The town of Xanthi, up in the north of Greece may just be one of Greece’s best kept secrets. It seems fitting that the town’s history in many ways mirrors the current narrative surrounding the country as a whole. And that’s because Xanthi offers the most readily available blueprint for the cohabitation of different ethnic groups under one roof. With Bulgarians, Armenians, Jews, Turks and the usual mix of Greeks from the Pontus region and as far flung as the Middle East, it’s easy to see how this city developed and prospered.
Xanthi became a major business hub during the middle of the 19th century and continued its growth into the early 30’s of the 20th, in large part due to the fast growing tobacco industry. This you can see in the architecture of the city. With over 1,500 listed buildings of great cultural significance, Xanthi probably holds top spot in that regard.
Walking through its quaint cobbled streets in the old town feels like you’re walking around the setting for a Belle Époque film. Large Neoclassical mansions, old Ottoman houses, mosques and minarets, Macedonian style, eclecticism, western styles and ornamentation and Baroque all mingle with the traditional churches and monasteries in what is likely something that you won’t ever encounter in Greece (ok, maybe Rhodes). The old Town is dreamy. You’d probably need a full day to go around the mesmerizing and elegant mansions of yesteryear, alone. The FEX cultural Center, Kouyioumtzoglou and Karadimoglou Mansions, Municipal Art Gallery and Metropolitan Hall of Xanthi are the pick of the bunch, although an honorable mention has to go to the Multiplex Space of Art, formerly Manos Hatzidakis’s house in his formative years. The multiformity in Xanthi is mind blowing.
The town’s large student contingent means that town is lively all year round. But things really kick off during February, when the Xanthi carnival is in full swing.
The town’s weekly Saturday bazaar is in fact the biggest in Greece and one of the quirkiest.
And as is usually the case in Greece, when admiring man made stuff, the natural beauty inevitably follows. And we’re talking big time. The wetlands around Lake Vistonida and Porto Lagos are a breeding ground and a migratory route for several species of flamingo, storks, pelicans and cormorants.
The serpentine river Nestos offers unique action packed activities such as rafting and/or canoeing/ kayaking through its rapids, while the nearby Rodope mountain range caters to mountain lovers with designated hiking trails among some of the most pristine scenery in Greece. In addition to that, one can experience cycling, off-road driving and horseback riding.
And that’s before we get to the food. The multicultural face of this place ought to be enough to seduce you into trying the awesome comfort food of Northern Greece. In Xanthi it’s all about the meats, cured, seasoned and prepared with an eye to the East. With a sizable Turkish/Muslim minority in the Thrace region, we’re more than confident that you wont ever have a bad meal, which isn’t really saying much considering Greece is a foodie paradise. But hey.
Xanthi won’t be a secret for much longer. The town has so much going for it, that frankly, it almost seems incredible no one has turned the spotlight on it. Yet.