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Samos

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To visit the Samos picture gallery - click HERE

 

Video Presentation - Part 1

Video Presentation - Part 2

Introduction

We visited in September 2009. Samos is in the North Aegean and is separated from the Turkish mainland by just 1.6 km.

Arrival

Arrival into Samos airport (“Aristarchos of Samos”) involves a difficult, technical approach due to the proximity of the mountains to the north and west. On a normal approach into most runways, the plane gets onto its final glidepath several minutes before touchdown. On the approach into Samos there is a final 90 degree right turn just some 20 seconds away from touchdown. So when looking out of the window down to the runway to the right be prepared for the plane to bank very steeply. The airport itself is not too bad although the single baggage carousel could be a problem.

There are only 3 flights a week from the UK. The majority of visitors arrive from Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

Samos Sun Hotel and Apartments

We stayed at the Samos Sun Hotel and Apartments. which is just a 5 minute transfer from the airport. There is of course some aircraft noise but all landings and take offs are during the day. For some people the proximity to the airport provides some added entertainment.

The hotel is made up of a central building containing the reception, a bar, restaurant, games room and Gym. The accommodation is in 5 blocks set into the hillside. Those at the top require a bit of a climb to get therebut these rooms do get the best views.

Samos Sun - Click to enlarge There is a large swimming pool with plenty of surrounding space and a bar serving a limited choice of snacks. The reception staff of Monica, Stella and Lena, were all very friendly and always helpful. The pool bar was run by Sue and Yiannis. Rooms are serviced every day. Our cleaner, Fotoni, must be the fastest and best cleaner on Samos! She always said a friendly Yassou as she sped past with her mop and bucket. Noreen loved her artistic efforts with the clean sheets.

The hotel is near to the only set of traffic lights on the whole island – which does exaggerate some traffic noise. Around this junction there are 3 car rental outlets – Evelin, Dino and Auto Europe. There is also a taverna run by the Illios Hotel and the Evelin snack bar.

There is a big supermarket next door to the hotel with a comprehensive choice of food, drinks, clothing, household goods and even gardening supplies. You name it they sell it!

The nearest beach is at Potokaki – about a 10 minute walk. It would take less time to reach the beach if it were not for the airport runway being in the way. This also spoils the view for those not captivated by aeroplanes landing and taking off. I loved it … Noreen read her book!

The walk into Pythagorio takes around 25minutes. There is a pavement all the way, which for Greece is a bit of a bonus, although various signs and telegraph poles are still a problem for those not paying attention. It is quite an interesting stroll as along the way you will pass a number of archaeological sites including the temple of Artemis, a post Christian Cemetery, a post Christian Basilica, Gymnasium, Geometrical Cemetery and the temple of Venus. I think that’s everything!

Alternatively, the hotel reception can call a taxi – approx cost 5€.

Some pictures of the hotel can be viewed HERE.

Days out

The island is quite large so hiring a car is well worth it. The roads are generally good and most of the island can be visited in a small car. However, a trip over Mount Ambelos will require 4WD and some of the tracks we discovered in the east of the island will also be easier to navigate in a Jeep.

We hired a Jeep for 3 days and a car for 7 days at a total cost of 265. This was a very good price; we booked via the internet with Evelin car hire - their office is just across the road from the Samos Sun Hotel. If you consider cars from the multinational companies such as Avis and Hertz to be the top of the hire car food chain i.e. you are likely to get a new or nearly new car, at Evelin the cars already have a season or two under their belt. Having said that both vehicles we hired were in perfectly good condition. We found the staff at Evelin very friendly and helpful.

Pythagorio

Once named Tigani (Greek for Frying Pan), it was renamed Pythagorio in 1955, in honour of the famous mathematician, Pythagoras, who was born on the island in 570 BC. There is an interesting statue of Pythagoras on the harbour wall. Have a look here for a refresher on what he was famous for.

Pythagorio - Click to enlargeAlthough today it is no longer the capital of the island its importance is retained as the biggest of the tourist resorts on the island.

