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Lesbos

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To visit the Lesbos picture gallery - click HERE

 

Video Presentation

Introduction

We visited Lesvos in June 2010.

Lesvos is located in the north eastern Aegean and is the 3rd largest of the Greek islands after Crete and Evia. It is separated from Turkey by the narrow Mytilini Strait.

The island is forested and mountainous with two large peaks, Mt. Lepetymnos (968 m (3,176 ft)) and Mt. Olympus (967 m (3,173 ft)), dominating its northern and central sections.

First impressions can be misleading. As we approached Lesvos we flew over the western part of the island which has a very barren landscape with very few trees etc. On the journey from the airport in the south to the north coast the landscape appeared an almost monotonous green, the estimated 20 million olive trees a major contributing factor. However, over time the landscape grows on you as you discover areas of real beauty and good old fashioned Greek charm.

It is not somewhere to come if you are a lover of great beaches. It is a volcanic island so the beaches are mainly a mix of coarse grey grit and sand. Greek Islands with mainly pebble beaches appear more attractive as the stones give the sea that beautiful turquoise colour. In Lesvos, the sea tends to look less inviting.

What it does have is an authentic greekness which is often difficult to find on other islands. This is helped by the fact that it is a favourite destination for Greeks themselves.

Its economy is essentially agricultural. Olive oil is the main source of income. Fishing and the manufacture of soap and ouzo, the Greek national liqueur, are the remaining sources of income.

Arrival

Our departure from London Gatwick was delayed by the worst kind of delay – a “mechanical fault”. It would not of been so bad had we not already boarded the plane and were actually on schedule to take off on time. I can put up with the cramped seating for 3 hours or so in the air but just sitting there on the tarmac for over an hour is a pain!

Arrival into Mytilini airport (“Odysseas Elytis”) was a relatively pleasant experience. It is a small airport with just a single luggage carousel. However, it is probably sufficient for its needs as Lesvos does not receive nearly as many international flights as other much smaller but more popular islands.

Transfer

Unless you are to be located in Mytilini, then expect a long transfer to your resort. Whilst the roads are quite good there are no highways so the coach driver constantly has to negotiate mountain roads, hairpin bends and narrow roads through villages etc.

We were headed for Petra and the transfer took around 2 hours. This included time spent dropping off people in the neighbouring resort of Anaxos. Luggage is also offloaded and rather to our concern left in a layby. A small luggage truck then picks up and delivers to the hotel. The luggage actually got there before we did.

Panorama Hotel - Petra

We stayed at the Panorama Hotel in Petra. Some pictures can be viewed HERE.

Book the Panorama Hotel with Thomson by clicking here.

The Panorama Hotel is situated on a hillside overlooking Petra with yes, you’ve guessed, panoramic views inland, up to the mountains and out to the sea. It is about 200 metres along a dirt track from the main road and the long sandy beach of Petra. A further 800 metres level walk will get you into the village centre. There are, however, plenty of other bars and tavernas along the way. Molyvos is just 4 kms east around the headland.

Panorama Hotel - Petra - Click to enlarge

The hotel is a family business and they all work in the hotel. Kostas, Sofia and their 2 sons Vassilis and Nikos were all very friendly and helpful.

The rooms are on a number of levels in 2 storey blocks. The higher you go the harder it is to get there but the views just get better. However, to avoid looking at the roof tiles of the block in front, the top rooms of each block guarantee a view.

There is a concrete drive of heart attack proportions to the rooms on the upper levels. This can be avoided by using the steps up through the centre and a bit of zig zagging. It may not be the quickest way up but at least you can stop for breath. Stopping on the slope may cause gravity to take effect!

I emailed the hotel prior to arrival to request a room with a view but not too far up the hill. We were allocated a room that was just perfect. There was a fantastic view from the large balcony. The room itself was spacious with plenty of storage space and a bright modern bathroom. Whilst there are some self catering units most of the rooms do not have a kitchenette although all rooms do have a fridge. It needs to be noted that has to be paid for locally. The extra charges that need to be taken into account and paid for in cash are as follows:-

* Fridge 3€ per day
* Safe Deposit Box – 1€ per day
* Air Con 5€ per day

On a 2 week holiday that little lot will take out 126€ from your spending money. We survived all bar 3 days without the air con and then it became absolutely essential as the temperature hit 38 degrees plus.

