Castles and noble mansions, olive groves and beaches as far as the eye can see, a petrified forest and bird-rich wetlands, the land of the sardine and ouzo… and much more
Situated in the northeast Aegean, poised between Anatolia and the West, this was the birthplace of the poets Sappho and Alcaeus, the naïf painter Theophilos and the novelist Myrivilis. Greece’s third-largest island possesses a rare natural beauty, architectural marvels, a petrified forest, mediaeval fortress towns and a Mediterranean climate. Olive trees carpet much of its land mass, which is indented by two deep, almost closed, fish-filled bays.
Other attractions include bustling traditional villages, beaches that stretch for miles, ouzo distilleries to visit and exquisite delicacies to accompany your drink. These are just some of the treats awaiting you on this fascinating island that Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis compared to a “plane-tree leaf that someone threw into the sea”.
What to do on Lesvos
“A whirl round Lesvos”
Start your visit at Mytilini, the main port and biggest town, and from there cross to the northeast coast to check out Molyvos and Petra. Then head west to Eressos and Sigri, to see the petrified forest, before moving south to Plomari, where the ouzo factories are, and swinging inland to the mountain village of Agiassos. That’s Lesvos in a nutshell but we’ve left out the beaches, the spas, birdwatching in the wetlands, the long leisurely feasts of local seafood and some of the most breathtaking views in the Aegean.
The true capital of Lesvos and a magnet for visitors in the eastern Aegean, Mytilini displays its handsome old buildings along the waterfront with the impressive church of Agios Therapon as the centrepiece. All of this is crowned by the Franko-Byzantine castle rising out of a pinewood on the hill behind.
As the hub of the island’s cultural and business life, Mytilini offers a myriad ways to spend your time; whether that means admiring sights like the ancient theatre, the Ottoman baths or the mosque; exploring streets lined with wonderful neoclassical buildings with an Anatolian flavour or tracking down rare treasures in the Archaeological Museum, the Teriade collection of modern masters, the Theophilos museum, libraries, galleries and folklore exhibitions.
Molyvos can rival the most beautiful mediaeval fortress towns in Europe, while its only peer in Greece is Monemvasia, in the Peloponnese. And like it, its houses grasp onto the sides of a steep rock while turning their gaze to the Mediterranean. The structure and layout of the town and its 13th-century Genoese castle have remained unchanged over the course of centuries. As you stroll up and down its alleyways, note the stone houses and the Anatolian-style mansions with their brightly coloured doors and windows and enclosed wooden balconies, as well as the elegant Turkish fountains scattered throughout.
The Kalloni wetlands, a bird watchers’ paradise
More than 252 species of birds find refuge in the Kalloni wetlands. Not surprisingly, it ranks among Europe’s ten most important habitats for avian diversity and rarity.
Thermal springs of Eftalous
This island in the North Aegean is home to natural wonders. Between the brushwood-covered rocks – geological sculptures emerging from the sea – can be found the thermal waters of Eftalous. The water from the spring emerges from underwater springs at a temperature of 43.6-46.5 degrees Celsius and is renowned for its therapeutic properties.
The sacrifice of the bull
A pagan throwback to ancient times, this island ritual is still enacted every July in the village of Agia Paraskevi. A healthy bull is decorated with wreaths of flowers and finery before being sacrificed, and then cooked and eaten, amid parades on horseback, dancing and feasting for three days.