Lesvos | More Than Just Another Island
by GreeksConnect Team
Soaring pine trees, irresistible meze, smiling locals raising glasses of ouzo, endless beaches, the sun-dappled streets of Molyvos – just some of the stunning images to be captured in the island of Lesvos. The home of the ancient Greek poet Sappho, the Nobel prize poet Elytis and the renowned folk painter Theophilos; Lesvos has a good reason to be proud of its cultural heritage. Lesvos casts a spell on its visitors, making them want to come back again and again. “Have you ever known a place that speaks to you?”
“Vanilla”, a thick white sticky paste that is actually made of mastic resin and served as a spoonful immersed in a tall glass of ice-cold water, is a vintage treat mostly associated with visits to grandma and cafes in bygone eras. Vanilla, commonly referred to as ypovrihio, is not commonly served at cafes these days – unless you are on Lesvos.
A large proportion of the ouzo produced at the island’s 17 distilleries, remains on Lesvos. The renowned aniseed spirit’s tradition and know-how is said to have been brought over to Greece by Anatolian Greeks. Experienced ouzo drinkers – there are plenty on Lesvos – can distinguish the finer differences between one distillery’s produce to another, like Plomari, Barbayiannis, Pitsiladi. For Greeks, the act of drinking ouzo has elements of a ritual. This strong spirit is consumed as an aperitif as it is thought to stimulate the salivary glands and digestive system, thus preparing one’s appetite for the main meal.
“The best mezes to accompany ouzo is lightheartedness,” said Ioannis Barbayannis. Ouzo is typically accompanied by salted sardines as a meze dish. The island’s Kalloni gulf, blessed with rich biodiversity, is renowned throughout Greece for its meaty and juicy sardines. Whether grilled on the barbecue or salted, as prepared at cafes, or placed in tupperware and salted in layers, as is common at households, they are delicious.
Other traditional ouzo-accompanying meze dishes include ladotyri, a hard cheese matured and preserved in olive oil, local olives and giouzlemedes, small pie pieces filled with myzithra cheese and herbs.
Things to Do
Castle of Molyvos- Built upon the ruins of the ancient city of Mithimna, offers spectacular views of the island and is a popular romantic spot during sunset. Petra is another picturesque traditional village with a long sandy beach, very close to Molyvos, that surrounds a church called Panagia Glykofilkousa. It’s 114 steps to get up but once on the top, you'll be rewarded with panoramic sea views. For relaxation, Gera is the place to go. Located on a bay with emerald water, the town offers pristine beaches and thermal baths that are well worth to visit. Agiassos is a beautiful mountain village with narrow streets and stone homes, plenty of colourful traditional coffee shops while right in the centre is an ancient church of Virgin Mary also worth to see.
Take a stroll in the paved multi-coloured streets of Plomari and visit one of the famous ouzo distilleries. Visit the Petrified Forest in Sigri and if you are feeling adventurous go explore the Panagia Faneromeni Beach, named after a church craved inside the rock. When in Mytilene definitely visit The Castle of Mytilene, built around a hill, close to the port. This is one of the strongest and largest castles of the Eastern Mediterranean but also Yeni Mosque, an important historical monument of the 19th century. Don’t forget to walk along the Marina in Mytilene, admire the boats lined up and, once you turn your head to the inland, the Saint Therapon church built in 1860, which is just behind the harbour road in the market. Supposedly, the church sits on top of an ancient temple to Apollo.
It is thought that the Apostle Paul first brought Christianity to Lesvos in 58 AD and the island has a wealth of Christian and Byzantine churches. The Monastery of Limonos is the largest and most important on Lesvos, just outside the village of Kalloni. Built on the ruins of a Byzantine monastery it was closed for 100 years after the Ottomans conquered Lesvos in 1462. Reopened in 1526 by Agios Ignatius Agallianos and dedicated to Archangel Michael, the monastery became a famous centre of learning and today its library is considered one of the best in Greece with more than 5,000 books, some dating from the 5th century. The Monastery of Agios Raphael in Thermi has people coming from all over Greece to the shrine of the Newly Sanctified Martyrs. Raphael, the Father Superior of the destroyed monastery, Nikolas, the deacon, and the young Irene, all three of whom died as martyrs at the hands of the Turks in 1463. A miracle was responsible for the discovery of the bodies of the saints. In Mandamados at the Church of Taxiarches, the miracle working saint of the island is worshipped. The carved icon was made by a monk using mud and the blood of his fallen comrades after being miraculously saved by Saracen pirates. Needed to be mentioned is the beautiful little church of the Panagia Tis Gorgonas or also known as The Madonna of the Fishermen, made famous in the wonderful book The Mermaid Madonna by Stratis Myrivilis, one of Lesvos and Greece's greatest writers.
