Northeastern Aegean Islands
The northeastern Aegean Islands (Τα Νησιά του Βορειοανατολικού Αιγαίου) are notable for their proximity to the Turkish mainland. Influences from Asia Minor abound in old-fashioned island cuisines, traditional village culture, dramatic celebrations and even the language.
Eccentric Ikaria is marked by jagged landscapes, pristine beaches and a famously long-lived, left-leaning population. Nearby Chios provides fertile ground for the planet’s only gum-producing mastic trees. Other islands range from rambling Lesvos, producer of half the world’s ouzo, to midsized islands such as semitropical Samos and workaday Limnos, and bright specks in the sea such as Inousses and Psara. Samothraki is home to the ancient Sanctuary of the Great Gods, while well-watered Thasos seems an extension of the mainland.
Lesvos, Chios and Samos offer easy connections to Turkey’s coastal resorts and historic Hellenic sites.
Lying just off the Turkish coast, Samos is one of the northeastern Aegean Islands’ best-known destinations, yet beyond its low-key resorts and the lively capital, Vathy, there are numerous off-the-beaten-track beaches and quiet spots in the cool, forested inland mountains where traditional life continues.
Famous for its sweet local wine, Samos is also historically significant. It was the legendary birthplace of Hera, and the sprawling ruins of her ancient sanctuary, the Heraion, are impressive. Both the great mathematician Pythagoras and the hedonistic father of atomic theory, the 4th-century-BC philosopher Epicurus, were born here. Samos’ scientific genius is also affirmed by the astonishing 524 BC Evpalinos Tunnel, a spectacular feat of ancient engineering that stretches for more than 1km deep underground.
Greece’s third-largest island, Lesvos is marked by long sweeps of rugged, desert-like western plains that give way to sandy beaches and salt marshes in the centre. To the east are thickly forested mountains and dense olive groves – around 11 million olive trees are cultivated here.
The port and capital, Mytilini Town, is a lively place year-round, filled with exemplary ouzeries and good accommodation, while the north-coast town of Molyvos (aka Mythimna) is an aesthetic treat, with old stone houses clustered on winding lanes overlooking the sea.
Along with hiking and cycling, Lesvos is a mecca for birdwatching; more than 279 species, from raptors to waders, are often sighted. The island’s therapeutic hot springs gush with some of the warmest mineral waters in Europe.
Despite its undeniable tourist appeal, Lesvos’ chief livelihood is agriculture. Its olive oil is highly regarded, and the island’s farmers produce around half the ouzo sold worldwide.