Carter’s World – Greece

Travel writer, broadcaster and long-time presenter of TV’s Wish You Were Here programme, John Carter shares some of his favourite dream islands – Samos and Crete
We all have “a dream of islands”.  My dream is of the Isles of Greece.
In earlier times, when airports were few and far between, you reached the islands by ferry boat, beginning that odyssey in the port of Piraeus and, if necessary, taking a second, local, ferry to complete the journey.
At that journey’s end was a busy harbour, on whose waterfront most of the local population had gathered. For them, the ferry’s arrival was the high point of the day. You witnessed greetings and partings and unrestrained emotion.  If you were fresh from England, that emotion engulfed you just as the heat had done, earlier in the day when you stepped from the plane at Athens.
A little before your arrival – before the activity of getting self and baggage ashore, finding your way to a taverna and sinking your first well-earned glass of beer or wine – you would have seen the island from farther off. Across the wine dark sea that Homer wrote about, with its olive groves and terraced hillsides and its farmhouses and cottages, scattered like white sugar cubes across the landscape.  At that distance all islands seem the same. Close up, you appreciate their differences, though to be honest the harbour scene is pretty similar everywhere.
Though it’s fanciful, look upon that scene as a film set. The tethered boats are props, the house fronts scenery and the patrons, sitting at pavement tables with their coffees and ouzos, actors. Hollywood spends millions of dollars trying to recreate what the Greeks, with time on their side, have achieved with no apparent effort.
Those were my thoughts when I first visited Samos. It lies to the east of the Cyclades, to the north of the Dodecanese, hard by the coast of Turkey.
It has more history than a place of its size would merit anywhere else on the globe, but not in the Aegean. Somewhere around the sixth century B.C. a ruler named Polycrates presided over what historians call a golden age for the island’s culture and commerce. The fact that Mr. P. was a tyrant and a pirate is just one of those things, historically speaking.
One of his island contemporaries was Pythagoras, the philosopher and mathematician, and a little later along came Aristarchus, the first fellow to suggest that the Sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the galaxy, and Epicurus, whose name you should bear in mind when following Byron’s advice to “fill high the cup with Samian wine”. And somewhere along the line is Aesop, he of the fables, who is another distinguished Samian.
An island of geographical contrasts, with a high and rocky north coastline, but a southern aspect of undulating, well-wooded countryside and excellent beaches, Samos is much easier to reach nowadays. (Though, to be fair, it was one of the first to boast an airport when tourist development began after the Second World War.) There are several good, small hotels in and around Samos Town.
My favourite spot on the island, however, is Kokkari, some ten kilometres from the capital. It has a picturesque fishing harbour with a superb sandy beach close by, and in every way fulfils my dream of an island destination.
Which is, of course, where we began.
And another of my favourite Greek islands is Crete, inspired by a couple of BBC television series, back in the 1970s. “The Lotus Eaters”  (1972), starred Ian Hendry and Wanda Ventham. “Who Pays the Ferryman?”  (1977) starred Jack Hedley.
Both were filmed on the island of Crete. Arguably, the second had the greatest impact, showing as it did the visually stunning scenery of the island’s north coast and the resorts of Elounda and Aghios Nikolaos.
From being a mildly attractive destination, with most visitors staying in or near the old town of Chania and concentrating on the western end of the island, Crete’s popularity exploded, and British holidaymakers soon made Elounda and “Aggie Nick” their own.
Although its harbours and coast resorts are attractive, the best of Crete can only be appreciated if you get into its hinterland and explore some of the finest unspoiled landscapes of the Mediterranean. Having done so myself, I thoroughly recommend it.
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays offer walking on Samos (one or two weeks) – prices from £603 per person, includes flights, transfers half-board accommodation and the services of a tour leader
They also offer Wild Crete (two weeks) – prices from £955 per person, includes flights, transfers, half-board accommodation and the services of a tour leader
Tel: 01707 331133