Mediterranean Sleeper


Archaeological Museum
Some of the artifacts from the Temple of Hera are displayed in the island’s archaeological museum.

One of Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, Samos is less than a mile from the Turkish mainland across the Mycale Strait. Yet, this decidedly Greek island remains off the radar of many major cruise lines. So, if clients want to visit Samos, how do they get there?

Calling regularly at Samos are small-ship operators Voyages to Antiquity and Variety Cruises. Of the major lines, Cunard Line has several calls this fall and in 2012 Crystal CruisesSerenity will make its maiden call there.

Samos does not have as arid a climate as some of other Greek isles. It is heavily forested and mountainous, and a pleasant diversion for clients who seek an off-the-beaten-path experience. Cascading vineyards and groves of citrus trees abound.

Historians say Samos was the top Greek maritime and mercantile power in the 6th century B.C. It was the birthplace of the mathematician Pythagoras, fabled storyteller Aesop and philosopher Epicurus. Among the ancient celebrity visitors were Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, who are said to have stayed a year.

In July, Travel Agent journeyed to Samos on Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey. Guests took a half-day shore excursion—included in the cruise fare—with the following stops.

The Temple of Hera: The most famous building in Samos’ past was the massive Heraion, built to honor the Greek goddess Hera, who is said to have been born on the island. Today, the temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cruise visitors are transported from the dock at the capital city,  Vathi (or Samos town), to the ancient site by motorcoach. During the half-hour trip, cruisers pass mountains, agricultural land and small villages and get a glimpse of the Turkish mainland.

At the site, cruisers enter the temple area along the Sacred Way, the same tiled path taken by pilgrims two and a half millennia ago. The temple, one of the largest in the ancient world, originally boasted 155 massive columns, but it was heavily damaged by wars and earthquakes over the years. Today, one tall column remains, as well as many lower walls and multiple foundations. Teams of archaeologists continue to excavate and they can be seen at work.

Archaeology Museum: Vathi’s downtown archaeological museum displays sculptures, ceramics and bronze works from the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, as well as artifacts recovered from the Temple of Hera. The museum’s star attraction is an 18.5-foot-tall Kouros, the largest of these free-standing youth statues to have survived from ancient Greece. 

From the harbor drop-off point, cruisers walk to the museum through a tree-lined park and an impressive square, housing the 19th-century neoclassical City Hall, once the island’s Parliament building. Also visible here is the church of Agios Spyridonas, where early 20th-century leaders made the decision to merge with Greece.

Samos Wine Museum: Tell clients to sample the island’s specialty—the Muscat wine. In 2005, the Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos opened the Samos Wine Museum in a former winery. Standing amid huge wooden casks from the early 20th century, cruisers taste vintages from several vintners. Upstairs are exhibits of tools, vats, chemical equipment, documents, bottles of wine and photographs.

Cruisers exploring Samos independently may take a walking tour, for instance, along the harbor-front, shop on interior streets, head for a beach, visit a monastery or explore other ancient sites. Low-key Samos probably won’t wow your clients in the way Ephesus or Mykonos do, but likely it will be a rewarding crowd-free Mediterranean experience ashore.