THASSOS is the most northerly Greek island in the Aegean group and it lies just off the Macedonian coast of north-east mainland Greece.
Fabulously wealthy in ancient times, thanks to large deposits of gold and marble, Thassos nowadays lies outside the top league of Greek holiday islands but it still has as much to offer the visitor with some great beaches and very fine beach resorts.
One of the great advantages of Thassos as a beach holiday destination is the excellent coast road that almost rings the whole island, providing easy access to the sandy beaches that pepper the attractive coastline.
Strangely, not many package companies promote Thassos holidays so the island has remained something of a hidden gem. It also means that it is spared the holiday crowds that mar some of the other Greek islands.
Marble quarries still scar some parts of the heavily wooded landscape and some forest fire damage is still evident in the south of the island, but the extensive pine trees that carpet most of Thassos have led to its being rightly dubbed the 'Emerald Isle' of Greece.
Side roads branch inland from the encircling coast road and leade the holiday visitor to some charming hill villages and to extensive tracts of dense woodland, many criss-crossed with walking trails.
Beaches, mostly sandy, are found at regular intervals around the coast so, wherever you stay, a sandy bay is always within easy reach and there is a wide choice, from large tourist beaches with plenty of facilities to small, idyllic coves where few venture.
Thassos island may be slightly off the main tourist trail, but it is nevertheless very easy to reach via the mainland port of Keramouti, which itself is only a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport at Kavala.
Thassos is favourite of families looking for a pleasant beach holiday with an authentic Greek flavour. Beaches are dotted all around the coast of this relatively small and near-circular island and just about all of them are easily reached from a good coast road. The east coast bay at Golden Beach may be a popular target of package tour firms but the area has resisted the downmarket pull of cheap package deals. Good beaches are to be found all around the coast of Thassos. The Limenaria area, in the south has four good beaches while less crowded stretches of sand can be found both to the south-east and the north-west. Most Thassos beaches have good sand and plenty of nearby facilities. Thassos has picked up eight Blue Flag awards for clean beaches this year including those at Makryammos, Golden Beach, Pefkari, Thassos Town and Dasylio.
THASSOS TOWN, known locally as LIMENAS or LIMIS, is the island's main town, though not its main port which lies to the east at Ormos Prinou. Thassos Town was once split in two with a pretty port to the east and an ugly cement wasteland to the west but much has been done in recent years to spread its appeal.
The marble-laden lorries that once roared through Thassos town centre have been diverted west and the swathes of dirt and cement that once typified the town have been re-paved and planted with attractive shrubs.
Visiting tourists streaming off the ferry from mainland Keramouti are still greeted by the sight of the ugly new harbour but it is only a short walk to the traffic-free centre where things improve considerably.
The prettiest part of Thassos Town is found around the old port and the revamped marina. Traffic restrictions have paved the way for taverna tables, trinket shops and street stalls piled high with jars of delicious Thassos honey. A few tavernas will sink the heart with their plastic menus, greasy chips and canned vegetables - but most are good.
The attractive old harbour is swamped with tourist-hungry tavernas but it nevertheless enjoys a warm, rustic atmosphere where the brightly painted fishing boats bob gently against the harbour wall and the quays are littered with fishing nets laid out to dry.
Thassos town has several good archaeological sites. The Agora, next to the newly-revamped and extended Archaeological Museum has some impressive Roman foundations while the amphitheatre in the hills above hosts summer performances against fabulous views over the bay.
Also found on the hill ridge are some well-restored city walls and the remains of an Acropolis, with temples to Apollo and Athena. Back in town, ancient ruins still crop up between the shops and houses but those not fenced off have almost disappeared under the concrete.
Thassos Town beach lies to the east of the old harbour. It is long and deep and, although occasionally tarted up with lorry-loads of sand, it is still a very pleasant spot. The shallow waters are ideal for children and the tourist facilities, such as sunbeds and showers, are plentiful.
A string of pleasant tavernas line the road behind and the beach is interspersed with attractive tamarisk trees offering natural shade.
To the west of Thassos Town, beyond the new harbour, is a coastal track that leads to a string of small beach coves known collectively as Agios Vasilios. Each cove has a beach bar, taverna and/or small hotel. For those who don't want to stray from the main town these beaches are a very attractive proposition.