The good news is that in this case big does not mean bad, the town and harbour area are very pretty with lots of character. The main street leading down to the harbour is attractively paved and lined with the usual assortment of tourist shops and Greek style fast food outlets. Taxis can be found at the bottom of this street where it meets the harbour. This street is closed to traffic in the evening; well except for taxis and motorbikes/scooters. If you know Greece, this will not come as a surprise.

There is a large car park on the outskirts of the town and it is just a short walk down to the harbourside. During the day there are excursions on offer including day trips to Ephesus, Turkey. The tavernas and bars are right at the harbour edge and are great for people-watching and for admiring some of the more expensive yachts.

As usual prices tend to be higher here but carry on past the end of the harbour and there is another small selection of tavernas which offer slightly better value. A little further on is the town beach. Away from the harbour there is still plenty going on in the back streets – which is how we found our favourite taverna – Symposium.

Potaki Beach

This is the main beach of Pythagorio and stretches most of the way to Ireon.

The end nearest the town is the busiest and is also directly under the flight path to the airport. A little further west there is a cluster of small hotels/studios. Here the sunbeds are free if you buy something in the bar/taverna.

The beach is a mixture of sand and pebbles with plenty of Tamarisk trees for shade

A road runs parallel with the beach – where this stops a brightly coloured cycle path begins; a pleasant surprise if you are on a bicycle.

Sights around Pythagorio

Eupalinos Tunnel

Eupalinos Tunnel - Click to enlargeThe Eupalinos Tunnel, is said to be the 8th wonder of the world, was built around 550 – 520 BC by the Greek Architect Eupalinos of Megara, to provide a fresh water supply to the ancient capital of Samos, The tunnel measures 1030 meters – 3432 feet – in length.

It costs 4€ to view this engineering masterpiece but only a small section is open to the public. Entrance is via a very narrow opening down a steep flight of steps. The first section continues to be very narrow for about 20 meters before it opens up. There are actually 2 tunnels, the lower one carrying the water. It should be noted that it is one way in and one way out, so beware if a coach party arrives while you are there, you could be down there some time. Anyone who suffers even a mild form of claustrophobia should perhaps give this experience a miss. Noreen has still not forgiven me for encouraging her to go down those steps.

Temple of Hera - Click to enlargeTemple of Hera

The site is located just outside of Ireon and is said to be the birthplace of the goddess Hera, wife to Zeus. Most of what remains dates back to the 6th century BC. Some imagination is required as only one of the original 133 columns remains. We found the site fascinating and spent a couple of hours here. At 3€ we found it better value than the tunnel.

Panagia Spilliani

The monastery is sat on the hillside above Pythagorio with splendid views to the coast. At the rear of the site, 95 steps lead down into a cave with a church that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We found it very peaceful even with other visitors there.

South Coast

Ireon

Ireon - Click to enlargeIreon is a small fishing village about 8kms west of Pythagorio. We spent quite a few evenings here and liked its ‘greekness’. The central Square is busy in the evenings with both locals and tourists. There are plenty of tavernas and bars – the most popular being those around the central square or on the waterfront. More eating and drinking places can be found tucked away in the side streets.

There are a couple of beach areas either side of the village. A short stroll to the west is Papa beach – a small cove with a popular taverna.

The Temple of Hera is about a 15 minute walk from the village. From the Samos Sun, a taxi to Ireon cost us 8€.

Ormos Marathokambos

Usually shortened to Ormos, this is a very pleasant village with a very big harbour, waterfront tavernas and bars and a decent beach stretching out to the east. We visited twice – not only because we enjoyed the village but because on the first visit we left something behind on the beach. Being, Greece, it was still there the next morning.

Balos

This had been our first choice of location for this holiday. In the end we decided it would perhaps be too quiet. Well it is very quiet indeed but what a fantastic location.

We drove there via the scenic route taking in Myli, Pagondas, Spatharei and down to Pyrgos. Once the road switches west it runs high above the coastline with fantastic views down to the Marathokambos Gulf and over to Mount Kerkis. We then left the main road down to Koumeika, from here the road to Balos was remarkably good – in fact it looked if it had only recently been made. Maybe the tranquillity of Balos is about to change.

