I’m really smitten with the hospitality of the people in northern Greece.
Since spring is not far away, Istanbulites might be planning a short escape for gastronomy and for the pantry. So I’m writing a compact foodie guide to northern Greece for locals and tourists alike, perhaps, Anzac tourists to Canakkale? It will be a shame not to make a trip while in Turkey, considering how easy and pleasant it is.
It is so close, only 3 hours, from Canakkale, and the pleasure and the value for money is far greater than Turkey.
This time I went with a Turkish friend(DE) and her father, and since it was their first time in Greece, I suggested visiting Kavala after Alexandroupoli so that they can experience something different.
So what can foodies do in Alexandroupoli and Kavala? Let’s begin.
Alexandroupoli – Idyllic Little Cosmopolitan
Alexandroupoli is small and easy to navigate, making it perfect for a quick breather with peace and quiet, and food. It’s insanely close from Canakkale so I’ve already made three trips in the last two months.
Being the first large town in eastern Thrace when entering from Turkey, it has unique mixed culture that makes one feel at home. Although there isn’t much to see in terms of history except some sites in nearby villages for natural and archaeological adventurers, it offers a great opportunity for foodies who want to indulge in delicious Greek food and wine.
After taking a walk along the peaceful waterfront and being reminded of the sad past, it’s time to dive into the food scene.
The abundant choice for forbidden meat and alcoholic beverage will make expat foodies go crazy. On my first trip with Mr.O, all we did was walking around tasting at various taverns.
Our first stop is usually Grocery Prince for small tapas and cheese.
It’s tucked away in an alleyway off the main street and has a huge variety of cold cuts and tapas. I love this kind of deli cafes with an open kitchen and eating under hams and sausages hanging on the ceiling.
The staff are so hospitable, and everything is so delicious. Along with food, you can taste some Greek wines or Tsipouro, which is a distilled spirit produced from the leftovers from the wine press after making wine. It goes by Raki or Rakia in Balkan countries and it’s like ouzo or raki without anise flavour and added sugar.
Most restaurants are along the waterfront and, if you visit on New Year’s Eve as we did, you will enjoy the festive atmosphere with free BBQs outside shops and bars! Yes, it’s FREE!
I’ve tried quite a few restaurants and on my last trip, I went to the same place, which I thought was good. Restaurant choice is subjective and all locals we’d asked recommended Nisiotiko and Loukoulos. When it comes to Greek taverns, I prefer more rustic ambience and both are a bit too modern for me. However, I was still curious about Nisiotiko and went with my in-laws but it was closed on New Year’s Day. Oh well, another time.
So Where To Eat and Drink?
Try ΜΑΣΑ ΣΟΥΡΑ(Masa Soura). It’s a small tavern where I didn’t see any tourists on both occasions. Their lack of English might frustrate you but they are pretty laid-back and friendly, and the food is decent and good value. We got 4 octopus legs and had to give away one to a cat!
Anestis Tavern is also a very local place using only seasonal and fresh produce. Their menu is limited but everything was fresh and delicious, especially stingray soup.
I didn’t like Gialos Seafood Tavern next to it and it turned out to be an overrated tourist trap with over 200 reviews. All their produce is frozen and the staff weren’t friendly, so please avoid it. We also dined at Thea Thalassa located at the nearby beach but it was on NYE, which was a huge mistake.
You wouldn’t consider Alexandroupoli as a wine city but there are a couple of hidden gems for wine lovers.
Thema is a trendy cafe and wine bar where you can taste wines from the Enomatic and pick what you like and sit back with a full glass. Or you can choose from their excellent wine list and drink at the hidden backroom.
If you want to pick up some wines to take home, there are two places, one is a wine shop a few shops to the right from Drunk Sinatra, and another across from Kellari Pro. The former stocks some rare wines, and the staff are helpful and knowledgeable.
By the way, they hold an annual wine festival called ‘Umami Festival‘ and if you’re a wine lover, it’s worth a look. The date for the festival has been announced and it’ll be April 21 and 22.
Kavala – Beautiful Vibrant Old City
It takes only 2 hours by bus from Alexandroupoli. If you have enough time, I suggest renting a car and driving so that you can visit some wineries such as Ktima Vourvoukeli and Domaine Costa Lazaridis.
