Resort Report for our holiday in Nostos Studios, Golden Beach, Thassos, Greece, July 2003.
A reasonably cheap holiday from Thomsons. We decided to try the Aegean in early July to avoid the meltemi, and to go as north as possible to avoid the worst of the July heat. We succeeded in meltemi-dodging, but on arrival at the resort the rep told us that the thermometer had been reading 42°C!
An early start for an uneventful three-hour Britannia flight from Gatwick to Kavala Airport on the Greek mainland 100km east of Thessaloniki, where we piled onto a coach for a 20-minute journey to the nearby harbour of Keramoti, to catch the 45 minute ferry ride over to Thassos Island. Onto another coach for a 15 minute transfer to Golden Beach, with some rather scary hairpin bends as you descend into the resort - who'd be a Greek coach driver?!
This beautiful circular island is only a dozen kilometers off shore, and only fifteen km across. The mountainous slopes (rising to Mount Ipsarion, 1204m) are noticeably more green than most other Aegean islands. This is because the island gets a lot of snow in winter, which charges up the limestone terrain with masses of groundwater. There are streams flowing healthily with cold fresh clean water all year round - most unusual for Greek islands. The spring water is bottled for export.
Thassos is a popular holiday spot for northern Greeks from the mainland.
The island was badly damaged by fire twice in the last fifteen years, but has recovered well - there is now no sign of the devastation apart from the wide fire-breaks that have been cut through the wooded hillsides.
Some reviewers claim that some years there are a lot of wasps - there were none in mid 2003 when we went. Mozzies were the usual problem though - we took a plug-in anti-mozzie device for the room, which worked well.
The weather was hot and sunny - only one 30-minute shower of rain in the entire fortnight. The apartments were hot at night too - we didn't need sheets over us at night (or jim-jams), even with the patio door open all night. Fortunately we didn't suffer from mosquitoes at night, but still got bitten regularly at some of the tavernas in the early evenings. No meltemi was a blessing.
Once or twice during the first few days there were some katabatic gusts of wind on the beach which covered us with sand, but usually there was a gentle on-shore breeze during the hottest part of the day. We had to dance across the sand, it was so hot. One or two days there was no breeze at all, and the beach was then almost unbearably hot. The sea was pleasantly cool to rush into on these days. Generally the sea was flat calm, but several days there were good big waves to play around in.
At night, we walked around in shorts and t-shirt, but occasionally we dressed up a bit just to feel less slovenly.....
Round the Island
We hired a Suzuki Jimny jeep from Susan in Potos Car Rentals in the village for €135 for 3 days. This was a real pleasure to drive, with power-assisted steering, electric windows and many other fittings not found on some of the jeeps I've driven. It made bouncing up some of the dirt tracks in the interior a real breeze. We covered practically every road on the island in this vehicle. We drove up a good track right to the very top of Mount Ipsarion (where there is a huge air-traffic control radar installation), with stunning views all over the island. On the way up we passed through the mountain village of Maries, with one or two quaint tavernas.
Coming down from the summit, we headed off for Theologos, getting hopelessly lost on a series of increasingly rutted and stony tracks in the interior. As usual, the Greek road maps were of little use. Although it's only a small island it can take a surprisingly long time to traverse it when you're only doing 5mph on winding mountain tracks. Eventually we found our way down into Theologos where we had a delightful mid-afternoon snack and a drink in a shady taverna where the owners had clearly gone off for their siesta. Our waiters were several anxious-to-please 10 year old boys.
We also bounced our way 10km up a rough track to the mountain village of Kastro, where the taverna owner, resplendent in his uniform of, well, shorts, regaled us with stories about the village. It was abandoned years ago - nobody lives there now - they all live in Limenaria down by the coast, but even so, people are still building brand-new houses up in Kastro which are only occupied once a year on the Saint's day in January. The taverna owner (who showed us around the beautifully-decorated church) shuts up shop when us tourists climb back into our 4WDs, and follows us back down the road to Limenaria. He also flogged us some olive oil which he said came from his own olive trees.....
We drove up a tarmac road into the quaint mountain village of Megalos Prinos (or Megalo Kazaviti). The central cobbled square has two tavernas set under huge shady plane trees, with several steep cobbled donkey tracks leading you further up the hill where steeply-ranked often dilapidated houses huddle around the church.