Balos - Click to enlargeOnce down by the sea a small road runs the length of the beach … and stops. It is a long pebble beach with caves at the eastern end. It is a fantastic setting made all the better by the stunning backdrop of Mount Kerkis.

In all there are a maximum of just 5 places to eat/drink – less at the beginning and end of the season. These include the taverna Akrogiali, a snack bar and a Cypriot restaurant. We lunched at the Akrogiali a couple of times – excellent home cooked food with tables under a large tamarisk tree overlooking the sea. The owners also let rooms next door to the taverna Enalion Apartments.

At the far end of the beach is the Princess Tia Studios. We stopped for a coffee and a chat with Tia. She allowed us to view one of the rooms – it was well equipped and very spacious for a studio. Some of these rooms are available from Cachet travel or you can book direct with Tia - Princess Tia website . Our plans to stay at the Tia in 2010 have been put on hold because of the high cost of the flights. However, we certainly hope to return to Samos one year and this is where we want to stay. There is a good sized swimming pool, bar area with the beach directly opposite with sunbeds provided.

There is a daily bakers van and I understand that Tia can order provisions on your behalf. However, unless you want to hibernate entirely for the duration of the holiday, a car is essential as the nearest shop is way back up the hillside in Koumeika.

Kambos / Votsalakia

This is a very long stretch of beach with tourist development scattered along its length. There is no village as such but small clusters of accommodation, tavernas and bars. Very much a beach / taverna holiday in a wonderful setting. For more information about this area have a look at Votsalakia.Net

Pythagoras Cave

We took the signs to the cave believing it to be only a short drive from the main road. Initially the road is concrete but it soon turns to a dirt track – it is narrow and all uphill. It was a very scenic, if bumpy drive and in the end it was a case of having got this far it would be a shame to turn back. We finally reached the café bar below the cave. Looked up at all the steps and ….. went back. So I can’t comment on the actual cave as we never made it.

Further along this coastline there is the attractive sandy beach of Psili Amos (West) and the more intimate beach at Limnionas. For something off the beaten track, a drive of 2.5 kms out of Limnionas will bring you to the End of the World taverna.

West Coast

Drive to Drakei

The road up the west coast to Drakei is spectacular.

We first took a short diversion, heading south, on a good tarmac road to the hamlet of Paleochori – almost deserted. From there the road becomes a dirt track – this was the cue to point the Hyundai northwards.

On route to Drakei - Click to enlargeThe drive is through dense pine forests with views down to the coast and up to the towering rock faces of Mount Kerkis. Just before Drakei is a track down to the village of Ag. Isadoros – which is still home to a few traditional shipbuilding yards.

Drakei is the village at the end of the road. It has a number of tavernas which tout for business as you walk past. We stopped at the Kostas taverna which had an upper terrace with excellent views of the village and out to sea. Katerina, our friendly host, speaks several languages. She showed us some wonderful sunset pictures taken from the taverna. As much as we wanted to stay and witness the sunset for ourselves the thought of driving back in the dark meant that this was not going to happen. It was interesting to hear her comments on tourism. In 2009 her takings were some 50% down and there had been 30% fewer visitors. No wonder tavernas in the larger resorts employ people to get you in … they must be desperate for the business.

North Coast

Vathy (Samos Town)

Vathy is the capital of the island. It is a very big modern town spreading out around the bay. The older part of the town is up on the hillside - ano Vathy. We only drove along the long waterfront and did not stop but from what we could see it is certainly worth a look.

Agh. Konstandinos

Once again in Greece an example of the excessive use of concrete can be witnessed by the formidable sea defences of huge concrete blocks that line the coastline of the village. One can only imagine the severity of the winter storms - unless someone got the calculations wrong. There was something about the place that we liked – maybe it was just a time and a place thing; sitting in the North Star Café watching the world go by. Either side of the concrete defences are small beach areas.

Kokkari

Meaning “small onions” in Greek, Kokkari, once a small fishing village it is now the premier resort in the north and probably the liveliest place on the island.

