Lara Dunston & Terry Carter in Greece travel blog

Haldiki peninsula

Seaside 'Luna Park' at Alexandroupolis

Edessa waterfalls

Edessa church

Wildflowers in bloom

Varosi


While catching buses and trains can be great - you can read entire novels or watch the scenery pass by without the worry of translating road signs - nothing compares to having your own wheels, and the extraordinary feeling of freedom they give you. There is a sense of spontaneity not possible when somebody else is in control.

We really feel that sense of exhilaration in Greece more so than in other places we've driven, and we've driven everywhere, from the crazy streets of Beirut to the pot-holed roads of country Bulgaria. Wherever you are, it's about the thrill of the journey itself. Even when it's as monotonous as hell, there's always something interesting to punctuate the boredom, whether it's the sudden appearance of a donkey on a Moroccan highway being dragged along by its Berber owner with a mountain of cargo upon his back, or an elderly couple in traditional dress on a horse-pulled cart laden with hay on the back roads of Bulgaria.

Greek road trips are particularly special thanks to the country's spectacular natural scenery and beauty. From Mt Olympia, we passed through Thessaloniki and spent the day driving around the three-pronged Haldiki peninsula, focussing our explorations on the Sithonian peninsula, the one best suited to independent travellers. There are small, secluded white-sand beaches protected by cypress, pine and olive groves (perfect for lazy book-reading summers) and majestic pine-covered mountains. It's wonderfully quiet this time of year. You'll see the odd hire car on the road, but very few tourists. During the height of summer in July and August it's crowded with families from Thessaloniki who have holiday homes here.

After a couple more days doing research in Thessaloniki we took to the road again in the direction of Alexandroupolis, the last large Greek town before the Turkish border, and a popular overnight stop for travellers heading on to Turkey. While there aren't any major sights to see, it's a laidback town, with a large population of students and young soldiers (doing their military service) so it has a lively café and bar scene. You don't see many tourists there at all and that's what we liked about it - it's a real, working city and it provides a great insight into everyday Greek life.

Similarly, we liked Xanthi, Kavala and Edessa, because they are real working towns that don't rely on tourism to make a living. Apart from its small historic centre with charming 19th century Turkish buildings, Xanthi is an unattractive modern city, but it has a distinctly, bustling Turkish feel to it and, like Alexandroupolis, its cafés and bars buzz with students drinking coffee and socializing. Kavala is considerably more picturesque. It's prettily set on several hills around a few harbours with tavernas on the waterfront and an amazing 16th century aqueduct in the centre of the city, but far too much traffic unfortunately to make it a peaceful spot. Edessa, on the other hand is incredibly tranquil - popular with Greeks who head hear to enjoy its two small waterfalls and escape the heat during summer, it's rare to find a foreign tourist. There's not a lot to do but it's peaceful and relaxing and the air is fresh, and with great relief - after a long day's driving - we discovered that it has one of the best small hotels in Greece in the traditional Varosi (Greek only).

It's not only that sense of being on the road that's so thrilling, it's the excitement of going somewhere you've never been before. A certain pace and momentum builds the closer you get to your destination, and that's how we're feeling now. Tomorrow, we head north to the Prespa Lakes region near the borders with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia... we can't wait!

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