Sailing around Lesvos

Why is sailing around Lesvos so special?Sailing around Lesvos

Sailing and Lesvos, just two words or two Worlds?

Where do they meet? How can they coexist?

Sailing can be fun in itself for the moments it offers either on a small dinghy or while racing on a huge offshore yacht. But we choose sailing vacations because sailing can offer us a unique approach to the Sea, to Nature and to life itself which nothing else can offer.

While sailing we use Nature (the sea and wind) in order to explore unspoiled hidden paradises, to come close to sea creatures (dolphins, seals, sea turtles, sea birds…) without disturbing their environment and most of all test our skills and “explore” ourselves.

This is the reason people fall in love with sailing.

Lesvos. Do not ask me why people fall in love with Lesvos. Being born here I am somehow married to Lesvos. Some say that marriage kills the love, yet a partner who surprises you every day can keep love alive. This is true; Lesvos has so many “personalities” that you can not discover them all in a lifetime.

Combine sailing and Lesvos. Do it in the wise, gentle way seamanship imposes and Lesvos’ fragile nature demands and you can have a paradise on earth for your vacation or even more.

A sailor needs safe anchorages. Lesvos’ coastline offers countless beautiful, picturesque coves and fishing ports.

A sailor needs ports for supplies. Lesvos has Mytilene, Molyvos, Petra, Sigri, Skala Kallonis, Skala Polichnitos, Plomari, Perama, Skala Loutra…

A sailor needs fair winds. Lesvos can give you even the choice for more or less wind to sail at any period of the year.

A sailor needs navigation aids. Lesvos has a well organized light system, cartography in any scale and detail and well covered VHF communication.

A sailor needs excitement. Sailing around an island or along a coastline is not a sailor’s most exciting choice. We know that very well. BUT…Lesvos has such a variety in its landscape, weather conditions, architecture and even the local accent that it can make you believe you are on a different island in every port.

Not to mention the difference between the Coast and the Mainland, the East and the West, the North and the South…Tokmakia isles, Tsonia, Molyvos, Petra, Pochi isl area, Sigri, Tsichliota, Eressos, Chroussos, Apothika, Skala Polichnitos, Skala Kallonis, Vatera, Kryfi Panagia, Plomari, Tarti, Myrsinia isles, Tsilia, the Entrance of Yera’s Gulf, Perama, Therma, and Skala Loutra while countless other small coves are tempting for a short stop for swim and exploration.

Each one of them is a diamond around the edge of the crowning jewel in the Aegean called Lesvos.

Sailing around Lesvos is a dream for the novice and expert alike. Make your dreams come true.

Ambeliko Folk Museum

We were passing near the village of Ambeliko one day and never having explored it before we decided to take a look. It looked inviting as there is a noticed board at the entrance to an empty car park extolling the virtues of this isolated village at the foot of Mount Olympos. From the car park, there was a footpath through to the lower village where we found the Folk Museum. This looked fascinating, but with our usual luck in these things it was closed. There were several items outdoors and we peered through the windows, intrigued by the treasures that lay within. The adjacent church was also closed but there was a fire service vehicle parked nearby with a website address on its door. It is all in Greek, but there are pictures which help you get the gist of some of it. There is a section for the museum and lots of other details about the village and its history.

In search of a possible key holder for Ambeliko folk museumthe museum (plus beer and food would not go amiss) we walked up a cobbled path into the village, which was very quiet. Along the main street we said hello to a couple of ladies sitting outside a small taverna and inevitably got chatting. The younger of the two introduced herself as Maria and whilst this was her home village and she was visiting her mother (the older lady – also Maria) she lived now in Sydney. She therefore spoke good English and on our enquiries told us that the key holder for the museum was the priest and he was away from the village today.

Ambeliko folk museumAs we chatted Mama Maria ambled off and came back a few minutes later and presented me with a small sprig of herbs from her garden. It appeared this was the family taverna, but unfortunately they had no food to offer today and there was no bakery in the village. Maria said we might get food at the taverna up on the main road which passes by the top of the village so we headed up there. Yes – we could get a beer, but no, there was no food here either. So we settled for a Mythos apiece and took a seat under the trees at the side of the road, above the village rooftops and neat terraced gardens. We shall definitely go back – it is a well-situated village, perched on a hillside with great views and have no doubt that exploration will prove rewarding. We ambled back down though the narrow streets, again passing the museum. If we manage to find it open in 2013 I will update this report. If someone else gets there before me please feel free to add your own piece.

