It's our first visit to Lesvos. Over 30 years of visiting Greece we have our firm favourites that we return to time and again (the south Peloponnese, Pelion and the far eastern end of Crete.) These all offer scenic beauty, traditional towns and villages and an absence of mass tourism. How will Lesvos measure up? I know it's great for walkers, but with temperatures up in the 30s and with my dodgy ankle, walking is not on our agenda. We do like to tour around by car through beautiful scenery and stop at out of the way villages and beaches.
Day 1 - up at 5am to get a midday Aegean Airlines flight from Heathrow and then on to Mytilene. It's straightforward except that at Athens we follow the signs for Transfers and find a deserted desk. Someone nearby tells us to exit through Customs and then go up to Departures, where we check in at a machine - just enter name and booking number and it prints boarding passes. Stupidly I'd bought sunscreen at Heathrow without thinking about needing to go through security again at Athens, so it has to be thrown away, my own silly fault. There's hardly any waiting around as it's only just over an hour between flights.
We arrive on time, around 8pm and are met by a representative of Lesvos Car Hire (Costas and Alison's). With minimum formalities we drive off for just a few minutes to the Villa Nufaro in nearby Varia suburb. It's nice, clean and comfortable. We walk to a taverna back on the busy main road where the owner is welcoming and the food is excellent. That first Greek salad of the holiday is always so good!
Our accommodation is at Elia Village in Agios Isidoros. We have a spacious studio in this small group of 6 traditionally built stone and wood houses around a beautiful swimming pool. It's very peaceful apart from the chirping of cicadas. Panos, the owner is charming and incredibly helpful.
We walk to the beach, about 5 minutes away, and go for a swim in a small rocky cove. The other side of a small headland is the start of the long sweep of Agios Isidoros beach. Later around 5.30 we head into Plomari thinking the shops would be starting to open but it is all still sleepy and closed up. We wander around a bit, eat ice creams and have a frappe at one of the cafe-bars in the square, and do some shopping in the supermarket.
That evening we walk for about 15 minutes along the coast track to the Blue Sea taverna which has a big seafront terrace with a view across to the lights of the Turkish coast. We skipped lunch so we're hungry and the food is fabulous - delicious gigantes (big beans), fresh and delicious horta, perfect fried potatoes and then yummy grilled sardines for me and enormous mussels for my other half which he says are the best he's ever had. With a couple of Mythos the bill comes to around 30 euros.
Day 3 - We think we'll drive to Agiasos and the route looks straightforward with the road leading off from the centre of town. We follow the signs to Megalochori along a winding road out of town until we arrive at a junction with no signs. One road is cobbled and seems to lead into a village so we take the other. A long way later, way up in the hills, this road comes to an abrupt end with just two very rutted dirt tracks and a hand written signpost to two places we can't even see on the map. So it's all the way back and try the other road through the village.
Wow we think, what is this incredible place? The narrow road is lined with Turkish-style houses with overhanging, wooden upper floors that remind us of Istanbul. And the other side of a dried up river bed there are huge neoclassical mansions - some restored and some crumbling away - and ruined red brick ouzo distilleries. Small wooden bridges span the river bed. Oh hang on - we're back in Plomari! How did that happen?.
So we park the car on the seafront and walk back to explore this fascinating district on foot. And we spot a turning, across a bridge, with a sign to Megalochori. The sign is cunningly positioned to be invisible from the other direction, the one we were approaching from in the car. In any case we've given up on the idea of Agiasos for today, and explore Plomari instead. We come across traditional shops and workshops including a saddler and harness maker - we later notice how many horses there are on Lesvos.
We go to one of the cafe bars on the square for lunch. They are all a bit tired looking and not that appealing. We order sandwiches and, after an eternity during which we're driven mad by "music" from the speakers above us, they arrive with a mountain of greasy chips. We leave the chips, eat the sandwiches which aren't very nice, and leave as quickly as possible.
Back "home" we go to check out the main Agios Isidoros beach. We are at the very far, quieter end and from here the beach doesn't seem that attractive. It is gritty sand with big heaps of dry seaweed, and is backed by stretches of ugly concrete walls with a lot of graffiti. At the other end we can see a section with sunbeds and umbrellas. I decide to return and read by our pool, while OH goes for a walk further along and a swim. He reports that the beach is better further along, but apart for its size has nothing special to recommend it.
That night we walk to the Mouria taverna on the main road next to the Mirsini Hotel. We arrive at about 9.30 and are the only customers, apart from the usual cluster of friends and family. We eat delicious, tender beef in red sauce and green beans. Panos tells us that the local tavernas don't get much business as most tourists go to eat in Plomari. However we always prefer to walk somewhere for dinner so that OH can have a couple of beers or half a carafe of wine. We know that very many tourists and locals drink much more than that and still drive, but we prefer not to.
Day 4 - Now we know where the road is, we set off for Agiasos. Panos assures us that the dirt road from Megalochori is fine, but I remember warnings on this forum saying don't attempt it unless you have a 4WD, so we take the paved roads. We don't stop in any of the villages en route, deciding to make straight for Agiasos. Arriving there in about an hour, our first thoughts are to turn straight round and go back again. The approach road is lined with cars and coaches and further up there are dozens of tacky souvenir shops. Crowds of people are shoving around. Fighting our way through we find the central square with a very attractive old cafenion under a plane tree. We sit down for a frappe alongside a table full of old men playing backgammon as usual as though it was all -out warfare, with lots of slapping down of pieces and shouting. The crowd thins out as coach parties are rounded up and depart and we are able to browse around and buy some dried herbs and local honey from the shops in the square. Then we walk up and away from the centre where things improve some more. The streets are lined with narrow houses, painted in ice cream colours with iron or wooden balconies and pots of colourful flowers. A massive and forbidding red brick building with a huge red tower turns out to be the police station - maybe Agiasos is a hotbed of crime and needs the vast number of police officers this building could house?
