Top Things to do in Samos
A stunning and self-sufficient island with its own steady year-round pulse, Samos is one of the best-value-for-quality Greek destinations around. Once a holiday haunt of Antony and Cleopatra, Pythagoras’ birthplace also has a riveting history, reports Amanda Dardanis.
For a fairly small island just 43km across, the Isle of Samos packs a big poetic legacy. It is quoted in the scriptures. Herodotus and Aesop dwelled here for long periods. Cleopatra and her lover made their doomed preparations for war against Rome. And in the modern age, Lord Byron was stirred to write his paean to the famous sweet Samos Muscat wine. According to mythology, it was also here that Hera married her brother Zeus, (with a wedding night that lasted 300 years!).
While Pythagoras was busy cracking his right-angled triangle theorem,the enthusiastic tyrant Polycrates made Samos the cosmopolitan centre of the Ionian World in the sixth century BC by erecting such archeological, engineering and cultural marvels as the first artificial harbour in Pythagoria (where the popular tourist port still exists today); Hera’s epic temple, the Heraion, (once one-and-a-half times larger than the Parthenon); and the Tunnel of Eupalinus, a 1km water duct still lying underneath the mountain slopes of Panagia Spilani (but currently closed for restoration).
The highbrow Polycrates offered his royal court as a spiritual salon for the world’s top thinkers of the day, and threw his vast library of significant texts open to all Samian citizens in order for them to self-educate. Under his rule, according to Herodotus, Samos rose to become one of the three most powerful city-states of the sea, alongside Athens and Knossos in Crete.
Modern Samos has lost this knack of marketing itself. Although for many, this is the island’s great draw. It possesses a quiet confidence that comes with self-sufficiency. Since antiquity, Samos’ luxuriant mountainous terrain and generous rainfall, has always granted it a working pulse outside of tourism.
The island supplies its own excellent apples and apricots, almonds and onions, honey and herbs. It’s the only place in Greece that cultivates orchids for export. In winter months, you can watch flamingoes in the salt marshes of Psili Ammos, forage for wild mushrooms, or pluck ripe overhanging olives as you hike in traditional spring-fed mountain villages like Manolates.
Year-round, you can visit honey and apple farms. Or tiny family-run wineries that survive on word of mouth. And unlike the austere Cycladics, you always get the sense of nature being exuberantly alive all around you. The kissos vines that envelop the metal road barriers all the way down the coast. The puddles of cranky goats that stream across the path as you drive.
Samos is an island perfectly formed for exploration; where independent-minded folk return each year to plonk themselves down at characterful guesthouses for at least a month to hike, eat terrific food, and visit Samos’ stunning tranche of beaches.
Top Things to Do in Samos
Samos Wine Museum
Befriend the famous sweet muscat appellation in all its guises at this attractive stone wine museum on the Vathy waterfront. A tasting tour reveals the Samos Muscat’s surprisingly broad spectrum: from the dry dynamic whites Psiles Korfes and Golden Samena; to the sweeter labels popular in the UK like Samos Vin Douz and the Samos Anthemis (aged in French oak barrels for 5 years).
Take Samos’ most memorable hiking trail in the mountains behind Potami beach where you’ll see Samos’ oldest church (10th century Metamorphosis) and wade through about 100 yards of chilly waters to reach the impressive Potami Waterfall. Tip: take some small change with you for a rest stop at the café midway along.
Malagari, Vathi, +30 227.308.7511, www.samoswine.gr
Open-air Cinema in Mitilinioi
Beloved by locals and tourists alike, experience the Greek summer ritual of cinema under the stars at the family-run Cine Rex, where they give you free home-made honey donuts (loukoumades). Located inland in elevated Mitilinioi village, among the lemon trees and basil plants. Most movies are in English.
Navagos at Tsamadou Beach
Settle in for the day at popular Navagos Beach Bar, on exquisite Tsamadou, near Kokkari. Bright umbrellas and stripy loungers sprawl across an expanse of gently-sloping lawn, overlooking a Caribbean-Dream bay – and all are completely free of charge! Tip: Tsamadou is former hippy HQ and locals call it “50 Shades of Blue”, thanks to the nudist strip still going strong on the beach’s right side.
Romantic Dining at Kokkari
This coveted tourist resort, about 10km from Vathy, is Samos’ Little Venice. Eat at stylish Italian Giro del Sole in pole position. Tip: Keep walking past the long pebbly beach to access the prettier harbour quarters on the western-side. It’s where Kokkari’s best charms are on display.
Take time-out from the beaches and explore Samos’ beautiful trio of working alpine villages in the north – Ambelos, Stavrinides and Manolates. They’re full of fetching ceramics and jewellery workshops, authentic tavernas, divine hiking trails with abundant springs – and the inescapable Pythagoras Cup (if you overfill it, it runs dry, teaching us all that “when you’re greedy, you lose everything”).
Sunset at Hippys
“Do” the sunset at Hippys, at Potami Beach in the north-west, an unmissable Samos institution. Trek through a scruffy field of sunflowers to reach a long sand and pebble beach. Random rock formations supply the drama; ambient Indian music and slouchy double divans, the Ibiza vibe. Settle in with a summer cocktail of Prosecco, Muscat and a single lazy swirl of orange peel.
To gain a sense of Samos’ rich cultural backstory, visit the Archeological Museum of Samos (hosting the 5.35m-tall “Kouros of Samos” and Greece’s best preserved Kouros statue); the Archeological Museum of Pythagorio (notable exhibits include a Venus statue and tombstone of Lucius); and the Heraion of Samos: the coastal ruins of Hera’s once mighty temple with its Sacred Way and lone surviving Ionic column; once host to fertility rites and prestigious sporting tournaments for the ancient world.
Taverna at the End of the World
Challenge yourself with a two-mile mostly uphill quest from pretty Limnionas Beach, on the island’s south-west, to reach remote local landmark “Taverna at the End of the World”. It’s well worth a visit as much for the ravishing setting, as for its eccentric host and master story-spinner Andreas Kotsos.
* This is an extract of a longer article which first appeared in The Times