Samos is a semi-tropical island with a lively capital, Vathy, as well as off-the-beaten-track beaches and cool havens in the forested inland mountains. Take a 30-minute stroll from Potami beach over the cobbled path that leads to the secluded beach of Seitani and you get a real flavour of the terrain.
The birthplace of Pythagoras and Epicurus, Samos is dotted with monuments, including the temple where, according to legend, the goddess Hera was born. Head for the Archaeological Museum in Vathy, housed in two buildings, and delve more into the island’s rich history. To witness an amazing feat of engineering, explore the 1,036m Tunnel of Eupalinos, built in the sixth century BC, which served as an underground aqueduct.
Samos is also home to 33 charming villages, the two most intriguing of which – Vourliotes and Manolates – can be found nestling on the slopes of Mount Ambelos, and are well worth an afternoon’s exploring. Don’t miss the popular resort, Kokkari, with its fine beaches and idyllic scenery.
Ikaria, named after Icarus (the young man who flew too close to the sun and plunged into the Aegean), is today noted for longevity. Residents of this island of pretty coves, rocky cliffs, steep valleys and olive groves live on average past the age of 90. Their secret? Perhaps it’s down to the panagiria, the 24-hour festivals (frequently held from May to early November) in honour of local saints with free-flowing wine and dancing until dawn.
The island’s capital Aghios Kirykos is also famed for its seafood, in particular, lobster. Pair this with some award-winning wine from one of its three scenic vineyards, or head to one of the island’s small collection of new restaurants for exciting modern takes on traditional Greek cuisine.
Chios is renowned for its citrus orchards, medieval villages and the black-pebbled Mavra Volia beach. Rent a bike and explore the many fruit groves before visiting the Citrus Estate for a tour of the museum (with sampling opportunities and a shop to browse). The north of the island features bracing hiking trails, while the south is known for the masticohoria, medieval villages where for centuries the aromatic resin mastic has been produced. If you’re feeling active, tour the island by bike along the many cycle paths that connect the fragrant gardens and orchards to these heritage rich villages. Organised bike tours of the Citrus Estate are also available and promise plenty of tasting opportunities.
Lesvos, beloved by classicists and birdwatchers, is a working agricultural island that possesses abundant staples for the perfect holiday: wonderful beaches, hot springs and cosy ouzeries (traditional Greek eateries), offering delicious local cuisine. The west side of the island is home to the world’s second largest petrified forest. Forged from dramatic volcanic activity 20 million years ago, this fascinating natural landscape is part of Unesco’s Global Geoparks Network, and complemented by a dedicated natural history museum in Sigri.
The island’s port capital, Mytilini Town, is abuzz year-round, full of life and surprises. Skala Eressou, meanwhile, one of the most dramatic beaches in Greece, is the birthplace of the poet Sappho in 630BC.
Limnos is a natural paradise of forests and peaceful beaches. The fertility of the island’s volcanic plains and wetlands produces first-class wine, and has been for centuries (Homer references the quality of the wine in the Iliad), as well as cheese and thyme honey. The island also boasts some fabulous restaurants, offering freshly caught fish and lobster. And while the island is a gourmand’s dream come true, it is also a must-visit spot for archaeology buffs. As well as the prehistoric settlement of Poliochni, which is thought to be the oldest Neolithic city in Europe, there are also the ancient ruins of the archaeological site of Hephaestia to be explored, including a Hellenistic-Roman theatre, a necropolis, and a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Lemnos.
Psara is another destination renowned for its lobsters (make sure you sample lobster pasta when you visit). The island is ideal for fans of underwater fishing, who will discover a true submarine treasure in the countless skerries (reefs) that surround the island.
Fourni, a tiny archipelago between Samos and Ikaria, offers a fascinating glimpse into Greek antiquity, and there is plenty to explore here. There are no pilgrimage sites as such, but hiking and snorkelling richly reward the keen history hunter. At Kamari beach, you can spot the ruins of houses on the seabed.
Oinousses, a cluster of nine small islets, is a protected area laced with coves and secluded beaches. But what makes it truly magical is its deserted islets – perfect for would-explorers aboard a caique (traditional Greek wooden yacht) or for the more adventurous, by canoe. As their name suggests (oenos is Ancient Greek for wine), the islands have been associated with excellent wine since the 6th century BC.
Agios Efstratios is well-known for its stunning natural beauty and the warm hospitality that is routinely bestowed on visitors to the island. Locals will escort you to beaches that are accessible only by boat, point out rare seals and seabirds, and enthuse about the ancient oak forest in the southeast corner of the island.