The more mountainous east coast of Thassos is covered in thick pine forest that is liberally criss-crossed with hill tracks and fire breaks. The main road cuts inland and rises steeply through tortuous bends to the hill villages of Panagia and Potamia before dropping down again to the popular coastal resort of Skala Potamias (Chrisi Akti) on the southern edge of Golden Beach (Chrisi Ammoudia).
Beaches on this side of Thassos island tend to be smaller and more intimate, many with pine-covered slopes often sweeping right down to the shore. Mountain villages such as Panagia and Potamia are a big draw, both for ad-hoc visitors and for organised coach parties.
The medium-sized, sandy beach at MAKRYAMMOS lies to the south-east of Thassos Town. It looks delightful when approached by boat with its steep, pine-clad hills sweeping down to the crescent bay of white sand. Closer inspection, however, reveals a few flaws.
First is the lack of space on the sands thanks to a huge chalet-cum-bungalow complex hidden in the surrounding wooded hills (actually part of a nature reserve). Early rising campers tend to snap up the best Makryammos beach spots and late arrivals must scratch for what little sand is left.
Second, the Makryammos Bay appears to attract huge gobs of leaves from the surrounding woods. The dead leaves coagulate into great black mounds in the sea then slump like beached whales on the shoreline attracting swarms of flies.
Third is a self-service beach cafe that serves up burgers, chips, ketchup and cola. Self-service queues are what many go on a Greek holiday to avoid, although this one seems busy enough.
Makryammos beach is a favourite with day-trip boats which tie up at a breakwater some distance from the beach. Access from the main road above is through the holiday camp complex where 'Private Property' signs deter the passer-by and give the impression that Makryammos beach is private - it is not.
The southerly road out of Limenas climbs into the hills to the picturesque hillside villages of PANAGIA (pronounced 'Panahia') and POTAMIS or POTAMIA. Both villages are a big tourist draw thanks to their lovely position buried in deep woodland on the east coast hillsides above the coastal resorts of Skala Potamias and Golden Beach.
Lined with small, roadside tavernas, they offer a pleasant change from the seaside resorts and provide cheaper meals too, although the narrow streets and the heavy traffic of Panagia, in particular, can give them a slightly claustrophobic air.
Just before entering Panagia, a sharp left turn drops down the hillside to the northern end of Golden Beach. Those heading for the beach at Skala Potamias can follow the main road through the village centre to neighbouring Potamias.
In Panagia village centre there are the cafes and tavernas clustered around a central fountain which gushes up water from local springs. Paved streets head into the hills where there are several walking trails through wooded hillsides and valleys. The more adventurous will tackle Mt Ipsarion which looms above at over 1,000 metres.
The countryside around Panagia is particularly lush, even in high summer, and the walks offer fine views over the bay below. Booklets giving details of local treks can be bought at shops in Limenas.
POTAMIA, also called POTAMIS or POTAMIAS, is a much quieter and even more relaxed than Panagia mainly because the main road completely by-passes the village. There is a soporific appeal about Potamias where small cafes crop up here and there along narrow village streets that are often quite deserted.
The Greek American artist Polygnotos Vagis was born in Potamias and a small museum devoted to his works can be found in the village.
Like Panagia, the Potamia area is a favourite for walkers, with many woodland paths that reach right up into the hills. Paths also lead down to the coastal beaches at Skala Potamia and Golden Beach, about four kilometres away.
Each day at around 10am boat owners on the harbour front at Limenas yell 'Goooooolden beach' as they tout for passing tourist trade. The boats are heading for the long, sandy bay at GOLDEN BEACH or CHRISI AMMOUDIA. Many holiday brochures boast that the sands of Golden Beach are the best on Thassos; they aren't, they are just the biggest.
Golden Beach is very long and deep with low dunes and large areas of scrub stretched out on the large, flat plain behind.
The beach sweeps right around a huge bay, with Chrisi Amoudia at the northern end - ostensibly the beach resort for the inland village of Panagia, and Skala Potamias at the southern end, serving as the beach resort of Potamia village.
