Ancient Neapolis, New City
Don’t even ask me how did I find a flight here. All I know is that there was nothing booked for this weekend, and out of curiosity I checked what flights were there available to anywhere (via skyscanner), and Kavala popped as one of the cheapest destinations, considering such a short notice just 10 days before. I did also never heard of such place, so I quickly checked some pictures and location, and here we are of course. How to resist such a temptation! No matter how short the overall time there was going to be, all that crossed my mind was something different: I fancy Greek food. Let’s have it in real Greece then!.
The best of all, this is a place unknown for the majority of tourists, hence you can have a great time without the hordes and tour operators shifting the hundreds of people that is generally at other cities. Here you will feel extremely relaxed and quiet, and will actually feel (possibly) for the first time, how the Greeks really live, without any strong tourist orientated mind. Still, from reading through the history of the city, I must admit this was a very important place back in the ancient Greek times. Not far north of Kavala sits ancient Philippi, founded by Alexander the Great’s father, Phillip, and where the apostle Paul baptized the first European Christian. Next to this city is the Pangaio mountain where ancient Macedonia’s gold mines were.
Later after the Greeks, during the Roman times one of the most celebrated achievements of engineering was laid, the Via Egnatia road, connecting Byzantium (modern Istanbul) with Dyrrachium (Durres), then by sea onto Brindisi in mainland Italy to connect with the Via Appia leading to Rome. You can still see great entire remaining portions around the region, just north of the city for example. As for some contemporary history, Kavala is the birthplace of modern Egypt’s founder Muhammad Ali of Egypt (4 March 1769). His house is now a museum you can visit.
Through the centuries and the different civilizations, its cultural identity has shifted and changed, and legacy of such past can easily be seen in the architecture. From ancient Greek and Roman remains, to the traditional Ottoman style of most of the houses in the historic old town. It feels more as if you would be anywhere in modern Turkey, however this is due to the fact of the many centuries of the once huge Ottoman Empire through this region and beyond.
Visiting the city is easy and straightforward. Basically let yourself go around the old town streets without any fixed direction. Because distances are short, even if you get lost you will find yourself a couple of minutes after, but will for sure enjoy the best the city has to offer. The tiny squares, narrow alleys, the traditional Ottoman balconies, gardens and everything in constant look towards the bay and the Aegean Sea, and the island of Thassos just across. And of course not to forget, the superb food!. Heaven on earth if you ask me, while the great news are that it is not at all overpriced nor tourist orientated. It has been one of the very few places in Greek we’ve ever been where the quality, portions and choice were incredible anywhere at so competitive prices.
Let me recommend you three places, one of which usually ranks number 2 in the list of top restaurants in the city (as you can see in TripAdvisor). For lunch or dinner Sousouro is simply amazing! The restaurant is split into two, with the street in the middle. Get inside the main area, where at the very back end you will be in an authentic former Ottoman structure from the 15th century with great cupolas and decor. Anything you order here is great. For lunch I could also strongly recommend you Oinomelo (careful as you will see this in Greek letters not Latin as I write here). You can order here a meat platter for 2 people for just 12 Euros, or a seafood platter for 2 for 10 Euros! And that’s the total price for both, not per person. Order their sweet wine, tzatziki and bread on top of the platter and you will hit spot on. Then for dessert, head to nearby Evangelou Pastries, and order a profiterole. Mind the way the do it is absolutely different to anything you’ve tried before, it included creme pastelier in the base, the profiterole itself cut in half, then a choice of 2 different chocolate-base yogurts and a choice of 2 different toppings (nuts, nutmeg, crumbled chocolate flakes…). Delicious and all for 2.80 Euros.
For more information about Kavala check Wikipedia site. Greece’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Kavala
- Via Egnatia The ancient Roman road than once connected Constantinople to the capital of the empire, Rome. Some remains are visible nearby, especially in the hills north of the city where you can get great views towards the city itself and the sea.
- City Walls Mostly dating from the 14th century, it is still enclosing a large section of the old town, especially that part leading towards the port.
- Aqueduct Built in the 16th century in order to carry fresh drinking water into the old town. It is preserved in full, a great sight on its own.
- Old Town Towards the southeast of the city, in a small hill peninsula. This is the truly worth spot for sightseeing and coming to the city, with its Byzantine Fortress built by the Turks in 1425 at the top offering the best views, and the maze of narrow streets filled with Ottoman style houses, churches, the lighthouse and former mosques.
- Residence of Muhammad Ali of Egypt Located inside the old town, it is one of the most elaborate Ottoman houses in the area. Nowadays a museum about his life with some original memorabilia.
- Port and Promenade West from the old town, it’s a great place to have a stroll and enjoy both the city and the sea, while the views towards the old town hill are the best.
- Ancient Philippi You will need a transport here, either if you have your own car or a taxi ride. An UNESCO World Heritage Site listed, the city was founded by Alexander the Great’s father, Phillip in 360BC; was the place where the Apostle Paul baptised the first European Christian, named Lydia.
The city is home to Alexander the Great international airport, located 32 kilometres to the east. Not many routes operate to/from here, hence why this is often an overlooked place by the tourists. The potential is very high though, and it will be matter of time that more airlines start to offer further routes. The next downside from this airport, is not having any public transport towards the city. This translates in relying only on taxis, which are of course quire pricey.
Coming overland Greece is only possible by intercity buses. Connections to the second largest city in the country, Thessaloniki is around 2 hours away, with buses departing between each city hourly. As for farther beyond, there are twice daily buses to Athens, and to the border before Turkey. It’s not too far nor long journey to Istanbul.
Within the city, the historic town is very compact and small, and fully pedestrian. The fort at the top of the little peninsula overlooks the entire area and as far as you can see, it’s a matter of few minutes from one corner to the other. For the farther neighbourhoods there is a reliable network of public buses yet remember you must buy the ticket at kiosks before boarding as it’s not possible inside the bus.
Searching for a good hotel with a good deal was not hard at all, however I know this was only based in the fact we came in the very low season, end of February. The situation I can imagine to be totally opposed coming the high season months. After all, this is a great place because of the many nice beaches around the region, and for sure the city is well prepared to handle this. The choice of hotels was quite large considering the rather reduced size of the city.
As usual, the same technique helped us to get what we needed: checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. This never let us down, and a good deal was a matter of few minutes research, that’s all.
We stayed at the Airotel Galaxy, at 27 Venizelou Street. That’s right by the port and promenade, on a vantage location with easy access to anywhere both the new and the old town, plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars, the shopping district and fantastic views over the bay and old town from their top floor lounge. I must say the property exceeded our expectations, was great in all senses. So well cared and clean, large and beautiful rooms, very quiet and everything in perfect order. The staff across all departments extremely friendly and polite, and very warm feeling altogether. The breakfast, included in the rate was really good with a great choice. Definitely highly recommended to anyone.