History and Art
Sappho, the ancient Greek lyric poet, is believed to have been born in the village of Eressos. The arts flourished on Lesvos from as far back as antiquity. The island is also the homeland of Alcaeus, another prominent ancient Greek poet. Nobel prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis (née Alepoudelis ), writing on his family’s homeland, noted: “Nowhere else in the world do the Sun and the Moon rule together so harmoniously, or share their power so justly, as on this piece of land which, once upon a time – who knows during which unbelievable times – some God, in order to have His fun, severed and blew away, just like a plane tree leaf in the middle of the ocean.”
The Castle of Mithymna sits above the town of Molyvos and is one of the most impressive fortresses in Greece. It was built by the Byzantines but contains stones of an earlier castle which had been besieged by Achilles himself during the Trojan War. The Iliad takes place just a few miles away from the island of Lesvos in ancient Troy and the castle and its siege by Achilles are mentioned in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. In 1128 the castle was taken over by the Venetians and in 1373 it became an important defensive position for the Genovese, who had been given the island of Lesvos when Francesco Gattelusi married the sister of the Byzantine emperor John V Palaiologos. The castle was strengthened during this period, but eventually fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1462. The Turks added to the fortifications over the next several hundred years and what you see now is a result of that period.
Greek folk painter Theophilos Hatzimihail, from Varia, suffered hardship and ridicule for his work, during his time. A year after his death in 1934, his work was exhibited at the Louvre. A museum dedicated to this early 20th century artist’s work is located just meters away from the Tériade museum. Stratis Eleftheriadis (Tériade), is credited for having discovered, supported and promoted Theofilos.
The long, wide beach of Vatera is the largest and one of the most beautiful beaches of Lesvos and stretches for about 8 km. It has fine golden sand and is sheltered from the north-east summer winds. Its clean and crystal waters are the reason why Vatera Beach gets the award of the EU Blue Flag every year. Skala Eressou beach is one of the longest sandy beaches as well and definitely a must visit not only for wondering in the little stone streets of the village, but for a spectacular sunset as well. Agios Isidoros is a unique and charming pebbled beach, known for its crystal waters and the perfect place to go snorkeling, a quite interesting activity due to the rock formations at the bottom of the sea. Aghios Hermogenes, is a picturesque bay with the church of St. Hermogenes.
The beach is small but breath-taking and dominating pine trees literally reach the coast. One of the most beautiful and popular beaches of the island is Tarti, featuring crystal clear turquoise waters and is located at the foot of a green hill. For those who want to enjoy a quiet swim, the pebbled beach of Melinda with green waters is an ideal destination with its unique landscape, full of strength and serenity together. Eftalou is a pebbled and sandy beach, famous for the natural springs. Anaxos Beach combines an extraordinary natural beauty and some modern facilities that make this area ideal for family holidays. If you are in the town of Mytilini get a seat in the sun and enjoy the waterfront at Brachiera beach bar
If you're bored of lying on the beach and you like water and wind then Sigri Kite in Sigri is the perfect option for you. If you like cycling, the starting point is the castle of Mytilini. Start cycling towards to the north east part of the island, pass the beautiful village of Panagiouda with its picturesque small port and continue with rough-road cycling from Sikaminia to Eftalou, riding along the seashore with a terrific view of Turkey’s coast to the right. If you like mountainous routes continue through Skoutaros village, Skalohori and Vatousa and end the day at the beautiful square full of trees in Antissa. Easier and in a more arid and drier environment is the cycling route through the Monastery of Ypsilou, uniquely set at the top of a hill in a place curiously resembling another planet. (Note – Greek monasteries are usually built in places which bring the human soul closer to God). You can find a scuba diving school at Yako II Beach Bar in Petra Beach. Depending on your preferred level of difficulty you can find numerous hiking trails around the island including Mount Olympus hike, Monasteries trail, Mills trail and many more.