Kokkari - Click to enlargeAnywhere that is popular with windsurfers should be treated with some suspicion. Kokkari is popular with windsurfers! When the wind is blowing from the north, as it was the day we visited, you will certainly know about it and it makes being on the north facing beach uncomfortable. This beach is lined with the usual assortment of tavernas and bars

Fortunately, on the other side of the promontory, the area of the old fishing harbour is generally sheltered from the wind. Here again there are many tavernas and bars that hug the waterfront. The protection from the wind makes this a much more appealing place to sit and watch the world go by.

There are further town beaches to the east of the village. It is an attractive town enhanced by the wonderful colour to the sea and the mountain backdrop. Within easy reach of Kokkari there are lots of good beaches all along this stretch of the north coast including Tsamadou and Lemonakia.

Karlovasi

This is the second biggest town on the island, with a major commercial port. We drove around it (slowly) on route to Potami.

Potami

Just beyond the unusual modernistic shaped chapel of Agh. Dimitrios is the beach of Potami. An attractive beach, the area behind has a few tavernas but is surprisingly a less developed area than expected. There is a nearby walk of approx 2 kms along a tree lined riverbed to the waterfalls.

This is the end of the road – the next bit of coastline, which includes the beaches of Seitani, can only be reached on foot or by boat.

East Coast

We were surprised at how difficult it was to get around the eastern side of the island. Even with a good map we still managed to get lost and never got to one of our intended destinations, the beach at Mourtia. We somehow ended up on the north east coast. This in turn led to an unintended drive through Vathy so that we could start all over again but this time heading for Kerveli.

Kerveli – is a lovely quiet hamlet with a pebble beach lined with tamarisk trees. There is a taverna on the beach and a small mini market.

Posidonio - Click to enlargePosidonio – set back into a horseshoe shaped bay this is the nearest settlement on Samos to Turkey. There is a small beach and a taverna that extends out over the water. The taverna specialises in fish and they seemed very keen to sell us … fish. It is wise to check the price per kilo and the weight of the fish as it can work out to be a very expensive meal. We declined the fish in favour of a mixed meze. From this point onwards the previously very friendly waiter became just a stranger once more!

There is another beach nearby at Sideras – only really worth the drive to visit the closest point to Turkey.

Klima – set in a beautiful sheltered bay. Here you will find a small, narrow pebble beach and a couple of tavernas.

Psili Amnos (east) – this is a rare find on Samos; a genuine sandy beach.

Mykali - a long pebbly beach which at the eastern end, is backed by wetlands.

Mountains of Samos

Mount Kerkis wins the prize for the most dramatic and picturesque mountain scape on the island. At a height of 1434 metres it is the highest mountain in the eastern Aegean. It is not possible to drive anywhere near the top so the only way up is on foot.

Mount Ambelos - Click to enlargeMount Ambelos has the second highest peak at Prof. Ilias at some 1153 metres above sea level. This is the highest point on Samos accessible by a vehicle (4WD). We did the drive from south to north starting the climb at Pyrgos on a surfaced road to just beyond Mesogio. From here the road turns to a rough, rutted track. The pines forests that once graced the southern slopes were destroyed by the severe fires that broke out in the summer of 2000. Even after all the years that have passed since the fires, the terrible damage that was done to the landscape is still very evident.

Just before reaching the summit is a disused bar and disco area – an unusual and unexpected find! The summit is rocky and barren but does offer splendid 360 degree views over the island.

The drive down the northern slope towards Vourliotes was just as precarious as the ascent but the scenery had changed as this side had not been as badly affected by the fires. We were soon in the pine forests with distant views down to the sea.

The only other person we saw during this journey was a cyclist, a possible refugee from the Tour De France. Unbelievable!

Mountain villages

It is said “One who doesn’t get to know the villages of Samos, knows nothing about the real life of the island”. Mind you, I don’t know who said it.

There are many attractive villages worth a visit but the two most popular tourist ‘honey pots’ are Vourliotes and Manolates.

Vourliotes - This village is suggested to be the prettiest. We had just come over the Ambelos Mountain so failed to stop as we headed down to the north coast.

