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Villages
Sigri


Most people come to Sigri by car, taxi or bus. It's about an hour and a half from the port of Mytilini, through some of the most interesting and varied landscapes on the island. The village is sometimes connected to mainland Greece by ferry service. Last year it was discontinued and who knows about this year. If you are going to Eressos or staying on the western part of the island this is one way to do it though the late arrival time makes it slightly inconvenient. But you save three hours on the ferry and an hour and a half that it takes to drive from Mytilini to this end of the island.

The Turkish Castle is probably the towns most impressive man-made feature. Built in 1746 by the Sultan Mehmet, this fortress protected the harbor where the Turks kept their fleet. The stones come from quarries in Sarmaisakh, Turkey, paid for by heavy taxes levied upon the Christian inhabitants of this part of the island. You can walk through the iron door and along the walls for an impressive view of the village and the surrounding sea.

The church of Agia Triada was originally built as a mosque. But unlike other mosques which face Mecca, the men who constructed it somehow were able to face it east. Perhaps in 1870 the Turks knew that the winds of change were in the air, or maybe the builders just pulled a fast one. Inside the church is a water cistern which supplied the ships of the Sultan or perhaps the hammam next door.

The old hammam (Turkish bath) sits unused since the last Turks left the island in 1923. There are plans to reopen it again, though there seems to be some dispute with the current owner who for some reason is reluctant to see this happen. If the parties concerned can come to terms, a Turkish bath would be a wonderful addition to the village.

The island of Nissiopi which protects the harbor from the open sea has a large amount of petrified trees. The suspicious looking line of telephone poles and wires do not provide power to a secret submarine or missle base, but to the lighthouse that keeps ships from running aground.
Above the village is the brand new Museum of Natural History which features many examples of the different kinds of trees found in the nearby petrified forest . Petrified wood is not limited to the forest, but can be found all over the southwestern portion of the island. The museum is still in the process of completion, but the exhibits are well worth the walk to the top of the village, and by next year the cafe should be open too.

In Sigri you have a town that is everything a good tourist town should be. Good food, clean beaches, nice hotels, great family run restaurants with fresh fish, stuff to do and even a tourist shop or two, and yet it is not over-run with tourists. Sigri is certainly at the very least worth a visit for lunch and a swim. The taverna at the town dock called Cavo di Oro (photo) is one of the best restaurants on the island and the lobster at Remezzo's Fish Taverna impressed me so much that I wrote an entire article about it. See Remezzos . There is also an excellent Italian restaurant in the town. The town beach is fine, especially for families with children, looking for other families with children. (If you have a child you will know what I mean.)
The beaches to the north and south are simply breathtaking and depending on the time of day, you can have one all to yourself, even in August. The snorkeling south of town off the rocks is good with plenty of fish and even an octopus or two. Just follow the dirt road to Eressos.

The beach at Tsichlioda is at the end of a long valley that looks like the Alaskan Tundra. You can get close to the sea but it can be rough on your car so take it slow. Though not an officially designated nude beach, there is nobody there to stop you. The beach is about a half mile long and on the southeastern end (on the left if you face the water) is where the Tsichlioda river meets the sea. There are bits and pieces of petrified wood you can find among the sand and gravel on the river delta.
The river itself is facinating and who knows what kind of creatures live beneath the surface. The area is a haven for migrating birds and is featured in Richard Brook's excellent Birding in Lesvos . There are tall swamp grasses and the area is very green even in the summer. The rivers edge is a great place for a picnic and maybe some late afternoon fresh water fishing. You may even discover an unknown spieces that you can photograph, name it after yourself and then throw it back.

If you continue on the dirt road that winds through the nearly treeless mountains and valleys you will eventually come out in the village of Eressos.

The beaches to the north of Sigri are also beautiful and uncrowded. The waves can be big here when the wind blows from the north. Faneromeni beach is separated by a large rock that offers shade, and a place to dive off if you are one of those people who don't like sand. The Tapsas river does not quite make it to the sea, at least not in July, but if you bring bread you can probably coax some kind of creature to the surface, most likely a water turtle. At the end of the beach is the Zoedochos Church which is built into a rock. The whole valley is great for walking when the weather is not too hot. Bring water.

Sigri is destined for popularity. It's proximity to Rafina and the Cyclades and to Rafina, combined with its natural beauty, great restaurants, friendly people and ample accommodations make it a dream destination for travelers who want to experience the Greek islands without all the bells and whistles of mass tourism. Within 2 years there will in all probability be a daily boat from Athens, perhaps even one of the new high-speed ferries that will make the trip from Rafina in three hours.

