In Search of History in Samos, Greece

The mountains of Samos, Greece
The mountains of Samos, Greece

In Search of History in Samos, Greece

By Inka Piegsa-Quischotte

The fearless two

Several of our friends call my friend Maureen and me the ‘fearless two.’ We got that nickname, because there isn’t a place on this globe we would not be prepared to travel to.

This summer’s choice was really tame by comparison to other destinations we have explored in the past. We are both history, travel and literature enthusiasts, preferably combining all three.

Three weeks later, we went on a day trip to the Greek island of Samos in search of two historical sites: the Eupalions Tunnel regarded as one of the eight wonders of the ancient world and the Folklore Museum depicting life on the island in the 20s.

Facts about Samos

Samos is a Greek island located in the northeastern Aegean Sea and a 1 ½ hour ferry ride from the Turkish port of Kusadasi, which was our starting point.

According to Greek mythology, Samos was the birthplace of Hera, the long suffering wife of Zeus, and she was particularly worshipped on the island.

Samos is very green and very mountainous. Mount Kerkis is actually the highest mountain in the North Eastern Aegean Sea.

You’ll also find lovely beaches, bays, villages, historical sites and hotels to suit any budget. The capital of Samos, where the ferry docks, is located on the eastern shore and called Vathy.

Reaching Samos from Turkey

Chilling in Kusadasi
Chilling in Kusadasi

We live part of the year in Didim/Turkey which is a two-hour drive southeast from the port of Kusadasi. A ferry, operated by Meander Travel runs daily from Kusadasi to Vathy, departing at 9 am and returning from Samos at 5 pm.

The duration of the crossing is 1 ½ hours and the ferry ticket costs €60 per person. The ferry only operates during the summer months and it’s imperative to remember to have visa (if required) and valid passports.

We didn’t want to start our journey from Didim so early in the morning; that’s why we stayed overnight in Kusadasi.

Surprisingly, the ferry ticket included pick-up and return to our hotel. You only have to ask. Meander Travel ticket office and travel agency is located close to the entrance to the port, near Toros restaurant, up one flight of stairs, but it’s also clearly indicated.

Arriving on Samos.
Arriving on Samos.

Overnight in Kusadasi

If you wish to take it easy and spend the night in Kusadasi the Opus Apart Hotel is an excellent choice. We shared an apartment with another friend who went elsewhere and the night cost us TYL 30 per person (100 TYL is approx. $ 65)

The rooms are spacious, very clean and have a kitchenette. The hotel has a decent sized swimming pool, well tended gardens, a minimarket and free internet access. You can either take a dolmus (minibus) to the stop at MIGROS and walk a few steps uphill or walk in about 15 minutes to Kusadasi center.

Although you can have all meals in the hotel restaurant, we went to visit our friend at the Toros Restaurant on the waterfront close to the entrance to the port.

House on Samos.
House on Samos.

The place is frequented by locals, which says it all. You choose from an open hot or cold buffet and the chefs behind it will fill your plate to your taste and specifications. Afiyet olsun (enjoy your meal)!

Getting around in Samos

Once we arrived in Samos and went through passport control, we had about seven hours to see what we came to see. First stop on our agenda for the day was the Eupalinos tunnel, which is located in Panagia Spilani on the southern coast of the island near the town of Pythagorion.

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Coming out of the port terminal, turn right, walk along the main road until you come to Lion Square where a taxi rank is located. Local buses run all over the island but we wanted to save time and took a taxi which cost €16 to cover the distance.

For longer stays it may be convenient to hire a car or scooter; agencies are to be found all along the way to Lion Square.

The Eupalinos Tunnel

Coming up from the tunnel.
Coming up from the tunnel.

Samos experienced its time of highest prosperity under the rule of the tyrant Polycrates from 538 to 522 BC. That’s also the date when the tunnel was constructed to bring water from the mountains to the coast. What can be seen today is actually the middle part of an aquaeduct.

It took ten years to construct and was the masterpiece of the Greek engineer Eupalinos after whom it is named. Countless workers and labourers took turns to carve the tunnel out of the mountain and to lay the ceramic pipes through which the water flowed.

Arriving at the site, you pay your entrance fee of €10 and, at first glance, are somewhat disappointed because there is nothing much to see but a dark, gaping hole surrounded by a rickety banister.