Unique Features & Architecture
The island’s Kalloni and Gera wetlands have established the island, Greece’s third largest, as one of Europe’s leading bird-watching destinations. The flamingos are a perennial favourite for photographers.
Lesvos is also home to the world’s second largest Petrified Forest, a member of UNESCO’s Global Geoparks Network. Measuring 15,000 hectares and surrounded by the areas of Sigri, Skala-Eressos, Eressos, Antissa and Gavathas, on the island’s west side, this Petrified Forest was created by intense volcanic activity 20 million years ago. Exploring the area is an amazing experience. Parts of tree trunks, branches, roots, fruit, leaves, ancestral forms of trees we know today, as well as animal bones may be seen. A visit to the Lesvos Petrified Forest’s Natural History Museum in Sigri, where a rich collection of findings is on display, offers plenty of insight into the evolution of the Northern Aegean’s ecosystem 20 million years ago, and, more generally, Earth’s flora.
Local production includes Lisvori anise, an aromatic herb considered as being one of the world’s finest in quality. It is primarily used to make ouzo. Indicative of the island’s fertility, olive trees grow as close as three meters from the sea in certain parts of Lesvos. Old olive press and soap producing facility chimneys are scattered all over the island as reminders of its early industrial production. Visiting the Lesvos Industrial Olive-Oil Production Museum, at the village Aghia Paraskevi, offers an educational experience on the changes brought about by industrial development in olive oil production.
The Tower Houses of Lesvos or Pyrgelia as they are called in Lesvos, are the witnesses of an era. The dangers of the time influenced greatly the structure of the buildings. The fear of piratical invasions led to the construction of a tower from where they would be able to monitor the horizon in order to notify the other villagers in case of danger. At the end of the 17th century, piracy has been diminished, so both commercial and economic activities started to rise from the end of the 18th century till the beginning of the 19th. Rich landowners used these towers as summer houses, and smaller towers started being built inside the town for the bourgeois of the time craving social exposure.
Geia mas restaurant, in Molyvos with tables outside conveniently situated underneath a plane (?) tree to keep you cool on those hot summer days. Kismet restaurant, at Molyvos Harbour for seafood while taking in the reflections of the sunset in the sea. If you can’t get enough of Greek gyros and souvlaki then Friends is the place for you. Do not leave Molyvos without trying the best waffles in the world at Blue Fox- if you get a seat at the balcony be prepared for breath-taking views. Reef restaurant in Petra or Kalderimi for gyros. Caprice Kitchen Bar in Skala Kallonis. Soulatso is the best restaurant in Eressos followed by Eressos Palace. Breakfast and snacks are amazing in Parasol. If you are in Sigri, Plaza restaurant and Cavo Doro are recommended.
The Seven Seas tavern in Plomari is that perfect spot to enjoy your lunch by the sea with a refreshing breeze tinkling your face or sit a bit further down to a tavern appropriately named Apolafsi which means Delight! Do sit and enjoy Greek coffee in one of the plenty traditional ‘Kafeneia’ in the main square of Plomari. Once you are done with swimming in Melinta head to tavern Maria, the last one on the strip. When you are in Agiasos and before you go up the paved street stop for food at the very traditional tavern To Stavri. Zouros restaurant in Vatera is highly recommended. Kept the best for last, after taking in all the architecture in Mytilene, sit and enjoy some amazing meats at Polyteknos Grill House.
The Bar Scene
Beach bar Congas in Molyvos – day and night. Beach bar Parasol in Skala Eressou. Kohilia beach bar and Mousiko Kafeneio Art Cafe Bar in Mytilene, as well as Monkey bar and BarCode Espresso & Cocktail Bar by the marina. Tortuga bar in Petra.
Where to Stay
My personal favourites would be The Schoolmistress with the Golden Eyes in Molyvos- no fuss just a room with the most amazing view. Villa Molyvos Castle for the infinity pool and relaxation. Panorama Resort in Mantamados for peaceful environment, views and beach nearby. Sunrise resort Hotel in Eftalou.
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