Northern Greece a new popular destination for Turks
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
The Greek islands have become popular for Turkish tourists in recent years.The Greek islands in the Aegean have become increasingly popular for the Turks over the past 4-5 years, at least those lucky enough to hold a Schengen visa. Especially last summer; it was nearly impossible to have come across someone who has not been to Mitilini, across Ayvalık or Chios across Çeşme or Kos across Bodrum.
While Turks’ touristic conquest continues via maritime routes, they are also set to discover Greece’s attractions by land as well. Increasing numbers of Turks are opting for bus tours that take them until Thessaloniki; Greece’s second largest city, via Western Trace. Those who are going by their private cars are also on the rise. As it takes between 3 to 4 hours of drive to go to Alexandroupolis, in the border region from Istanbul’s European side, it should not come as a surprise to see lots of cars with Istanbul traffic plates on the Greek high ways, especially during weekends and holidays. To give an example, on the second day of the last Eid al-Adha holiday, Turkish cars outnumbered those of the Greeks in the car park of the Agios Georgios, a sea side restaurant 20 minutes’ drive away from the border city of Alexandropoulis.
So if you are planning to go to Northern Greece especially during holiday times, beware bumping into a lot of Turks as well as high prices at certain places that have become popular among Turkish tourists. Turks are extremely frustrated by the high and at times extravagant wining and dining prices in Istanbul as well as at holiday resorts like Bodrum or Çeşme. There is also disparity between the price and the quality of the food, especially when it comes to seafood. The moderate prices and the quality but as well as diversity of seafood play an important role in the high interest Turks have shown in the Greek islands.
Yet some of the Greek restaurants have become so popular among Turks that certain among them seems to have hiked their prices. The Nisiotiko in Alexandroupolis seems to be one of them. The waiters and even the owner speak Turkish. Yet whereas the internet reviews of Turkish travelers dating two years ago would put the bill at 20 euro maximum per person; we ended eating fish at Bosphorus prices. For a comparison, we later tried two different but unknown restaurants in the city, the food was excellent and the bill never went up for more than 25 euros per person. If you avoid places popular among Turks you can have feasts for relatively modest prices in northern Greece and this is the trajectory I advise:
The advantage of choosing North of Greece is its proximity to especially İstanbul. It is nice and easy ride on a highway until the border. Don’t panic when you see a big queue of trucks that goes on for kilometers. Private cars can use another line and it took us just 15 minutes to cross the border. (Greeks asks for international drivers license and don’t accept Turkish drivers license).
Alexandroupolis, a charming small seaside town, is 40 km from the Greek-Turkish border. If you don’t want to lose a day and don’t mind to drive in the dark, you could even drive to Alexandroupolis from Istanbul at the end of a work day. As Greeks start eating at 10 p.m., you will be on time in the city to enjoy your ouzo; the Greek national drink.
A Greek friend suggested a visit to Dadia Forest, half an hour drive to the north after the border; which could also serve as an alternative stop over. Waking up in a bungalow in the forest could be equally refreshing. If you opt for Alexandropoulos Astir Egnatia is one of the best hotels near the city center. A two weeks early internet booking can land you at prices around 90 euros. Hotel Erica, which is less sophisticated, is another option in the city’s main coastal artery. Both hotels are well known to Turkish tourists. In fact Astir Egnatia seems to have played a role in the popularity of Nisiotiko as well as Agios Georgios were the two restaurants advised by the reception at Astir Egnatia. Yet most of the restaurants on the coast of the city appear to be quite good. We picked Archipelago and Loukoulos by chance and they both proved excellent.
Alexandroupolis have nice beaches around but if it is not summer time; it’s a nice stop over to pass a night and a day at the beginning or the end of your journey. Before heading to the West, to Komotini and Xhanti; you might opt to take a ferry to the island Thasos, after an hour drive from Alexandropoulos. While those who have been there in the summer enjoyed the water, friends who have been during the last Eid holiday ended up happy spending time in the island despite cool whether as they enjoyed the walk and what they defined as breathtaking views.
The old town of Kavala
Of Komotini and Xhanti, both home to Turkish minority in Greece; more time should be spent in the latter. A walk in the old town at the skirt of the mountains is extremely pleasant and it is full of small and extremely cozy coffee shops as well as restaurants. Kavala is just like Xhanti another city you might want to spend a night on your way to Thessaloniki. As a peninsula hosting an old town, Kavala is among the most picturesque cities in Greece. It is especially a tourist destination for Turkish tourists as the city hosts several constructions dating from the Ottoman times. Kavalalı Mehmet Ali Pasha, the governor of Egypt who had rebelled against the Ottomans comes from Kavala. His statue and his house near the castle on the top of the old town are major tourist attractions of the city. The aqueduct built in 1550 by Sultan Suleiman the magnificent are the trademark of Kavala and a listed monument. It is a monumental construction, 52meters high, consisting of 60 arches.
You colud end your tour in Thessaloniki, two hours’ drive away from Kavala and dedicate at least two days to Greece’s second largest city. But there are frequent flights to Thessaloniki which takes an hour 15 minutes from Istanbul, an option that have also been chosen by a lot of Turkish tourists.