Manolates - Sign posted from the north coast road just east of Agh. Konstandinos.

Manolates - Click to enlargeThe road leading up to the village runs initially alongside a stream as it winds its way steeply up through the valley of the Nightingales. Once above the tree line there are good views down to the coast.

There is a car park at the beginning of the village; leave your car there. The streets were designed for donkeys. The villagers obviously take pride in the appearance of their village – it was very tidy – not a discarded fridge in sight.

The village is quite compact but on several levels. There are a number of pretty shops selling pottery and local handicrafts. After a stroll around the village there are a number of tavernas to relax in.

Ambelos / Stavrinides - Sign posted from the north coast road just west of Agh. Konstandinos a good road leads up to a couple of attractive villages. Well worth the drive.

On the route up there is a very large picnic area in a pine forest carpeted with dry pine needles. I dread to think what damage a stray cigarette could cause in the summer.

As an alternative to the main cross island route out of Karlovasi there is a series of minor roads that run parallel and takes in the villages of Konteika, Agh Theodori and Platanos.

Agh Theodori - We wandered around the village – very pretty … very quiet …. it seemed to be asleep. Even the Kafenion was closed.

Platanos - Click to enlargePlatanos - The hillsides surrounding the village were covered in vines. The central Square has several tavernas, a fountain and a number of very old plane trees. The road through the square has a very narrow exit between one of the huge plane trees and a taverna wall. The gap was just wide enough for a pickup truck loaded with grapes.

We sat at this taverna in the sure knowledge that the narrow gap would provide some entertainment. We were not to be disappointed. Ah the simple pleasures of an hour in a village taverna.

Greek Military

The proximity of Samos to Turkey means that the island has a significant military presence. There are army bases all over the island, often in the very place where I wanted to take a photograph of the view.

The camp near Ireon had a bugler - so anyone staying nearby should be prepared for an early morning wake up reveille! This chap apparently also did lots of practice during the day. Our friends staying in Ireon found this amusing, however, others not quite so laid back may find it rather annoying after a while.

The camp near Pythagorio would occasionally fire a canon – presumably to let the Turks know that they are still here.

On an evening drive to Ireon, I nearly took out a troop of female soldiers marching along the road - they were very well camouflaged. Try to imagine olive trees on the move!

Not to be out done, the Greek Air force make regular appearances - you might not be able to see them but you can certainly hear them.

As we were waiting at the airport for the flight home 3 military jets flew very low over the runway. The first dipped its wings as it passed the control tower. No one but the tourists seemed to notice. Greek taxi drivers continued smoking, drinking frappe or talking on their mobiles.

We later found out that the first jet was a Turkish fighter and that the other 2 were Greek jets in hot pursuit. Apparently this is a weekly occurrence. The Turks send over a jet, it cheekily buzzes the runway and gets chased around the Aegean for an hour or so by the Greek Air Force and then they all return to their respective bases.

Eating out

A simple 2 course meal for 2 with a few drinks is about €40.

Samos produces some excellent wines. We particularly liked Samos Doux – very sweet so perhaps not to everyone’s tastes.

Samos also has its own variation of tsipero/raki, known as Souma.

Amstel Cost of Living Index

AmstelTaverna 2.00€

Bar in Pythagorio with comfy chairs – 3.70€

Bar in Pythagorio (not by the harbour) with wooden chairs – 2€

Samos Sun Pool Bar – 2.80€ (Spirit + mixer 4.60€)

Supermarket – 500ml bottle 0.95€

Price of beer seemed to be inflated perhaps because of the high number of visitors from Scandinavia where alcohol is significantly more expensive.

Leaving

Are Greek airports getting better or are we just on a lucky run. A straightforward exit and fortunately we had the airspace to ourselves as the air force had already been out for a spin earlier that day.

Conclusion

I am surprised it took us so long to discover Samos but it was well worth the wait. There are many islands with perhaps better beaches but for landscape, historical sites and pretty villages, Samos is hard to beat.

To visit the Samos picture gallery - click HERE

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