Greece is not very good at advertising itself in the media, because it is assumed that the world knows all about it anyway. Recently, the destination for a particular visiting American democrat called Barak Obama, Greece is usually associated with stones, myths, sunny islands, and the blue Aegean Sea.
Set in an intimate café, we imagine ourselves – as dreamers often do – enjoying the warm Mediterranean breeze, and watching the sun set, with the sound of Bouzouki music quietly playing in the distance. Well, it is all true, but this is the Greece of the package tour; a forsale advert discretely placed in The Lady Magazine for a holiday home, offering long leisurely summers, and warm winter breaks. But what about the rest of Greece, what happens there? Well that; according to the Greeks, can take care of itself!
The River Evros divides Greece from Turkey, and runs from Bulgaria to the north, where it is called the Maritza. Flowing down to the Aegean Sea, it gradually widens into a delta and a rather unmanageable border area with Greece’s neighbour Turkey.
Famous for its wildlife, it is an ornithological wonder, and a place of pilgrimage for bird watchers worldwide. Protected by the World Wildlife Fund, trippers and tourists pass it by, with little interest – as they drive along the E 85 to Bulgaria or Turkey – ignorant of the fact that they are passing through a National Park, the biggest display of Raptors in Europe, and most of the migrating birds from North Africa and beyond.
Greece has been blighted by illegal immigration in the past, but since the intervention of EU Frontex Police, and the building of a Trump –like fence in the most vulnerable places, these poor unfortunates have given up crossing the River Evros from Turkey, opting for the easier sea bound route from Anatolia to the Greek islands, and Italy. Whilst writing, I think that it is fair to say that; at great cost, Greece has been the European gateway, for most Middle Eastern migrants, and has done more than any EU member state, on behalf of Europe.
Evros is also the name of the county, which borders Bulgaria to the north and to the rest of Greek Macedonia. Called Thrace, it also includes both the island of Thasos and the mystical and hardly known island of Samothraki. Mainly visited by the Greeks themselves, it might account for the few foreign visitors because Greeks are very good at keeping secrets. Especially about Samothraki, which is a mountain bikers and hikers paradise, but with many small hotels, waterfalls and beautiful beaches, it is a wonderful family destination.
Alexandroupolis is the capital of Evros Region, and is a working port for fishermen. With few pleasure craft to clutter up the harbour, it is no surprise that fresh fish is on the menu at the many little café’s and restaurants.
What is good about Alexandroupolis, is that compared to the usual holiday spots in Greece, it is not expensive. Unlike much of Greece, which appears to be presently asleep – the failed economy has made much of the provinces give up – Alexandroupolis is alive and vibrant, with all the well known international shopping haunts and more besides, on offer to visitors.
Alexandroupolis – and the Evros Region – has many good quality and good value hotels. Mainly found in the port area, which up until now have catered solely for Greeks and passing commercial travelers, with B&B starting at about 35 Euros and upwards, it is good value, with most hotels offering family rooms.
The Greeks are a kindly lot, and like children, so it is always a pleasure to stay in these places, where many Bulgarians now go for their summer break. If you want to be a little posher, there is more luxurious accommodation to be found along the coast road towards the little port of Makri, on the way to Komotini. But Evros beaches are wonderful, uncrowded, clean and tidy, and the municipal campsite, is one of the best in the Balkans.
But it is not all fishing and seashells, because the countryside is startling in places, seeming to be as old as the Greek myths and legends themselves. In Makri, you can visit the cave of the Cylops, and in Samothraki you can discover Niki – not a Rolls Royce adornment or expensive trainers – but the real thing. There is also a local airport in Alexandroupolis, with two flights a day to Athens.