5 islands well worth a visit in Greece’s North Aegean

A clutch of islands close to the Turkish coast hold the key to a Greek trip with a difference…

Team Wanderlust
23 October 2022
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Experience Authentic Travel With Sun Vil

Alongside the Cyclades, the Dodecanese and the Sporades, sit the lesser-known North Aegean islands. Often overlooked, as they’re positioned closer to Turkey than  Greece, they offer striking scenery, a fascinating heritage, diverse topography and some incredible local dishes. While all can be visited individually, island-hopping is even more rewarding; a trip can be tailor-made using the handy Sky Express flight service and/or local ferries. Find out more about them here…

1. Lesvos

A riotous, colourful jumble of houses and church domes spills down towards the harbour in Mytilini town, capital of Greece’s third largest island, Lesvos. Here you’ll find all the usual buzz which comes with a busy, working port, along with a scattering of ancient architecture which sums up the island’s fascinating history.Thanks to influences from past civilisations, including Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, you’ll find churches, castles – such as the imposing fortress above pretty Molivos, the island’s premier resort village – mosques, monasteries and mansions. Inland is a compelling mixture of idyllic rural landscapes, from olive and pine forests to rugged, volcanic terrain. Here you’ll find a slower place of life, largely unchanged for centuries; fishing and agriculture are still important, alongside the production of olive oil and ouzo (visit the World of Ouzo Museum, near Plomari village). Unspoiled and under-developed, on Lesvos nature flourishes. The island is famous for its birdlife, thanks to its position on the migratory route from Africa –Skala Kalloni is the best placed area for bird-watching – and it’s also home to Europe’s only petrified forest, in Singri, formed by volcanic eruptions which occurred millions of years ago. Myths and legends abound here, too; it’s said that the lyre of the bard Orpheus washed ashore at Lesvos, while it’s also the birthplace of the poet, Sappho, and has been home to artists, writers and musicians ever since. Let Sunvil arrange the perfect itinerary for you on this jewel of an island, or combine it with a visit to one of the others, such as close neighbour Chios, below.

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2. Chios

Chios feels like a well-kept secret. Small, medieval villages are home to quiet, labyrinthine streets lined with traditional stone houses, craggy mountains rise up behind turquoise sea, and pine trees fringe a mix of golden and black volcanic sand beaches. Base yourself at its capital, Chios Town, which looks out across to Turkey (which you can visit on a day trip). Its vibrant harbour throngs with life, packed with bars, cafes and restaurants, while around the old quarter which sits within the Kastro – an ancient fortified castle – are several Ottoman remnants, including a mosque and Turkish baths. If beaches are your focus, Karfas, a small resort village to the south, boasts one of the best, while at Emporios, to the south, a crescent of dark pebbles lines the shore. From here, you can explore one of Chios’ most interesting features: its mastichohoria, a collection of villages which produce mastic, a unique resin only found in the mastic trees on this island, and which is used to flavour food and drink. The most charming of these include Mesta, Olympi and Pyrgi, which is also known for its unusual external house decorations: geometric black and white patterns known as ‘xysta’, while close by is a striking natural phenomenon, Skyias Olymboni cave. Sunvil can organise car hire to get around freely; you might want to split your time between the east coast, and pretty Limnos, a smaller town to the west.