We decide to drive back via the main Mytilene-Plomari road, completing a circular route. We follow a sign to Plomari thinking it will take us this way, but as it climbs upwards and gets narrower it occurs to both of us simultaneously that it's going to take us to the dreaded dirt road, and it does. But the road is fine! It has obviously been scraped and levelled quite recently, the surface is good and it's a very easy and very quick drive down with great views across green slopes to the summit of Olympos.
We only want a light lunch so we go to a taverna in Plomari where the kyria clearly thinks we are peculiar for only wanting a beer, a salad and bread. "And?"she asks a couple of times.
After lunch we drive the 6 km to Melinda. It's lovely - absolutely our kind of place. There is a gorgeous pebbly beach with a couple of pretty whitewashed tavernas, a couple of rickety wooden jetties with boats tied up, groves of tamarisk trees and bamboos, rocky cliffs as a backdrop and distant views of Chios and Turkey. This is so much nicer than thefeatureless beach at Agios Isidoros! There are a few people on the sunbeds below the tavernas but further along the beach is almost empty so we pick a spot and put our umbrella up. We notice there is a small group of raggedy hippies living among the trees further along, and in the late afternoon they appear on the beach naked. We don't approve as there are Greek families, not very close by but within sight of them.
Back to the Blue Sea taverna that night and we're pleased to find it very busy. The elderly owner says "Good for my business but not good for my legs!".
Day 5 - Off to Perama, intending to see the old factories, meet the resident pelican and take the small taxi boat across the Gulf of Gera to have lunch on the other side. Our plans go pear shaped when, after a frappe on the harbour front, the car key breaks in two, with the metal bit parting company with the plastic bit. OH is concerned that, even if the metal key will go into the ignition, he might not be able to get it out again without a pair of pliers. We call Alison at Lesvos Car Hire and she suggests we might like to drive to Anaxos to pick up the spare key. Er, not really. Then she tells us that Costas is in Mytilene and there is a place there that will make a new key. So we drive there, meet Costas and get a new key made.
We drive back and take the winding 10 km of road towards Tarti. The map shows it as dirt road but it is paved all the way. We drive to the far end of the beach and are surprised to find the Taverna Tarti and the large cafe bar next door, and the close packed sunbeds below, noisy and crowded. We go to the other end where the Sebastian taverna and beach around it is much quieter. During lunch, as well as the usual begging cats we also have three large, honking geese gathered round our table. One of them goes so far as pecking gently at my legs to attract attention. Our free dessert is some hard pears, which we cut up and feed to the geese who seem to like them. I spend the rest of the afternoon reading on one of the free sunbeds and OH goes for a long swim. That evening, back to the Blue Sea taverna for more excellent food.
Day 6 - A lazy morning at Elia Village reading and writing up this report. In the afternoon we return to Melinda for lunch at Maria's. We have 2 Mythos, a Greek salad, a plate of small fish (gavros) and a plate of kalamari. Kalamari can sometimes be chewy but this is exceptional, so tender and delicious. The bill is 23 euros, what great value. Then reading on the beach - there's a breeze and the sea is quite rough so I stay put while OH goes for a swim - it has to be as calm as a millpond for me to venture in.
Back to Mouria for dinner, it's packed full as it's Saturday night and they have a live band playing traditional music. It's all locals, we are the only tourists there. The band is excellent and we enjoy watching the locals dancing. I would love to join in but I have never mastered Greek dancing - people have tried to teach me but I have had to introduce them to the English phrase "two left feet". It's a great evening and we stay to the end at 1am.
Day 6 - We drive up to Megalochori where there's not a lot to see but we admire a double Turkish fountain and stop for a drink in a taverna under the big plane trees. OH has a Greek coffee and I have a frappe and the bill is 1.70 euros which I think must be a mistake, but it's not. Then we head to Melinda for lunch and swimming. As it's Sunday the taverna and beach are busy with Greek families, it's a great atmosphere.
As it's our last evening in this area we feel we should try having dinner in Plomari. So far, neither of us has taken to the town. It's hard to put our fingers on why this is, but we find it lacks any charm. The central area round the Platanos is claustrophobic, a bit grubby and none of the tavernas look at all appealing. The central square is unattractive with a bleak, empty expanse of tarmac, and the cafes around it we have found not very clean and with rather surly service. At night it is brightly lit and the cafes and tavernas thronged with people, many watching football on TV (next day we discover it was the final of the World Cup). We walk up to Platanos and it's no more appealing than in the daytime; we walk through the square to the string of fish tavernas along the seafront, which are an improvement... Then we notice the huge yellow full moon and we both think the same thing - we would prefer to be on the seafront terrace at the Blue Sea. So we get back in the car and make our way there, where we eat delicious stifado, looking at the moon and the silver path it makes across the sea.
Tomorrow we move north to Mystegna so we'll be able to explore more of Lesvos. So far, the jury's still out. We've had a nice week but not exceptional and part of me keeps thinking longingly of Pelion ... Let's see what next week brings.