As of late, you might have heard of Lesbos, the island off the Turkish coast where hundreds of migrants arrive each day. Setting for dramatic scenes of migrant boats cap-sizing or violent social outbursts, Lebos is in fact one of Greece´s hidden jewels.
Our time in Lesbos was simply splendid. We came a long way down from Hungary, but once we set foot on Greek lands, we knew our story was going to be about sea breezes, good food and wonderful people. With Mytilini – the island´s port and capital – as our homebase, we lived and traveled across Lesbos for almost two months. Octopus hanging on hooks, buoys, ropes and marine flags, were all part of the setting you would ran into everyday when walking along the shore. On top of our list were definitely all the tiny coffee shops frequented by elderly people playing backgammon for hours. Such wonderful faces radiating of happiness and life at such an advanced age! It seemed they never had any worries other than the weather or how bitter the coffee was – how could they do that?
Besides the coastal vibes and wonderful weather, we discovered which might be part of their secret of keeping joyful and young at heart forever: the food! For a couple traveling low-cost, we wouldn’t have been able to have such gourmet meals anywhere else. Our breakfasts were of freshly squeezed orange juice, feta cheese and tomatoes; our lunches of anchovies and tzatziki; and our dinners of greek yogurt. What else could we ask for? Oh, yes, good wine and Lesbos had plenty of that coming our way!
Once we started to leave Mytilini and explore the island, each passing town looked better than the previous. Just like Alice in Wonderland, we were entering one magical place after another. Petra turned out to be a traditional village attracting considerable amounts of tourists now, but still keeping its authenticity. The narrow main street was bustling with tables and chairs from restaurants, motorbikes, Vespa scooters and pedestrians. But that little chaos had its charm. The backstreets of the village are closed to traffic but not to street vendors, loud happy kids or joyful locals. You can find shops to buy some souvenirs but specially to eat delicious ice-creams.
Molyvos, a town where everything’s made of cobblestone, is a nice change of setting owing to its hilly configuration. It´s for sure a more touristy place, but all the balconies, tile roofs and hills will guarantee you have an incredible view all day long. A smaller, nicer, and cozier version of Molyvos is Plomari. What a wonderful town! Here you could finally feel the local old-town traditional vibe, you could hear people screaming when talking to each other on the streets, you could see a group of locals meeting at a corner coffee shop to watch the world cup (and getting very angry when Greece was not performing to their expectations). People reading the newspaper, old ladies grocery shopping at the market and walking around with their kart, loyal dogs following street characters, restaurants adorned with fishing nets and seashells. I mean, come on, this is better than Italian movies from the ´60s!
The best was yet to come. We took the road to go to inland Lesvos, in Agiasos, which is apparently the former municipality of the island. Our way there was splendid, as the landscape was full of olive plantations and and we ran into sheep herds crossing the road, herded by an incredibly sexy shepherd (we both agreed on that). So girls/boys, watch out! We conquered the town gates after a 2 hour hike, not before plundering some delicious cherries from a private plantation. Agiasos is highly picturesque with colorful houses, cobbled streets, fruit trees and green roof tunnels for cars. For youngsters like us studying sustainability, this was a paradise! It certainly gives you an atemporal feeling, also because tourists are not rushing to explore this hidden gem surrounded by mountains…at least not yet. Besides its splendid looks, Agiasos has other things to offer and mouth-watering cheese varieties is one of them. Matured ham is something extra to look for so fear not, after all that hike uphill, you will be rewarded!
Some traveling tips for you
Why should I go to Lesbos?
If we didn’t make it very clear, Lesbos is a stunning piece of land just off the Turkish coast in the Aegean Sea. Its location as a trade-off between the Greek and Oriental civilizations is reflected in its rich cultural patrimonium. A chill-out hideaway, the island does not get as much attention as many of its other Greek sisters and it´s arguably a much more local, non-commercial place than a lot of the Greek archipelago. With coastal places like Petra, Molivos, Plomari or inland Agiasos, Lesbos has much more to show on top of its capital port, Mytilene. In Lesbos you´re able to live like a local, eat like a local, and most importantly, dance like a local.
How do I get there?
The island is a stone throw away from Ayvalik in Turkey, from where you have daily ferries to Mytilene. You can also get a ferry from Athen´s Piraeus Port or take a flight from Athens or Thessaloniki. Once on the island, don´t count too much on public transportation outside Mytilene. Buses schedule around the island tends to be very loose and you should check them carefully beforehand to make sure they run the day you need them.
Where do I sleep overnight?
We stayed in Hotel Loriet, which was good enough and had a great swimming pool. What you need to know about Greece is that negotiating is not something insulting, but a lifestyle. Don´t shy away from trying to get a better deal for yourself. In Petra and Plomari we used booking.com and airbnb to find a place. We stayed at Elvira rooms in Petra and the landlady was very nice and helpful despite not really speaking English – this is common in Greece but you can generally count on the hospitality of people.
Where do I eat/drink?
There are plenty of places to have a bite in Mytilene, where you also have plenty of supermarkets to choose from. In the smaller villages/towns, you find restaurants – big and small – everywhere. We tried Nikos and The Women Cooperative in Petra and we would recommend any of the two. In Plomari we just got lost on the small narrow streets going uphill and found a pretty family-owned place, great for some delicious fried fish and fresh orange juice. Also, make sure you try the many varieties of cheese and get yourself a bottle (or can) of extra virgin oil as a souvenir.
What we liked / what we didn´t like
(+) we were expecting a much more touristy vibe to the island but in fact it has a very intimate, local feeling about it.
(+) people are very friendly, chill-out and hospitable.
(+) food is delicious and you get the chance to experiment many artisan products like cheese, ham or jams. Also, seafood is worth trying.
(+) the island has a lot to offer, from old buildings and narrow picturesque streets to beaches and hikes and camping in the wild.
(-) public transport is not the best and if you try hitch-hiking you’ll need a lot of patience: not much traffic outside Mitylene!
Where do I go next?
Head to Ayvalik and from there to either Istanbul or Izmir. If you’re planning to stay on Greek soil then take a ferry to the other islands on the Greek archipelago (like Chios) or explore mainland Greece from Athens northwards.