Ambeliko folk museum Ambeliko folk museum Ambeliko folk museum Ambeliko folk museum

How to find Ambeliko Folk Museum

 

I’ve got you under my skin!

Flowers in the valley below the WatermillsI first visited Lesvos for a week in May 2011 with Nicky my partner and we stayed at the Blue Sky Studios in Petra.

Immediately upon alighting the transfer coach something got under our skin – don’t know what and still cannot really nail it completely. It had us under it’s spell – corny but true!

We had come prepared with lots of information regarding local walks gleaned from the internet with resources such as:

foxysislandwalks.com (no longer available) and the excellent “Walks in North Lesvos” by Lance Chilton.

Despite all our preparation nothing could have prepared us for the feeling of being hooked. Others may disagree but to me the sea is not as azure blue as some other Greek Islands, it’s not, on the surface, as picture postcard pretty as some other Greek Islands. That said what is has got is something, maybe the incredible warmth of the welcome, the feeling that you belong, or the immense and real sense of sadness when you leave to go home. You want to go back – as soon as is humanly possible.

On our first holiday we walked almost every morning – all started from Petra and included destinations such as:

  • Ambelia Beach (Mikri Tsikharanda) via Anaxos – a beautiful return leg over the cliffs with an abundance of spring flowers.
  • Lafionas via the Olive Groves via one or two slightly “overgrown” sections!
  • Petri via the path network above Petra
  • Molyvos via the reservoir – with a lovely stop for a coffee at the Sea Horse Hotel and a beer or two on a bar on the hillside in Molyvos.

We spent the rest of the time relaxing by the pool – the Sunday Chuch service piped around the village is something to experience – truly magical.

We loved it – the weather in the main (apart from one or two short sharp spectacular thunderstorms) was perfect.

We vowed to return – it had got us.

May 2012 and we returned to the same apartments, this time for a fortnight. At Manchester airport we recognised several faces from the previous year – these people, this year, were to become our friends.

This time the weather was more mixed – but we carried on walking!! With a supplemented pool of information resources (we had also now purchased “On Foot in North Lesvos” by Mike Maunders and Sigrid van der Zee again another excellent book) this time we widened our walking range! As well as some of the walks we had done previously (including Nicky’s favourite walk to Molyvos via the reservoir) we also did:

  • The valley of the Mills through the Ligonas Valley. It was on this walk where with much excitement (for that read fear!) we came across a number of snakes – in fact we got very close to one and watched him slither off into undergrowth. On the same walk we also saw a pine marten. This walk was my personal favourite – the carpet of spring flowers on the lower part of the valley was incredible (hope the picture does it justice!)
  • Eftalou to Skala Sikaminia. This was interesting. We booked a taxi and the return boat with Alex who owns the Calypso boat based in Petra. On the morning of the walk the taxi arrived perfectly on time – the sun was breaking through! We exited the taxi at Eftalou and started our walk along the dirt track road. Within minutes the heavens opened, the rain poured down and the cloud dropped to below the level of the surrounding hills. We took cover under the trees with the goats – Parrot at Skala SykaminiasI decided to call Alex as I was convinced that the boat would be cancelled. He answered with his usual cheery smile and told me that the sun was shining in Petra and yes of course the boat would be running! With our moods lifted the clouds followed suit and the sun appeared – we walked the rest of the walk ion lovely warm sunshine – again a lovely walk that I can highly recommend. We made it to Skala Sikaminia only minutes behind the boat. A meal in the taverna with the mad parrot and a bottle of Limnos wine certainly made up for the damp clothes.

Walking aside we once again immersed ourselves into the place and grew to love it even more. We again spent time in Molyvos including a visit to the castle and a rather late night after spending the evening in Molly’s Bar with Andonis the apartment owner and other guests from the Blue Sky.

In 2013 we are going in July and my octogenarian mum will be making the trip for the first time – from the moment I first arrived I knew I wanted to bring her here.

Bird watching

What makes Lesvos so special for bird watching? If wild birds could choose their all-time favourite Greek island, it’s a safe bet that they would tick the box marked  LESVOS, and if birdwatchers throughout Europe were asked to make the same choice, most would tick the same box.

