The Nestos River: Wild beauty of an unknown Greece

Nestos River

Green forests and enchanting landscapes between Macedonia and Thrace.

The Nestos, a river that was worshipped as a god in Antiquity, is undoubtedly one of the most interesting rivers in Greece. Full of huge waterlogged forests with countless rare species of flora and fauna and incredible routes in virgin nature, the 230 km long Nestos is the natural border between Macedonia and Thrace, having even existed for a very short time in the recent past as the easternmost border of Greece.

A difficult and barely navigable river, Nestos appears for the first time with this name in Herodotus's works. According to legend, it was born from Oceanus and Tethys before humans even appeared on Earth.

With sources in Rila, Bulgaria, Nestos passes through Greece, forming enchanting mountain "fjords" that, once seen, are hard to forget. Also known as Tempi of Thrace or Little Tempi due to their similarity to the corresponding straits in Thessaly, the Narrows of the Nestos River have been associated with picturesque landscapes with an abundance of mountain activities, from mountaineering to bird watching, which give every nature lover a strong taste of the wild natural beauty of this distant corner of Greece.

From Toxotes to Stavroupoli (and vice versa), you immediately understand that you are in one of Greece's most sensitive protected areas. A bit of the lush vegetation of willows, plane trees, rare flowers and a bit of eagle along with vultures and wild horses are more than enough to enjoy the magical hiking trails of the area lasting about 7-8 hours that allow you to experience into the fullest the magic of the Straits of Nestos.

Of course, for a quick look, a visit to the open-air observatory of the Nestos River at an altitude of 890 metres is sufficient. From there, one can more easily enjoy the landscape's openness.

Of course, if wilderness adventure isn't quite your forte, you can simply try taking the riverside train ride. Snuggle by the window and enjoy the wild scenery of the river during a half-hour railway journey that plays hide-and-seek with the riverside ecosystem of Nestos.

Known as the "Big Forest" in Turkish, Kotza Orman is, without a second thought, the most important ecosystem in Nestos. The historic forest of trees, which once reached 40 metres in length and had survived centuries of empires and conquests, was burned down during military operations in the 1940s.

Kotza Orman remains one of the most important forests in Greece, with a total area of ​​​​4,500 acres. Despite the enormous ecological destruction in the 20th century, it is home to rare species of animals, even the almost extinct ligas.

The Great Forest's ecosystem includes areas full of maples, poplars, alder, and honey trees, along with populations of wild animals. As Herodotus informs us, the Great Forest was the last place ancient lions could be seen in ancient Greece.

Although the lions have disappeared for good today, the Kotza Orman has a huge ecological value because it is one of the most important bee habitats in Europe. Once you are in Kavala or Xanthi, it is also an interesting proposition for natural exploration.

Of course, like any river, Nestos completes its journey to the sea and flows into the Aegean just above Thassos, forming one of the most important river deltas in Greece.

Extending over an area of ​​approximately 550,000 hectares that reaches the Vistonida and Ismarida lakes, the Nestos Delta has been included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance, the Ramsar Convention, the Natura 2000 network, and the Special Bird Protection Areas of the European Union.

Furthermore, the wider area of ​​the Delta of Nestos includes seven small lakes in the northeast of Chrysoupoli, as well as eight lagoons, the most distinct being those of Vassova, Erateinos, Agiasmatos, Keramoti, Monastiraki, Manganos and Erasmios, where you can see more than 200 bird species recorded in the area.

Yianni Koutroudi is a columnist for Travel. Translated by Paul Antonopoulos.

READ MORE: Pades: A village lost in greenery and close to Drakolimni Smolika.

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