 
Molyvos


Molyvos, or Mithymna as it was called during the middle ages, is truly an amazing town. When you pass through Petra and follow the coastal road you really are unprepared for the dramatic first view you get when you come around that last bend. Luckily there is a place to pull off where you can take it all in, rather then sneak glances and endanger your family and everyone else on the road. The town is situated on a small mountain topped by a dramatic medieval castle, built by the Byzantines and renovated by the Gattelusis, who were from Genoa and were ceded the island when Francesco Gattelusi married the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor John Paliologos. The original castle which this one replaced, was conquered by none other then Achilles during the Trojan war. There are still ancient ruins scattered around the town including impressive polygonal walls and a few giant holes where archaeologists have begun their slow work.

The town itself is built of stone houses and shops which surround the castle and follow the coast to one of the most beautiful harbors in Greece. As one enters the village there is certainly a lot of tourist activity, at least more then anywhere else on the island, yet nowhere near Cycladic proportions. But rather then terrifying teens on motorbikes, these are a more sophisticated breed, some of them actually carrying books of Greek Mythology and Histories of the island. I think one of the things I like about Molyvos is that the tourists are interesting. You can sit down with one and have a decent conversation at breakfast. You can get drunk with one and actually learn something because unlike places like Mykonos, Ios and Santorini which people hear about by word of mouth or from their local travel agent, to know about Molyvos, you have to at least know how to read. Many of these tourists not only know how to read but they devour literature on the island and return year after year, some of them eventually buying a house and settling here.

There is a stone beach and a small park down by what used to be the village Olive Oil factory but what is now the Olive Press Hotel, one of the most interesting hotels on the island. Living in America or any modern industrialized country it might be hard to conceive of turning a factory into a hotel. But the Olive Press is a simple, large stone building, broken up into different rooms with a beautiful courtyard garden and a very nice restaurant right on the water. The beach is small stones but once you get out a few feet this gives way to soft sand and there are few beaches that have the view you get when you turn around and face the land. It is a view of the town and castle so beautiful that you will risk the possible destruction of your camera in order to get a photo. (I didn't risk it). There are a few cafe-bars and restaurants in this part of the village and also an inexpensive Hotel called the Trianna where we stayed one night. Unfortunately a garbage truck hit my rental car while I was asleep in my inexpensive room and any money I saved was quickly spent on repairing it. Because of this experience I should warn you that it is not a great idea to park on the small streets of Molyvos. There is a parking lot outside the village that is within easy walking distance from most of the hotels and another lot in the harbor.

The most unfortunate aspect of this part of the village is the fact that during the summer and particularly on weekends there is so much motorbike traffic that it sounds like you are living next to the Indianapolis motor-speedway. All the traffic seems to come from the small bar between the Molyvos I and the Olive-Press hotel and it seems simply amazing to me that the town officials would allow the owners of the bar to infringe upon the right of the tourists for a good night's sleep. I spoke to several of the local residents and the managers of the hotels and asked how was it possible that a town so reliant upon tourism would allow motorcycles to race in an area of the town where the guests of the village are trying to get some rest. "It is a complicated situation" was what one owner told me "and there is nothing that can be done".

But the general consensus is that it is the fault of the local government and until someone from the village steps forward to challenge the local leadership which seems to be beholden to certain interests and tied to the ways of the past, these hotels will continue to suffer from the noise and tourists will stay in other areas of the village which are quieter. But that should not stop you from coming here in the daytime to swim because this beach has won the prestigious Blue Flag award from the EEC for cleanliness and the sea here is cool and refreshing and also shallow and safe for children.

Molyvos at Night

For those who crave a little nightlife with their relaxing holiday, Molyvos will not disappoint. There are many bars in town and a few discos and some large clubs on the outskirts of town and enough young people to make it interesting. A popular place for foreigners and local ex-pats is Christine's, right down in the harbor where the Irish owners claim to know the names of every customer who has spent an evening in their bar. In fact it is said that some of their clientele come to Molyvos for the primary purpose of drinking with their friends here at night, the days being an inconvenient period of time between sunrise and sunset that must be somehow gotten through. Those who are into serenity won't be bothered by the nightlife since the louder clubs seem to be set away from the hotels (with the exception of those by the town beach). Those people who enjoy an evening of ouzo or wine and deeply profound philosophical conversation about life, love, God and other important matters, should have plenty of company. Or if you love Greek music played by a talented musician just follow Vangelis around to whichever restaurant he happens to be playing at that night and by the end of your visit you should be able to sing-along with most of the songs.

