Three Hill Towns On The North Coast
Amid the densely wooded valleys, cascading streams, and terraced slopes of Samos's Platanakia region, hide many villages that sought to evade the pirates, who repeatedly ravaged all settlements visible from the sea. Three of the most picturesque of the surviving hill villages in this region are Manolates, Vourliotes, and Stavrinides.
Manolates is a 4km (2 1/2-mile) drive uphill from the coast road. The village, until recently, was inaccessible by car, but once the paved road was built, many more visitors have come here to explore the steep, narrow cobblestone streets. There are several tavernas, numerous shops, and kafenions (coffeehouses, where the locals go).
Vourliotes, about 21km (14 miles) west of Vathi, was settled largely by repatriated Greeks from the town of Vourla, in Turkey. It's the largest producer of wine in the region, and the local wine is among the best on the island. Walk from the parking lot at the Moni Vronta turnoff to the charming central square. Try Manolis Taverna, on the left as you enter the square (tel. 22730/93-290), which has good revidokeftedes, a delicious local dish made with chickpea flour and cheese. Also on the square, across from Manolis, is a small market whose displays seem not to have changed in the past 50 years. Be sure to visit the monastery of Moni Vronta (aka Vrontiani), 2km (1 mile) above the town.
Stavrinides, perched on the mountainside high above Ayios Konstandinos, is the least touristic of the Platanakia villages. Here the tavernas and the few shops cater primarily to the villagers. Taverna Irida, in the first square of the village, offers good, simple food. A walking path between Stavrinides and Manolates makes an exceptional outing; the route out from Stavrinides is signposted.
The easiest way to visit these towns is by car. The island buses are an option, if you don't mind the steep 4- to 6km (2 1/2-3 3/4-mile) walk from the coastal road to the villages. An abundance of footpaths connect these villages -- ask for routes. Ambelos Tours, in Ayios Konstandinos (tel. 22730/94-442; firstname.lastname@example.org), operated by the friendly and knowledgeable Manolis Folas, is a useful resource.
A Side Trip to Turkey: Kusadasi & Ephesus
In high season, two boats a day make the run between Vathi and Kusadasi, Turkey, itself a popular resort, but of interest here as the gateway to the magnificent archaeological site at Ephesus. Although it's in Turkey now, Ephesus was a Greek city, famous, among other things, for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A major city in the eastern Mediterranean, it fell to the Romans, and it was under their rule that an important Christian community and church were established here. Excursion boats depart from Vathi, and on certain days, an excursion also departs from Pithagorio. A round-trip ticket to Kusadasi that includes the boat fare, port fees, and the guided tour with the entrance fee costs about 100€. If you're not returning the same day, you'll need to investigate visa requirements. These are granted without difficulty at time of sailing and cost about $20 for Americans, C$50 for Canadians, £15 for U.K. citizens,10€ for Irish citizens, and A$25 for Australians; New Zealanders don't need a visa. The travel agencies recommended above will help you with arrangements.