Cupped in an enchanting setting under Mount Símvolon, fringed by a long string of sandy beaches, Kavála (Καβάλα) is Macedonia’s second port. It gazes over the sea to Thássos, its mother ship – in the 7th century bc the islanders founded their mainland base here and called it Neapolis. Neapolis prospered to the extent that it soon became independent of Thássos, then to add insult to injury, always sided with Athens against its island mother.
In 350bc Neapolis was snatched by Philip II to become the port of his city Philippi. Renamed Christoúpolis by the Byzantines, it prospered until the Normans burned it in 1185 during their failed attempt to take Constantinople. After 1864, the town expanded outside the walls and elegant mansions went up, paid for by tobacco, the golden weed that brought Kavála its period of glory as the ‘Mecca of Smoking’; more than 60 tobacco companies here employed in excess of 12,500 workers.
After 1930, changes in processing, demanded by international tobacco companies, brought on unemployment and led to the city’s decline, until the advent of tourism and a new nickname: ‘The Blue City’.
Kavála is a hopping place in summer. At the very end of June and the beginning of July it holds one of Greece’s biggest air shows. Founded in 1957, the Philippi-Thássos Festival (w visitkavala.gr) takes place in July and August with performances of ancient drama, contemporary theatre, dance and classical concerts on Thássos and in the ancient theatre of Philippi. The third week of July sees the Cosmopolis International Festival (w kavala-cosmopolis.com), featuring different countries every year along with a Greek city, with music – notably by musicians who have never performed in Greece before – dance, fi lms, food, events for children, and a bazaar.