Samothraki is one of the Greek North Eastern Aegean Islands located 32 kilometres south west of the mainland port of Alexandroupolis in Thrace. It's a remote, under-developed and awe-inspiring island dominated by the highest peak in the Aegean Sea - mighty Mount Fengari with its 1,611-metre summit from which the god Poseidon reputedly watched the Trojan War. The island's remoteness has protected it from the ravages of package holiday tourism but independent travellers who make their own way here will be delighted to find an enchanting land of majestic mountain scenery, lush valleys, wooded glades and cascading waterfalls.
Don't come to Samothraki for endless stretches of golden sand and frantic all-night clubbing. This is a place for hikers, explorers and those seeking an island break free from all the glitz of the more popular Aegean hot spots. In the summer there are daily ferry and hydrofoil connections between Samothraki and Alexandroupolis. Less frequent ferries connect the island with the island of Limnos to the south and the mainland port of Kavala in Macedonia.
Boats arrive at the port of Kamariotissa, on the north west coast, where you'll find a plentiful supply of hotels, domatia (rooms for rent), bars, tavernas and essential tourist facilities. The island's capital, Hora, is five kilometres inland from the port. This is Samothothraki's prettiest village - a totally unspoilt confection of cobbled streets and red-tiled houses tucked away in a hidden hollow cloaked with pine trees. The town is topped by the ruins of a Genoese castle which has dramatic views of the sea and port below.
The island's premier resort since Roman times has been Loutra, 14 kilometres east of Kamariotissa, where the therapeutic hot springs and lush scenery attract hordes of visitors in July and August. The presence of two nearby camp sites makes Loutra (also known as Therma) a popular spot among backpackers as well as ailing Greeks who come here to bathe in the curative waters of the local thermal baths.
Loutra is also the favoured starting point for the challenging hike up to the summit of Mount Fengari. The name of this forbidding mountain means moon and according to legend if you reach its peak when there's a full moon your wish will come true. Don't let the local police catch you trying it because the mountain has claimed numerous lives and over-zealous, ill-equipped hikers are injured on it every year.
There are some lovely inland villages to explore and delightful riverside walks culminating in cooling rock pools and gushing waterfalls. But the island's top visitor attraction is the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, set in a dramatic location in a canyon on the north eastern slope of Mount Fengari.
The Great Gods were worshipped by early settlers from Thrace in the 10th century BC and later became asSymilated with the Greeks' Olympian gods. By the 5th century BC the Samothraki sanctuary had become one of the most important religious centres of ancient Greece attracting luminaries and more humble pilgrims from far and wide. The ruins of the sanctuary have refused to yield the secrets of the mysterious initiation rites and sacrifices which took place here until paganism was banned by the Romans in the 4th century AD. But treasures unearthed here have included the magnificent Winged Victory of Samothraki - discovered by the French in 1863 and now one of the most prized exhibits in the Louvre Museum in Paris