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The pine-scented honey of Thassos

Honey for sale sign on Thassos

Thassos is world famous world over for its pine-scented honey products

Thassos honey bees at work
Roadside row of beehives
Honey on sale at a Thassos stall

Few holiday visitors wandering around resorts on the island of Thassos will fail to notice the many jars of locally produced honey stacked high in shops and on market stalls.

The island is famous for both the quality and quantity of its organically made honey, much of it produced by family-run independent beekeepers living all over the island.

Anyone who takes a walk in the pine-carpeted hillsides is sure to come across rows of beehives neatly lining the walking trail or peppered across the small open fields.

And nowhere more so than around the village of Prison on the fertile western plain as this is the epicentre of honey making on Thassos.

It is to Prinos that most of the honey is taken to be processed and distributed not only across the island of Thassos but to the Greek mainland and even further afield.

More than 40 years ago the Thassos island beekeepers joined together to form the Apiarian Cooperative of Prinos, Thassos. Today it has more than 100 beekeeper members who all keep strictly to the association's rules for producing pure honey.

The cooperative handles the registration and the promotion of island honey products, ensure good beekeeping practice and help to promote the sale of honey both on Thassos and abroad.

Honeymaking is common on many Greek islands but it holds a special place on Thassos thanks to the honey-bearing liquid of the pine trees that carpet the hillsides and to the island flowers of arbutus, myrtle, wicker as well as its many chestnut trees.

The island also lies in the north-east Aegean, close to the Greek mainland, where it tends not to be affected by the brisk summer Meltemi winds that sweep across many of the more southern islands. This makes the Thassos climate more gentle in the summer and allows the busy bees to work on honey collection all day long.

Thassos is famous for two types of honey. The darker caramel-coloured pine tree honey comes from inland mountain hives surrounded by dark pine forest while the clear golden honey is derived from the flowers, shrubs and trees that cover the lowland plains to the west around the port resort of Skala Prinos.

Both types of honey are equally delicious and tourists will queue up to enjoy the aroma and taste of Thassos honey while on holiday and to pack plenty of jars in their suitcases to take back home when the holiday is over.

Beekeepers tend to their beehives all year round but the honeycombs are usually extracted in the warm, sunny days of June when the first spring flush of wildflowers is over and again in late August.

Scores of bee colonies are moved into the hillside from August onwards so that the bees can collect the honeydew from the insect March, llina Helenica which lives on the pines.

Back in the 1980s Thassos island suffered a series of devastating forest fires, some of which devastated the south-east region of the island and threatened to put an end to honey production on the island.

Fortunately, bees and hives in the north and west were relatively unaffected and extensive replanting has resulted in restored pine forests and a big revival in beekeeping and honey production.

In addition to the delicious honey, visitors to Thassos can also try out the honeycomb, royal jelly, and propolis – a resinous mixture than bees collect from tree buds and sap flows. Both pine honey and flower honey can also be used in cosmetic products.

Honey is also the main ingredient of the sweets and cakes that fill the island bakeries and other shops. The best known of these is the walnut sweet, made from young, tender walnuts picked early in the spring. Other honey-wrapped sweet fillings can be made of figs, oranges and even quince.

Traditional sweets made on Thassos include the honey-soaked 'halvas' – you will find the best in the village of Kallirachi – and a traditional island homemade honey flavoured pie pastry called 'saragli'.

holiday visitors have no trouble finding these fresh, locally produced sweets and pastries. Shops all over the island will have it on display and local families will set up roadside stands in the high summer season.

Visitors should also take a trip to the honey factory near Skala Prinos and pick up interesting facts about beekeeping, take a peek inside some hives and learn all about the many products made from Thassos honey.