Samos (Greek Island)

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Lush and lovely Samos accommodates a more scholarly crowd than some of its island siblings. Many see Samos as a stepping-stone to Kusadasi and the ruins of Ephesus, but this green island has been a destination in its own right for centuries. A procession of architects, sculptors, poets, philosophers, and scientists (among them Pythagoras, Epicurus, Aesop, and Aristarchus, who called the sun the center of the universe 1800 years before Copernicus) have all spent thoughtful hours on Samos’s shores.

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VATHY (SAMOS TOWN)             

Palm trees shade quiet inland streets, an engaging archaeological museum stands across from a garden, and red roofs speckle the neighboring hillside of Vathy, also called Samos Town, one of the northeast Aegean’s most appealing port cities.

ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Samos Town unfurls around a crescent-shaped waterfront. PI. Pythagoras, identifiable by its four large palm trees, consists of cafes, taxis, and a giant lion statue. Turn onto the side streets between the port and PI. Pythagoras to hit the most densely packed pension neighborhood on the island. Heading along the waterfront away from the port, past PI. Pythagoras, will take you to the Municipal Gardens, circled by the town’s public amenities and the archaeological museum.

Ferries go to: Chios (5hr., 4 per week, €8.80); Kos (4hr., 2 per week, €16.43); Mykonos (6hr., 6 per week, €15.85); Naxos (6hr., 3 per week, €15.55) via Paros (€13.21); and Piraeus (12hr., 1 per day, €20.84); and Rhodes (2 per week, €22.89). Catamarans to Kuşadası, Turkey, leave from Samos Town 5 times per week (1hr.; €29.35 one-way, €41.09 open return; €8.80 Greek port tax).

Buses follow the waterfront past PL Pythagoras, turn left onto Lekati, and continue one block to the station. To: Avlakia via Agios Konstantinos (7 per day), Chrissi Ammos (3 per week), Heraion (3 per day), Marathokambs (1- 2 per day), Pythagorion (12 per day), Tsainadon via Kokkari and Lemonakia (9 per day), Vourliotes (3 per week). Taxis ( 28 404), are available 24hr. in PI. Pythagoras. There’s a tourist office (28 530 or 28 582), one block before PI. Pythagoras (open July-Aug. M-Sa 8:30am-2pm), and a National Bank on the waterfront just beyond PI. Pythagoras, with a 24hr. ATM (open M-Th 8am-2pm, F 8am-l:30pm). The police and tourist police (22 100), are after PI. Pythagoras on the far right, of the waterfront; they speak some English. Check email at Net Cafe (22 535), on the waterfront past PI. Pythagoras (€2.93 per hr.; open 9am-midnight).

ACCOMMODATIONS

Call ahead during the high season. If you arrive and all the beds listed below are fdled, try the pensions around Ionia or ask a travel agent. Tire cool, traditional rooms of Pension Trova , Kalomiris 26, have the occasional bath and balcony. Turn right at the end of the ferry dock and walk 100m along the waterfront to take a left onto E. Stamatiadou before the Hotel Aiolis. Take the second left onto Manoli Kalomiri and head uphill around the bend to hit Kalomiris. (a-27 759. Singles €17.61; doubles €20.53.) Simple, 70s-era rooms surround an elegant courtyard at Pension Avli , Areos 2. Arcos is the second left off of Manoli Kalomiri. (a 22 939. Doubles €23.48. Open summer only.) The neat rooms of Pension Dreams , Areos 9, have fridges, baths, TV and coffee-makers. (a24 350. Singles €17.61; doubles €20.53; triples €23.48.)

FOOD

Gourmands will find their time well-spent in savoring sweet Samian wine, served at all of the island’s nearly indistinguishable restaurants, which otherwise offer a standard spate of traditional meals. Gregory’s, just past the post office heading inland, is a local favorite. More conveniently located is Christos, in PI. Nicolaos behind PI. Pythagoras, with outdoor seating for optimal people-watching.

