We go in search of some peace and solitude in the Agean.
21.06.2012 - 29.06.2012
How would you describe your perfect island retreat? Rugged and isolated? Beautiful and idyllic? Lively and exciting? This is the question we really had to ask ourselves as we crossed the border from Turkey into Greece. Greece’s islands are no secret, in fact Greek island hopping is almost a required part of any European experience. But, with 227 inhabited islands to choose from some hard decisions need to be made. Having just left behind the world’s 8th largest city, we decided what we needed was some peace and quiet. Now our challenge was to find it! Moving into the summer holiday season we knew that the Greek staples of Santorini and Mykanos wouldn’t exactly fit the bill. Our only hope was to pick something from left of field, and so we settled on Samothraki. What a choice that turned out to be.
Samothraki isn’t exactly tourist free, in fact tourism is one of its major industries. But, unlike some of her more popular southern neighbours, Samothraki caters mainly for Greek tourists giving you the feeling that you’re really off the beaten track. This is felt even further when you realise there is only one ferry to the island each day, leaving from the rather obscure port town of Alexandropolis. Not letting this deter us, and with our minds resolutely made up on our destination, we made our way to Alexandropolis and got ready for our ferry early the next day. We awoke in the morning and boarded the old ferry boat, daubed in the Greek national colours, on course for the unknown. The first impression you have of the Samothraki as the island appears upon the horizon is its greenery. While most of Greek’s islands are dry and sparsely vegetated, the slopes of Samothraki’s Mt. Fengari are covered in dense woodlands ready to be explored. As the boat slowly pulled into the port, we anxiously searched along the busy foreshore for our ride. We had booked a room in Orpheus Hotel, and our fantastic host Christos had ensured that one of the two (yes two) taxis operating on the island would be there to pick us up when we arrived. We weaved our way through the crowd and finally spotted our driver. With nothing more than a language barrier in our way, we made our way to our accommodation and settled in for a week’s worth of good old fashioned relaxing.
One of Samothraki’s biggest attractions is her beautiful waterfalls and rivers, and it didn’t take us long to venture from our homely accommodation to find ourselves some gushing water. With Christos’ directions we set off into the hills to see what all the fuss was about. Walking along small roads and passed little farms we eventually heard the sound of running water. Cutting off into the forest we followed the small trickle of a stream until we emerged at a beautiful waterfall pool. Crystal clear water flowed down the rocky wall into the deep, cool pool shaded by the over-reaching branches of a mighty oak tree. Although we were the only people around, we soon found that these waterways were teeming with life. Metallic blue dragon flies skimmed across the water, and large lazy butterflies flitted through the dappled light. Frogs sat by the side of the pond watching for their next meal, and we saw snakes and lizards quickly move into the underbrush after being disturbed from their sunbathing. It felt like a scene from a fairy-tale or a magical tale, everywhere seemed to be filled with life. We found out later that the island is full of creatures big and small, even supposedly some type of wild cat (although we never managed to sight that one!). With our first waterfall experience such a roaring success, we spent our next few days exploring more rivers, clambering up over rocks and wading through pools in search of the next magnificent waterfall, including the mighty Fonias falls. Every night we would return to some wonderful Greek hospitality and fantastic local food. We couldn’t have been more content if we tried.
While we probably could have spent our whole week exploring waterfalls, there is more to this island than just a few rivers. Samothraki also holds attractions of a more cultural nature. We finally plied ourselves away from the cool, freshwater pools and set out for the ruined temple the ‘Sanctuary of the Great Gods’. Unfortunately the public transport on Samothraki isn’t exactly efficient, or existent for that matter, and we got some good practice travelling by ‘auto-stop’ (the Greek term for hitch-hiking) before we finally arrived at the site. The temple was once used for worship of an ancient cult, until it was eventually absorbed into the traditional pantheon of the Greek gods. It is said that the parents of Alexander the Great met at this temple whilst being initiated into the secretive cult, and it is easy to be impressed by the site. Built in a valley with Mt. Fengari towering in the background the site exudes some kind of mythical presence. Although the site isn’t large, the lack of people made the experience particularly special. In a piece of interesting coincidence, the most famous archaeological find from Samothraki’s temple site is the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’, which we had inadvertently seen in the Louvre all those months back in Paris. The world is a small place, or at least Europe is.
Our final place to visit before we left was the islands capital of Xora (pronounced Kora), situated up along the slopes of the island. With a bit of luck, and a bit more auto-stopping, we made our way to the little picturesque, white-washed, terracotta tiled town. Digging into our Greek salad and looking out to sea we were able to contemplate our island visit. Samothraki is not like any other Greek island. It might not have golden sandy beaches (in fact there’s only one sand beach on the whole island!), there are no glamorous hotels or pumping night clubs. But what it lacks for in those areas it makes up for in character and a simple magical sense of adventure. We couldn’t have picked a better place to start our Greek odyssey.
Some observations from Samothraki:
1. Bring a car (or a moped). It can be hard to plan your day around the odd friendly driver.
2. Never tried goat? It’s a Samothraki delicacy and you need to have it.
3. Sometimes there’s more to an island than beaches.
Next stop…Mainland Greece