A Family Road Trip to Nestos River between Macedonia and Thrace, among the top family friendly Destinations in Greece!
I saw the Nestos River for the first time through the large but “clouded” windows of a train. I fell spellbound watching the green nature and the small train stations that we were passing by. I had no kids to take care of and had walked part of the route that had been cleared for the construction of the railway at the end of the 19th century to connect East and West. Today, I return in Northern Greece for an Ecotourism with Kids project with a large family and I discover a different Nestos: Family-friendly, educational and fun! An ideal destination for kids who love activities in nature and families who believe in responsible ecotourism, sustainable travel and environmental awareness.
“My favorite flower is the Rodopi haberlia” said our guide Dimitri, as he was looking for it among the rocks. “It is purple, blooms in the spring and grows even in tropical climates. It has survived climate changes since the period of the glaciers.” We all remained quiet, absorbing the information and enjoying the calm of the Nestos River on a sunny springtime day, and the impressive view of the boulder formations and the natural tree “sculptures.” “Here! This is Barba’s tree,” said Dimitri who moved to Thrace for the sake of his wife, a local girl. “It is us guides who name the various locations so we can communicate with each other,” he added. “This one spot, for example, I named ‘Aeolus St.’ because of the summer winds that will not stop whipping it.”
Eleni, a Cypriot, is our second guide. She fell in love with Nestos while a student at the Democritus University of Thrace. Both of our guides have been living here for about 15 years. They are not just showing us the way. They are teaching us all, young and old, to tread softly into nature, to respect and preserve it.
We had started out early in the morning from the old railway station at Toxotes. Several families with small and older kids, we aimed at descending the easiest, calmest and most family friendly segment of the river. It only took us a short while on the train to reach Stavroupoli admiring the beautiful Nestos view all along. Soon, some of us in inflatable boats and others in kayaks or canoes, we were now going through the Nestos Straits, following the river’s meander and looking to identify birds of prey. Our stops at two of the river’s beaches have been engraved in my mind as two of my most favorite family memories. The kids loved playing on the sandy banks and dipping in the water.
“Nestos is a safe river because we can control its flow with the help of two dams, one at Platanovrysi and the other at Thesaurus. There can be no unpleasant surprises,” our guides inform us as they unpack local finger foods cooked by a local granny: Cheese-and-potato-filled piroshkis, sandwiches, and crescent cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar, all nicely set on a small folding table along with herbal tea, juices and coffee…Green vegetation surrounding us, light seeping through the leaves, the “Pyramid,” the “Tree of Love,” the “Blue Waters with the 7 Springs…After a few hours of rowing we reach Galani with the younger kids asleep on their daddies’ laps.
Whether it was the sandy riverbank, the ice cream canteen or the Galani Adventure Park, all the kids, younger and older ones, got very excited. Archery, rock climbing, zip lining, pony riding…they wanted to try it all! This is the inner objective of Ecotourism and the way -I believe- to teach ourselves and our kids how to love and to respect the environment! By living close to Nature and getting to know its value!
Elias, our guide, took us for a short climb on a hiking path carved out of the rock at the Nestos Straits that runs along the riverbank. As Elias was telling us stories about the workers who opened the path, we were looking for wild asparagus plants. He also showed us the cedar trees and reminded us that cedar wood is used to make the pencils we are all familiar with. The kids seemed so impressed when Dimitri explained the importance of the river flora, and got so excited with the woodpecker nests, that I think this experience will never be erased from their minds…
An ancient forest used to grow at the Nestos estuary by the sea, the “Great Forest,” also known by its Turkish name, “Kotza Orman.” Herodotus described it as the forest with the lions that devoured Xerxes’s army and Aristotle called it a “jungle.” Only a small part of it still exists. About 16,000 acres were burnt during WWII, while as much was cleared in the 1950’s to allow for land cultivation. Today, it covers about 1,200 acres placed under strict protection by the Bureau of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace National Park Management and is a candidate for the UNESCO Natural Monuments list.
The boat ride from Nea Karya to the sea takes about two hours. “Bird watchers make sure to start out early to get to see more birds,” says one of our guides. “They are not as much interested in large ones like cormorants, storks or pelicans that now attract the kids’ attention. They look for rare birds. Let’s go see the flamingos in Ptelea now.”
We took off for Porto Lagos, in Lake Vistonis (a cluster of lagoons that make up Greece’s fourth largest lake) and Lake Ismaris, the only sweet water lake in Thrace, both protected by the Bureau of Eastern Macedonia-Thrace National Park Management. They host the largest colony of grey herons (“stachtotsikniades” is the local name) as well as large numbers of pelicans and swans. A short walk in Ptelea offered us a far away view of a group of flamingos ready to depart for their spring migration from Greece’s easternmost wetland. We also visited the St. Nicholas chapel built on an islet in the lagoon, and the Information Center.
With summer approaching the sea is all the more inviting now, obviously the ideal time for an eco road trip in northern Greece. Large cities close to these interesting eco systems are Thessaloniki, Xanthi and Kavala. Check out all MAMAKITA* family friendly guided tours in Nestos river, Macedonia and Thrace and let MAMAKITA create for you and your family your tailor-made trip itinerary in the unique ecosystem of mainland Greece making your request here !