But that’s exactly the point where the real adventure starts. The marvels are underground. The tunnel is only 1.80 m high and of equal width but 1300 m long.

Inside the tunnel.
Inside the tunnel.

Be warned: this adventure trip into the underworld is not for the fainthearted, not for the claustrophobic or the obese. Otherwise, you could literally get stuck in the tunnel, there is no room to manoeuvre.

Once you are down the wooden steps, the tunnel widens a little and the entire length is very well lit. As can be expected, the ground is damp and, in parts, slippery, so no sandals, heels or flip-flops if you don’t want to risk breaking an ankle.

The achievement of those ancient workers and engineers is breathtaking and there are even side tunnels through which you can look at the ceramic pipes, some of which are in pristine condition – after well over 2000 years.

Emerging from the netherworld, we headed for our next stop, which was the Folklore Museum. If you ask the guy at the ticket booth nicely, he will call you a radio taxi because without a car, there is no other way to get away from this site.

Bedroom on Samos.
Bedroom on Samos.

The Folklore Museum

The Samos Folklore Museum, located in Pythagorion on the south coast, is run and funded by the Nicolaos Dimitriou Foundation and a real insider tip, because it’s not well known.

There are actually two reasons to visit the museum: one is because it gives a unique insight and overview of Greek culture and village life before WWII and secondly, interesting for women travelers, because it’s within the grounds of the fabulous Doryssa Bay seaside resort and spa.

Plan for a spare hour or so and you have the chance to combine history and culture with an elemis deep tissue muscle massage or any other treatment you may fancy. Oh yes, they cater to men too.

The museum is only open until 1.30 pm and not everyone will be so lucky to have it reopened for them as we were, when we arrived 20 minutes too late.

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Farm tools at the Folklore Museum
Farm tools at the Folklore Museum

That happened because we threw a pity party and told them, we had come all the way from Turkey to see the museum and that opening hours are no where advertised. Both of which were true.

The museum exhibits only pieces and instruments which were used on the island at any one time. A typical, small village house has been reconstructed with fireplace and elevated platform which was the guestroom.

Farming tools, looms, handmade lace, traditional clothing etc. all is displayed in beautiful arrangements and they even run workshops to teach how bread and cheese were made but time won’t allow to participate in them.

The Doryssa Bay Resort

For starters, if you plan to stay overnight, you better enquire about prices which won’t come cheap. They didn’t even have a price list; it’s only available on the internet. The massages and beauty treatments are another matter. The above mentioned massage which is really relaxing costs €100 for 55 minutes which may be within your travel budget.

Greek lace
Greek lace

The minimalist bar and lobby offers free freshly squeezed fruit juices and, they will of course call you a taxi back to Vathy and port for the return journey to Kusadasi.

Back in Vathy, with the terminal and the ferry boat in sight, we decided to indulge our sweet tooth and have an ice cream. Look out for the Delight ice cream parlour in the main street which leads to the ferry terminal.

The word ice cream doesn’t even come close to describe the concoctions and varieties that are on offer in this particular café. There isn’t a combo they don’t have or make for you, including cakes and crepes. It’s also a very relaxing place to sit and while the time away until you have to board.

What else to do

Of course, if you are, like us, on a day trip you have to select which attractions and sites you want to see. For a longer stay or different tastes here are a few suggestions: Samos is the birthplace of Pythagoras and for hiking enthusiasts a visit to the cave up in the mountains on the north side of the island is a must. Pythagoras was forced to hide there when tyrant Polycrates was after him.

There are also boat trips to other Greek islands like Naxos, snorkelling on the many beaches like Votsalakia Beach, also in the north, the remains of Hera’s temple in Heraion on the south coast and, not to forget: buy a bottle of the famous Samos wine. But, don’t drink it in one go: the wine is strong!!!

Inka PIegsa-Quischotte

Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is a former attorney turned travel writer, photographer and novelist based in Miami and Istanbul who writes with verve and flair about destinations where it’s warm, particularly the Mediterranean World. Her work has appeared in The Expeditioner, Literary Traveler, Travel Thru History, Popular Hispanics, Traveln-on and Smithsonianmag. She blogs regularly for In The Know Traveler and Europe a la Carte and Turkish Airlines inflight magazine.