Samos, Greece: The Land Of Wine And Honey

My introduction to the island of Samos was a trunk infested with thousands of tiny, prowling insects, feasting on an open bag of fertilizer. We had just arrived in Pythagorion, a port city named after Pythagoras, the famous mathematician who was born there, and the owner of the hotel we were to stay in had come to pick us up. But just as I was about to hoist our bags into the trunk of her car, I noticed all the insects and thought better of it.

I ended up putting the suitcases in the back seat and walking to the hotel, an inauspicious start to our visit to say the least. After a glorious week in Patmos, Pythagorion seemed unimpressive, despite its attractive harbor area, so we dropped our original plan to base there for a week and rented a car to explore the island’s wild and beautiful south and west coasts.

As soon as we had our own wheels, we fell in love with Samos. It’s a place worthy of any superlative you can conjure. I found the island’s largest towns to be mostly forgettable, but almost everything in between them was magic, especially on the west side.The name Samos means “high” in the ancient Ionian dialect of Greek, and historians assume the island was thus named after its mountainous interior. By mid-summer, the island’s terrain is mostly brown, but in early June, it was still delightfully green and punctuated with wild flowers and aromatic pine trees.


As we drove west on a dizzying, but scenic, road from Pythagorion towards Kambos, the base we chose in the southwest, we passed a slew of stands selling honey, one of Samos’s best exports. I didn’t indulge at first, but after seeing so many of the places, my curiosity got the best of me and I spent the remainder of my week drizzling honey on anything that moved.

Near our base in Kambos, a pleasant enough one horse town that serves as a convenient base for exploring the beautiful west end of the island, we fell in love with a psili ammos beach. I say “a” rather than “the” because psili ammos means “fine sand” in Greek and you find lots of beaches with this name all over the Greek isles, including two on Samos.

Both are great, but the Psili Ammos beach just outside Kambos may be the best beach for kids I’ve ever experienced. It’s a lovely beach with unbelievably shallow water, so even my 2- and 4-year-olds could comfortably wade very far out from the shore.

From Kambos, take a drive out to Kalithea and Drakei to see one of Europe’s last great, undeveloped coasts, filled with stunning cliff top panoramas of the blue Aegean and the surrounding islands. Around every curve, you’ll want to pull over and get our your camera. Western Samos has the feel of a wild, virgin paradise. There are no tacky souvenir shops or much of anything, save the odd taverna here and there but the natural beauty is astounding.

Just as interesting as the coastal drives are excursions into the mountainous interior. We drove up to the enchanting mountain villages of Vourliotes and Manolates for stunning views and a taste of village life and stumbled across a group of drunken seniors celebrating a religious festival on a Monday morning.

You could easily idle away a week on a beach in Samos but the most rewarding part of my ten days on this addictive island were hikes I made up to Panagia Markini, a 13th Century cave church near Kallithea, and the 10th Century Evangelistria convent, near Kambos. Both are fairly strenuous but the views are astounding and the icons behind the curtain in the cave church are haunting and beautiful.

If you look at a map of Samos, you’ll see little black dots with crosses, signifying churches and monasteries that were built all over the interior of the island, many of them in hard to find locations to ward off invaders. Working monasteries like Panagia Vrontiani and Megali Panagia have beautiful frescoes and are well worth a visit.

Samos also boasts good, sweet wine that can be bought straight off the back of a small vintners pickup truck for a song. I feasted on grilled souvlaki, calamari, octopus and other treats, always for about 7-9€, and I never had a bad meal. We experienced remarkable hospitality wherever we went and even our buggy car owner turned out to be a gem. We disliked the small rooms in her hotel but rather than pout or blame us, she helped us find a more suitable place to stay.

Our car rental experience seemed to sum up the island’s laid-back charm. We picked up our car in Pythagorion, in the island’s southeast, but later on decided that we wanted to drop it off in Karlovasi, where our ferry was to leave up in the island’s northwest.