Golden Beach narrows to almost nothing in the middle of the bay and the sands disappear beneath rocks and shingle before emerging again in the south. Despite its size, Golden Beach can still get fairly crowded, particularly at both ends where the best sand lies and where the tour boats pull in.
The wide-open sweep of the Golden Beach bay and the scruffy shoreline can give the central part of the beach a quite desolate air. A road runs right along the back of the beach to serve several scattered holiday apartments and the occasional taverna.
As the sands at Golden Beach sweep around the bay southwards the shore gets progressively more stony with a long line of rocks in the centre before it opens out again into the beach resort of SKALA POTAMIA, or SKALA POTAMIAS, at the southern end.
Here things improve dramatically at a deep triangle of good sand edged by a small harbour. Skala Potamias is where the sands of Golden Beach can lay some claim to being some of the best on Thassos island, with a very fine, pale beach sliding gently into the shallow blue water.
Skala Potamias looks more inviting than it is as the grains of sand may be too sharp and gritty for some tastes and beach shoes will be a help.
The Skala Potamias area has grown very popular with British tour companies in recent years and there has been a spate of new building, though none of it too intrusive.
An 'arcade' of tavernas and bars now line the back of Skala Potamias beach - pleasant enough if you don't mind the holiday crowds. There were even dodgem cars to entertain family visitors when I last visited.
KINIRA is a tiny hamlet on the Thassos east coast about 24km from Limenas and where there are two small, scrappy beaches of white pebble. Known locally as Loutro and Kinira, there are some small hotels, a couple of tavernas and a mini-market. Also in the village are the ruins of Byzantine baths and the remnants of an early Christian basilica.
Just over the headland, to the south and now well-marked off the main road, is the idyllic PARADISO beach. Paradise lost when I once visited as the sands were strewn with plastic bags and bottles while an obnoxious film of turd-yellow scum anchored itself along the shoreline.
But this turned out to be an exception and Paradiso beach is considered by many to be sublimely beautiful and one of the best beaches on the island. Paradiso is surrounded by steep wooded cliffs and, with a shallow pool at the southern end, ideal for paddling. There is parking on the roadside and access is down a steep track at the northern end, rather less steep at the southern end where a new track has been created.
Paradiso beach is deep and long, the sand is soft and a there is a very shallow shoreline shelf into the sea. The offshore islet of Kinira adds interest and there's a taverna at the back of the beach providing sunbeds and basic food and drink.
Sheer cliffs at the southern end offer some shade from the afternoon sun and there are some fabulous deserted coves to reward those adventurous enough to venture further south on foot. A little off the tourist trail, the Paradiso area was once a big favourite with naturists but its growing popularity has now made it more of a family beach.
The atmosphere at Paradiso is serenely peaceful, but growing numbers of visitors may put an end to the serenity before long.
The south coast of Thassos is a very popular holiday area, particularly around Limenaria (the island's biggest resort) and at Potos and Pefkari. Many prefer to base themselves in this part of Thassos as drives to local beaches tend to be shorter. The landscape is not as impressive as in the north of the island and particularly so after a series of forest fires that devastated the area.
Expect some astonishing scenery at the relatively remote resort of ALYKI which has two small coves back-to-back along a narrow wooded promontory. Once a secret gem, Alyki beach is now the target of a considerable number of daily visitors.
A car park has been carved out of the roadside high above the beach and it soon gets full, with maybe a couple of day trip coaches sat among the cars. Visitors are faced with a steep climb down but are rewarded by fine views over the attractive cove.
The southern beach at Alyki has a small, sheltered crescent of fine sand at the end of a long and narrow inlet. Half a dozen small tavernas sit on a ridge above the back of the beach nestled beneath shady trees. The water here is very shallow and warm in the sheltered bay.
Narrow tracks lead over the headland to the northern Alyki beach, a much smaller and stonier affair, but far less crowded. The north facing beach can be jaw-droppingly wild on windy days, with spectacular waves swelling through a narrow entrance and pounding onto the stony shore.
Between the two beaches, along narrow tracks behind the tavernas, are old marble quarries and a small archaeological site that includes a couple of early Christian basilicas. It's at the latter that the Greek love affair with chain link fencing may have reached its zenith. No polite notices here, asking visitors to keep off the stones, but 8 ft high chain link fencing that wouldn't look out of place in an army camp. Much of the chain link is twisted, broken and rusty - an awesome example of the Greek gift for official vandalism.