Raptor watchers © Frank WoodFor some reason that no-one has really put a finger on, the island’s 1,630 square kilometres are a magnet to hundreds of thousands of birds, from big, broad-winged birds of prey to the tiniest of mites, all migrating to and fro between their African wintering grounds and huge landmass of Europe.

Crested Lark © Frank Wood

It is true that Lesvos has wet winters, lots of marshy areas in the early part of spring, many trees (including 11 million olive trees), big, sheltered bays that cut deep into the island and a good selection of food-rich rivers and wetlands. But so do other Greek islands, principally near-neighbour Limnos and the famously green Corfu.

So why birds leaving the northern shores of Africa head up along the Turkish coast for an extended stop over on Lesvos remains something of a mystery when there are so many other routes they could pick. But they do, and that’s really all that matters.

White Stork © Frank Wood

It is no coincidence that almost all the major wildlife holiday companies, certainly those in Britain, have Lesvos high on their list of must-see destinations. But it’s not just because of the huge variety of birds (lists of 200 species in a week are not unusual among keen birders) but also because of the mesmerising variety of other wildlife. If you are into orchids, wild flowers, snakes, or creepy crawlies of almost every description, you will be in heaven in Lesvos.

For many years, the hotspot for birdwatchers has been the little fishing village of Skala Kalloni, popular because of its location near the centre of the island and its good birding areas along the rivers  — usually still flowing into May on each side of the village.

Subalpine Warbler © Frank Wood

Each year, from the last two weeks of April through the whole of May, the people who stand out from the crowd there are those who DON’T have binoculars round their neck.

But in recent years, more and more birders have been waking up the fact that there’s a lot more to the island than Skala Kalloni and its wetlands. More bird watchers are choosing Molyvos, Petra and Anaxos.  In fact, for people who like to stay in a truly historic harbour town, with olive grove walking, hills and pretty mountainside villages all around, Molyvos is the only place to be.

Birdwatchers who stay in the more hilly north of the island invariably clock up as many birds during their holiday as those in the central flat-lands.

Ruppell's Warbler © Frank Wood

Molyvos is also THE place to catch up with one of the island’s star birds, the mega-rare Ruppell’s Warbler.

Sightings of this beautiful small bird – smaller than a sparrow —  can virtually be guaranteed on the scrubby headland at Kavaki, just before the famous spot where tourists arriving in Molyvos get their first awe-inspiring view of the castle-topped town.

In spring, whatever time of day, there’s usually a line-up of birders with telescopes and binoculars lining the seaward wall of the lay-by.  Ruppell’s nest each year in the scrub. And the gorgeous male, with his distinctive white moustache, invariably pops up to sing his head off from a bush or overhead wires.

Blue Rock Thrush © Frank Wood

It’s also a good spot to see blue rock thrush, with the male’s vivid blue sheen standing out against the dark ocean below, and also peregrine falcons and kestrels, which often nest on the cliffs.

The other star bird is the Kruper’s nuthatch, but it takes a 45 minute drive from Molyvos to Achladeri pine woods to see that.

Some years, depending on how wet the early spring has been, there seem to be wall-to-wall birds on Lesvos.  Sometimes, it can be a case of hearing without seeing with birds like the secretive Scops owl.

Scops Owl © Frank Wood

 

The monotonous “peep”, reminiscent of the Greenwich time signal, can usually be heard in the plane trees around Tropicana square or in the eucalyptus grove near Molyvos taxi rank and in the village of Petri.

Arm yourself with a good guide [Steve Dudley’s A Birdwatching Guide to Lesvos is the best and most up to date] and the island will provide the bird watching holiday of a lifetime.

That’s why my wife and I have been back 19 years running – sometimes twice a year.  And still we want more…

Place your cursor over a picture for more information.

If you have been inspired by a bird watching visit to Lesvos or you have tips or stories to share, please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.

Touring Lesvos

Touring Lesvos - Mt Olympos © Christine AspinallBack from 2 wonderful weeks Touring Lesvos (May 2011). Where do I start? The weather gradually got warmer over the 2 weeks – starting out in low 20s and finishing around 30°c for our last 3 days in Mytilini – pretty hot for hiking!

