The North East of Greece is not a region that features heavily on tourist guides. We travelled there, lured by some of best wineries in the country and discovered what we had been missing. Beautiful countryside, endless beaches, islands, sites of historical importance and fun cities that made the wine taste even better.
We started our journey in the area surrounding the city of Drama where some of the most well known wine producers in the country are based. Château Nico Lazaridi was our first stop. We couldn’t have hoped for a warmer welcome in this family run winery, which benefits from the most stunning countryside and mountain views. They have a great combination of modern facilities and love for what they do, with a special nod to the arts in their gallery which houses the works that inspire their unique labels. Nico Lazaridi wines are made from grapes grown in local villages, which include international varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot among many others, while they also experiment with the cultivation of Greek varieties like Greco di Tufo, Aglianico and Grecanico. They produce a range of wines to suit a variety of palates and budgets, so you’re bound to find something that suits you. We loved labels from both ends of the spectrum, ‘Mavro Provato’ and ‘Magic Mountain’ being two that really stood out, which is proof of the hard work that goes into every wine they make. An example of the kind of business established here is the fact that their 25-year anniversary packaging listed every member of staff; a true testament to their family values. They are in the midst of constructing a great space for visitors and wine tastings so a stop here is an absolute must.
Next on our list was Domaine Costa Lazaridi, one of the most impressive production facilities we’ve come across anywhere in Greece. Another warm welcome awaited us here and a tour of the facilities and wine cellars, which was a real treat. Domaine Costa Lazaridi also has a long tradition of collaborating with artists for their unique labels, both for the mainstream production and their unique Magnum bottles. What particularly intrigued us here is the range of additional products, which include incredible aged balsamic vinegar (the Botanico Gold Seal especially), ouzo, tsipouro and ‘Methexis’, a stunning Eau de Vie made with aged Sauvignon Blanc grapes. There is a marble time capsule, which sits in the centre of their wine tasting area, filled with bottles signed by various staff members that will lie there for another generation to discover its treasures in the future. A lovely touch. Lets not forget the wine though. Domaine Costa Lazaridi is primarily known for its Amethystos label, which quickly became a staple in Greece and many overseas territories when it was first released. We were lucky enough to take a bottle of Amethystos Cava away with us, which was thoroughly enjoyed that very evening! Costa Lazaridi also have a facility in Attica so there really is no excuse for not sampling these wines the next time you’re in Greece, is there?
Before leaving Drama we took a drive to Kokkinogia village in order to visit Ktima Pavlidis. Situated in a narrow valley surrounded by three mountains (Falakro, Menikio, and Pangeo) its geographical position provides the vineyards with a special microclimate and cool winds that prolong the ripening period. The grapes here are picked at night in order to achieve the least amount of heat damage and their two meteorological stations help form part of this state of the art facility. Stunning location and technological expertise aside, we loved their single variety offerings with their Emphasis Assyrtiko being an absolute gem.
Kavala was our next stop and it really didn’t disappoint. A vibrant city, built around a picturesque port, steeped in Greek, Roman and Ottoman history and offering a multitude of restaurants to keep any foodie happy. Well known for its seafood but also showing a clear link to Middle Eastern cuisine in its more carnivorous options, you could happily eat your way around the city. It’s a great place to people watch, especially on the weekend when the seaside bars and cafes really come alive.
Just around the corner though, whether by car or ferry, the options are endless. About 10kms away from Kavala airport is the port of Keramoti, where you can jump on a ferry to Thassos. Very much an up and coming island judging by the numbers of attractive hotels being built, this place is a real discovery. Very green with a stunning coastline peppered with white sandy bays. Can’t imagine you’d have trouble finding a secluded spot here even in high season.
If a ferry seems too much of a chore, all you have to do is drive out of Kavala city itself in order to find kilometres of white sandy beaches. There are some basic hotels along the coast and some lovely holiday homes but, unlike other parts of Greece, the locals have built back from the shore in order to provide an amazing feeling of space and endless seafront.
For a little dose of history, apart from walking around the old part of Kavala, Filippoi is a must see. First inhabited in the neolithic period, then by islanders from Thassos, it was named after Alexander the Great’s father, Filippos the 2nd. It became a strategic site during Roman times and was also where the first Christian church in Europe was established by the Apostle Paul.
Getting off the usual tourist beaten track really paid off on this trip. Wine and more wine, beaches, good food, vibrant nightlife and a little dose of culture to round it all off. Eastern Macedonia, we will be back.
This article was first published in Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos on 23rd April 2016. Reproduced by kind permission, all rights reserved.