A branch of National car rental, which also offered by far the lowest rate for an automatic transmission car at 30€ per day, told us not to worry about making the 1.5-hour drive back to Pythagorion to return the car, even though they have no location near Karlovasi.

“Just leave it at the ferry, and put the keys under the mat, we’ll go get it,” said Alex, the young man we dealt with who told us there was no extra charge to leave the car anywhere on the island.

“But is that safe?” I asked. “I mean, what if someone steals it?”

“This is Samos,” he said. “Things like that don’t happen here.”

If there’s no bill for a four door Hyundai on my next credit card statement, I’ll know he was right about Samos.

If you go: We arrived in Samos via a ferry from Patmos, which takes about three hours, but you can also fly directly to the islands on a variety of European discount and charter airlines, or take a ferry from Athens.

If you want a very lively place with some nightlife or don’t have the budget to rent a car, Pythagorion might be a good base, but I much preferred Kambos. We stayed at the Sirena Village where we had an early season steal – a two-bedroom villa with breakfast and access to a lovely pool for just 55€ per day.

If you like to hike, definitely make the treks up to Evangelistria and Panagia Makrini. And if you have time, you can also hike from Kokari up to Panagia Vrontiani.

Definitely check out the honey stands west of Pirgos. There are all kinds of good places to eat but I absolutely loved the souvlaki at the little Vraxos restaurant in Vourliotes.

(Photos by Dave Seminara)

4 Hotel Bargains In the Greek Isles at $75 Per Night Or Less

With the Euro sliding and many tourists avoiding Greece on the faulty assumption that the country isn’t safe, this is a great time to visit the Greek isles. If you can travel outside before outside July and August, you’ll find some amazing bargains.

I’ve spent the last month in the Greek isles with my wife and two young children and these are three of the best deals I’ve encountered for apartment-style hotels suitable for families. Each of these places cost us between 50 and 60€, but if you don’t have kids and need less space, you might be able get by on less if you travel outside the high season. Here are four great deals in Samos, Syros, Santorini, and Patmos.Sirena Hotel/VillageSamos

The Sirena Hotel is a swanky place in the beachside town of Kambos on the gorgeous island of Samos in the eastern Aegean, right on Turkey’s doorstep. Sirena Village is a collection of holiday apartments right across the street from the hotel. We had a beautiful little two-bedroom apartment with kitchen that was very comfortable and full of character. The pool is delightful and my kids loved the turtles that live in the backyard.

Our neighbor was Giannis, the owner’s dad, who lives in one of the villas in the summer (see photo above). Giannis likes to stroll the grounds, watering trees and chomping but not smoking cigarettes. He and the rest of the family make you feel incredibly welcome. We stayed for a week and didn’t want to leave. We had an evening ferry on our last day there and when I asked about check out time, they said, “Don’t worry, stay as long as you like.” I could live at this place.

Lila’s GuesthouseSyros

Syros is an underrated little island – popular with Greeks – that has a bustling, non-touristy port city, great food and beaches. It’s also a ferry hub, so you can make day trips to more expensive islands like Mykonos with no problem.

My love affair with Lila’s Guesthouse started even before we arrived. I booked via email and Lila asked what ferry we were arriving on. I told her we were coming in from Samos at 2:30 a.m. but she still offered to come pick us up. And sure enough, she was there, bleary eyed, in the middle of the night waiting for us as we got off the boat.

Sometimes hotel websites can be very misleading, but what you see is what you get at Lila’s. The place used to be the French consulate and the rooms are beautifully renovated and tastefully decorated. We had a one-bedroom loft with incredibly high ceilings, two balconies, all kinds of windows and light and a small kitchen. As beautiful as the place was, the best part about this place is the hospitality.

Lila and her husband, Dimitrios, are amazing hosts. One morning, I asked Dimitrios to recommend a Laundromat.

“Why?” he asked. “We’ll do it for you.”

“How much will that cost?” I asked, showing him a huge bag of dirty laundry for a family of four.

