A green island laid with pine forest and olive groves, Thassos is in the North Aegean and counts as part of East Macedonia and Thrace. Thassos doesn’t grab the headlines as it isn’t a high-octane party destination and isn’t peppered with ancient wonders. But what you do get is a serene, family-friendly getaway with picturesque mountain villages, some ruins and plentiful beaches.
In ancient times Thassos was quarried for its marble, and the archaeological museum at Limenas (Thassos Town) has a compelling set of statues and other artefacts recovered on the island, dating back to the Stone Age. With a car you could escape to high ground and tour villages on hillsides grazed by goats or sheep, while on the water there are cruises to gorgeous parts of the coast only a boat can get to.
Limenas has one of the foremost archaeological museums in East Macedonia and Thrace.
There are 18 galleries in this extensive building with collections spanning more than 3,000 years from the Neolithic Period to the 7th century AD. One of the most exciting early finds are a Neolithic clay amphora and a Cycladic plate with Bellerophon riding Pegasus and killing the Chimera (7th century BC). From the Archaic period a little later is possibly the museum’s showpiece, a 3.5-metre kouros (nude statue of a young man) holding a goat, while there’s a head of Dionysos from the Classical Period in the 4th century BC. Among the Roman-era discoveries are busts of Julius Caesar, Claudius and Lucius Caesar and a statue of Hadrian in full armour.
2. Archangel Michael Monastery
The largest monastery on Thassos is a cliff-top convent on the southeast coast.
There has been a religious presence here since the 12th century when a hermit constructed a small church, supposedly at the command of the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of Thassos.
The monastery was founded a century later but was abandoned during Ottoman times and was only revived in 1974 by nuns from Volos and a monk from Mount Athos.
The new church has a traditional cruciform layout and its most famous relic is the nail that apparently fastened Christ’s right hand to the cross.
This nail brings in pilgrims from far beyond the shores of Thassos.
The feast of St Michael is on 8 November and is celebrated around the island.
A few kilometres in from Golden Beach on the northeast coast, Panagia is a sweet mountain village with typical houses that have schist roof tiles and wooden balconies and verandas.
Tightly packed onto steep ground 300 metres above sea level, Panagia was built away from the coast as a safe haven from pirate attacks and was the capital of the island for a short time after the Greek Revolution in the 1820s.
The village is downstream from Mount Ipsaron, and channels the mountain’s spring through a system of fountains and conduits.
In the evening the place to be is the central square by the fountains where there’s a smattering of tavernas.
4. Sotirelis Olive Oil Museum
Also in Panagia is a small museum where you can delve into one of the island’s oldest industries.
Beautiful, gnarled old olive trees sprout on all corners of Thassos, and before olive oil production was modernised in the 20th century there used to be an olive mill in every village.
At this museum you can see one in action, as Sotirelis has the only functioning water-powered mill in Greece.
This old mechanism dates to 1915 and continued to press olive oil until 2007 when the enterprise was moved to a new facility.
On your visit you’ll be talked through the process of crushing and pressing olives, and there’s plenty of black and white photographs for depth.
The shop sells oils infused with lavender, orange and tangerine, as well as olive oil-based beauty products and tea made with olive leaves.
5. Aliki Archaeological Site
In antiquity Thassos was famed for its marble, which was shipped across Greece right up to the Slavic invasions in the 6th and 7th centuries, and it’s a trade that has only recently been revived.
On a rocky peninsula in the southeast of the island you can examine one of the sources of this prized material.
The quarry was in use from as early as the 12th century BC and the two coves on either side functioned as ports.
The great sheets of marble are on the southeast side of the peninsula and if you stand on the edge you can see wedges in the water.
At the highest of the peninsula are what’s left of a pair of early Christian basilicas.
These churches were frequented by sailors shipping marble, and the votive inscriptions they left behind are still visible.
The inland village of Kastro was also built in the mountains at an elevation of 450 metres.
The settlement was out of sight from the coast as a way of keeping it safe from pirate raids.
Kastro is named for the Genoan castle that raised here in the 15th century.
This has all but vanished, apart from the citadel walls at the uppermost point.
At the turn of the 20th century the villagers gave up this harsh environment to find work on the coast or at the zinc-lead mines at Limenaria.
So for decades Kastro was abandoned until its houses were restored, starting in the 1960s.
In the old citadel is an ossuary where the bones of former inhabitants are in stacks.
This small upland village is in a hollow between sparsely vegetated hillsides and has been listed as a “traditional settlement”. You wouldn’t know to look at Theologos today, but for hundreds of years during the Ottoman period this was the administrative centre of the island.
Being a traditional settlement has helped preserve the village’s Macedonian-style stone houses.
These are on cobblestone paths branching off the main roads, which run parallel along the contours of the hillside.
There’s a clutch of tavernas in the village, as well as a folklore museum, and close by in this mountainous setting are historic lime kilns and olive mills to check out.
8. Paradise Beach
On a quiet stretch of the east coast, Paradise Beach is a wide strip of sand under pine-decked slopes.
Sitting on the beach you can make out the conical silhouette of the small Nisida Kinira island a few hundred metres to the northeast.
Despite being 22 kilometres from Limenas, Paradise Beach is a hit with families for its facilities, sun loungers, but also the natural make-up of the beach.
There are light waves here that break some way offshore, leaving a large shallow space by the low-shelving shore, fine for anyone who doesn’t like venturing into the deep.
There’s a kiosk for food, and a taverna a little way along the coast.
Around a group of rocks, is another more private beach preferred by naturists.
Nor far from the southern village of Astris is a small, circular lagoon that has been hewn from the rock by the sea.
Giola isn’t easy to get to, as you have to drive a dirt road for a couple of kilometres from Astris and then walk, but it’s a place that merits a bit of effort.
There’s a perfectly clear pool of water, 15 metres in diameter and surrounded by a bowl of rock, which is naturally tiered like the rows in an amphitheatre.
There are lots of places to lay a towel, but not much shelter from the sun.
On the seaward side of this arena the rock narrows to just a couple of metres across, and when the water’s calm you can also step down to bathe in the sea.
10. Golden Beach
Both a resort and the largest beach on the island, Golden Beach on the east coast is a sandy bay framed by spellbinding natural scenery.
The beach is three kilometres long and is fringed by a low-impact holiday community, which doesn’t spoil the views of the verdant hills close by, and the spectacular escarpment a couple of kilometres behind.
There’s a string of cafes and bars on Golden Beach, each offering a different deal for the sun loungers.
In some places a pair of loungers and parasol come with the price of a drink, but at other, quieter sections you’ll pay a little more (€5 for a day) and get attentive service.
As with Paradise Beach, Golden Beach has low rolling surf.
There’s lots of shallow water, but the currents can be too much for little ones on windy days.