South of Archangelos, the main road winds around several headlands before dropping down to a small coastal plain where the beach at ASTRIS lies just off a long straight road that runs across the flats.
Astris beach is easy to miss but keep a lookout for a small roadside mini market on the right as you head south. Astris beach is opposite - a long strip of golden sand bisected by an outcrop of rock where a small ramshackle taverna has been erected among the trees.
There is a boatyard at the northern end of Astris, with boats for repair pulled up on the shoreline. Most people use the sandiest part of Astris beach between boatyard and taverna, although the beach at the southern end is nearly as fine. This is golden, powder puff sand that shelves gently into the sea so this is a good beach for families. As Astris beach is relatively little known it rarely gets crowded. There is a small rough area for parking just off the road under the trees.
Inland is the village of Atris, noted for its tiny stone built and slate-roofed houses, some of which are available to rent.
Marble slabs slope down to the medium sized beach from the roadside car park at the beautiful resort of PSILI AMMOS. This was once a peaceful spot but nowadays tends to get very busy.
A deep arc of rich, golden sand has a couple of tavernas sitting behind, one more of a beach bar and decked out to resemble a cowboy ranch but belting out all-day pop music - not exactly to everyone's taste.
Good sand and nearby beach facilities make Psili Ammos a popular beach for families. The sea, however, dips very sharply into the sea, especially near the rocks, and children must be watched if they take a dip. The steep beach can bring in big waves and there are strong underwater currents here.
This beautiful spot is also favoured by watersports enthusiasts who have their own fun, to the howl of their jet skis. A dive centre sits on a hill to the side of the beach. Visitors will find noisy family crowds at Psili Ammos in the high season.
You can hardly move for cushioned cane chairs in the cafes that have sprouted up on the sea front of the very popular tourist resort of POTOS. There must be 30 or more tavernas, cafes and bars lining the short sea wall above a narrow strip of sand with a little shingle.
Potos beach is a sea of rush frond sun umbrellas as far as the eye can see, with bar service provided by the cafes above for those who can nab a sun lounger. If you like a busy up-market beach then Potos beach is just about as good as it gets on Thassos.
The beach at Potos is a crescent of good sand which turns to shingle at the harbour end. Potos beach also shelves quite steeply in parts so children must be watched.
On such a popular beach crowds tend to push up the prices but the colourful and comfortable tavernas and cafes at Potos add interest, as do the many boats that are pulled onto the beach near the harbour.
The Potos resort village is a maze of small back streets full of shops and cafes. Cars that venture into the village are forced to a crawl in the narrow, crowded streets. Visitors tend to park along the main road that sweeps past Potos village and walk down to the beach.
To the south of Potos is a Ossegromos Beach, small and little visited, where there is a small stretch of sharp white sand surrounded by trees.
Paddle boats, surfboards and jet skis are prominently parked on the manicured white sand - clues, if you needed them, to the popularity of the fine beach at PEFKARI.
Gently shelving sand and shallow water make Pefkari an ideal spot for families with children and the nearby headland offers plenty of splendid cliffside walks. There are moderately good tavernas and cafes lining the road that runs along the back of Pefkari beach - not the busy main road that bypasses the village altogether but a small, quiet lane edged on either side with shady tavernas and cafe bars.
Pefkari beach is long and deep with soft white sand that is kept very clean. There are masses of sunbeds and a very good range of watersports. A neighbouring hotel and tourist complex however can result in Pefkari being overwhelmed with visitors in the high season.
If you are the sort that doesn't mind the merry mayhem of holiday crowds, Pefkari is one to head for, although swimmers must watch out for the sea urchins; they can be a menace.
METALIA beach lies just to the east of the main south coast resort of Limenaria and is quiet, has a small beach bar, good snorkeling and the remains of an abandoned World War Two factory, with derelict smelting chimneys for a backdrop. It sounds dreadful but Metalia is actually quite attractive and certainly different. Some rate this as one of the best beaches on Thassos and Metalia is certainly a quieter alternative to Limenaria if you are staying in the area.