 
Eressos


On the southwestern end of Lesvos is the village of Eressos and Skala Eressos. The birthplace of the poetess Sapho, the beach town of Skala Eressos once a Mecca for International lesbians is also a popular family destination, not to mention a favorite place for honeymooners. It has one of the most beautiful and dramatic beaches in all of Greece and a line of cafes and restaurants on the waterfront that may remind you of an Atlantic seaside community without the commercialism.

In antiquity it was an important commercial center and was also home to the philosopher and botanist Theophrastus and the philosopher Phanias who was a pupil of Aristotle. There are still remains of the ancient city and walls and somewhere off the shore is the wreck of the Turkish warship Moving Mountain, sunk by Dimitris Papanikolis during the war for Greek Independence in 1821. The town is alive with cultural events and activity during the summer. The beach itself received the blue flag award from the European Council on the Environment as the cleanest and best cared for in Greece. In my opinion there are few if any beaches in Greece that have what Skala Eressos has to offer. The water is clear and the sand seems to go on for miles.

The streets of the town of Skala Eressos which border the beach are closed to all automobile traffic and one can walk without fear of being run over. More importantly you do not have to worry about the safety of your children. The town ends at the beach road but cafes and restaurants have built bamboo covered decks that extend out on to the sand so you can sit in the shade and watch your kids playing in the Aegean and not be more than a few feet away. Some of the hotels provide bikes for the customers and even if they don't, they can be rented cheaply in the village. Because Skala Eressos is on a flat plain, riding a bike is easy. You can also go horseback riding. Motorbikes are available and cars can be rented to see the rest of the island.

There is a spring-fed lake full of hundreds of turtles, frogs, fish, strange birds and even storks, which nest in bell tower of the church in the upper village. Children save the left-over bread from lunch and bring it over to the lake which reaches almost to the sea, and the turtles come right up and take the food from their hands. The valley is green and fertile with trails and paths that can keep you walking for hours, past small farms, villas, orchards, tiny churches, ancient ruins, and all manner of wild and not so wild life, including sheep, goats, donkeys, cows, turkeys, foxes, hedgehogs, chickens, and horses.

There is a small harbor of fishing boats which supply the village with plenty of fresh fish. These are sold in the restaurants and include, shrimp, sardines, delicious red-mullet, tuna, swordfish and some fish that I have never seen before but taste great. Unlike the more popular Cyclades islands, seafood here is plentiful and cheap. There are also fish trucks which arrive from all over the island with other fresh fish that may not be available in the waters around Erressos. Like many places in Lesvos, the restaurants take pride in their Sardeles pastes as well as their lakerda pastes (tuna) and gavros (anchovies), all caught locally. The fishermen in this boat are actually women, not surprising in Sapho's home town.

The people are friendly and generous and merely by waving hello you may find yourself engaged in conversation about your life in your own country or their life in Lesvos. You will be surprised at how many people speak your language, particularly if it is English. The old man sitting next to you in the cafeneon may have spent fifty of his eighty years in New York, Toronto, Montreal and very likely Australia. If you look carefully sometimes you can find little hints that will tip you off. Perhaps a baseball cap from your favorite team.

The surprising thing is that what at first glance appears to be an upscale tourist resort is actually a very inexpensive, authentically Greek place to spend your vacation. Imagine the quality of Mykonos or other more well known islands, but at a fraction of the price. If you like, you can drink cappuccino in Eressos and not go broke. You can eat seafood that has been caught locally and drink ouzo and watch the sunset on the beach. The bars are low-key and the clubs are far enough out of town so people won't be bothered by the noise, yet close enough to walk to or stumble home from.

The beach on the other side of the harbor is excellent for snorkling and the small beach within the fishing harbor is useful for days when the wind is blowing and your children want somewhere sheltered to swim. Fish and octopus are abundant along the coast. There is a small church there with shaded benches where you can relax and read, paint, meditate or write. Beyond that is another beach for even more privacy. You can spend your days on the beach or walk for hours in the green valley, past farms and orchards. There are archeological sites too including the cave of the Poetess Sappho and the ancient church of St Andrew.

