Article by Donia Lilly first published in:
Transitions Abroad Magazine November/December 2006 issue ~
If you’re someone who loves the outdoors and traveling in the off-season to out of the way places, put Samos on your “must visit” list. Despite the fact that it’s one of the most beautiful Greek islands and the birthplace of ancient mathematician Pythagoras, many people have never heard of Samos—which is a good thing considering the effect mass-tourism can have on the natural beauty of a place.
A comparatively large island of 476 square kilometers, Samos is quite close to the shores of Turkey in the eastern Aegean. Formerly a vacation spot for celebrities like Antony and Cleopatra, it was famed to be one of the richest islands in history. It’s not difficult to see why with its abundance of natural beauty, from magnificent mountains to myriad species of wildflowers that paint the landscape each spring.
Thankfully, it hasn’t become a “hot spot” for modern day celebrities, attracting all-night discos and wild partying. Samos has the typically mesmerizing blue seas of Greece, but perhaps its profusion of stony beaches turned away many stereotypical tourists, leaving it to be discovered by more adventurous types.
Activities for the Adventurous
Walking and hiking paths for all experience levels can be found (or forged, if you prefer) around the island. In a single walk you can witness the stretch of sea as it silently reaches the northern Dodecanisa, the breathtaking mountainous shores of Turkey, fertile Samian valleys, ancient mines and ruins, the engineering wonder of the Efpalinio tunnel, and the Monastery of Spiliani. And that’s just one 4-hour walk on the island’s southern side.
On the northern coast you can find more difficult but stunning hikes into the mountain villages of Manolates and Vourliotes. Looking down from the heights you have climbed, the cultivated mountainside presents a visual feast of vineyards and olive groves climbing up toward you from the sea.
Although rock-climbing fields can be found all over Samos, and many are currently under development, the western side of the island is a wonderland for rock climbing and mountaineering. The Kerkis mountain range’s highest peak, Vigla, is about 4,700 feet, making it the second-highest peak in the East Aegean.
Both sport and traditional climbing routes of all levels can be found on the island, more often than not with views over the sea (even more impressive at their dizzying heights). For the inexperienced interested in rock climbing, an enjoyable option would be to hire an instructor (see below).
Below the mountains are Samos’ abundance of natural caves and ancient mines. There are more than 70 discovered caves on the island, with many more still thought to exist. Just ask the locals—they will pass along myths about caves you’d enter from sea cliffs only to emerge at ancient sites, or a local favorite: the undiscovered cave that hides Polykrates’ gold, for which many islanders are still looking.
Most caves require a guide and speleological equipment to navigate their massive chambers and small spaces, but with Samos’ wide variety of caves anyone from the novice to advanced cavers can find appropriate ones to explore. Some can be visited “on foot” and have chapels inside, but the more challenging ones should only be ventured into with trained guides from the island.
Samos is also a mountain biker’s dream, with routes ranging from easy to ridiculously difficult. All of them have the satisfying reward (aside from burning thighs) of phenomenal views no matter what part of the island you explore.
The northern shore is also a windsurfer’s paradise with its consistent wind stirring the sea. Near the village of Kokkari, there’s a school and rental center that has had clients coming back for years.
Snorkeling is another option for those who are interested. More serious divers will be excited to learn that early in 2006 Greece revoked its scuba diving ban (aside from commercial diving), which had been in place to prevent the plundering of antiquities. The new diving law is in accord with the EU Standards regarding recreational diving, and it provides protection for the environment and underwater antiquities.
The best time to visit Samos for outdoor sports like hiking and climbing is spring and fall when the weather is sunny and mild (September through mid-December) and the flowers blooming (March through May).
Summer months are ideal for water sport enthusiasts and cavers, who escape the often oppressive heat in the natural coolness of the caves. In general, however, avoid August as it’s not only the hottest month, but also the busiest—when all of Europe is on holiday, and restaurants and shops (not to mention travel fares) boast their highest prices.
The Downside of Paradise
Most people who visit Samos today have done so for some 30 years. This ageing tourist population cannot hold a future for an island that, like most Greek islands, relies on tourism for economic health. Unfortunately the majority of Samians, not being outdoor enthusiasts, think of tourism only in terms of how other islands have made money: bars, cafes, souvenirs, beaches.
The locals love their island but at the same time cannot grasp (yet) that people may want to come on holiday to do more than just shopping or sunbathing.
Since most tourists congregate near the beaches, which are generally cleaned for the summer season, locals (not just on Samos, but throughout much of Greece) think nothing of dumping garbage out of “sight”—into their beautiful caves and off the sides of sea-cliff roads—ruining fabulous views and natural beauty with old cars, appliances, and an assortment of rubbish. Thankfully this isn’t everywhere you look, but it is definitely enough of a problem to be of concern for people like me and others who care about nature and its preservation for reasons both ecological and aesthetic.
Preserving and Protecting Samos
If people visit Samos specifically for its natural beauty: to hike, bike, and climb its terrain, Samians will have an incentive to clean up the garbage problem. Mainstream tourism has fallen on the island for the past 10 years, and there is grave concern as to what should be done. Sadly, bureaucracy and usual governmental mismanagement of money prevents any real, useful progress from being made through conventional avenues. This is all the more reason to approach the problem from unconventional routes, such as the as yet un-trodden path of adventure sports.
Samos Outdoor organizes an array of outdoor activities, including rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and caving trips. It provides instruction with expert guides and teachers at reasonable rates. Samos Outdoor was founded by German expat Ingo Kliesen, who had been visiting Samos for more than 20 years before he decided to move there with his wife five years ago. He is actively trying to revitalize tourism for the island in a responsible manner that helps preserve Samos’ natural resources. Contact: 011-30-69763-59572 or info@SamosOutdoor.com; www.SamosOutdoor.com.
Samos Diving is a new diving center: www.SamosDiving.com.
Samos Wind Surfing school is based in the seaside village of Kokkari. Contact: 011-30-22730-92102 // www.samoswindsurfing.gr.
Accommodations and Eateries
Kavo Fanari Apartments, Pythagorio. Beautiful self-catering cottages with an incredible view. Contact: 011-30-22730-61898; www.studioskavofanari.com.
Elena Apartments, Pythagorio. Self-catering cottages with a swimming pool and beautiful gardens. Contact: 011-30-22730-61784; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dolichi Restaurant & Music Bar, Pythagorion Harbor. A unique eating experience on the island. Offers Mediterranean cuisine and world music combined with fine art and design. Contact: 011-30-22730-61764; email@example.com.
Stelios Bar is a little hidden treasure of garden-fresh, home-cooked meals and spontaneous music and dancing. Difficult to find, but worth it. Contact: 011-30-22730-62227