Worth a Trip: Pomakohoria
For a wonderful road trip far from the tourist track, drive north of Xanthi to the fascinating Pomakohoria (Pomak villages), tucked into the forested Rhodopi Mountains near Bulgaria.
The 25 or so Pomak villages are inhabited by Muslims speaking Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish. Spread across the borders, their ethnic identity is a subject of some uncertainty (even to themselves). In Greece, they are officially classified as ‘Greek Muslims’. During the Cold War, this border area was off limits and tourists are still rare.
The villages, accessible via winding and sometimes steep roads, aren’t rich in major sights but the villagers are welcoming and the views spectacular.
Echinos village, 30km north of Xanthi, has remarkable mountain views, a striking minaret that seems to glow across the valley and a fascinating multicultural cemetery. Best known are the mineral baths of Thermes. The main bath, in a building opposite the church, charges for entry (€3 for 30 minutes), while the outdoor bath (100m to the right-hand side of the village shop, and below the entry road) costs €1. Ask the man who tends the village baths for a key. The main bath has the temperature of 42°C, while the outdoor waters are over 60°C .
The Xanthi–Thermes bus (€3.80, 90 minutes) departs at 6.30am daily and returns at 3.30pm. A later bus runs at 2.10pm, meaning you must stay overnight in Thermes.