“No, no, it’s free,” he said, and three hours later he brought up our laundry, all neatly laundered and folded. I’ve been traveling the world for twenty years and no one has ever, ever washed my clothing for me for free. God Bless the Lila Guesthouse!

Rena’s Rooms & Suites– Santorini

Santorini is easily the most expensive Greek island, due to its spectacular setting, so finding a high quality place here at a low price is a bit trickier than on other islands. But Rena’s Rooms & Suites is a very pleasant surprise. The place has some negative reviews online, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the rooms were completely renovated in 2011 and it’s like a brand new hotel.

We have a very stylish two-room suite with a terrace and access to a lovely pool that serves big frosty mugs of Fransiskaner Dunkel Weiss for 3.5€. Best of all, the owners left a whole slew of toys for my children in the room, which were a huge hit.

Hotel Australis- Patmos

Patmos is another gorgeous island in the eastern Aegean that has it all: history, great food, beaches and stunning scenery. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment at the Hotel Australis for a week, and at the shoulder season (cash only) bargain price of 50€ per night, it was a steal. The apartment was functional, not fancy, but we practically lived on our terrace, which had an amazing view of the port.

The family that runs this place is wonderful. They brought us a bottle of wine when we checked in, and fresh baked goods every day. If we needed a ride somewhere, Peter was always there to help us, and before we even checked out, we were Facebook friends. Right around the corner from this place, you’ll find the trailhead for a great hike up to Patmos’s ancient Acropolis.

NOTE: Room rates will vary based upon time of year, occupancy, number of persons in the room and other factors.

(Photos and videos by Dave Seminara)

Picture Perfect Patmos

Have you ever fallen in love with a place before you’ve even been there? Several years ago, I became obsessed with the Greek island of Patmos, after reading “The Summer of My Greek Taverna,Tom Stone’s highly addictive account of his adventures operating a taverna on the island.

Stone fell in love with the place and decided to move there with his family after a Greek friend suggested they open a taverna together. Stone’s business partner swindled him but it didn’t diminish his love for Patmos, an island that’s been occupied by the Romans, the Venetians, the Turks and the Italians again from 1912 until 1948.

I’ve been plotting a visit to the place ever since reading the book, but my wife and I had one child, and then another. We finally got to Patmos last week, and unlike many places you fantasize about long before you visit, Patmos did not disappoint.Patmos is a special place. The island is best known for being the site where St. John the Divine wrote the Book of Revelation, but it also has stunning scenery, great hikes, lovely beaches, historic monasteries with frescoes and antiquities that date to the Middle Ages, great food and a bustling port. But there are quite a few Greek islands that have all of those things. What sets Patmos apart, in my mind, is the way locals and tourists mix seamlessly in a relaxed vibe.


On many Greek islands and indeed many touristic places everywhere, tourists inhabit one universe and locals another, and their paths only cross in order to conduct commercial transactions, i.e. you buy, they sell. I did not have that experience in Patmos.

Unlike Kos, for example, no one thrust a menu in my face, or tried to pressure me into taking a boat excursion. I broke bread and prayed with the monks of St. John’s, I spent hours chatting with locals at Agriolivado Beach, and by the time I left the island, I felt like I knew half of its 3,000 inhabitants. I asked Kostas Chatzakis, a banker I met on the island, if there were any tourist traps to avoid.

“There are none,” he said. “If a place wasn’t any good, we wouldn’t go there and they’d go out of business.”

And he was right. I never had a bad meal on the island, and, in fact, I had some unbelievably good grilled octopus, calamari and souvlaki, always for less than 10 euros. It’s a beautiful island for hikers, a terrific spot for seafood lovers and for those with a love of history and beaches. But what I loved about the place is that I never felt like a tourist and was never treated like one.

The best way I can describe Patmos’s laid-back hospitality is to tell you about Andreas Kalatzis, an artist I met who lives in a tiny, 400 year old house in Hora, right near St. John’s Monastery. I’d heard that an artist had a small studio somewhere in Hora, but couldn’t find it. A neighbor pointed me to Andreas’s tiny house, and he answered the door in his bare feet, which were appropriately splattered in paint.

