Samos sits close to the Turkish coast, a large and mountainous island that was in ancient times one of Greece's wealthiest places.
As a result, Samos is today noted for its many architectural wonders of the ancient world, although unfortunately not all of them have been preserved for present-day visitors to enjoy.
Much of Samos' unique heritage has fallen foul of the cement mixer and the main resort of Pythagorion, in particular, has permanently paved over much of Samos island's glorious past.
In the main resorts, rough Greek edges have been polished smooth and visitors may find more holiday villages than Greek villages.
But it's not all like that. Samos has something for everyone, from big hotels to rustic backwaters, miles of sand, towering mountains, lush forests and some singularly beautiful scenery.
The hills inland are noted for wine growing, especially in the hillsides around Vourliotes, famed for its vintage muscat wine.
Samos is also noted for its native flora while flamingos have been using the island as a stopover for many years.
Samos is a big island and roads can be wearily long. Beach lovers will head south and east while the adventurous look west and north.
Samos is a large island and beaches are sited in three main clusters, north-west of Samos Town, in the south-west around Pythagorio and to the south-west at the emerging resorts of Kampos and Votsalakia. Hidden gems lie along the east coast and in the wilder north while Kokkari and Pythagorio have the all-inclusive hotels, In general, beach resorts to the east are backed by gentle rolling hills while those in the west are dominated by big mountain ranges.
Noted for its beauty when approached from the sea, Samos Town - also called Vathy - sits at the head of a deep horseshoe bay. Pastel houses and weathered red tile roofs tier down hillside to a long and deep waterfront promenade.
A provincial town of some 6,000 people, Samos has surprising little to offer the tourist, given its size. A noisy snarl of shops and tavernas, the waterfront is overlooked by a steep rise of streets, heaving with hotels.
In the middle of the waterfront is the main square, guarded by an imposing stone lion and edged with tree-shaded cafes. Further inland is a tiny, but attractive, municipal gardens.
The town has a very good archaeological museum with exhibits spread between two buildings. A modern annexe houses the largest surviving 'kouros' statue at five metres tall and dating from 575BC.
The older building has displays of Egyptian,Turkish, Cypriot and Syrian artifacts testifying to Samos' ancient trading wealth. Exhibits are well displayed with information in English. Most notable are a dozen or so bronze griffin heads.
A Byzantine museum is located n the former Bishop's Palace - worth a visit to see the icons, some 18th century silver bibles and the bizarre cast of St George's footprint.
The road south heads to the hillside village of Ano Vathi, once a pirate refuge, where narrow streets thread between rather drab neo-classical houses and a few, sadly neglected, medieval churches.
The road north out of Samos Town leads almost immediately to the upmarket Kalami suburbs where most holiday hotel accommodation can be found. The best beach area on this part of the coast is at Gagou or Gangou, which many regard as the town beach.
A narrow strip of stone and shingle, only about 200 metres long and facing south-west, is backed by a hotel and some restaurants. On the hillside behind stand squadrons of hotels and apartment blocks, with the huge Gagou Beach Hotel complex dominating.
Despite the hotel numbers Gagou beach is relatively quiet - quite a contrast to noisy Samos Town yet within easy walking distance.
Sunbeds line the back of the beach which slopes fairly gently into the sea. A line of low trees gives good natural shade and sunbathers can watch the ferries sailing past to the harbour. A couple of tavernas sit at the northern end.
North from Gagou the road swings around the headland to the north-facing beach at Agia Paraskevi, about 6km from Samos Town. The road runs parallel to a very thin strand of sand and shingle with barely enough room to lie down in places.
Although a pretty chapel and small attractive harbour graces the beach at the eastern end, it generally feels rather bleak and unwelcoming here. There is parking along the road and stone steps lead down to an exposed beach which has no shade.
Tavernas nearby have live Greek music most weekends and the local countryside is famous for the wide variety of butterflies. Another shingle strand lies to the west at Asprochorti, found down a track off the main road but again there is no shade and no facilities.