In the cafes are foreigners who have come for the history, the romance or just to be close to the sea and conversation is never a problem, nor is making friends. Many of these are former tourists who have fallen in love with the village and if they have not bought a house of their own, they still return year after year, staying in rented homes or rooms. The beauty of this is that they now have a regular place to go for their holidays where they know people and for a few weeks a year their children play with the children of other people who have become regular visitors too.

 
Plomari


Forty-two kilometers from Mytilini on the southern coast of Lesvos, Plomari, the ouzo capital of Greece, is built ampithitheatrically near the sea and is the second largest town on the island. This is where the famous Barbayiannis Ouzo comes from as well as several other smaller labels like the excellent Ouzo Giannatsi which is distilled in the traditional method. Whether it's from drinking the extra strong ouzo that many of the inhabitants seem to favor or for some other reason, Plomarian's have the reputation of being a little bit crazy and enjoying life to it's fullest. The women of Plomari have the reputation of being a bit stubborn or to put it in better terms strong-willed, as this child's rhyme which was taught to me by my wife's cousin implies:

Stin Agiassou y Plomari
Oute yeneka
Oute mulari

(Translation:From Agiassou or Plomari neither woman nor mule).

There are several ouzo factories and also the Barbayiannis ouzo museum on the road leading into town and it is obvious that the people of Plomari take great pride in their ouzo . None seem to take a greater pride then George Kabarnos and his son who have taken over the traditional distillery of the famous (in Plomari) Ouzo Giannatsi. While many of the other ouzo companies have sold out to the big companies and perhaps sacrificed some of their traditional methods in order to keep up with demand, Mr. Kabarnos still uses the old wood burning kasani (still) that he uses to distill the ouzo. His shop right in the main market area of the town is the best place to buy his ouzo since not many of the cafeneons outside of the village carry it. And where else can you get a lesson (in English or Greek) on what makes one ouzo better than another and why distilled ouzo is the healthiest.

The architecture of the town is pretty amazing with giant old mansions and decaying factories, olive presses and tanneries amongst the houses of all different size shapes and colors. The town itself straddles each side of a ravine which in the rainy season turns into the Sedountas river. Some of the houses are built right on the river and their walls form the banks, keeping the flow contained and moving down towards the sea. While Plomari is impressive in the summer it must be a spectacular place when the river is rushing down the mountain.

Piomari was originally up in the mountains where the beautiful village of Megalohori now stands. Both the mountain village and the port were destroyed by fires from 1841 to 1843, after which the city we now know as Plomari was built and became an important center for industry and commerce. There are a number of Turkish fountains in the village as well as many houses with the Turkish-style architecture and if you come here on a cool day you can spend hours walking around looking at the different buildings in the various neighborhoods. Sometimes Plomari reminds me of Venice without the water.
If it is a hot day there are nice beaches at Agios Isidoros which is one of the best areas on the island for swimming with a mixture of sand and a stone shelf and open sea. Agios Isidoros is actually the area where most of the hotels are located, including the American owned Hotel Pebble Beach which is right on the water and within walking distance of town. The snorkeling off the coast of Agios Isidoros is very interesting because of the rock formations which are like undersea platforms that are full of sea-life.

There are some great restaurants in town and of course many cafeneons which serve ouzo and mezedes to the young and old men of the village as well as the occasional tourist. The main area for eating is around the large Platanos across the bridge over the river. There are several churches of interest in the area including Agios Nikolaos, near the market, with it's interesting icons of Saint Demetrios and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The church of Agia Paraskevis is also lovely with it's iconostasis of white marble.

The town has an active marketplace and it's inhabitants are known for their high level of culture, distinguished as sailors and active nationally. There are several cultural centers including the old soap factory which has been restored and the building which houses the Benjamin of Lesvos cultural society. There is a large number of Greeks who have returned from abroad and English is widely spoken with a variety of interesting accents. It is hard to imagine a town which combines the traditional Greek culture with that of our contemporary society as comfortably as Plomari does. Combine this with the architecture and Plomari is as interesting a town as Corfu or Hermioupolis in Syros
Ten Kilometers north is the village of Megalochori formerly the site of Plomari and now known as the Switzerland of Lesvos because of it's high altitude, healthy climate, orchards and abundant water. There is a beautiful platia with several restaurants and cafeneons. The town has a number of Greek-Americans, Greek-Australians and Greek-Africans, some who have come for the summer and others who have returned to their ancestral home to live for the rest of their lives. The Platia has an old Platanos that died many years ago but has now been turned into some kind of shrine.

 
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