LIMENARIA is the second biggest town on the island after Limenas. It has a long waterfront promenade backed by dozens of tavernas, cafes and shops. At the western end of the long promenade, lined with large boulders and rocks, is a long but scruffy, narrow beach backed by apartments and hotels. At the eastern end of Limenaria is a small arc of pleasant sand overlooked by the busy road and next to it a small, square shaped harbour full of attractive fishing boats.
Some effort has been made to smarten the place up but the Limenaria cannot shake off a dowdy feel. Many speak highly of the restaurants and Limenaria is a pleasant place to base yourself, with a wide selection of hotels and eateries as well as several good beaches nearby.
Many houses around Limenaria were built by the Turks at the turn of the century to house German mining bosses. The remaining mansions add some character to what is otherwise a fairly humdrum resort.
Tourists tend to use Limenaria as a base to explore the south of Thassos island. Forest fires and mining have left some scars on the surrounding countryside but much of this goes unnoticed and there are good walks in the pine-carpeted hills around Limenaria.
TRYPITI or TRIPITI beach lies to the west of Limenaria, about 2km out of town and well-marked from the main road. There is no village at Trypiti, just a long, deep and sandy beach that's very handy for those staying in Limenaria who prefer something more interesting that the relatively poor town beaches.
Trypiti is a long and very deep swathe of clean white sand that sweeps right around a huge bay. A long dirt track runs behind the beach for much of its length and there are beach bars at either end serving up basic snacks and drinks. Cars can be parked under the trees at either end of the long track, near to the beach bars.
To the west is an interesting, shallow pool and a small sea cave that children will enjoy, though the sea does shelve deeply inside the cave and the waves can come crashing through the narrow gap on windy days.
The main Trypiti beach is a deep sandy belt, marked in the middle by some volleyball nets. The sand shelves rather steeply into the sea and there are gobs of seaweed now and then but otherwise Trypiti is a big pleasant beach. There are sunbeds at both ends, near the beach bars, and there is enough room for anyone to find a quiet spot.
The west coast of Thassos the island has been less well developed for tourists until quite recently. It is much flatter than the east, with rolling farmland and small inland hamlets. The road has fewer bends so, although they are fairly well scattered, the resorts are easy to reach. Beaches tend not to be as good as in the west and the best of them have been targeted by tour companies in recent years. Nevertheless, there are some very pleasant resorts on this part of the coast. Less crowded and less tainted by tourism it offers an attractive addition to Thassos island's offerings.
SKALA MARIES is an isolated resort that, despite an attractive setting, exudes a flyblown, end-of-the-earth atmosphere. The beach at Skala Maries is a scruffy, unkempt crescent of sand and scrub with the occasional rotting hulk of a boat sitting amongst the weeds. Skala Maries is set in a deep crescent of a bay with the resort climbing the hill beyond.
A large number of derelict and semi-built houses adds nothing to the general air of decay - a pity as the setting is very fine. The Skala Maries beach is stone and sand and shallow. A couple of large cement lorries were parked at the back of the beach when I visited. They added little to the scene.
SKALA KALIRACHIS is basically a huge enclosed harbour with a couple of small scraps of sand at either end. A wide concrete road runs the length of the harbour backed by houses and apartments and ending at the northern end in a handkerchief of scruffy sand and shingle, hemmed in by a high concrete wall.
To the south of Skala Kalirachis is another small scrap of sand on the other side of the jetty, a little more substantial this time but not much more inviting than the other.
SKALA SOTIROS or SKALA SOTIROU beach is a surprisingly pleasant spot down a side street that branches off the main road through the village. Skala Sotiros village is little more than a ribbon of houses strung along the main road. Sunbeds sprinkle the beach near the short jetty in front of the main taverna.
The southern end of Skala Sotiros tends to turn to stone but there is good sand at the northern end, with just a sprinkling of pebbles. The water here is warm and shallow.
DASYLLIO PRINOU or DASILLIOS PRINOS is not a village as such but the name now given to the whole Prinou area that includes beaches backed by resort hotels and a huge campsite. It can be approached from Skala Sotiros or by turning left at the port in Skala Prinou and folowing the narrow coast road around the headland.
Dasyllio Prinou has grown very popular in recent years and there are a now a number of smart hotels here.