Kalatzis has a small but impressive gallery in the first floor of the house to demonstrate his work, but he has no sign outside, no website, no email address, and like everyplace else in Patmos, there is no number on the door or street name. After seeing some of the religious icons and other paintings he does, I asked him if he had a business card.

“Sure, I do,” he said, before tearing out a large piece of construction paper from a sketchbook.

He then filed off a square of paper with a razor, then dumped a big dollop of gold colored paint onto his left hand, and reached for a fine paintbrush with his right. I had no idea what was going on, but in a matter of minutes, he’d painted a beautiful little image of an angel releasing a bird. He dated it, and wrote his contact info on the back before handing it to me. (see right)

“Here you go,” he said. “There’s my business card.”

If you go: You can fly to Kos or Samos on a variety of discount and charter airlines and then Patmos is a three- to four-hour ferry ride from either place. I spent a week in a lovely two-bedroom apartment at the Hotel Australis in Skala for just 50 euros a night in late May (the price goes up deeper in the season). The family who runs this place would give you the shirts off their back.

My favorite places to eat were Pitta Konne for souvlaki and Trechantiri Taverna for seafood. And Jimmy’s Balcony in Hora has the best view of any restaurant I’ve ever been to, and the food and drinks are quite good as well.

I’d recommend using Skala as a base, but make sure you rent a car or moped for at least a day to check out all of the island’s nooks and crannies. My favorite beaches were Psili Ammos, which requires a 30-minute hike, Agriolivado, and Kambos. If you want to have a great meal right on the beach, check out the taverna on Lambi Beach, in the north of Patmos. Be sure to hike up to the Ancient Acropolis, and for a truly unforgettable experience ask the monks at St. John’s Monastery, built in 1088, about attending one of their prayer services.

A Honey Crawl In Samos

I’ve never been a big honey consumer. Sure, I usually have a messy plastic jar of the stuff somewhere in my kitchen, gathering dust, but it usually only comes out when I have a sore throat and want a cup of tea. But shortly after we arrived in Samos, a verdant, breathtakingly gorgeous Greek island in the eastern Aegean, I heard that the island was famous for its excellent honey.

The first time we drove on the dizzying road leading west from Pythagorion out to Kampos, in the island’s west, we passed a slew of small shops and stands selling honey. My interest was piqued but I didn’t bother to stop. Honey is honey, and since I’m used to the gloppy, factory produced cheap stuff that has the consistency of glue, I was doubtful that it could be any better than what I’m used to.But the next morning, I changed my mind after trying some loukoumades (right), a delicious Greek treat that resembles a small fried donut, but comes drenched in delicious Samos honey. I realized that I needed to get a jar of the stuff post haste.

“I saw some in the supermarket,” my wife said. “Just go get some.”

But I didn’t want supermarket honey, even if it was the same kind of locally produced stuff sold on the side of the road. I wanted the whole roadside honey experience. So we set off the next day back on the same carsickness-inducing route, which traverses a nice chunk of Samos’s pretty, mountainous green interior, and I stopped at every honey stand I could find.


At the first shop, we were given only a small taste on toothpicks, which was a bit of a tease, but it was enough to make us want more. It was lighter, sweeter and far tastier than any honey I’d ever had before.

At the second shop we visited, just west of the village of Pirgos, the honey tasted even better, and the owner let us take samples by the spoonful from a big jar of the stuff. While my wife distracted him with questions, I kept dipping into the stuff like an addict, as my children looked at a collection of trapped bees in the shop.

When I couldn’t reasonably sample any more without feeling like a thief, I grabbed a big jar of it and pulled out my wallet before my wife objected.

“We’re only here for a week,” she said. “How much honey can you eat?”