South of Samos Town the road to Pythagorio neatly demarcates the east of Samos with the mountains of Katsarini to the north, Profitis Ilias in the east and Siharos in the south. Beneath the mountains along the eastern seaboard are several widely scattered seaside resorts, about an equal distance apart but all easily reached along good roads.
The winding east road out of Samos Town goes through the village of Kamara where a left turn soon invites a steep climb to the 18th century monastery of Zoodhokos Pigi ,set in thick woods on sea cliffs, and a descent to the fishing hamlet of Mourtia, about seven kilometres from the capital.
The small beach of steeply banked shingle is outstandingly beautiful with great views across the straits to the Turkish coast. Palm trees overhang the beach with which the occasional stands of tamarisk provide shade. The bay and the tiny harbour always seem to be packed with small boats.
The water is particularly clear on this part of the coast and Mourtia is a great place for a picnic as there are no organised facilities here, although a beach cantina may open in the high season.
There are quiet coves to be found to the south of Mourtia notably at Mikri Laka and Megali Laka. The latter has a small chapel and a cantina in the summer . Sunbeds are sometimes put out on the stony strip, a welcome extra on a beach with little or no shade. Both beaches are down dirt tracks and are best reached on foot.
The small seaside resort at Kerveli has grown in popularity in recent years and a clutch of apartments have been built here, although they are hardly intrusive. This is very much a peaceful resort off the busy tourist track.
Kerveli is reached by the south road out of the capital through Ano Vathi and up to the hill village of Paleokastro before dropping down a long valley to the strikingly pretty bay which lies about eight kilometres from Samos Town.
A line of large shady tamarisks line the narrow, shingle beach giving plenty of natural shade with a taverna and mini-market along the shore at the northern end.
This is a secluded spot for an out-of-the-way holiday that is not too remote. The village has a couple of good tavernas and there are some fine walks to be had in the area with the mountains of Profitis Ilias to the north and Siharos to the south.
South of Kerveli and about 10km from Samos Town is the tiny south-facing resort of Posidonio, sometimes spelt Posidhonio. Visitors are treated to panoramic views and wooded hills on the way with the village set in a beautiful bay.
There is more harbour than beach but the small stretch of shingle has a line of shady tamarisk at one end with a few sunbeds usually laid out. Posidonio has several tavernas, some right at the water's edge, and the village is popular with boat trippers out on 'Greek Night' specials with boats mooring right alongside the restaurants.
There is not much in the village, just houses, apartments and a mini-market but there is plenty of parking for those who arrive by road.
A number of tiny pebble coves dot the bay, the most notable being Sidera, just west over the headland; hardly a beach, just a small scar of pebble and rock but it is very peaceful.
There are three beaches on Samos called Psili Ammos but this splendid sandy beach is by far the most popular and quickly fills up with day trippers from Samos Town and Pythagorion.
The name translates as 'fine sand' and that is just is on offer here at what many consider the best beach on Samos. Ranks of sunbeds clutter the western end of the beach but the east is mercifully free of them and clumps of tamarisk make for some shady spots.
The shallow sea means visitors can wade out quite a distance, one reason why the beach is popular with families. There are tavernas along the shore and more at the back of the beach.
Offshore is the islet of Vareloudi and just a kilometre beyond it lies the Turkish coast. Notices warn of strong currents out in the straits should swimmers venture too far out.
So very close to the Turkish mainland it is not unusual to see navy vessels of both countries patrolling the straits near Psili Ammos and to have jet fighters scream overhead.
A salt marsh and a lake lie to the west of Psili Ammos, both of which dry to salt pans in the summer. This is a good bird spotting area and flamingos will be plentiful early in the season.
A track behind the lake runs along the coast to Posidonio but it is very rough and for jeeps only.
West of Psili Amos is a three kilometre stretch of windswept sand and shingle at Mykali and the south-facing resort has a trio of large package holiday hotel complexes lining the long shore.
