North Aegean Greek Islands - Holiday Destinations Greece

The North Eastern Aegean Islands are far less visited than the popular Cyclades and Dodecanese archipelagos yet they have much to offer the foreign holidaymaker including forested mountains, uncluttered beaches and fabulous walking trails through lush scenery which is hard to find on the barren, rocky islands further south. The seven major islands in the groups are Chios, Ikaria, Lesvos, Limnos, Samos, Samothraki and Thassos. All of the islands, with the exception of Samothraki and Thassos, are nearer the west coast of Turkey than they are to the Greek mainland. The islands are scattered at long distances from each other which makes island-hopping less practical here than in the other more compact Aegean groups.

Samos is the top holiday spot in the archipelago - Anthony and Cleopatra are said to have holidayed here and since the 1980s hordes of tour groups have followed in their footsteps, flying directly to the island on cheap charter flights from several European destinations. The island boasts some superb sandy beaches and is awash with tourist facilities. But if you take the time to explore beyond the busy beach resorts you'll find a beautiful mountainous interior dotted with unspoilt villages, rushing streams and dramatic ravines carpeted with wild flowers. The island's three ports and international airport make it the transport hub of the North Eastern Aegean.

Idiosyncratic Ikaria, on the other hand, attracts relatively few foreign visitors and the islanders steadfastly refuse to pander to the demands of the modern day tourist. Ikaria is not a package holiday destination but if you want a green and tranquil island with good beaches, wonderful hiking trails and traditional tavernas mercifully free of foreign influence then this is the place for you.

Chios offers a compromise between the mid-summer mayhem of Samos and Ikaria's somewhat endearing "take it or leave it" approach to tourism. The island has some of the best beaches in the group and some of the most fascinating medieval villages in the whole of Greece - the so-called "mastic villages", built as centres of production for the highly prized resin drawn from the local mastic bushes. The Turkish sultans and their harems couldn't get enough of the addictive mastic chewing gum and the resin was used for centuries in paints, cosmetics and drugs before the advent of petroleum based products.

Lesvos is best known as a favourite holiday haunt for gay women - the island gave its name to lesbianism because its most famous daughter Sappho, the renowned 7th century BC poet, was thought to have been homosexual.

The volcanic island of Limnos remains largely untouched by mass tourism as does stunning Samothraki which boasts the highest mountain in the Aegean and has some of the most dramatic scenery of all the Greek islands. The Romans used to holiday on Samothraki and bathe in the curative waters of the island's hot springs which still attract visitors from all over Europe and beyond. Lush valleys, forested mountain slopes and cascading waterfalls make the island a favourite holiday spot for hikers.

Thassos is the most northerly of all the Greek islands and has been a popular package holiday destination since the 1990s. Summer visitors pour in from the Greek mainland, Britain and Germany and many eastern European countries.

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