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Unique Island Destinations: Lesbos, Greece
Why Visit Lesbos?
Having seen both sides of Greece - the ugly touristy side and the quiet provincial side, I can tell you that Lesbos has the best of both worlds. It's not overcrowded like Crete or Santorini, but it's not a boring village with nothing to do, either.
Away from the vacationing crowds of Greek mega-destinations, Lesbos (also called Lesvos or Mitilini) is still tourist-friendly, with widely-used English language and affordable (30-35 Euros/day for a double) accommodations.
The bottom line: between gorgeous beaches, unique natural wonders, medieval castles, traditional Greek food and probably an entire army of cats, your chances of having a bad time in Lesbos are about 0.000001 percent.
Where Is Lesbos?
Surrounded by the Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Turkey, Lesbos is Greece’s third-largest island, with an area of about 630 sq miles. Its capital and main port is Mytilini, and arguably the most beautiful town is Molyvos (Mythimna), where you can stroll down cobblestone streets and enjoy the most breathtaking view of the Aegean.
Lesbos is easily reachable by ferry from Athens or Thessaloniki, as well as by plane from many cities.
Useful Greek Phrases
My Experience Upon Arrival
Lesbos was the best part of my Greek odyssey. After big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, I was dying for a real Greek island experience, and Lesbos was it.
At 8 AM, after a comfortable overnight ferry ride from Thessaloniki, I disembarked in Mytilene, and was greeted by the sickening smell of ouzo (anise-flavored alcoholic concoction Greeks drink like water) and the sight of notoriously freestyle Greek drivers zipping in and out of lanes without complicating the process with turn signals. In America this type of driving would undoubtedly create chaos, in Greece it's the only way to drive.
After a jumbo glass of cold Mythos (beer is an appropriate morning beverage in Europe...I heard) at a nearby cafe, and already questioning the wisdom of the decision not to make any travel plans prior to my arrival, I finally decided to ask the locals for some advice. Their verdict was unanimous: rent a car.
Why You Should Rent a Car
Lesbos is big but it only takes a few hours to go from coast to coast. You can take a guided tour or even go with the public transportation (good luck with that if you don't speak Greek) but there's nothing like the freedom that driving gives you: stopping where and when you like, having lunch at a lovely roadside tavern that's too obscure to have a TripAdvisor rating, or just enjoying the gorgeous sites.
Where to Stay in Molyvos
A few hours of picturesque driving - and you're in Molyvos village, a gorgeous little town overlooking the sea. Even if you didn't book anything in advance, there will be about a hundred "Room For Rent" signs all along the coastline, so you can freely choose whatever place smiles at you.
I've picked "Schoolmistress with the Golden Eyes" - a quaint family-owned pension on top of the cobblestone street, named after an eponymous novel by Stratis Myrvilis, a famous native of Lesbos. This place is in the heart of Molyvos, yet it's divinely serene. Every night you can go to a veranda to enjoy the sunset, and the owners are ridiculously nice. I was a little short of cash to pay for one extra night, and they said: Don't worry about it, since you've stayed here for a whole week, this one's on us. What?? I still sent them the payment via mail.
The rooms are simple and clean, and they even have a kitchenette with all the essentials, in addition to A/C, wireless Internet, fresh flowers and magical views of the Aegean Sea.
It doesn't get any better than that - except that it does! The traditional fruits & vegetables market (agora) is just down the street, literally 30 seconds away. The pension is also close to the town's stone beach, and to the lovely sandy beaches of Petra.
The Cats of Lesbos
Now I have to warn you: technically, Lesbos is a Greek territory, but in reality it's more like a feline kingdom.
Similarly to other Greek islands, Lesbos is owned by cats - partly domesticated, partly wild, they roam the streets freely, sleeping or watching people with a bored, slightly condescending look characteristic to most cats.
They are absolutely everywhere you go - inside and outside restaurants and hotels, lying in the middle of the streets, even making a home in some ancient ruins!
Lesbos natives (Lesbians?) and tourists alike seem to enjoy this feline abundance, and they certainly add a lot of charm to the island.
Lesbos Donkey Trek
When you're tired of the beach, the views and the cats (as if it's possible!), go on a donkey-trek day trip. Unforgettable experience! Twenty-five Euros (16 for children under 12) buys you the whole day with these beautiful animals, and a sore bottom for the next few days.
The trek starts at 10 AM from Molyvos campsite through snaky mountain paths and lush olive groves to the village of Vafios, where you stop for a lunch at a traditional Greek taverna while the donkeys rest and munch on the yellow grass.
Try not to be late - otherwise you're going to get special "leftover" donkeys. Our Greek guide Costas kept saying "Super" when he gave my friend and I "Suzie" and "John" - adorable but puzzling creatures (and I suspect that the names were produced momentarily on the spot to satisfy our annoying curiosity).
"John" kept lagging behind as part of his long-term plan to quietly slip away from under Costas' watchful eye and make a run for the campsite. "Suzie" was just apathetic. What can I say - life as a donkey can be tough. Make sure to wear a hat, a sunscreen and to have plenty of water - blazing sun can be cruel to the unprepared.
Otherwise - enjoy the amazing views of the ocean and the hills...it's not to be missed. Like all of Lesbos.
Breathtakingly Beautiful Lesbos, Greece - AtlasVisual
© 2009 Lana Adler