The beach is a mix of stone and shingle, although it turns to sand beneath the shallow water. Sunbeds sprinkle the most popular spots and the hotel complexes have tavernas that open to the public.
The large salt lake area to the east is a protected nature reserve where storks, herons and flamingos are frequent winter visitors.
Between the ports of Samos Town to the east and Karlovasi in the west is the island's premier beach resort at Kokkari and some of the prettiest inland villages on Samos in the wine growing hillsides of the mountains at Lazarou, Ambelos and Aloni. A good road runs the length of the coastline, often close to the cliffs, with sea views to one side and mountain slopes to the other. Resorts beyond Kokkari get steadily more sleepy as the tourist numbers fade.
Once a quaint fishing village Kokkari is now the third largest holiday resort on the island after Samos Town and Pythagorio with rows of new apartments and low-rise hotels thrown up to meet the ever-growing demand.
The waterfront at Kokkari is lined with restaurants, cafes and bars and, although traditional tavernas have been supplanted by more lucrative cocktail bars, the atmosphere still appeals more to families.
A couple of picturesque rock outcrops at each side of Kokkari will get cameras clicking and the narrow beach causeways that lead to them are heavy with small boats and sun loungers.
The main Kokkari beach has banks of stone and shingle, dropping sharply to the sea with many apartments overlooking the beach. Exposed and windy, this is also a favourite venue for windsurfers.
Those looking for quieter Kokkari spots will head south-east where there are a couple of smaller coves, both shingle but much quieter than the main beach with a decent taverna on the hill behind.
A further four kilometres south-east is Kedros where a signposted turn off from the main road drops down to a couple of shingle coves, neither with any facilities.
The steep wooded hills behind Kokkari are very attractive and visitors should head inland for more traditional Greek village delights and many splendid walking trails through the woods.
Those looking to escape commercial Kokkari often head two kilometres north-west to the sand and pebble beach in a sheltered bay at Lemonakia.
The beach is about 100 metres off the main road and it's smaller and narrower than its more popular neighbour Tsamadou just around the headland so it can sometimes feel a little crowded.
A couple of rows of sunbeds line the shore and there are tamarisk trees behind to shed shade while a large beach taverna sits at the western end.
It is mostly pebble, both onshore and underwater, with a little sand here and there and it's set in an attractive spot with regular buses to Kokkari and to Karlovasi.
North-west over the headland from Lemonakia is Tsamadou, a beautiful long sickle of sand and pebble that features on almost every advertisement for Samos.
Difficult access has fortunately left the resort relatively unscathed and Tsamadou has escaped the civic 'improvements' enjoyed by so some other beaches.
Set in a beautiful bay at the bottom of a very steep path are a couple of tavernas shaded by trees and a beach cantina that opens in the high summer.
The beach is mostly sharply sloping pebble and shingle so it's not a favourite with families.
Tsamadou is also the only official nudist beach on Samos with the eastern end set aside for naturists.
The inland hills rise to the hill village of Vourliotes which has panoramic views out to the sea and over the sweeping fields of vines. This area of Samos is noted for its world-class winemaking.
This region produces more wine, mostly Muscat, than any other on Samos and the quality is very good with local wines winning a clutch of international awards.
Fresh springs at Vourliotes help keep the landscape lush and green while the village is full of atmosphere with flower decked walls, brightly painted doors and a very pretty central square lined with tavernas serving local delicacies.
Local sights include the chapel of Agios Ioannis, the monastery of Panagia Vrodiani dating from 1428 and one of the oldest on the island, as well as the medieval castle of Kastro Lazaros.
Nearby are the Pnaka springs, just below the village and a favourite picnic spot with shady plane-trees, fresh spring water and a picturesque little taverna.
The neighbouring village of Manolates may not be as pretty at Vourliotes but it does have a magnificent position at the head of a steep canyon and the hill village is a popular starting point for treks up Mount Ambelos which looms above.
A marked trail begins at the end of a dirt track beyond Manolates village, just past some charcoal pits and a convent. The climb is not particularly difficult and walkers are rewarded with some remarkable views.
