Samothrace – often referred to as the island of the Great Gods – is according to ancient mythology the island of Aeolus (God of the winds). Samothrace is blessed with the tallest mountain in the Aegean Sea and legend has it that Poseidon himself sat on Mount Saos to watch the Troy War.
Samothrace (or Samothraki) will totally charm you with its streams and waterfalls, its steep mountain peaks and ancient legends. And you will fall in love with its pebbly beaches, its thermal springs and deep green forests.
Top 10 things to do on Samothrace
- Go mountaineering on Mount Saos, visit the waterfalls and follow the streams to the stone basins (“vathres”)
- Visit the Archaeological Museum where the archaeological site’s major finds are on display.
- Go on a boat trip from Vathia Ammos to Spillies, Katarti, Kremasto, Vato and Grias ta Pania and marvel the crystal-clear transparent sea
- Explore the cave behind the water mass of Kremasto Waterfall
- Spend a day at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods – with the major monuments of Propylon (285-281 BC), the Sacred Circle (5th-4th c. BC), the votive monument (323-316 BC), the Anaktoron (1. c. BC), the Arsinoeion, a large tholos (288-281 BC), the hall of choral dancers (Temenos) (c. 340 BC), the Hieron (325-150 BC), a stoa (1st half of the 3rd c. BC) and last but not least the Nike monument (early 2nd c. BC).
- Visit the medieval castle of the Gateluzi family (1431-1433) – the castle towers still stand high on a hill overlooking the sea
- Spend an afternoon discovering the Folklore Museum and the Church of the Assumption in Chora of Samothrace
- Go dip your toes into the thermal baths of Loutra where the sulfurous water spring will fill you with wellbeing
- Spend an evening enjoying the nightlife of Samothrace in one of the tavernas on the way to Ghria Vathra
- Go birdwatching at the mouth of Fonias
Where is Samothrace in Greece?
Samothrace (also Samothraki) is a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea. It is a self-governing municipality within the Evros peripheral unit of Thrace. The island is 17 km long and is 178 km2 in size and has a population of 2,723 (2001). Its main industries are fishing and tourism. Resources on the island includes granite and basalt. Samothrace is one of the most rugged Greek islands, with Mt. Fengari rising to 1,611 m.
Samothrace – how to get there?
The port of Samothrace is Kamariótissa. Here you will find ferry connections to both Alexandroupolis in Thrace as well as Kavala. There is no commercial airport on the island of Thrace. Kamariótissa is also the point of the island leading to all the villages on the island; Lakkoma, Profitis Ilias and Therma are some of them.
Ancient site of Palaiopolis
Samothrace bears evidence of human activity since the Neolithic times with rich archaeological treasures on the island. The Kaviria Mysteries – a religious event of equal importance to that of the Eleusinian Mysteries – made Samothrace famous. The grand archaeological site of Palaiopolis in Samothrace stretches over 50 km2, located 6,5 km from the port of Kamariotissa.
Nature of Samothrace
Samothrace is a stunning natural beauty with lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Specially the northern part of the island with its microclimate is filled with a great variety of plants and trees, such as oak, cedar and chestnut trees, and more than 20 species of shrubs growing on Samothrace. Take a deep breath and smell the aromas of thyme, oregano, and peppermint.
Once, the island was covered almost exclusively by oaks. Visit the Martini Forest, located between Karyotes and Therma, to find what is left from that period.
Water streams and waterfalls
A special feature on Samothrace are the hundreds of crystal-clear water streams flowing from Mount Saos through the forests all the way down to the sea. These water streams form waterfalls and stone basins (the “vathres”) on their way down. Two of the most spectacular natural landmarks are the stream of Foniás (meaning: killer) and the tallest waterfall Kleidosi (35 m. high). At the northeast side of Samothrace, you will find a wonder of nature in the waterfall Kremastó. Here the water runs through some rocks with iron, and therefore obtaining a reddish color before reaching the sea, and right behind the water mass of the waterfall you will find a hidden cave, waiting to be explored. Other waterfalls on Samothrace are Kakiá Pláka, Griá Váthra, and Karyá.
