“Thassos is a handsome, romantic little island, named after a grandson of Poseidon, with an atmosphere of calm beatitude which makes one’s sleep most deep and refreshing, the nights being blanket-cool, though windless, not too hot…. In the calm vernal glades of Thassos you feel that the ancients had a simpler, better way of living…”, Lawrence Durrell
I am by no means sure how we managed to choose the island of Thassos for a holiday in 1999. Not being one of the most popular holiday islands it was not somewhere that I was especially aware of or had any mad desire to go to so I can only assume that it was the end of season bargain price that settled the selection decision.
Thassos is the most northerly of the Greek islands, twenty kilometres from the mainland and the city of Kavala, in that part of Greece known as Macedonia, which is where we flew into before transferring to a ferry boat for the short crossing over Kavala Bay and arriving in Liménas, the main town on the island.
Thassos is a medium sized island and we were staying at Liménaria which was just about as far away from the port as it was possible to be on the island so we had to stay on the transfer coach for another hour before we reached our destination.
It was only a budget hotel and we had been allocated a family room which seemed to be at sub basement level and not very thrilling or welcoming. I was sure I could have persuaded the others to ‘make do’ but then we discovered a corner full of insects and with everyone refusing to unpack their bags I had to negotiate with the Italian owner revised accommodation arrangements which for a few extra drachmas moved us to much more acceptable rooms on the first floor with a nice balcony overlooking the beach and the sea. This was easy to do because it was the last week of the season and there were only one or two rooms occupied anyway.
If the hotel wasn’t the best on the island there was compensation by way of the location because it stood at the back of a wide spacious beach that faced south over a perfectly blue North Aegean Sea. It was an excellent beach that was made up of large grains of marble white sand and lots and lots of tiny sea shells and calcium deposits that was perfect for sitting on without it getting everywhere and good too for beach tennis and frisbee.
There wasn’t a lot to do on the beach so after beach olympics we devised a competition to make food sculptures from the tiny shells and we became so good at it we began to consider turning it into a business.
The sea was deliciously warm but we had to share it with lots of small jelly fish, I don’t think they were the stinging variety and Sally and Jonathan amused themselves by catching them through the strings of a tennis racket and collecting them up in plastic beach buckets.
The downside to the beach was that to get there it was necessary to pass by a beach taverna that was closed now for the season but where there was a large and playful dog. Now I don’t like dogs and they don’t like me and on one visit to the beach I sensed it was paying more attention to me that I was comfortable with and sure enough it started to chase me and because my mobility was impaired by carrying sun-beds and other beach essentials it was soon far too close for comfort and barking and snarling like a rabid beast. I kicked some sand in its face but that only aggravated it and by now I was beginning to attract a lot of attention from the people on the beach but none of them made a move to help. I called for assistance (actually I think I’d lost all control by this stage and literally shrieked for help) and embarrassed by the scene I was making my family disowned me and moved away a discreet distance of about five hundred metres.
Finally I fought it off with the sharp end of a beach umbrella and it moved on to a family of German sunbathers who simply gave it a welcome pat on the head and it was then to my horror I realised that it was no more than a harmless playful puppy. It took some time to live that down I can tell you!
In the evenings we would make the short trip into Liménaria, the second largest town on the island, for our evening meal. It was a functional little place with Italianate style houses with iron balconies painted in pastel shades of lemon, lime, cream and rose and where end of season geraniums spilled from their dried and neglected terracotta pots.
There were a few tavernas with lots of empty tables and grateful for what little business there was and we found a couple that we liked best and alternated between them. Many places were already closed so the town was quiet in the evenings with just a few bars still open for business so most nights we would have a final drink and then go back to the rooms to sit on the balconies and enjoy the view of the moon over the sea.
Liménaria is a relatively recent development that started to grow at the beginning of the twentieth century based on the mining industry. Mining companies dug for calamine and iron ore and in 1905 a metallurgical plant was erected for processing and iron ore mining became especially important during the years 1954-1964. It has been estimated that total mineral production during the period 1905-1964 was about two million tonnes of calamine and three million tonnes of iron ore.
Since 1964 there has been no mining activity on the island and the only useful product left now is a low grade marble. Dominating the town were the dilapidated headquarters of the mining company Speidel called the Palataki, which I think is being restored now but was in a sorry state in 1998. One night a local man found a piece of discarded marble and drew a picture of the Palataki on it in charcoal. He gave it to us as a souvenir and it still sits on a book case amongst other holiday souvenirs.
There was only very little to do in and around Liménaria so in the middle of the week we hired a red jeep so that we could get around the island and see what else there was. We did quite well on this deal because we hired it for three days but due to staff shortages they delivered it to us the evening prior and explained that they couldn’t take it back until a day later. They apologised for that and asked if that was ok and naturally this arrangement was quite acceptable to us.
On the first day with the car we drove around the east coast of the island and visited the villages and the best beaches stopping off at Pefkari, Potos, Alyki (our favourite) and Skála Potamiás, reputed to have the best beach on the island. On the second day we went west along a more rugged coastline along a road that clung to the edge of the mountains as they tumbled down to the sea through Tripiti, Skála Sotira, Pachýs and finally Liménas, Thassos town, where we stopped for lunch and explored the bustling streets and the busy harbour.
On the last day with our own transport we drove inland through once great pine forests that had been devastated by the big forest fires in the 1980s, which had destroyed the largest part of the forests and devastated wildlife habitats. After the forests we drove through fields and prosperous looking farms because Thassos has some of the richest soils in the Aegean islands and produces large quantities of fruit, honey, olives, olive oil and a famous white wine.
When the week was over we returned by coach to Liménas and then once more by ferry to Kavala and on the way back we declared the holiday a success and Thassos a place that we would definitely return to one day. I have now visited twenty-four Greek Islands but this one remains securely in my favourite top five, which are: Sifnos, Amorgos, Folegandros, Thassos and Ios, in that order.