The road to Manolates passes through the Aidona Gorge, a popular picnic spot where pavilions have been built among the ivy covered trees and where nightingales sing on spring evenings.
Manolates village itself is set among rolling vineyards and has some excellent tavernas as well as several shops selling handmade pottery.
A couple of kilometres north of Tsamadou the sheltered beach at Avlakia, tiny and often by-passed by tourists. Only about 150 people live here and the beach is just a thin strip of white stone backed by large tamarisk trees and a wall of bamboo for added shelter.
But Avlakia is a beautiful spot with houses hugging the shoreline and a couple of good waterside tavernas sitting between the beach and an impressive rock outcrop headland.
The road snakes north around the headland to another north-facing stone and pebble strip at Tsambou, or Tsabou, only a short walk from Avlakia. The pretty beach is mostly large white pebbles hemmed in between steep cliffs.
There is little in the way of shade and visitors will need a sunbed as the large stones are uncomfortable to lie on. Good parking is available at the back of the beach and a small taverna opens in the summer. Regular buses run to Avlakia.
Agios Konstantinos is a pretty coastal village sadly marred by a dreary concrete shoreline esplanade. The rocky beach is walled in and considered so ugly that even the locals apologise for it.
The village however, named after a church, built in 1890, is a delightful mix of attractive stone houses peppered with large tavernas. In fact, there are two settlements here, Ano (upper) and Kato (lower), about 500 meters apart and both are surrounded by vineyards.
The beach is a very long strip of steeply banked shingle with little shade. Just to the east, along the coast, is the hamlet of Platanakia, which takes it name from the huge plane trees that dominate the main square. Several large tavernas make this a favourite with 'Greek Night' tour buses.
Just east of the port town of Karlovassis is a long stretch of attractive but fairly inaccessible coastline, mostly cliffs, where the tiny resort of Agios Nikolaos stands out like a jewel.
This small fishing port, home to only 50 odd people, has recently been 'discovered' by upmarket holiday companies and the area is now peppered with smart apartments.
Holiday villas have been built right up to the shoreline around the dramatic headland where small shingle beaches are be found either side of a rocky outcrop.
Agios Nikolaos also has a couple of excellent fish tavernas.
The island's second largest town of Karlovassi is much overshadowed by the other island resorts at Samos Town and Pythagorion. It is also less obviously attractive, although far more peaceful and a good base for exploring the north coast.
More a cluster of villages than a town, Karlovassi can be roughly divided into four areas, each with its own character with some boasting the largest church buildings on the island.
Karlovassi waterfront is lined with tavernas and bars and has all the trappings of a rapidly growing resort. The town beach, however, is a poor pair of shingle strips between long rocky breakwaters.
The new district (Neo Karlovasi) is marred by derelict factories and warehouses, a hangover from the days when this was a major industrial tanning centre and the backdrop to a bustling urban centre.
The middle district (Meleo Karlovassi) is a sprawling suburb of modern housing, redeemed in part by an attractive main square with a huge fountain and restaurants huddled beneath the shady trees.
The old district (Paleo Karlovassi), which lies to the west, behind the harbour, is a picture postcard village with a hilltop church overseeing red-tiled houses horseshoed round a pleasant green valley.
The attractive beach at Potami lies three kilometres west of Karlovasi, a sweep of pebble and some sand well shaded by trees and with a good taverna nestling in the shrubbery.
A popular beach with Karlovassi residents and easily accessible by car or on foot, Potami can get busy in the high season and at weekends but it is generally very quiet.
A few trees line the shore of steeply banked shingle with rocky outcrops at both ends to add some interest.
The area is well known for its waterfalls and rock pools which attract the tour buses. A sequence of pools tumble down the hillside with a steep two kilometre walk to the top past a series of waterfalls lined with ropes for visitors to haul themselves up.
The heavily wooded track leads to the 11th century church of Metamorfis, believed to be the oldest on Samos, and beyond along a narrow and precipitous path to a small Byzantine fortress with splendid views back down the valley.
