The North and East Aegean Islands were famous in antiquity and taken over from the existing residents by refugees from the Greek mainland subsequent to the Dorian Invasion c 1,200 BC. These same refugees also colonized the coast of Asia-minor and the whole area soon became known as Ionia and Aeolia. From here sprung many of the seeds of Western civilization and some of Hellenism's best poets, philosophers and mathematicians. The islands alone inspired geniuses such as Pythagoras, Sappho and likely Homer to name but three. In religion too, they played a role, with Samothrace hosting the Sanctuary of the Gods of the Underworld. Strategically placed Limnos was known for its Temple of Hephastius and Samos was a household word for its wines and its Temple of Hera was considered a wonder of the ancient world and today is highly geared towards tourism.
Today, while standing on the deck of a ferry pulling into Chios harbor, you might be put off at first glance by some of the ugly cement buildings lining the harbor front but if you venture ashore and leave the port area you will very soon discover an unspoiled, lovely and green interior with traditional villages, friendly people and an amazing plant called mastica that grows no where else in the world. In point of fact, the word masticate is synonymous with chewing and comes from this bushy plant called mastica which is used in many chewing gums and other products.
Ikaria, named after Icarus, who's wax wings melted off its southern coast, is famous for its eccentric and laid back residents who have clung to their identity through thick and thin. They even have a bank or two now! Lesvos is a place of pilgrimage for many and a large island with something for everyone including a petrified forest in its northwest quarter. Thassos, which rarely feels the effects of the meltemi winds is the northernmost of the Greek islands with excellent beaches and heavily forested.