Dasyllio Prinou stretches from the main port of Skala Prinou and about 2km south with a camping site that is the biggest on Thassos, with about 300 tent spaces and facilities such as showers and toilets.
The land around Dasyllio Prinou is heavily wooded with about 250 varieties of trees recorded - Dasyllio is the Greek name for little forest - and the trees reach right down to the shore.
SKALA PRINOS or SKALA PRINOU has little to recommend it other than as a place to catch a ferry. Travel brochures increasingly tout the place as a first-rate resort but they are really describing the whole Dasyllio area. Skala Prinou is a fine base for exploring the rest of the island but it is, in fact, little more than a bus and ferry stop.
That said, there have been recent efforts to smarten up Skala Prinou and there is new paving and roads as well as a clutch of cafes, tavernas and shops to catch the passing ferry trade and the annual tourist influx.
Also, on the plus side there is a long, narrow beach at Skala Prinou which stretches out beyond the main port to the north with a shallow sloping bay backed by a line of trees. The beach is scruffy sand and stone and not particularly attractive but still not bad.
Skala Prinou is also close to the string of Dasylliou beaches on this part of the coast.
SKALA RACHONIS or SKALA RAHONI has recently been discovered by package tour operators and it seems to get more popular with holiday visitors each year.
There is a good long stretch of beach in Skala Rachonis itself and another good sandy strip can be found about 2km to the north. The beach at Skala Rachonis stretches south in one long straight stretch from an attractive, small harbour.
The sandy beach at Skala Rachonis is pleasant enough, if a little narrow, and it is backed by apartments, and villas some of which come right down to the shore. The beach is dotted with small stands of pine which give some good natural shade.
Although Skala Rachonis has become very popular in recent years it is still very much a laid back resort with just a few tavernas and cafes strung along the shoreline. There is horse riding nearby at Pine Tree Paddock - look for the yellow signs on the main road.
There is a beautiful beach just north of Skala Rachonis known as PACHIS BEACH. Here is a long stretch of golden sand backed by tamarisk trees with plenty of parking beneath the trees. A small hotel sits on the road and a dirt track leads down to the beach.
There are a couple of large tavernas set back from Pachis beach and some smaller beach bars on the beach itself. Unfortunately the beach bars try to out-decibel one another in techno thump so many visitors opt for the other end of the beach where it is much less noisy, has the best of the sand, and a pleasant taverna in the trees.
Others walk past the beach bars to a sheltered spot beneath a pleasant beach taverna where they can enjoy the lapping of waves instead of the slapping of bass guitars and keyboards.
The sand at Pachis beach is soft and golden with the odd pebble here and there. It is fairly shallow offshore so it is good for families with children and tamarisk trees and pines all the way along the shore provide plenty of good natural shade.
The further north you go along Pachis beach the stonier and narrower it gets, but it is still pleasant enough and mercifully free of outdoor discos. Over the headland from Pachis beach is a tiny beach at the head of a small bay called GLYFONERI. It can be reached from the main road down an unmarked path. There are no facilities there.
The road from Skala Rachoni follows the coast around the headland before turning south-east and back towards Thassos Town. It passes a few small beaches. One is called PERASMA and is a small sandy cove with a summer beach cantina. There are tiny patches of sand at PAPALIMANI and AGIA IRINI which sit either side a rocky headland. The road eventually passes GLYFADA where there is a quiet sand strip backed by an ugly hotel.
The distance is short enough to be walked from Limenas but the road is steeply uphill. Unfortunately the hotel at Glyfada is as horribly prominent as it is ugly - a square shoebox of white cement. The beach however is pleasant enough, although rather narrow in places. Trees offer plenty of shade and there are facilities and parking at the hotel.
There is a small but splendid tree-lined beach below the hotel at NYSTERI just outside Thassos - a mile or so further east than Glyfada. It is well signposted off the main road. The hotel caters mainly for Germans and it has a small outdoor bar that serves toasted sandwiches and other snacks on a terrace overlooking the beach.
There is some parking in the hotel grounds, but not a lot and you will have to find space on the main road if you arrive late. An alternative is to park on a large off-road car park at the Limenas end of the beach.
Nysteri has a fine sandy beach with trees behind offering plenty of good shade. A taverna has opened in the woods behind.