The north-west coastline of Samos is wild, remote and dominated by Mount Kerkis, the island's highest at 1,473 metres. A small farming hamlet is located at Kallithea with a small cove beyond at Varsamo, signposted from the road down a rough dirt track.
Varsamo is noted for its multi-coloured pebbles formed from volcanic ash and its has a couple of small caves and a beach cantina that opens in the summer.
The road runs out at the village of Drakei but tracks here lead down to a couple of wild and beautiful beaches, a refuge for the rare and protected Mediterranean seal 'Monachus Monachus'.
The first, and largest, of the beaches as the name suggests, is Megalo Seitani in a dramatic setting at the mouth of the Kakoperato Gorge. Around the bay sits the windy and exposed Mikri Seitani in a small sand and pebble cove. There are no facilities on either of these remote beaches.
The mountainous Bournias north-south ridge splits the south coast of Samos. To the east of this ridge is the island's most popular holiday resort at Pythagorion and far to the west lie Marathokambos and Votsalakia now emerging as popular holiday resorts. Between the two are many small coves but they are all difficult to reach except by boat and are little more than narrow strips of stone and rock.
Pythagorion is the main holiday resort of Samos, close to the island airport, with a very long sandy beach and a number of notable ancient sites nearby.
It was originally called Tingaki but renamed in 1955 to honour the island's most famous native son, the ancient Greek philosopher mathematician Pythagoras.
The cobbled waterfront has an uninterrupted line of tavernas, bars and cafes overlooking the large harbour while the main street that heads inland is packed with tourist shops.
Despite the commercialism, Pythagorion has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that has helped it remain the premier resort on Samos for the past 30 years.
The small sheltered pebble beach of Rematika, near the harbour, has shallow seas and sunbeds with tavernas nearby but the main holiday beach lies to the west near the airport where a spread of big hotels lines a huge swathe of shingle and sand that stretches for several kilometres to Potokaki.
The Pythagorion area is noted for its archaeological treasures, although much has been lost or buried under modern concrete. The town museum has ancient statues, tombstone reliefs and Roman busts but the displays are disappointing given the local heritage, with exhibits routinely hidden away in storerooms.
A less than imposing 19th century castle sits on a hill to the south-west, built mostly with stone pilfered from ancient temple sites and the Chora, to the north, was the Samos capital until the 1850's and is still a lively place with plenty of tavernas.
Further north at Mytilini is a remarkable paleontology museum, housed in the village hall and boasting fossils of a 10 million-year-old giraffe-like creature and the skulls of prehistoric hippos and lions.
The beach at the western edge of Pythagorion heads as far as the eye can see to merge with the beach at Potokaki where a hefty clutch of holiday hotels hug the shore.
They include the popular Doryssa hotel complex of bungalows which has been laid out as a fake Greek village, complete with cute street names and an artificial Greek village square.
Potokaki beach is mostly shingle with some sand here and there. Hotels nearby ensure the best parts of Potokaki beach are rarely uncrowded and rows of sunbeds out cover the best sand.
An ideal spot for all-inclusive hotel holidays, visitors may prefer the hotel pool to the beach, which is unremittingly long, straight and without much in the way of character.
Once a tiny, dust blown fishing hamlet Ireon is now a minor resort with a small gaggle of hotels and tavernas at this quiet spot that begins where the long sands of Potokaki eventually run out.
The Ireon area is most noted for the huge Hera Temple archaeological site nearby but visitors need only travel another 500 metres to discover the delights of the village and beach.
Ireon beach is found along paths that lead from the car park area off the main road. The beach may be scruffy and stony but it has the benefit of several large trees that offer good shade.
A couple of smaller coves can be found nearby, notably at Papa Beach which is a small crescent of shingle with a splendid taverna above. It has sunbeds and showers, even a small changing cubicle.
