Lesvos is the
third largest island Greece and its population over 100,000 by some estimates. The island has a land mass of 1,630 sq.km and a coastline of 370
km. It is 6.5 nautical miles from Turkey and 187 from Piraeus. Lesvos is
steeped in history, culture and natural beauty. It receives plenty of tourism
but is large enough to absorb it gracefully with room for everyone.
You could easily
spend a couple of weeks getting to know this island. Mytilini is the capital
and the name most Greeks use to refer to the island.
Predominantly mountainous, its highest
peak is Olympos at 940 meters above sea level. The south and east of the island contain fertile
valleys covered with olive groves, sheep grazing and plenty of water.
Lesvos claims to have close to 13,000,000 olive trees on its flatter sections and produces the best olive oil in Greece. There
are chestnut and pine forests on its upper slopes. Horses are bred on the island.
Lesvos has good roads and is best seen with a scooter or rented car. The beaches are
long and sandy.
Traditional life is strong in the villages, 15 of which have been named as traditional settlements.
Mytilini Town is the capital and port. There's a large university here, so the city life is active all year round. The once-grand 19th Century mansions are being restored and there are jumbled streets, traditional cafes and backstreet ouzeria, antique shops, embroidery and ceramic sellers, and jewelry shops. The architecture on Lesvos has Italianate influences.
Mytilini has two harbors. Passenger ferries dock at the southern harbor, called Pavlou Kountourioti. The northern harbor is called Navmahias Ellis.
The fortress was first built in Byzantine times. It's since been renovated by Gatelouzo and the Turks. The surrounding forest is a favorite picnic spot.
You get two archaeological museums for the price of one in Mytilini Town. One block north of the quay is the original museum with an impressive display. Your ticket also gets you into the new archaeological museum, which is 400 meters away. Both are worth a visit.
From almost anywhere on the waterfront you can spot the dome of the Church of Agios Therapon, which has a very ornate interior. There's a Byzantine museum in the church courtyard.
Four km south of Mytilini, the village of Varia has the not-to-be-missed Theophilos Museum. Many of the painter's works are displayed here. Right next door, is the Teriade Museum with works from Teriade (or Stratis Eleftheriadis). Teriade's collection of works by other artists is shown too, including works by Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse.
Northern Lesvos is dominated by the spendid town of Mithymna. The locals call it Molyvos. It features impeccable stone houses, flower-shaded streets, brightly colored shutters and a castle-topped hill. The beach here is pebbly and crowded, and is the site where excursion boats leave for beaches at Eftalou, Skala Sykaminias and Petra.
Petra is 5km south of Mithymna. It has a long sandy beach with shade. The huge rock looming over the village is topped by Panagia Glykophilousa (The Church of the Sweet Kissing Virgin). The climb up is exactly 114 steps. Just to the east, the village of Petri is a nice spot for island viewing and has a charming traditional feel.
The western side of the island is drier with fewer towns. Sappho's birthplace, Eresos, is 90 km west of Mytilini. The nearby beach is Skala Eresou. Eresos is a popular destination for lebians who want to honor the poet Sappho. (The whole island, not just Eresos, is very gay-friendly.) The pertrified forest of Lesvos is on a barren hillside on the far western end of the lsland. Past the beach at Skala Eresou is the village of Sigri, close to the ancient tree trunks referred to as the petrified forest. Western Lesvos draws birdwatchers in the spring, and this is where the island's famous horses are bred.
Mount Olympus dominates southern Lesvos. (There are 19 mountains named Mount Olympus in Greece.) On the mountain's northern side is the large village of Agiasos. Artisan workshops are plentiful here. This beautiful hill town holds a church with an icon painted by St Luke and a couple of worthy museums, too. On the coast, Plomari has a good beach and a traditional feel. This region has a number of good treks, called Olive Trails because you walk through various groves of trees, especially olives. An hour's walk west of Plomari is Panagia Krifti, a church in a cave near a hot spring. The Museum of Natural History at Vatera on the south coast has fossils and of elephants, mastodons, giraffes, rhinoceros, hippopatamus, deer, tortoise, snails, fish, and horses found in the area.
Most of the mineral springs are in old whitewashed bathhouses dating back to ancient times. Loutra Yera's springs contain radium. The springs are quite hot at Polyhnitos. The waters at Lisvorio are similar. At Eftalou the water is perfectly clear and an ideal temperature. There is a petrified forest
at Sigri as well as thermal springs.
There are good trekking trails in both the north and south. The trails are easy to find and follow. They can be taken in sections and broken up over several days. Although there are many trails, the main trails are Vatera-Yera, Petra-Lapsarna, Kapi-Sykaminia and Segri-Eresos. There are also good treks in the olive growing region around Plomari, with the Skopelos-Karionas-Kastelos-Trigonas/Plagia day trek being the most popular.
Lesvos is the transit point and home to over 279 species of birds. You'll see everything from waders to raptors. The island's four main birdwatching centers are at Eresos, Petra, Skala Kallonis and Agiasos.
There are a large number of festivals in July and August, when it's time to honor the island's patron saints. Things can turn to wild bacchanals with food, drink, music, dancing, horse races and even the sacrifice of a bull, which is cooked and eaten the next day in a tradtional dish called keskek. Major festival dates are listed below in The Complete Details section.
Drinking and Dining
Lesvos is famous for its sardine mezedes which are a must try! The Sardine Festival is in Skala Kalloni on August 6. Lesvos' sheep's milk cheese (ladotyri) is also justafiably famous. Try it with the also remarkable good local ouzo. The giant prawns are good on Lesvos, too.
Lesvos is known for many who lived there. Terpander, the composer, and Arion, the poet, were born there in the 7th Century BC. Artistotle and Epicurus taught at a school of philosophy on Lesvos. Sappho, on of the greatest poets of ancient Greece, was born here in 630 BC. More recently the painter Theophilos and the Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseus Elytis were born on the island.
Sappho's famous poems were all but eliminated from existance during book burnings in 1073, when they were judged morally offensive. What does remain survived by accident.
The Turks ruled from 1462 to 1912 and many Ottoman houses and buildings remain.