XÁNTHI is the most interesting point to break a journey in Thrace. There is a busy market area, good food and, up the hill to the north of the Kendrikí Platía, the main café-lined square, a very attractive old Ottoman quarter. The town is also home to the University of Thrace, which lends a lively air to the place, particularly in the area between the bazaar and the campus, where bars, cinemas and bistros are busy in term time.

The main south–north thoroughfare is 28-Oktovríou, lined with fast-food outlets and sundry shops. One end is marked by the Kendrikí Platía, recognizable by its distinguished clocktower. Try, if you can, to visit on Saturday, the day of Xánthi’s street fair – a huge affair, attended equally by Greeks, Pomaks and ethnic Turks, held in an open space near the fire station on the eastern side of the town.

The old town

The narrow cobbled streets of the old town are home to a number of very fine mansions – some restored, some derelict – with colourful exteriors, bay windows and wrought-iron balconies; most date from the mid-nineteenth century when Xánthi’s tobacco merchants made their fortunes.

Further up, the roads become increasingly narrow and steep, and the Turkish presence (about fifteen percent of the total urban population) is more noticeable: most of the women have their heads covered, and the more religious ones wear full-length cloaks. Churches and mosques hide behind whitewashed houses with tiled roofs and orange-brown tobacco leaves are strung along drying frames. Numerous houses, no matter how modest, sport a dish for tuning in to Turkish satellite television.

The folk museum

Two adjacent mansions at the bottom of the hill up into the right-bank quarter of the old town, originally built for two tobacco magnate brothers, have been turned into an excellent folk museum. Worth seeing for the imposing exterior alone, some years ago the interior was lovingly restored with painted wooden panels, decorated plaster and floral designs on the walls and ceilings. The interesting displays include Thracian clothes and jewellery, numerous household objects and historical displays on the tobacco industry and society in general; entry includes an enthusiastic guided tour if requested.

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