramoti to board a ferry for 40 minutes and short 10 kilometers to Thassos. It was quite easy to purchase the tickets as we drove up to the ferry dock and then were guided onto the boat.
Thassos is the largest island in the northern Aegean Sea surrounded by crystal clear blue and emerald colored water. We chose to make our home base in Limenaria, a larger town in the southern part of the island. Limenaria is in close proximity to many highly recommended beaches by car and has all the necessities.
My husband is a scuba diver so this trip was planned for his enjoyment. I found two scuba shops that offered open dives so we went with one in Potos, a neighboring town for our first day. The other, we happened to stumble upon while lounging at our favorite beach, Psili Ammos in the town of Astris.
My kids and I were delighted to wait by the shore during his dives, lounging underneath beautifully crafted umbrellas. We had our snorkeling gear and we swam out to see what we could find. The most memorable find for my children was a gorgeous yellow starfish. We saw lots of sea urchins along the rocks and different sized fish.
Every beach we visited was like a beautifully wrapped present that we were excited to tear into. Beaches along the southern end towards the eastern shores range from pebbled to powder soft sand. We visited Pefkari, Astris, Paradise Beach, Potos and Limenaria. Each one had an attribute we were fond of.
I have to say, the one we absolutely fell in love with is in Astris, Psili Ammos. Powder soft sand and when we swam out aways and looked underwater, there was maybe a tiny rock or two but nothing but sand! We saw smaller fish but essentially you had a clean beach with absolute no worries.
After a few days of swimming at the beach, we wanted to “amp up” a day trip before returning to the beach. I decided to visit a gorgeous deep emerald natural pool near Astris. Giola is situated at the bottom of a very steep rocky mountain where the waves slam into the base of the pool. I actually saw a photo online about a year earlier describing a place you must see before you die. It was a perfect choice to test our courage by jumping from ledges around the pool. The highest point around the natural pool was a max height of 8 meters.
If you want to go to Giola, there is a tiny sign for Giola that you can easily miss if you weren’t specifically looking for it as you drive the main highway around the island. You have to drive down a dirt road for almost 2 kilometers then park at the top of this mountain.
Tip: Bring your sunscreen, hat and beach towels if you plan to visit Giola. There aren’t any lockers to store your belongings and no lifeguards. This is definitely a play AT-YOUR-OWN-RISK attraction.
We stood for a few minutes to gawk at all the daredevils jumping from the highest point into the pool and watched in horror as the pounding waves practically whisk people exiting the pool, back in. We determined our strategy and which ledge to jump from. All of us jumped in even my 4 year old!
Once in, he didn’t want to get out. The natural exit (no ladder) is a very sharp rock you must hoist yourself out of. You must time your exit with the constant slew of gigantic waves and quickly move to the right or left before it hits. Definitely makes your heart pound but we survived. My husband was not so lucky and he wasn’t watching the incoming wave that slams into him. He slips on the rock, causing some deep gashes in his shin and feet. His injury wasn’t the first as we look down and we see others had the same fate.
We were famished and preceded to find a public beach. Practically every beach we went to had a full service family run restaurant, beach bar(s) and/or beach lounging rentals. Although we don’t speak Greek, every single person we encountered spoke excellent English. They would greet us in different languages and when they saw us perk up to English, they’d continue their greetings in English. We tried a different local dish every time we went out to eat.
My favorite was Moussaka, a mouth-watering, flavorful eggplant and potato dish topped with milk based sauce (similar to mashed potatoes consistency) served hot. I’ve had Moussaka throughout the entire mainland of Greece and it’s definitely the best in northern Greece. My son loves seafood and his go-to dish was fried octopus and if you ask him what he loved trying on Thassos, he’ll say quickly, a fish soup for lunch. My daughter is a bit picky when it comes to food but she’d find dishes with honey and cheese on the menu, she was delighted.
Our goal is to always try local foods and drinks. Thassos is well known for their honey, wine and olive oil. Honey is abundant and as we drove around the island, there were numerous roadside stands selling jars and sweets with Thassian honey.
Tip: In northern Greece, credit cards aren’t predominately used like in Germany or the states. Best advice is to stop by an ATM and take out Euros. Cash is widely urged since the cost to use a credit card by a merchant is extremely high. Same applies for practically all gas stations. If you find a gas station that accepts a credit card, rejoice!
Our last day on Thassos, we decided to visit the Archaeological Museum of Thassos. Located in Limenas, the capital of the Island, it’s also the ferry location to/from Keramoti. This museum houses many statues inside and out in the courtyard from ancient local collections throughout the 7th century BC to 7th century AD. Walking through the museum doors, you’ll be stunned with a 3.5-meter tall limestone statue of Kouros. Across the street from the museum are ruins that are scattered through a vast field.
Historical attractions can be boring for some but for my kids, the visit to this area was so much fun. Just playing hide and seek, they found many interesting ruins that I would have never found on my own. If we had more time, the museum has a children’s program to make their visit more entertaining while learning ancient Greek history.
There could be a lot more that I could write about if I had more time to explore. I had list of attractions and boating excursions including a 4×4 trek to the tallest peak on the island but we enjoyed the beach so much, we decided to plant ourselves in the sand for 5 days. Thassos has everything you could possibly ask for and I highly recommend this lesser known island in Greece.
Tips for Your Trip:
Highly recommend this Scuba dive shop in Astris: Popey Diving Center