One thing is certain: although far from major urban centres, you’ll get here easily (by boat or plane) but will find it hard to leave. Each island in the North Aegean has its own identity, with unique wild beauty and rich cultural heritage. Seemingly unexplored, they may not be tourist-magnets but that is exactly what gives them their charm. Kick back and relax beachside or go exploring in these unspoilt and seductive treasures: Lesvos (Mytilini), Chios, Samothrace, Thassos, Lemnos, Ikaria, Samos, as well as diminutive Agios Efstratios, Fourni, Psara and Innouses.
Magnificent sandy beaches, picturesque mountain villages, dramatic coastlines, delicious food, rich history and rare natural beauty make these islands ideal holiday destinations. The larger islands, such as Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Ikaria and Thassos are perfect for families, couples and groups of friends, while the smaller ones are a paradise for sailors and intrepid travellers.
Beaches of virgin beauty
Lemnos is the island with the most virgin beaches – more than 100 in fact, half of them sandy, all of them uncrowded. On Chios, you’ll find another 90. On Lesvos, discover one of the best beaches in the Aegean, Vatera, as well as Sigri and Eressos. On Chios, you’ll swim at Mavra Volia (Black Beach), whose dark volcanic pebbles are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. On Ikaria, at Nas, a modern beach meets antiquity with the remains of an ancient temple of Artemis. Popular Mesahti is ideal for water sports. And Seychelles, a small bay with emerald water, looks (as the name suggests) as though it has been airlifted straight out of the Indian Ocean! On Samos, the best beach is Chryssi Ammos (Golden Sand) and, on Thassos, you’ll find Paradise, quite literally.
A date with history and mythology
In the holy sanctuaries of the North Aegean islands, you’ll be enveloped in myth and mysticism. On Samothrace, you’ll be initiated at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, where ancient, enigmatic rites and rituals were once performed. On Lemnos, you’ll feel the presence of the god Hephaistos, the protector of the ancient city of Hephaistia and, at Ikaria’s Nas (Naiades), you’ll find traces of the goddess Artemis Tauropolou.
Then there’s Samos, the island of Aristarchos, the astrophysicist, and of the great mathematician, Pythagoras. On Chios, you’ll be mesmerised by the mosaics in the Nea Moni Monastery (a Unesco World Heritage Site), which was established in 1024 by the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos. At Samothrace’s Archaeological Museum, a replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace (whose original is housed in the Louvre) stands with her wings spread, ready to fly. History, myths and culture: the islands of the North Aegean will enchant you with their mystical ambience.
Harnessing the power of nature
Nature’s power is at play everywhere you turn. Windsurfing, kitesurfing, water skiing at Skala Eressos and Vatera on Lesvos, and along the eastern shores of Lemnos as well as at popular Kokkari in Samos. People come from all over to trek the islands’ trails, which wind through beautiful, wooded scenery. Birdwatchers head to the three lakes that make up the wetlands on Lemnos, as well as the Kalloni wetlands on Lesvos, natural habitats for a diversity of birdlife. And don’t miss the famous festivities at Ikaria’s village fairs, where the wine and raki flows and the music and dancing lasts all night.
Delectable Mediterranean flavours
The North Aegean islands promise the most exquisite treats. Samos will serve you its award-winning dessert wine, whose reputation dates back to antiquity. Lesvos’ ouzo is world-renowned, the most famous brands being Plomari and Mini. Chios’ most treasured product is, of course, the rare and ‘miraculous’ mastic, but don’t leave without trying its syrupy sweets and preserves. Lesvos is also famous for its exceptional oil, pressed from the yields of the hillside olive groves. The extra-virgin olive oils of Lesvos – specifically from Mytilini, Kalloni and Plomari – have all been certified as PDOs.
Sights and attractions unique to Greece
- Chios: Discover the 20 mastic villages on the south side of the island, where the rare masticha trees are cultivated; the handsome, stone dwellings of Anavatos near the cliff; and the wonderful yellow-red stone of the 19th and 20th-century villas in Kambos.
- Lesvos: The petrified forest, the likes of which exist only on this island and in Arizona, and 18th-century towers in the countryside will transport you to another time.
- Ikaria: The main town (Christos) comes to life only at night, with shops opening after 9pm.
- Samothrace: Explore this virgin island. You’ll swim in small natural pools called vathres, created by the countless waterfalls, and soak in the hot springs. It’s a setting lifted straight out of a fairy tale.
- Samos: Take a walk around Vathy, the old part of Samos’ main port-town, built on a hillside overlooking the sea, with narrow streets and handsome two-storey houses with tiled roofs.
- Lemnos: The castle in Lemnos’ principal town – one of the best-preserved in the Aegean – occupies a steep, rocky promontory flanked by two seaside neighbourhoods – the Romeiko (Greek) and Turkiko (Turkish) Yialo (shore). It was erected by the Byzantine emperor Andronikos I Komninos (1118-1185) on the site of older walls, most probably ancient.
- Thassos: Whether on the coast or inland, you’ll discover beautiful little villages all over Thassos, like Agios Georgios, Alyki, Theologos, Kallirahi, Kastro, Kazaviti, Koinyra, Limenaria, Maries and Panagia.