On arrival we were met by Panos from Makis Car Rental  with a Jimny Jeep which was to be our wheels for off-roading in our first week, however we ended up keeping it an extra couple of days before exchanging for a nippy little Suzuki Wagon. Both great cars – economical to hire and fuel and in excellent mechanical condition. Great personal and friendly service from Panos (who is the son of Makis who owns both the rental company and the Mirsini Hotel). When we found a nail in one of the car tyres they got a friend to open his repair centre on a Sunday and it was fixed within the hour! The jeep allowed us to explore some interesting and remote villages and off road trails.

We stayed 5 nights in Molyvos at Sunflower Studios on the back road to Eftalou – where Toula made us feel one of the family (especially when she left eggs from her chickens in our kitchen). Then we moved on to Plomari and a great hotel in Ag. Isodoros – the Mirsini which became home for 6 nights. This is our favouritee part of the island with so much to see and do. We never met any other native English speakers in this area – truly authentic Greek ambience! Our final 3 nights saw us staying at Akleidi Hotel, just south of Mytilene . This is very handy for the airport, city sights, the west coast of Gera and the beautiful east coast north of the city. All our rooms were spotless, with good beds, ample storage and well-equipped kitchens (although we only ever made coffee and boiled those eggs!). Room prices had not increased since our last visit in 2008.

The Beach at Melinda

We ate at a good number of always excellent tavernas – some old favourites and some new. In Molyvos we had great food at “To Xani” and “Alonia” and a gyros lunch from “Friends”. We visited our old friends in Petra at “Thalassa” (formerly they ran “To Petri”) and could not resist three evening visits as the food was as good as ever and Maria and her family were so pleased to see us again. In Ag. Isodoros we revisited “Taverna Tou Panaii” and tried out two new places. “Mouria” is adjacent to Mirsini Hotel and serves yummy everything in massive portions at miniscule prices; in Plomari we had two evenings at “Mama Katerina’s”, the first of which meant we helped owner Eleni to celebrate her name day. The food here is again delicious. As it was at another old favourite just along the coast where Penelope at “Melinda” makes the best stuffed courgette flowers in the world. Our cheapest meal was a mezes lunch (ouzo, olives, cheese, tomato, cucumber) for the amazing price of €3 for the two of us in Megalochori. And in Anemotia we had a gigantic Greek salad and 2 Mythos for a total of €8. The price of eating out on Lesvos seems hardly to have changed! The most we paid for a meal of 2 starters, 2 mains, bread, wine and ouzo was €27. Usually it was around €21 – €24. The best tyropittes on the island in my book now are from Mandamados – even better than those from Perama, which take some beating!

Other “eatings” included lunch at the little rustic taverna between Eftalou and Skala Sykaminias, coffee and spoonfruits at the delightfully ramshackle Ag. Dimitrios, beer and fruit in Loutroupli Thermi in the wisteria shaded street, lunch in the plateia of Plomari at “H Γωνια”, Greek salad and garides on the waterfront at Koundouroudia and a relaxed and delicious 3 hour lunch at “Akroyali” on Panagiouda harbour with some friends from Florida who by coincidence were on the island at the same time as us!

We are not beach babes – we walk, we drive, we explore. Despite this being our sixth visit to the island we found many new places and sadly just could not get around to many old favourites . . . . too much Greece, too little time!

Man 'Katsa Waterfalls near MandamadosThanks to Robin and Carol of Lesvos Calendars we found remote Man’Katsa Waterfalls. Nearby we eventually found an old stone arched bridge and on the same day we visited 12th century Ag. Stephanos church and the tombs on the coast at Palios. All new to us. Everywhere was awash with the most beautiful wild flowers, as the cold wet spring had delayed Mother Nature a little.

