Those of us who love maps and geography in general, tend to love as well observing the physical boundaries that demarcate certain areas. Just like the Ural Mountains separate Europe from Asia, Nestos river draws a snake-like line between Macedonia and Thrace, or, to be more exact, between the prefectures of Kavala and Xanthi.
Nestos is one of Greece’s major rivers, with a total length of 243 kilometers. Its springs are located in the mountains of southern Bulgaria, and its long journey ends in the Thracian Sea, where it creates the wetlands of the Nestos Delta.
Greece is… blessed with having Nestos run through its territory for about 130 kilometers, with the river being home to numerous species of fish, and also enhancing the biodiversity along its banks. As for its most enchanting part, that, without a doubt, would be the one between Galani and Stavroupoli, a gorgeous section of E6, the 5200km international path that links Finland with Alexandroupolis, on the Aegean Sea, part of which goes through the Nestos Straits. In this text, we pay closer attention to the first kilometers of that section of the path.
Just 13 kilometers from the city of Xanthi and less than 50 from Kavala, Nestos seems to sway through the mountainous landscape. Forming amazing meanders, the river overcomes the rocky environment, continuing undeterred its journey to the sea. Nestos has been subjected to various human interventions (for hydropower needs), however, luckily, those interventions are not strongly felt in the nothing less than spectacular Straits section of the river.
I was fortunate enough to get to know this remarkable part of Greece at a very early age. You see, neighboring Galani is the birthplace of my grandfather, so I can recall countless occasions on which, starting as a kid, I found myself soaking wet in the water, or walking on the paths along its banks. The life of the locals is closely intertwined with the river and the railroad that crosses the region. Every passing train evokes nostalgic memories, memories of escape and migration. Everyone in the village has a story to tell regarding the train and the straits, stories about accidents that have occurred in the past, or about the enormous efforts made to build the railway.
To the undoubted natural beauty of the area, humans added their own touch, one of the rather few occasions on which “our” touch was in perfect accordance with nature, and contributed to making the Nestos Straits (and not only) even more “special”. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Toxotes-Stavroupoli rail line was constructed, a brilliant piece of engineering that was vital in offering a link between Europe and the East. Several tunnels, or “galaries”, as they call them in Galani, were created along the rocky banks of Nestos, as well as a beautiful path alongside the river, to facilitate the transportation of materials and human resources. The whole construction seems to be perfectly assimilated in the natural landscape, and human intervention seems negligible. Only the sound of a train coming out of a galaria “betrays” the human presence in the landscape.
The stone path created above the galaries is ideal for a refreshing walk. Its ups and downs are mild and the whole of it is very well-preserved. Only on rainy days a little extra attention, due to slipperiness, is required. Nestos flows serene just a few meters close to you, and nature excels in its entirety. Looking at the rocky shores, it is easy to understand why this place was chosen as a residence by various predatory birds. Steep cliffs and lush vegetation offer an ideal place for rare birds to create their nests.
The Nestos Straits are often referred to as the Thracian Tempe, a true jewel of a valley, adorning both Macedonia and Thrace. To fully take in the beauty of the Straits, someone can simply walk, or kayak, starting at Stavroupoli, OR, jump on the train that runs between Toxotes and Stavroupoli, a highly rewarding way to cross the Straits, sliding practically at the edge of the river, a journey that is regarded by many as THE most beautiful rail journey in Greece.
There are times that you simply… lose yourself in the magic of nature, and this specific corner of Greece offers just that kind of moments. Protected by the Ramsar Convention, and integrated in the Natura 2000 network, the Nestos Straits are among Northern Greece’s shiniest jewels, a true… playground for those who seek tranquility and/or adrenaline pumping activities alike, plus, a source of pride for me personally, as this is where I trace the Thracian 25% of my origin.