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3. Ikaria

Could a visit to Ikaria help you live longer? Potentially; it’s one of the planet’s five identified ‘blue zones’, where the combination of diet and environment helps citizens live to a healthy old age. It helps that Ikarians have access to fresh, homegrown fruit and vegetables, local olive oil, pulses, seafood, nuts and red wine, and that their lifestyle involves a good social life and regular exercise. But they must also gain so much happiness from the wild and magical scenery around them: beautiful beaches, emerald sea, dense forests, and rocky mountains. Off the tourist trail, Ikaria – named after the legendary Icarus, who flew too close to the sun – was historically an island of exile, and, until recently, poorly served by ferries, so those who do manage to get here will find the reward all the sweeter. Barely 25 miles long and five wide, and with the peaks of Atheras mountain soaring up to over 1,000m, you’ll find steep winding roads and dizzying drops – hiring a 4WD is recommended. Stay by the pretty, seaside spot of Armenistis on the north coast, with long, white sand beaches at nearby Livadi and Messakti, and a dramatic backdrop of mountain behind. One of the best known is Seychelles on the south, voted ‘one of the world’s most magical hidden beaches’. Sample traditional village life in Manganitis and Karkinagri; take a seat in a taverna, sip on excellent local wine and enjoy one of the island’s legendary sunsets while you feel your lifespan extending as you relax…

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4. Lemnos

Butterfly-shaped Lemnos boasts rich, fertile terrain, resulting in some of Greece’s finest produce. It goes without saying you’ll eat well here, whether it’s biting into sweet, juicy tomatoes, rich, earthy olives, or salty, tangy cheese. 150 miles of coastline mean fish and seafood are ubiquitous, with tavernas serving up grilled octopus, fried calamari, scallops, mussels and catch of the day, while the bounteous wheat is made into dried pasta, which features in dishes such as flomaria – a local speciality with tomato sauce and slow-roasted beef. Limnian wine is popular: whites are made with light, aromatic Moshato Alexandrias grapes from the Muscat family, while Kalambaki is the island’s indigenous red variety, and one of the oldest cultivated grapes in Greece. Immerse yourself in local experiences which showcase the island’s food, from visiting a winery to taking a cookery course, all of which can be arranged by Sunvil. And don’t miss the beautiful beaches; around the capital, Myrina, you’ll find Plati, which has a coveted Blue Flag (one of five awarded to Lemnos), as well as Riha Nera, which features some tavernas and beach bars, and quieter Romeikos. Ancient monuments abound, including the Temple of Kavirio, linked with secret religious ceremonies, and the Cave of Philoctetes, a legendary hero said to be abandoned here on his way to Troy. Myrina itself is dominated by a medieval castle, while its small, narrow streets, perfect for strolling, are peppered with cafes, restaurants and neoclassical buildings.

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5. Samos

According to mythology, Samos is the birthplace of goddess Hera, who became the wife of Zeus. She could not have chosen a more beautiful place to call her home; an alluring blend of stunning beaches, picturesque fishing hamlets, rugged mountain scenery, and traditional inland villages. Hikers and walkers will be in their element as there are many appealing trails and routes where you can either follow the coastline or explore the interior. The north and the west of Samos in particular are popular;  tackle Mount Kerkis, the island’s highest peak, ramble through olive groves and vineyards lower down, or follow well-worn tracks from village to village. One route will take you to the charming Potami waterfalls, which pool into turquoise lakes, perfect for a refreshing dip. Not far is Potami beach, almost tropical in appearance, and one of Samos’ most breathtaking, although it has competition from the likes of Tsamadou, Psili Ammos and Agios Konstantinos. The closest North Aegean island to Turkey, you can take a daily ferry to Kusadasi, go on an excursion to Ephesus, or island-hop to nearby Patmos or Ikaria, which Sunvil can arrange. Elsewhere, explore historic sites such as the vast, ancient and unfinished Temple of Hera, and the sixth century Evpalinus Tunnel, formerly used as an aqueduct. Finally, try Samos’ most famous tipple, its sweet dessert wine made from the Muscat grape, and drink a toast the island’s beauty.

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Go with the experts

Sunvil is the real Greek expert and its specialist team of passionate travellers who are enthusiastic advocates of truly sustainable tourism can help you to plan your perfect getaway to the North Aegean. With numerous agents, ground handlers and expert guides, you can be sure that when you speak to Sunvil, you’ll be armed with all the up to date knowledge and advice to help make your holiday perfect.

Tel: 020 8568 4499 | Email: greece@sunvil.co.uk | Live chat: https://direct.lc.chat/12504846/2

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