Skala Prinos is a port with a Monday-morning flea market, and a small boat-yard on the beach where traditional wooden fishing boats are made.
We handed back our excellent Jimny and for the rest of our stay hired a cheaper Fiat Punto (€198 for 9 days - about £15 per day), which was nowhere near as nice, not having power-assisted steering.
One night we took a taxi (€5) up to the village of Panagia, just a few km up the mountainside from Golden Beach. Panagia is well worth a visit - a traditional Greek town, built centuries ago up away from the sea, out of sight of marauding pirates. Cool clear fresh water wells up from springs near the church at the top of the town, and rushes down through attractively designed pools and gulleys to the rest of the town. The square in the middle is organised chaos - the main road winds through it, and several busy tavernas and bars vie for business. Panagia has the nearest pharmacy to Golden Beach - useful for topping up with cheap over-the-counter antibiotics (I'm prone to ear infections when diving).
Golden Beach, or Chrissi Ammoudia, is a relatively new development on the east side of the island. It lies at the northern end of the eponymous gorgeous five km stretch of soft sand, with the slightly brasher sister resort of Skala Potamia at the southern end. There are four supermarkets, a dozen tavernas, a large camp-site, a small traditional old Greek chapel with stone roof, a taxi-rank, a couple of bars and two car hire places. The buildings are well spread out to avoid any impresssion of overcrowding. There are obviously plans to develop the resort - roads are being laid out, including a pedestrian walkway right through the middle of the resort behind the beach, and there are clear signs that infill will soon start to make the place look more like Skala Potamia down the road.
For now, it's quiet and laid back. The shopkeepers and waiters are relaxed and extremely friendly, always ready to stop for a chat in excellent English (and German, and Italian....). That's one of the reasons we like quiet Greek resorts - the people you meet are locals from this or the next village, and they are so very friendly. The shops and tavernas and accommodation blocks are owned and staffed by locals, so you know your tourist euros are going straight into the local economy. We always feel instantly at home in Greece.
Good GSM mobile phone reception from Panafon.
These Golden Beach tavernas seem to change their names and reinvent themselves regularly.
Finikas: Near the camp-site. Crowded, reasonable food, but the pork souvlaki was a bit tough.
Vigli: Up a long flight of steps near the harbour at the end of the beach. Good views out over the bay (from the right seats). Often live music, with traditional Greek dancing on Saturday nights. Variable food - good stifado, meatballs not very spicy, calamari a bit tough. Occasional free brandy. Quite expensive.
Aglakia: Near the bottom of Vigli's steps. Good food, very friendly, cheap (meal for two with wine €19), nice stuffed tomatoes and peppers, free ouzo to start and chocolate dessert. Troubled by mozzies at one end.
Fedra: Too noisy - football always displayed on big screen and also projected onto the back wall. Strident chef bellowing orders at the top of her voice in the kitchen all evening. Food was average, and expensive. Tiny swordfish portion, free sticky toffee pud. On the "decking" near the beach we were badly bitten by mozzies as the sun went down. Not impressed. Used by Thomson for their Welcome meetings.
Sotiris: One of our favourite tavernas. Good food, well-cooked, big portions, cheap. Free ouzo to start and ice cream dessert. Very popular, especially with Greeks - always a good sign.
Akrogiali: Reasonable food, reasonable prices. Swordfish smelt a bit iffy. Free dessert. Chatty waiters. Often completely empty - don't know why.
Pefki: Attractive setting along the beach under some huge trees. Good food, slightly expensive, but another of our favourite places to eat. Free walnut cake dessert.
Cocktail bar next to Akrogiali: Can't remember the name. Good selection of cocktails (at cocktail-bar prices....).
There is a worrying development in Greek tourist food. It used to be that you had chips with everything. Souvlaki and chips, xifias and chips, and so on. That was fine - order a Greek Salad to go with it, and you have the perfect traditional Greek holiday meal. They've now taken to providing chips and potatoes and rice. Too much carbohydrate. They also give you a spoonful of frozen mixed vegetables, and perhaps a dollop of tzatziki on your main course.
