Many Brits have already made their plans for this summer, but those looking for any last-minute suggestions might want to consider visiting the Greek island of Samos, with direct flights regularly available from Gatwick Airport. Alternatively, you could look into indirect flights from mainland Greece, while the island is also served daily by ferries that sail in from the Turkish coastal town of Kusadasi.
Although the island is entirely settled by Greeks, it is only a mile away from Turkey at its closest point, so close that you could easily see the Turkish coast from almost anywhere on the island. I decided to check out the island during my travels in the region, hopping on a boat that took me straight to the sleepy town of Pythagoreion, the birthplace of the legendary mathematician Pythagoras, and I was so taken aback by the island’s beauty I decided to extend my day trip by an extra two nights.
Also the homeland of great philosophers including Melissus and Epicurus, as well as historic astronomer Aristarchus, the island once typified the intellectual essence of Ancient Greek civilization. Unlike other Greek islands I have visited, I found that Samos has done well to preserve its traditional Hellenic identity.
Speaking to locals – mainly taxi drivers upon whom I highly depended to get around the island – I learned the reason why this was the case was because the island had always maintained an almost entirely Greek population. Even when the island was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years between 1475 and 1912, Samos was predominantly settled by Greeks from nearby islands, with most of its land being privately owned.
What’s more is that most of the locals I spoke to told me they had never left Samos and were seemingly uninterested in ever living elsewhere, including different parts of Greece. They all said they were happy where they were and had everything they needed around them, although most of them agreed life in Samos was pretty boring around winter once all the tourists were gone.
Saying that, the locals weren’t ever likely to suffer from a lack of company, as they all appeared to know each other – not surprising for a small island of just 32,000 people – and yes, the island did appear to have everything they needed to just get on with it.
The clear waters around the island provides the locals a never-ending supply of fresh fish, with seafood being the focal-point of the island’s rich cuisine. While not being the most pleasant thing to look at on the dinner table, I personally couldn’t get enough of the island’s favourite dish, grilled octopus legs!
Another go-to food in Samos is calamari squid, along with servings of tzatziki, taramasalata and aubergine puree. During the day, locals enjoy the occasional shot of Greek coffee to keep themselves going, but towards the evening, live outdoor Greek music in the lively city of Vathy is usually accompanied with a glass or two of Ouzo liquor for a bit of merrymaking.
While in Vathy, I also came across another amazing discovery I’d never seen anywhere else in my travels – bitter almond tea. After just a couple of sips I was already addicted and searching online to see where I could find it in London.
For my last day in Samos, I travelled to Kokkari, which was by far the most enthralling of the three places I visited on the island. Kokkari was full of bars and restaurants looking out at the pure, blue sea between Samos and the touristic Turkish town of Cemse, clearly visible in the distance.
I ended my three-day stay on the island by devouring a delicious ice-cream sundae while watching the sunset behind the horizon, wondering why on Earth more Brits had not discovered Samos yet, and more importantly, when I’d next get the opportunity to come back for more grilled octopus legs and bitter almond tea.
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