Also called The Northeast Aegean Islands, they are largely located off northeastern Greece. Thassos and Samothrace are in the far north Aegean. These islands- the others being Chios, Lemnos , Lesbos, Samos, Ikaria, plus a few smaller island- stretch along a north-south corridor of over 350 km, so they’re not as easy to island hop. But they all have something unique to offer.
Thassos has the largest percentage of return visitors of any Greek island. Only 12 km off the coast of northern Greece, Thassos is the most northerly Greek island. It is one of the greenest islands. It’s an easy island to get to, and is perfect for family vacations. It has great beaches, stone-built mountain villages, and lots of hiking paths. Very popular with Eastern Europeans who live close by.
Samothrace is home to one of antiquity’s most famous artifacts, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the most recognized sculptures in the world. It has been called the greatest example of Hellenistic sculpture, and its image adorns the radiator cap of the Rolls Royce. This island is a kind of local secret amongst Greeks. Unlike other islands, Samothrace stays green most of the year due to its abundant sources of fresh water which flow from its high mountains and features cataracts which empty into pools for freshwater swimming, always a rarity in Greece.
Chios is the only place on earth where chewing gum is harvested from trees. In the area called Masticahoria, sap from mastic trees is harvested and processed and was sold all over the Mediterranean world during the Middle Ages. Mastica isn’t just gum- it’s a substance which is reputed to have many therapeutic qualities. It’s still sold in Greece. There’s even a mastic-flavored ice cream. Chios is a large island with great variety in its villages. It’s also close to Izmir, Turkey, which used to be called Smyrna before the Greeks were removed as part of the population exchange in 1922 after the Greko-Turkish war. This population exchange effectively ended the more than 2,000-year Greek presence in Anatolia (Turkey’s west coast). Chios has plentiful beautiful beaches and traditional villages.
Lemnos sits in the middle of the north Aegean, relatively far away from other Greek islands, but rather closer to the only two major Turkish islands, Imvros and Tenedos. Lemnos has a charming, cozy harbor, and excellent sandy beaches. Because of its distance from Athens, Lemnos is relatively undeveloped and offers a completely unspoiled island experience for the tourist willing to go the extra mile to get there.
We all know what word is derived from Lesbos, and that it was the home of Sappho, who was reputed to be gay but was more likely bisexual. At any rate, the word in question was not invented until the 19th century, 2,500 years after she died. What is indisputable are her gifts as a poetess. Lesbos is also called Mytlilini, the name of its chief city. Sappho’s birthplace, Skala Eressos, also happens to have one of the best beaches on the island. Lesbos attracts more than its fair share of artistic types.
Samos is the birthplace of Hera, wife of Zeus, and there are ruins of a great temple in her honor to prove it. It’s also the birthplace of mathematical genius Pythagoras, and of pleasure-loving philosopher Epicurus. Speaking of pleasure, for thousands of years Samos has an excellent sweet wine. The island is covered in vineyards. Samos is a large, green island with great beaches, only a couple km from Turkey. Ephesus, a complete ancient abandoned city which figures prominently in the New Testament, is a short day trip from Samos on the Turkish mainland.
Ikaria’s most unique features are its hot springs in Therma and Therma Lefkada. Ikaria, named after the mythological Icarus, who flew to close to the sun and melted his wax wings, is a quiet, non-touristy destination with lots of greenery and abundant apricots, its chief crop. Ikaria has been identified as a “Blue Zone,” one of those few places on earth where people live extraordinarily long lives. Gregoris Tsahas, interviewed by the Guardian newspaper in 2013, was 100 at the time, in perfect health, despite smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 70 years. Ikaria has fantastic coastal caves and rock formations, and beautiful beaches.