The public areas of the hotel are spacious and spotlessly clean.

Breakfast is taken in the indoor dining room and is standard Greek fare of bread, cheese, ham, eggs, yoghurt, honey, cereal, cake, juice and coffee.

The pool is large and there are plenty of sunbeds. A canopy has been erected on 2 sides of the pool which offers plenty of shade yet still allows space for those who require a full on tan.

There is a terraced dining area and plenty more seating in the attractive bar area. Snacks are available at lunchtime with more traditional fare on offer during the evening.

The hotel does not take credit cards but does offer exchange facilities at good rates.

Around the Island

We hired a car from Antony-rentacar whose offices are located along the waterfront to the east of the main square. Rental of a Hyundai I10 for 10 days was 240€. His service was very good; we took the car back after 1 day as the air con, even on max was just not keeping us cool. A quick blast with an air gun to clear the filter of dust and grime and it was sorted.

This is a very large island and to be able to see all of the places of interest in one 2 week visit is a little ambitious. A car is essential. We did manage to get to quite a few places on the island; the two most significant omissions being Vatera (longest beach on island) and Plomari (famous for it’s Ouzo). The geography of the island makes direct travelling more difficult with the gulfs of Kalloni and Gera being the two obvious obstructions.

Of all the places we did visit, I am convinced that being based in Petra was by far and away the best choice. Anaxos was just around the headland and the magnificent town of Molyvos just a short drive away. A drive of about half an hour would get you to the fantastic fishing village of Skala Sykaminias. Other popular tourist destinations such as Eresos and Sigri are a long way from any other points of interest.

Roads are very quiet and of a reasonable Greek standard - expect the unexpected pothole. Many of the villages have either an upper or lower road that acts as a bypass but just occasionally you need to go through and hope that nothing is coming the other way!

Petra

Petra takes its name from the pinnacle of rock in the centre of the village. At the top perches the church of the Glykfylousa Panagia (Our Lady of the Sweet Kiss). The 114 steps to the top are worth it for the views.

Petra - Click to enlarge

If you enjoy ending the day watching the sun set over the sea then this is the place to be. There is a seafront square behind which you will find a number of atmospheric back streets to wander; the main one is shaded by vines over the street. In the evenings, traffic is not allowed through these streets.

There are plenty of tavernas and bars, many of which line the road that runs alongside the beach. Nightlife is low key although you may be lucky enough to enjoy a spontaneous Greek night.

All of the sunbeds are managed by the tavernas and bars so are free to customers who purchase food and drink. This was also the case on many of the other beaches we visited on the island. So a couple of Frappes will get you a sunbed for the day.

Petri

This is a small village up in the hills with a couple of tavernas and fantastic views down to Petra and the coast. The only downside is having to pass the rubbish dump on the way up.

Anaxos

Anaxos - Click to enlargeWhereas Petra was a village that has become a tourist resort, Anaxos is a beach that has developed as a resort. Consequently it lacks the village charm of Petra. By Lesvos standards the beach is actually quite good although it does shelve quite steeply into the sea. There is a wide selection of tavernas and bars, most lining the sea front. Most accommodation is set back inland.

As with Petra there is a view of the sun setting over the sea with the bonus of a distant view of Molyvos.

Stypsi

This is one of those villages with a bypass. For a change one day we decided to try the road through what turned out to be a very large village. I followed a van safe in the knowledge that if anything came the other way he would meet it first. What I had not taken into account was that it was a delivery van. He stopped several times in the narrow streets and of course each time he had to have a chat as he dropped off his goods. Later that day we finally got through to the end of the village.

Molyvos

Molyvos - Click to enlarge

This is a real gem, full of character and quite unlike any other Greek island town that we have visited. The town is also known by its ancient name of Mithymna. It is distinctive by its architecture - the tiers of stone built houses with red tiled roofs rise up the hill to the magnificent Genoese fortress atop of the hill that dominates the town.

There is a large car park at the beginning of the town. It was being resurfaced while we were there. There is also limited parking available along the road to the harbour.

The town has 3 distinct parts all worth a visit:-

1 - The Fortress at the top of the town - with views down to the harbour. The town is dominated by the magnificent Genoese fortress. From its ramparts there are magnificent views of the coastline and across the straits to Turkey. Entrance is 2€.