As it turns out, an awful lot. I loved the stuff so much, that I started planning all my meals and snacks around things that I could pour honey on. And I burned through the four honey-drenched sesame bars I bought in less than 48 hours. One afternoon, I asked my wife how some honey might taste on my ham and cheese sandwich, and she tried to set me straight once more.

“Dave,” she said. “You can’t put honey on everything.”

Maybe not, but when in Samos, you can certainly try.

(All photos and videos by Dave Seminara)

Living Naked And Free On The Beach In Greece

I spent seventeen years in Catholic schools and that’s probably why you’ll never see me lolling about naked on a beach. I have no moral opposition to naturists, but like many others, I’ve observed firsthand that nudists tend to be a bit older, with many old enough to qualify for senior citizens discounts, and some aren’t exactly easy on the eyes. There’s something about the aging process that makes some people want to revert to their natural state as they grow older.

Men hear the words “nude beach” or “clothing optional beach” and their heart rates accelerate a few notches. But are you going to bump into Gisele Bundchen or Brooklyn Decker sunning themselves in the buff on a beach? Probably not.

In the Greek Isles, you can’t help but bump into people who are naked or nearly naked, even without seeking out nude or clothing optional beaches. A couple weeks ago, I saw a few portly, hardy souls, certainly from Northern Europe, looking burned like lobsters and naked as jaybirds on Tigaki Beach in Kos.

Then you also see men who have suits on, but they’re so skimpy they’re almost more of an assault on the eyes than if they were actually naked. I saw a man at the Livadi Geranou beach in Patmos last week that was actually wearing a thong bathing suit reminiscent of the one Borat used in his movie, save the shoulder straps. He appeared to be about 85 years old.The next day, a portly, middle-aged man tried to board a public bus we were on in Patmos with a tiny speedo half pulled down, exposing both pubes and half his ass. A group of Greek schoolchildren on the bus began to point at him and laugh hysterically, and he turned around and got off. (Perhaps the driver told him to get dressed, I’m not sure.)

Then on Saturday, my wife and two young boys and I found ourselves in the company of a whole host of naked people at the Psili Ammos Beach in Patmos, much to our surprise. The beach can only be reached via a boat ride or rigorous 30-minute hike, so it’s apparently an ideal place for naturists to hide out on a very religious island that frowns upon public nudity.

We noticed that a few of the nudists were actually camping on the beach, which isn’t technically legal, and I was curious about the practicalities. But how does one go about interviewing naked people on a beach? Surely approaching them naked, on their terms, would have been best, but I wasn’t going to do that.

I asked my wife, Jen, to accompany me, thinking that I might seem less like a horny stalker if I had a woman with me.

“I don’t know,” she said, clearly dreading the chore. “I feel like you need to give naked people on a beach a really wide berth.”

But she eventually agreed to accompany me on my quest to speak to naked campers. We approached a variety of naked people, feeling very awkward since we had suits on, and none admitted to being campers, though this might be because they thought I was some sort of undercover police officer.

The naturists were all friendly, and obviously not Americans. One older gentleman who we approached, sort of half rolled over when we addressed him and I accidentally caught sight of his junk – clearly a low point in our trip. It’s odd but when you’re speaking to naked people on a beach, you focus so hard on making eye contact that it’s almost ridiculous.

After a few hours on the clothing-optional beach, I told my wife I’d had enough and wanted to leave. And then just as the words left my mouth, a large group of attractive young people came hiking down the hill and plopped down right next to us on the beach. Well, not so fast, I thought. But alas, they turned out to be a wholesome group of Norwegians on a Bible study tour, and they definitely weren’t there to get naked.

For those who are interested in getting naked and camping for free on Greek beaches, check out the Captain Barefoot site, which appears to be a comprehensive guide to Greece for naturists. In some way, I kind of envy people who feel free enough to live naked and free on a remote beach in Greece, but I’m still keeping my suit on.

Read Part 2 of this story, A Prude Bares it All On a Nude Beach in Crete here.

(Photos by Dave Seminara, the second one needed blurring)