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Plan Your Northern Aegean Islands Vacation

Quirky, seductive, fertile, sensual, faded, sunny, worldly, ravishing, long-suffering, hedonistic, luscious, mysterious, legendary—these adjectives only begin to describe the islands of the northeastern Aegean. This startling and rather arbitrary archipelago includes a sizeable number of islands, such as Ikaria, Samothraki, and Thassos, but we focus only on the three largest—Lesvos, Chios, and Samos. Closer to Turkey's coast than to mainland Greece, and quite separate from one another, these islands are hilly, sometimes mountainous, with dramatic coastlines and uncrowded beaches, brilliant architecture, and unforgettable historic sites.

Lesvos, Greece's third-largest island and birthplace of legendary artists and writers, is dense with gnarled olive groves and dappled with mineral springs. Chios, though ravaged by fire in 2012, retains an eerie beauty and has fortified villages, old mansions, Byzantine monasteries, and stenciled-wall houses. Samos, the lush, mountainous land of wine and honey, whispers of the classical wonders of antiquity.

Despite their proximity to Asia Minor, the Northern Aegean islands are the essence of Greece, the result of 4,000 years of Hellenic influence. Lesvos, Chios, and Samos prospered gloriously in the ancient world as important commercial and religious centers, though their significance waned under the Ottoman Empire. They also were cultural hothouses, producing such geniuses as Pythagoras, Sappho, and (probably) Homer.

These are not strictly sun-and-fun islands with the extensive tourist infrastructure of, say, the Cyclades. Many young backpackers and partiers bypass the Northern Aegean. You can still carve out plenty of beach time by day and wander into lively restaurants and bars at night, but these islands reveal a deeper character, tracing histories that date back to ancient, Byzantine, and post-Byzantine times, and offer landscapes that are both serene and unspoiled. Visitors to the northern islands should expect to find history, culture, beauty, and hospitality. These islands offer commodities that are valued ever more highly by travelers—a sense of discovery and the chance to interact with rich, enduring cultures.


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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Samos Block Party Math genius Pythagoras, freedom-loving Epicurus, and the fabled Aesop were just a few of this island's brightest stars, and their spirits probably still haunt the ancient Heraion temple.
  2. Mesmerizing Mastic Villages Pirgi in Chios is known for the resin it produces, but with its Genoese houses patterned in black and white, it's the Escher-like landscape that's likely to draw you in.
  3. Sappho's Island If it's poetic truth you seek, head to one of Lesvos's oldest towns, Molyvos—a haven for artists and an aesthete's dream.
  4. Sailing to Byzantium Colorful Byzantine mosaics make Chios's 11th-century Nea Moni monastery an important piece of history—and a marvel to behold.
  5. Dizzyingly Good Ouzo Though you can get this potent potable anywhere in Greece, Lesvos's is reputedly the best—enjoy it with famed salt-baked Kalloni sardines.

When To Go

When to Go

Like everywhere else in the world, Greece has been affected by climate change, which guarantees unpredictable weather; sometimes periods that...

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