Our jeep was great for off-roading, so we revisited Kremasti Bridge and nearby Klopedi Monastery and Temple. Near the bridge is the tiny church of Ag. Therapontas. We just happened to be there on the name day and were invited by the priest and ladies of nearby Pelopi to join in the festivities. A riotious occasion of dancing, singing, eating yummy cakes, drinking good wine and we were presented with a huge loaf of bread (which I had to give most of to Toula as it would never have kept long enough for us to eat!). Other sites that day were the tiny church in the rock near Ag. Paraskevi and the Halinados Christian Basilica. On another day we did the jeep trail to Klapados (a ruined village which is the site of the last victorious battle against the Turks for the liberation of Lesvos in 1912). We revisited the hidden Panagia Kryfti and hot spring along the dirt road west of Melinda and the jeep also took us to the very pinnacle of Mt Olympus, the second highest point on the island after Lepetymnos, with it’s amazing views (there is a tarmac road almost to the top so easily done in an ordinary car), around the forest trails north of Plomari to remote villages and to Kastellos (the prominent hill top site of a mediaeval kastro). Many of the dirt roads on the island can be done in a normal car, but great care is needed so would recommend a jeep if you have a spirit of adventure.

With it’s network of forest trails, dirt roads, footpaths, ancient cobbled roads and paved kalderimi Lesvos is a walkers paradise. At this time of year the bonus is the flowers and of course the fragrance of herbs. We walked the Valley of the Mills between Petra and Petri, with it’s interesting industrial relics and great views. A lovely 8 mile circuit from Anemotia allowed us to see and smell the rare and beautiful Rhodeodendron Luteum (beautiful yellow flowers) – this is the only place in Europe where it grows naturally. Sadly the nearby monastery was closed – we had no luck with such places at all! Even the Folk Museum at Ambeliko was not open as the preist who administers the keys was away on business elsewhere on the island. Also closed was the Theophilos Museum at Vareia. We are meant to return of course!

Our longest walk (all day) took us to the eco farm at Toumba where Kostas Mouras is living the eco-warrior life and providing accomodation, horse-riding and footpath clearing activity for like-minded souls. He served us cold beers and we had a long and interesting conversation with glorious views from his hill top property. The footpaths do need some clearing as we found many are difficult to find, even with instructions. Signs are becoming more prevalent and there are indications that locals are starting to see the attractiveness of Lesvos to eco travellers. Walkers, birdwatchers, wildlife and flower enthusiasts can all bring in extra income to the island and promote these valuable attractions to wider audiences.

Another walk took us on a 5 mile circuit around the little promontory north of Loutra, with glorious views over the Gulf of Gera. We reached here by ferry from Perama, which gave us the excuse for the excellent lunch at Koundouroudia (another old favourite). We later drove the entire coastal road of the Gulf, with it’s highlights of Ag. Therapon church which sits on the beach, Skala Loutron, the windmill at Perama, the headland beyond Katsinia, Gera Spa and the beautiful cove at Ag. Ermighenis.

Based in Mytilini we made a tour of the Kastro – excellent value at €2 entry – and like most places on the island we had it all to ourselves! Where was everyone? The city itself was workaday busy and for a short time we enjoyed the atmosphere as we explored the waterfront, northern harbour, faded mansion houses, convoluted backstreets and the church of Ag. Therapon and the magnificent Cathedral. Also from here we visited Thermi, to both see the faded glory of Sarlitza Palace Spa Hotel, the nearby medieval bathhouse and to enjoy a 4 mile circular walk which took us 6 hours! This was due to the abundance of interest along the way – ancient churches, open-air churches, tradition tower houses, interesting hamlets, Turkish fountains, and best of all the Archaeological site at Thermi, just south of the Votsala Hotel.

Here is a Bronze Age village site, first discovered in 1932, covered over and re-excavated in 2005. The lady in the office gladly showed us round and with her limited English and my awful Greek we got a good picture of it all. There was video in English and also a book which she generously gifted to us. The site is beautifully laid out with visitor paths lined with flowering shrubs and herbs which take you along those ancient street between large houses which have evidence of beds, benches, cooking hearths and a well preserved kiln. Plus several graves of children with their stone slab roof still in place.

We hardly saw any other tourists – certainly not during our daytime adventures – but we met many local people who would give us small gifts – herbs, eggs, bread, wine, cakes, ouzo, walnuts, bread, a traditional oil and flower healing ointment, even a job offer! If I would help YiaYia in the taverna kitchen Pappou would teach me Greek! We were invited into a garden of a tiny cottage in a remote coastal corner by an elderly lady and given beer and hospitality and we learned that she was a retiree from the Greek administrative machine. Now she paints, writes, potters and cares for her family of 5 dogs.

Lesvos is certainly an island of contrasts. Go discover………