Beaches on Samothrace
Most of the beaches on Samothrace are pebbled, and some of them are only accessible by boat. One of the most beautiful is the Beach of the Gardens with black and grey shiny pebbles. The only sandy beach on Samothrace you will find in the south – it is called Pachia Ammos (meaning “thick sand”). It is the most cosmopolitan beach on the island and here you can see the Chapel of Panagia Krimniotissa. From this beach you can rent a boat and go on a boat trip to Spilies, Katarti, Kremasto, Vato, Gyali and Grias ta Pania – areas otherwise inaccessible. You will discover that the sea is completely transparent with clear waters – allowing you to see all the way down to the bottom and the abundant underwater life.
Wetlands for birdwatching
Seasonally, wetlands are formed along the north and eastern coast of Samothrace. At the mouth of Foniás you will find migratory birds. The wetland of Vdelolimni and the lagoon of Agios Andreas are popular areas among birdwatchers.
Ancient history of Samothrace
Samothrace was not a state of any political significance in ancient Greece since it has no natural harbor and most of the island is too mountainous for cultivation: Mount Fengari (Mount Moon) rises to 1,611 m. It was, however, the home of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, site of important Hellenic and pre-Hellenic religious ceremonies. Among those who visited this shrine to be initiated into the island cult were King Lysander of Sparta, Philip II of Macedon and Cornelius Piso, father-in-law of Julius Caesar.
The ancient city, the ruins of which are called Palaeopoli (“old city”), was situated on the north coast. Considerable remains still exist of the ancient walls, which were built in massive Cyclopean style, as well as of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, where mysterious rites took place which were open to both slaves and free people (similar to the Eleysinian Mysteries).
The island’s most famous site is the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, (Greek: Hieron ton Megalon Theon); the most famous artifact of which is the 2.5-metre marble statue of Nike, now known as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, dating from about 190 BC. It was discovered in pieces on the island in 1863 by the French archaeologist Charles Champoiseau and is now – headless – in the Louvre in Paris.
Activities on Samothrace
Samothrace is a paradise for alternative tourism and adventure lovers: You can go trekking in gorges and mountaineering on Mount Saos all the way to its peak at Mount Fengari. You can also choose to go mountain biking, paragliding, rafting, or kayaking on the streams or diving in the crystal-clear waters. The choices are many! If you need wellness after all the activities the therapeutic thermal springs and the spa facilities are waiting for you at the village of Therma.
Spend a night at Vatos Beach
Vatos, to the east of Pachia Ammos, is accessible only by boat. It is a beach of unique beauty, surrounded by high rocks with caves. Here you can find a sandy beach and a ravine with plane trees, coolish waters, “vathres” and waterfalls. Around 200 m before reaching the sea the waters disappear, continuing underground. The beach is of stunning natural beauty and tranquility, a perfect place for unwinding.
You can choose to stay there for a night or more, in tents or sleeping bags, after an agreement with the boatman. If you stay here for more days, the boat can bring you some necessary things like water and proviant. During the summer, boats come daily, except in case of stormy weather.
East of Paleopolis about 13 km from Kamariotissa, is Therma or Loutra (Spa), a small village that is terribly busy during summer, due to its sulfurous water springs and thermal baths which were already renowned in Byzantine times for their therapeutic properties. The area vegetation is rich with plane-trees, chestnuts, arbutuses, and myrtles. You will also find nightlife, wonderful tavernas on the way to Ghria Vathra and especially a café that keeps the night alive till early in the morning.
If you love hiking do not miss out on the ravine of Fonias. It springs from the peak of the mountain, creating many “vathres” and dangerous crossings on its way down, the gorge of Fonias is a challenge for every daring explorer, offering as a reward the dramatic view from the peak. Fonias in Greek means “killer” and it derives its name by its deadly impact on adventurous people exploring its beauties. After heavy rainfalls it flushes water from the mountain unexpectedly and it has killed some people. It is also much steeper and more dangerous than Ghria Vathra.
Climbers need special climbing gear, good shoes and of course experience. Notice that along the ravines of the island cellphones do not have contact with the antennas, due to the morphology of the ground. River water comes from the mountain and is drinkable and of good quality, the only problem is that people swim in the “vathres” during summer months.
A special municipal effort has started to protect Fonias ravine beauty and keep it clean, as tourists tend to multiply year by year. There is a low fee to enter the ravine, just for supporting the municipal effort.