2 - The narrow cobbled streets up through the town to the fortress. Shaded by vines
Tavernas with verandahs

3 - The Harbour area – this is some distance from the other areas. It is a fantastic working harbour area crammed with all kinds of bars and tavernas. One of those places where there is always something going on no matter what time of the day.

The narrow town beach to the east also has its own selection of bars and tavernas if you don’t fancy walking up and down the cobbled streets. Here the distinctive Olive Press Hotel has been tastefully converted from the original factory leaving the chimney intact.

Eftalou

This is a cluster of hotels and rooms on the eastern outskirts of Molyvos. The beach is OK but its main attraction is its proximity to Molyvos – although the walk into the town is all uphill.

At the end of the tarmac coastal road are the Thermal springs of Eftalou. This is one of a number of natural springs on the island (others at Thermi, Polyhnitos and Lisvorio).

From the springs there is an excellent dirt track road that goes all the way to Skala Sykaminias.

Skala Sykaminias

This is a wonderful, picture postcard fishing village. It is a great place to watch the world go by; an art practiced so expertly by the villagers themselves. We liked it here so much we visited 4 times.

Skala Sykaminias - Click to enlargeThere are 2 ways to get here from Molyvos, using the upper main road via Vafios and Argenos or by heading out to Eftalou and taking a drive along a dirt track. The track is in very good condition and varied from steep sections around hills to completely flat just metres from the sea. There are also regular boat trips from Molyvos.

The focal point of the harbour area is the church of “Our lady the Mermaid”. Around the attractive harbour area are a number of excellent tavernas and café bars. It’s one of those places where there is always something going on to keep you entertained.

Sigri and the Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest - Click to enlargeLesbos contains one of the few known petrified forests and it has been declared a Protected Natural Monument. Fossilised plants have also been found in many localities on the western part of the island. Some 20 million years ago this area was the site of a tropical forest that was buried under lava from a volcanic eruption. The site is a 5km detour off the road to Sigri.

We managed to do the full circuit – it is quite a hike and had the weather been hotter we probably would not of managed to walk all the way around. The most impressive tree is the one with an 8 metre girth, this is located on the far side of the site. Entrance to the site is 2€.


Sigri

Sigri is a very quiet and unspoilt fishing village on the west coast. The surrounding area is very barren and the village is quite isolated. One of those places you will either love for the tranquility of the location or can’t wait to leave.

There is a Turkish castle, a harbour and a disused port area. There are a few tavernas dotted about the village and … that’s it.

I suspect our negative views about the place are influenced by the fact that it was rather cloudy and dull during the time we visited. I have spoken to other people about Sigri, all of whom thought it was a lovely village. Just goes to show how different a place can seem with the sun shining.

Gavathes - Click to enlargeGavathes

On the trip to Eresos we detoured to Gavathes, a sheltered beach on the north coast. This was almost a golden sand beach. It is lined with Tamarisk trees. These have been subjected to some very aggressive pruning so now the only shade is from the stumps of the trees.

Skala Eresos

There is a very scenic drive down from the north of the island passing through the Vergias gorge. The road then skirts around the inland village of Eresos, down across the fertile agricultural plain to the seaside village of Skala Eresos.

Skala Eresos - Click to enlarge This is the nearest you will get to a full blown tourist resort on the island – with a twist. This is the birthplace of the classical poetess, Sappho and consequently is particularly popular for women travelers. This is probably about the liveliest resort on the island and caters for a wide range of visitors. There is an abundance of bars and tavernas – the ones by the waters edge are distinctive as they are built on stilts with verandahs out over the beach.

This is one of the best beaches on the island stretching out for almost 3kms. Like Sigri it is quite remote but unlike Sigri, here there is plenty to keep you occupied.

Skala Kalloni

Skala Kaloni - Click to enlargeThe village is located on the northern shores of the Gulf of Kalloni. The gulf is almost landlocked at its southern end and this means that the water here is usually very calm. This does mean that the shoreline tends to have a muddy appearance. The resort itself looked as if it had seen better days although there were some nice looking ‘trendy’ bars around and just past the harbour.

