Many corners of Greece, both on the islands and the mainland, are said to have a special energy or aura about them. Samothraki – or Samothrace – is definitely one of these, a small rocky yet verdant island facing the Evros Delta on Greece’s northern shores. Small as it may be, it boasts the highest mountain in the Aegean Sea, known as Saos or Feggari (moon), standing at 1,664 meters high. Legend has it that if you’re on the mountain during full moon and wish for something, it will come true, so be careful what you wish for!
In ancient times, Samothraki was a religious center along the lines of famous Eleusis near Athens, even before it was settle by Greeks around 700 BC. Talks of the goddess Axieros and fertily god Kadmilus, the twin demons or Kaveiri, the wedded gods of the underworld Axiokersus and Axiokersa, and many others were all associated with the complex spiritual lore of the island. The Greek kings of Thrace, Macedon and Egypt held the island and its spiritual significance in the highest esteem, adding to the temples and ancient buildings already there. This is why you’ll see many ancient remains from different eras, such as the Arsineion, the “New Temple” and the sacrificial altar. Underpinning the island’s importance, the statue of Nike or the Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of the Louvre’s key attractions in the French capital.
The Archeological Museum of Samothraki will shed some light on this little place’s extensive, rich history, while the early Christian church from the 5th to 6th centuries AD, on a site visited by no less than the Apostle Paul, will enlighten you about that specific time period as well. The medieval castle of Gateluzi also tells about the late middle ages on the island, adding yet another layer of conquest and foreign hegemony.
Yet it is the nature that will put a spell on you first, from the rich oak forests among rivers and waterfalls on the island’s heights to the pebbly and sandy beaches far below. Seasonal wetlands attract migrating birds while on land age-old turtles forage for food and healthy bees are keeping busy making delicious honey for traditional beekeepers. The seas around the island are abundant with numerous species of fish, attracting hungry turtles and seals to the area. A rare species of local goat is sometimes spotted on the mountains, while overhead you might see the endangered Eleonora’s Falcon. Spring witnesses the emergence of vividly colored flowers on the island’s higher elevations, often in the shadow of chestnut, maple, plane, olive, oak and cedar trees. The fertile land is also amicable to wild rosebushes and pear trees, as well as myrtle, nettle, wild vines and many other plants and bushes.
In terms of activities, thanks to the abundant nature, Samothraki is popular with hikers who love exploring around the many waterfalls and natural pools (vathres). Some of the hikes require extra care so better stick to the relatively easy ones if you’re not with a professional guide. The island is also good for birdwatching, especially where the wetland and the sea meet, separated only by a road, at the Akrotiri Cape. It is worth mentioning that Samothraki is also popular for its thermal baths, Loutra, near the village Therma, will bless you with curative waters and sulfur springs.
Add all this to sleepy easy-going villages, a local folklore museum, and a cave tucked behind the Kremasto waterfall among several other little gems or secret attractions, and you’ll be amazed at how a small island like this has so much to offer.
Samothraki is a wondrous and seriously different Greek island that offers a unique opportunity for ecotourism lovers, campers and those who consider their lifestyles a more "alternative" one. With its rich natural and cultural heritage, Samothraki invites visitors to explore its diverse landscapes, traditions, outdoor activities, biodiversity, and mythical spiritual vibe. Here are some of the reasons why you should consider Samothraki as your next ecotourism destination:
- Natural attractions: Samothraki is home to the highest mountain in the Aegean Sea, Mount Saos, which reaches 1,611 meters. The mountain has a stunning view of the sea and the neighboring islands, and is also a habitat for many rare plants and animals. Another natural attraction is the Fonias river, which flows through the island and forms impressive waterfalls and pools. The river is ideal for hiking, swimming and enjoying the scenery. Samothraki also has many thermal springs that have healing properties and are open to the public.
- Traditions: Samothraki has a long history and a rich cultural heritage. The island was an important religious center in ancient times, and the remains of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods can still be seen today. The sanctuary was dedicated to a mysterious cult that attracted pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean. Samothraki also preserves its traditional architecture, cuisine and customs. You can visit the picturesque villages, taste the local delicacies such as goat cheese and honey, and participate in the local festivals and celebrations.
- Outdoor activities: Samothraki is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. You can choose from a variety of eco-friendly activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, sailing, diving and birdwatching. You can also join guided tours that will show you the best spots and teach you about the island's ecology and history. You can also volunteer for environmental projects that aim to protect and restore the island's natural resources and biodiversity.
- Biodiversity: Samothraki is a hotspot of biodiversity in the Aegean Sea. The island hosts more than 1,200 plant species, many of which are endemic or rare. Some of the most notable plants are the Samothraki oak, the Samothraki orchid and the Samothraki daffodil. The island also has a rich fauna, with more than 150 bird species, 20 reptile species and 10 mammal species. Some of the most remarkable animals are the golden jackal, the Mediterranean monk seal and the Eleonora's falcon.
As you can see, Samothraki is a perfect place for ecotourism lovers who want to experience nature, culture and adventure in a sustainable way. If you are looking for a destination that will inspire you and make you appreciate the beauty and diversity of life on Earth, Samothraki is waiting for you!