Entering a city couldn’t be more dramatic than this! The ‘Old City’ perched on the hilltop came into sight from a distance, reminding me of Amafi Coast, and our bus passed under the impressive medieval aqueduct. WOW!
The aqueduct, presumably of Roman origin, was built in its present form by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and was used until 1950s.
Since the forecast predicted rain later in the day, we decided to do the castle first. When we were walking up, a lady with a sweet accent talked to us, “Are you Turkish?”
She turned out to be the second generation of those who live with the scarred memories of the ‘population exchange’. She explained about the old city as well as her own family with limited Turkish she’d learned from her parents as we walked up the steep street.
She sang us a Turkish lullaby she used to sing with her parents when making pide, Turkish pizza.
She lives near the castle and walks up and down everyday. No wonder she’s so slim and healthy! Her house was as sweet as her. We said our thanks and goodbyes and walked on to the castle.
Breathtaking view of the ‘New City’ and the ‘Old City’!
You can see the major points of interest on the left including Hali Bey Complex and Muhammad Ali’s house, etc.
While descending from the other side, through the peaceful charming street full of old buildings, I imagined myself living here.
This is the monument of Muhammad Ali Pasha, who was an Ottoman military leader and the founder of modern Egypt. Egyptian King was born in Kavala and he had 95 children?!
Next comes the famous Imaret, a Koranic school-turned-hotel, but we didn’t go inside for a tour; we have enough of the sort in Turkey so DE and her father were more excited by churches.
The famous Kavala almond cookies, brought to Greece by the refugees from Cappadocia, are a local speciality so don’t miss it!
Where To Eat and Drink?
Now, down at the harbour, it was time to eat but it was my first time and I hadn’t done any research for restaurants. So I tried asking random people on the street, but it was hard to find anyone because it was ‘siesta time’ again.
Finally I spotted a young couple and got some recommendations. Despite the seemingly touristic appearance, we gave Orea Mitilini a try after assuring google reviews we briefly checked with public Wifi.
But it turned out to be a disaster. Please AVOID it by all means. Sometimes even locals cannot be trusted. Lesson learned again: don’t trust online reviews; trust your instinct.
It’s apparently a place where package tourists eat and they don’t accept credit cards. How dare you call it ‘cheese saganaki’? The cheese hardly saw a frying pan!
Only the mussel risotto was edible of all, and there was no red wine on the menu!
Now we had about 4 hours before catching the bus back to Turkey, and we went to a supermarket to buy ‘important things’ to take back home.
This time, I got lost in front of the wine shelves. I couldn’t find any wines I hadn’t tried!
So I excused myself and went to a wine shop that I’d spotted earlier near the aqueduct. It didn’t have a huge range but I managed to dig out some rare wines, which I’ll reveal soon.
With our bags heavy with goodies and the sky threatening to rain, we decided to stay close to the aqueduct where we were supposed to hop on the bus back home.
Sandwiched between big loud trendy bars was this cozy place charmingly decorated with brick walls and paintings.
We loved the ambience and music there, and the staff were super friendly, so even though they didn’t have a big wine list, we settled in as if it were our own living room, bags and coats scattered over seats and tables.
Our pick was one of the regional star winemakers, Biblia Chora. It’s a blend of CS, M, and 10% Agiorgitiko. It was a full-bodied wine with flavours of ripe fruit, subtle spices and chocolate and silky tannins. The bottle we had was a bit too young but I could imagine how nicely it’d age.
This lovely cheese platter, made up of cheeses from different regions of Greece, was brought to our table as a surprise, and then later, cocktail shots. All for free! How generous and lovely the people are!
We had only 10 hours to spend in Kavala this time but I’ll definitely go back to explore the charming small streets and hop over to Thasos, which my in-laws and friends rave about.
How to Get There?
From Istanbul, Kamil Koç and Metro Turizm depart twice a day (10am/10pm) and I prefer Kamil Koc, which operates with Greek company, therefore more reliable, and has a shuttle service but Metro is a lot cheaper.
The bus goes all the way to Thessaloniki, so you can stop by one of the cities on your journey, but make sure you buy a return ticket from Turkey, which is a lot cheaper.
From Canakkale, you take the bus from Kesan and you can even return on the same day with the late night bus because it takes only 1 hour to Alexandroupoli!
If you travel to Kavala with an open ticket, you can issue your ticket at Kavala Tours.