As a one-time cultural powerhouse or a wonderfully authentic island with mountain villages and an array of excellent beaches and local products, Samos has something for everyone.
But to know where to look, you need to know it like a local. So we asked for 10 local tips to help you plan your perfect holiday. And this is what we learned.
1) Head to colourful Kokkari and the first of many beaches
This pocket-sized seaside settlement, just 10km from Samos’ main town, Vathi, oozes quaintness and colour. Set on a tiny peninsula, on the northern coastline, the clutch of red roof-tiled houses and colourful fishing boats are perfect in every way. The water is magically clear and there’s a double-fronted beach either side of the peninsula (just to make it harder to choose where you should swim). Or you could head to other beautiful beaches – Lemonakia or Tsamadou just up the road, or Tsambou a little further down the coast. Little coffee shops, gift shops, tavernas… you can lose yourself in the backstreets here. Or set out to explore the countryside, with a number of well-maintained walking paths, including one going all the way up Mt Ampelos.
2) Feel the heartbeat of Samian culture
No visit to Samos can pass without exploring Pythagorio. Built on the site of the ancient city of Samos, the town captures everything great about the island’s culture. It was the birthplace of the mathematician-philosopher Pythagoras (whose statue dominates the harbour) and Aesop (of fable-writing fame), and was a naval and economic powerhouse during the 6th century BC. The historian Herodotus also lived here a century later. History is, indeed, everywhere in this UNESCO World Heritage Site – in the fortified walls, the Archaeological Museum, the Logothetis Tower, the Temple of Hera and the nearby Tunnel of Eupalinos (the 1km section of aqueduct considered the height of ancient Greek engineering). But it’s also a very pretty harbour town, with paved streets and a relaxed air.
3) Sample the richness of a deep-rooted wine culture
To many around the world, Samos means wine. It has a wine-making tradition going back to antiquity, but the oenological leap happened when the Moschato grape was introduced in the 16th century. The Samos Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (to give it its posh name) is grown on the slopes of Mount Ambelos, on traditional terraces called pezoules. You should definitely arrange a visit to a winery and tour of a vineyard. And a wine-tasting session will teach you about the unique aromas and rich flavours and understand why they’ve succeeded in markets as demanding as France and Germany and won several international prizes and distinctions. There’s also a Museum Of Samos Wine on the outskirts of Vathi, with traditional wine-making equipment and photographs, and a barrel-full of information.
4) Take a boat trip to Samiopoula
Of course, you’re going to find those pockets of perfection on Samos, but if you want to experience a virtually uninhabited and pure landscape, then head for Samiopoula, the tiny satellite isle just off the south coast. Boat trips leave from Pythagorio and take you to a verdant, low-lying island, with blue-green waters and a central beach called Psalida, where you can sunbathe on the fine white sand. Some boat trips have snorkeling equipment on board, but bring your own if you have it. The water is just amazing.
5) Hike to a pair of heavenly beaches
Samos is green and hilly which, for active nature lovers, means one thing: hiking. And if there’s one path to seek out, it’s from the village of Potami to a pair of unique cliff-fronted beaches, Mikro (Small) and Megalo (Big) Seitani. The walk isn’t difficult but, boy, is the scenery dramatic. You’ll pass through a forest of plane trees and ferns for about 1hr30mins until you get your first sight of the beaches. The tree-lined landscape plunges towards the sea. First a small cove of sand and pebbles and, a little further along, the long stretch of sand that makes up the big brother.
6) Visit villages where time stands still
There are more than 30 inhabited villages on Samos, any one of which will allow you to listen in to the authentic heartbeat of the island. We’ve got two to recommend: Ambelos and Manolates, around 35 minutes’ drive from Vathi. On the foothills of Mt Ambelos, they each have around 100 inhabitants and offer wonderful views of the Aegean. Ambelos is surrounded by vineyards (its name comes from vine in Greek) and greenery, with a 1.5km path leading from here through a forest of chestnut trees to a waterfall.
7) Find seaside simplicity at its finest
And when you’re done with the mountains, it’s off to the southern coast for the blissful simplicity of village life by the sea. Both Marathokambos (to the west) and Posidonio (to the east) have picturesque little harbours filled with traditional fishing boats and fantastic beaches nearby.
Psili Ammos (Fine Sand) near Marathokambos and Klima near Posidonio are our recommendations. And by now, you’ll be hungry, so how about choosing a taverna and settling down to some seafood and Samian wine?
8) Uncover an exotic gem of a beach
With all that greenery and beautiful coastline, how could Samos’ beaches not be beautiful? So let’s take you to Livadaki, a little gem we’ve been keeping up our sleeve. Follow the coastline north of Vathi for around 12km and you’ll reach it… an exotic little beach, squeezed between two lengths of land extending into the sea, with light sand and blue-green water and all the facilities necessary to spend the day here. There are even little touches on the beach that remind you of the Maldives. It’s shallow for some distance, so perfect for families with young children, but you can head a little further out if you want to snorkel.
9) Take a piece of Samos home with you
Mountains, valleys, streams and acres of fruit-bearing trees… everything needed to produce a range of delicious local products. We’ve already talked about the wine, so let’s tell you about the olive oil. The rocky terrain and slopes all conspire to produce rich and aromatic golden olive oil, with characteristic low acidity. And you have to take home a jar of honey. It’s fragranced with the thyme, rosemary, lavender and a whole range of fruit and nut tree blossom (peach, lemon, apple, cherry, almond etc) on which the bees feed. You’ll also find excellent sheep and goats’ cheese and don’t miss the chance of sampling the local firewater, called souma, made from the residue of grapes after crushing.
10) Don’t just sit on the beach… live it!
Our final tip is for lovers of water sports. You don’t have to be a pro windsurfer (although you won’t be disappointed if you are) to enjoy Mykali beach, around 8 km south of Vathi. It’s known for good kitesurfing, too. And don’t worry if you’re into more sedate activities. Stand-up Paddleboards can be hired here too. Alternatively, there are dive sites right along the south coast, whether you’re a wetsuit-and-aqualung or snorkel-and-mask type.
Holidays on Samos island
With the choice of airport or port, there’s easy access from Athens and other nearby islands… bringing all that history and greenery, and those beaches and seaside villages even closer to you. As long as you know where to look.
This is what freedom feels like!