Samothraki, a relatively small island in the North Aegean near Turkey, has made one major contribution to world culture—the magnificent sculpture of Nike (Victory) that gave its image to the Rolls Royce radiator cap and its name to the world’s largest sneaker manufacturer. Nearly eleven feet tall, winged, headless, and armless, the statue is a masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture, summing up all the accomplishments of the Greeks at the very historical moment that their power was beginning to wane.
If you actually want to see Nike, however, you shouldn’t go to Samothraki; the sculpture has been in the Louvre since shortly after its 1863 discovery by French amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau. What should draw you to Samothrace is a chance to see a less commercialized Greek island that remains rich in natural wonders—one of the highest mountain ranges in the Aegean, with clear streams of cascading waterfalls and rock pools for swimming, a landscape that stays green through late summer, and a coastline of secluded sand and pebble beaches. And though the original Nike may be absent, her spirit lingers in the beautifully sited Sanctuary of the Great Gods where she was discovered, looking north over the ocean.