SIGHTS

The phenomenal Archaeological Museum, behind the municipal gardens, exhibits Samos’ past glory as a commercial and religious center for worshiping Hera. Finds from ancient Heraion, the temple of Hera, and other local digs are enshrined in two recently renovated buildings full of informative notes; you’ll find more proof of Heraion’s bygone splendor here than in the crumbled remains at the site. The first building houses intricate Laconian ivory carvings of mythological notables, and awesome statues like a. colossal 5m Kouros from 560 BC. There’s also the stunning Geneleas group.

Named after its sculptor, the nearly life-size votive offering depicts a family; it once graced ancient Heraion’s Sacred Way. An exhibit on Hera-worship shows off remarkable offerings made to the goddess. Objects Irom Ancient Egypt, Cyprus, and the Near East testify to the island’s extensive early trade. In the last room, a case of gorgeously nightmarish protomes (cauldron handles) is not to be missed. (27 469. Open Tu-Su 8:30am-3pm. €2.35, seniors and students €1.17, EU students free.) In July and August, Samos hosts classical and jazz concerts featuring Greek artists as part of the Manolis Kalomiris Festival. ( contact the tourist office for a schedule of events.)

BEACHES

Most of the northern coast of Samos is easily accessible from the road to Karlovassi. Built on a peninsula 10km west of Samos Town is the eminently visitable northern village of Kokkari. Lemonakia Beach, 1km west of Kokkari next to Tsamadou, and the wide white beach west of Avlakia are both alluring. Kokkari, Lemonakia, and Avlakia are reachable from Samos Town though the irregular KTEL bus service (7-9 buses per day). Infrequent buses (1-2 per day) shouldn’t deter you from the splendid beaches of southwest Samos. A couple kilometers west of the peaceful red-roofed hamlet of Marathokampos is the spacious beach at Votsalakia. A bit farther is an even better beach at Psili Ammos.

DAYTRIP FROM VATHY

POLYKRATES’ PROJECTS

The ancient city of Pythagorion once the island’s capital, thrived during the 6th century BC under the reign of Polykrates the Tyrant. Herodotus reports that Polykrates undertook the three most daring engineering projects in the Hellenic world, among them the Tunnel of Eupalinos, 1500m up the hill to the north of town, in fact an underground aqueduct that diverted water from a natural spring to the city below. It may owe its misnomer to its size, which just fits a person. About 200m of damp cavern are open to visitors. To reach the tunnel, walk back inland from the bus stop in town and follow the signs.

The 20min. walk to the tunnel entrance passes minor ancient ruins, rolling hills, and grazing goats. (s61 400. Open Tu-Su 8:45am-2:45pm, last entrance 2:15pm. €1.47, students €0.88, EU students free.) Polykrates’ 40m deep harbor mole (rock pier) still supports the modem pier. Blocks, columns, walls fragments, and entablatures are strewn throughout Pythagorion like Lincoln Logs after a floor quake the presentation in the small Archaeological Museum is no different.

Half the collection fits in the building, and many pieces are haphazardly scattered on the sidewalk in front. (61 400. Open Tu-Su 9am-2:30pm. Free.) The ruined Castle of Lycurgus, on the south side of town, was built in the beginning of the 19th century by Lycurgus, a Samos native and leader in the Greek War for Independence. The Church of the Transfiguration is a pale blue variation on classic Orthodox architecture. (A bus from Samos Town services Pythagorion (20min., €0.88). The beach town of Pythagorion, 14km south of Samos Town, sits atop the ancient city of the same name.) Polykrates’ magnum opus is in Heralon (HTtavov; EAR-ion). Seven centuries of pilgrims worshipped Hera on Samos when Polykrates began enlarging the temple. Eventually, 134 columns supported the 118m-long, 58m-wide 530 BC version of the Temple of Hera; a 525 BC fire wrecked it.

A lone standing column remains of the once-majestic colonnade; casts of the Genelcas group, now in the Samos Museum, accompany it. Walk along the beach to return to the temple. If you can’t enter through the beachside back gate, a path brings you inland to the main road and main entrance farther along the beach, past two houses. Follow custom: wrap up in your finest toga and carry along a jug of libations on this path, which runs close to the ancient lera Odos (Sacred Way) from Pythagorion to the temple. (The bus from Pythagorion (10 min., €0.88) stops in Heraion Town. s95 277. Open Tu-Su 8:30am- 3pm. €2.35, students €1.17.)

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