Another cove lies just east but the stone dips steeply into the sea and it is very rocky underfoot. A rash of new building threatens to swamp Ireon but this is still an attractive relief from more commercial resorts and the locals are especially welcoming.
West of Ireon the road climbs towards Mount Bournias then drops south through a magnificent gorge to the scenic sand and shingle cove at Tsopela. A couple of beaches sit either side of a rock headland with a small islet just offshore. A cantina opens and sunbeds come out in the summer.
Tsopela also attracts a good many day trip boats from Pythagorio. Inland, the countryside still bears the scars of the forest fires but several hillside villages here are worth a visit.
The large village of Pagondas has astonishing views. This traditional village sits on the slopes of Mount Bournias and has an impressive pubic fountain in the main square, many narrow whitewashed alleys and some good cafes.
The village of Myli, just north of Ireon, owes it's name to the many watermills that once operated here. The mills have long gone, but the thick lemon groves and cool streams are still there to enjoy.
West of Tsopela, an unmade road winds along the coast beneath the looming Mount Bournias around a number of small coves, most worth a visit with an occasional cantina or even taverna and some quiet, out-of-the-way shingle beaches.
There are coves worth exploring at at Sikia, Pavlou, Avandi and Vergi before reaching the lovely shingle beach at Limnonaki. Beyond here the road climbs inland before dropping back to the shore at Kalogera, Kambos, yet another beach called Psili Amos, Kambos and then the long beach of shingle at Balos, or Valos. The coast around here is also called Ormos Koumeikon and the relative remoteness makes it a favourite with naturists.
The sandy south-west beaches of Samos are fast emerging as a popular tourist destination. The first is at Ormos Marathokambos, more a working fishing village than a tourist haunt but busy and friendly, with a very good range of tavernas.
The beach is as stony as it is undistinguished, but it has a relaxing little port and isolated coves can be found further along the coast. The Greek atmosphere and waterside tavernas make this is a pleasant place to enjoy a relaxed sunset meal.
Above lies the lovely village of Marathokambos, perched among vineyards and overlooking a steep valley. Visitors are warned to park their cars on the village outskirts as the streets are so narrow that drivers will have no option but to reverse their way out.
One of the island's longest sand beaches is found at Votsolakia, also known as Kambos at it's eastern end, and which is a fast growing tourist resort. The beach is of fine, flat sand with a few stones and runs for about three kilometres.
The straight road that follows the beach has triggered a ribbon development of hotels and apartments interspersed with tavernas and cafes to the glorious backdrop of Mount Kerkis.
The beach is too big to get crowded and sunbeds cluster around the beach tavernas that spring up every now and then. A cluster of tavernas, bars and shops at the western end give the illusion of a village centre but there isn't one.
Very much driven by tourism, the sands maybe splendid, with a gentle shelf into the sea, but Votsalakia has little Greek atmosphere or character. The hills behind give every reason to go hiking off into the surrounding countryside where fine walks beckon.
Around the headland west of Votsalakia is a fine beach at Psili Ammos, not to be confused with its more popular namesake in the east and another narrow shingle strip near Kalogera (and even more confusingly close to yet another beach named Kambos).
This Psili Ammos is approached off the main road down near a taverna. A steep bank curves around a pool cafe, hidden among the trees, and drops down to the beach.
The eastern end of the beach is composed of large stones and pebbles but this soon gives way to a long, deep swathe of fine sand and sunbeds at the western end.
The high cliffs behind offer shelter and the sea is quite shallow along the shore here so families will enjoy it provides they don't mind the steep walk down and a trek over stones to get to the sandy area.
The road turns inland beyond Psili Ammos before a left turn drops down to the sheltered cove of Limnionas. Smart villas dot the hillsides and the faintly beguiling Samos Yacht Club (given that a yacht is hardly ever seen) is based here which gives Limnionas a slightly sniffy upmarket air.
A taverna lays out sunbeds on the stone and shingle beach which is a popular spot for day trip boats. Limnionas is a quiet and unassuming place where stones shelve gently to the shore and with good swimming beyond them.