The village is renowned for the sardines caught in the bay. A very popular attraction is bird watching. The nearby Wetlands attract increasing numbers of visitors to spot the many birds who stop in the marshes on their way to and from northern Europe. The best time to visit is in Spring.

The inland town of Kalloni is a bustling working town that seemed to get bigger and more chaotic each time we passed through.

Agiasos

Website for Agiassos

Agiasos is built on the northern slopes of Mount Olympus (968m) at an altitude of 500m. It is surrounded by arable land, olive groves, forests and steep, inaccessible areas. On the drive up there is no obvious sign Agiassos - Click to enlargeof the village until you actually arrive at its lower level. There is no vehicle access through the village (unless you are driving a Toyota pickup or motorbike), so park at the bottom of the village.

The village is clearly geared for Greek tourists. Despite the many shops selling local crafts such as wood carvings and pottery, it is possible to witness ordinary life in a picture postcard Greek mountain village. The narrow cobbled streets wind there way up the hillside. Some are covered in vines so it remains relatively cool even in the summer heat.

Agiasos is a place of pilgrimage for people all over Greece to visit The Church of Panagia (Our Lady).

Travelling down the East Coast

Our destination was to be Moria to see the remains of the Roman aqueduct but along the way we were pleasantly surprised at the places we passed through. Certainly not mainstream tourist destinations but more holiday places that Greeks have kept for themselves. We discovered pleasant villages and some quite nice beaches that looked far more appealing than others we had seen around the island, as instead of the dark sand, they were comprised of small white and coloured pebbles thus giving the sea a more appealing azure colour.

Agh Stephanos

We spent some time here watching an old Greek man attempting to reverse his boat trailer towards the harbour slipway. It didn’t seem to matter which way he turned the steering wheel as he always went the wrong way. As usual he was being offered plenty of advice from his fellow passengers, a woman who was on her way for a swim, a fisherman and a passing priest on a scooter. Not even God could help so he gave up, got out of the car, unhooked the trailer and then wheeled it towards the water. Job done! We drove off thankful we didn’t have a boat.

Exembelia

A manicured beach primarily aimed at the Greeks. Site of a large taverna

Skala Kidonion

A busy fishing harbour with a very nice tree lined beach. There is a large taverna on the headland.

Skala Mistegnon

A lovely bay with a pebble beach and a number of tavernas and bars.

Moria

Roman Aqueduct - Click to enlargeWe stopped off here to visit the Roman Aqueduct. There is a one way system through the village where instead of signs to help you the locals sitting outside kafenions are there to point you in the right direction. This system works except during the siesta. The aqueduct is well worth a visit and it is still largely intact and set in wonderful countryside.

Mytilini

This is the capital of the island with some 30,000 inhabitants. We never actually visited other than on our way from and to the airport which is located just south of the city.

Eating out

A simple 2 course meal for 2 with a few drinks is about €40.

Amstel Cost of Living Index

Amstel With Greece in financial meltdown we were concerned at how far our spending money would go. Well whatever money would have been sufficient a few years ago it is not now. Alcohol, cigarettes and fuel prices have been increased 20% in recent months. A further increase is expected in July 2010. I would recommend allowing for that extra 20%. It appears that taverna prices have only been tweaked a little but paying 5 for a Greek salad in Greece just seems too much when in theory all of the produce should be local. Anyway the key thing is that Amstel can still be had for the following prices

Taverna 2.50€

Panorama Hotel – 3.00€

Supermarket – 500ml bottle 1.10€

For nicotine addicts only - B&H cigarettes have gone up from 32€ last September to 38€ for a carton of 200.

Leaving

The departure lounge is just big enough to accommodate the passengers for one flight. As with all the very best Greek airports, once checked in, the best bet is to leave the airport. A short walk to the right there is a taverna with views to the sea. Alternatively walk across the road and just sit on the beach.

Conclusion

For such a large island, tourism is surprisingly low key with just a handful of resorts.

It is hard to know why such a beautiful island does not attract as many visitors as some of the other more famous islands. In fact many of the visitors it does get are repeat visitors. I think if you come here once you will want to come back again.

If you are looking for a taste of traditional Greece then Lesvos would be a good choice. The only ‘fast food’ you find here is Gyros.

To visit the Lesvos picture gallery - click HERE

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