Canoeing was introduced in Greece as a competitive sport during the 1980s in exchanges with Bulgaria and Poland; since then Greeks have won international medals in this sport.
As an adventure sport, canoeing gained popularity in Greece around the same time as kayaking - during the 1990s, both being sports that 'tread lightly on the earth', which was becoming a matter of greater significance for many by that decade.
Canoeing appeals to many more people than kayaking, as it requires less skill and strenuous movement, within the reach of children as well as adults, and can be enjoyed for sheer relaxation. It is also a craft suitable for two, giving it an added social element.
Canoes were used long ago in the same northern places as kayaks - Canada and Alaska. Though most modern canoes are made of fiberglass, they retain most of the shape and features of ancient canoes, and are paddled in the same manner.
One big difference between canoes and kayaks is the large open and deck-less hull of the canoe (instead of the closed hull of the kayak), meaning that it is much less easy to right a canoe again when it fills with water.
It is little known that there is such a thing as whitewater canoeing, though this is done in far less extreme rapids than for rafting, due to the unsuitability of canoes for such watery terrain, their natural habitat being calm lakes and rivers.
Spring and summer are the best seasons in Greece for lake canoeing; rivers are best from October through May.
For competitive sprint canoeing , there are special courses in both natural and artificial lakes; competitive slalom canoeing takes place in river courses or in artificial facsimiles of them.
For river canoeing in Greece, one of the finest locations is the Nestos River, which forms the border between the Greek region of Macedonia and Greek Thrace, and which flows through some 22,230 acres (9000 hectares) of beautiful protected forest land.
The river begins in Bulgaria and enters Greece north of the city of Dhrama, near the Stavroupoli villages; it empties into the sea to the east of the port city of Kavala (the last big town in Greek Macedonia).
In the village of Toxotes, to the east of the river mouth one can arrange canoe trips on the Nestos with various tourist agencies, which provide equipment and guides.
Wildlife, including rich birdlife and mammals such as otters, can be enjoyed along with the forest and rich green foliage along the Nestos, making a canoe journey on this river one of luxurious pleasure for the nature lover.
The river can also be explored by kayak, on foot, or from the train window, the river gorge between Paranesti and Xanthi being the most dramatic stretch.
The railway station of the abandoned village of Livera has been turned into a hostel, where serious trekkers can find overnight accommodation. Trekkers can hook up with the European E 6 trail at the village of Leivaditis, which leads to a beautiful waterfall in the Rhodopi mountain range which forms the border between Greece and Bulgaria to the north.
The town of Paranesti has a good Natural History Museum with specimens of mammals found in these mountains, as well as flora, fossils, and rock samples.
There's also a good folk culture museum in Stavroupoli. Many outdoor activities are offered by tourist agencies in this beautiful area. The city of Xanthi, westernmost town of any size in Greek Thrace, has a fascinating Old Town, with Ottoman style houses with overhanging second stories, beautiful cobbled streets, mosques and Orthodox Greek churches, and in general, marvelous local color, with a mixed population where one hears Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish and Romany in the streets.
For those exploring the region in September, there is a week long annual festival with traditional Thracian and Macedonian live music and dance that fills the streets of the Old Town every night with crowds of revellers.