And what have they done with the humble Greek Salad? For years, we've had fantastic horiatiki with practically every meal, and it's always been sliced tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cucumber, feta cheese, olives, all covered in oregano, thyme and olive oil. Yum. Here on Thassos we searched in vain for the green peppers, and instead found bizarre ingredients such as beetroot (at Sotiris), or even a huge dollop of coleslaw dumped on top of it (Fedra). The idiot waiter in Fedra tried to tell us that coleslaw was "the way we do it in Thassos", despite the fact that none of the other tavernas followed this bizarre behaviour.
Taverna owners: Please, cut the carbohydrate back to just one portion - chips or rice. No frozen mixed vegetables. If I want tzatziki, I'll have a plate of it for starters, not on my main course. No coleslaw or beetroot in the horiatiki, please. And give us back our green peppers.
Our accommodation was set in delightful well-laid out gardens (which are watered all day by George the owner). The lawn is studded with olive trees, grape vines, and lots of flower beds and shrubs with beautiful flowers. Our room, number 8, was on the top floor (of three, but the basement, half-underground, was not used for accommodation) with a good view from the spacious south-east-facing balcony towards the sea in front, and over to the right the green mountainous slopes of Mount Ipsarion rising to sheer bare rock cliffs near the summit. A reasonable-sized, clean and well-decorated studio, with one double and one single bed, a good big built-in wardrobe with plenty of hanging, shelf and drawer space, a dressing table in one corner. A large uPVC patio door onto the balcony, with a table and two chairs on which to relax with a drink as the sun sets.....
The compact kitchen area has two electric rings, with a fridge under and cooker hood with extractor fan over. Good cupboard space in the kitchen, and well equipped with electric kettle, toaster, and the usual minimal set of cutlery, glassware, crockery, pots and pans.
The small bathroom has a washbasin, WC and shower tray, and has a couple of shelves for your toiletries. As usual, hot water was in scarce supply after 7pm.
I gained the impression from the Thomson brochure that the studios were out of the way - situated in a quiet area at the back of the resort miles from anywhere else. The brochure uses phrases such as "peaceful...in rural Greece...away from it all". While this is partly true (they are several hundred meters away from the beach and the centre of the resort), they are in fact right on the main road into the resort, and therefore there is a regular to-ing and fro-ing of traffic going past. To be fair, this didn't keep us awake.
Overall, very good apartments - the owner was proud of having received awards from Thomson for the last three years naming his property the best in all Greece. The extractor fan in the bathroom died with a bang one morning - we mentioned this to the owner on our way out to the beach, and it had been replaced by the time we arrived back. Maid service every day, linen changed twice a week. The towels were adequate. The sun shone on the balcony every morning, making breakfast a hot affair, but the sun dropped behind Mount Ipsarion in the early evening, so the balcony was cool for cocktails in the early evening.
If you walk out of the centre of the resort along the Golden Beach, with plenty of sunbeds and beach umbrellas for hire along the marvellous sandy strip, past the camp site, you eventually leave the buildings and sun-worshippers behind, and there are dunes and shrubs behind the beach. The beach eventually becomes increasingly stony. After a couple of km you come across developments again as you near the sandy beach at Skala Potamia.
Aliki Beach is often stated to be the most scenic beach on the island. You actually get two beaches for the price of one - they are back-to-back on either side of a narrow promontory leading out to a peninsula which is rich in archaeology. The beaches got quite crowded - there were several coaches and scores of cars parked along either side of the road past the beach, and several excursion boats from Thassos Town moored off the beach.
We didn't actually visit Tripiti Beach, but from the road it looked quite attractive - a long curved sandy stretch.
We mainly went to Paradise Beach, 20 minutes drive south of Golden Beach. This is a truly magnificent beach, reached down a steep dirt track from the main road. A kilometer of glorious soft sand, with sea-grass and shrubs behind it, and a taverna at one end, set in a huge bowl of mountain-side. As you wade out into the cool sea, there is nothing but sand underfoot. It's also quite shallow - you have to walk out 100m to get out of your depth. You can get an all-over tan at the end of the beach away from the taverna. Plenty of sun-beds and umbrellas for hire. The beach got quite crowded at times, and the occasional loud music from the taverna wasn't welcome.
One of the most pleasant stays we've had in Greece. A scenic island, with lots to explore. Great beaches, good accommodation, pleasant resort, friendly people, good selection of tavernas.
We'd definitely go back. Sounds like April would be a good time to go for springtime walks in the mountains.
One tip: Lots of mozzies in the check-in area at Kavala Airport on the way home - take insect repellent.