Monday, 22 October 2007


In the autumn edition of the Dutch Greece Magazine is a readers Top Ten of the most popular Greek Islands. Lesvos is in fifth place. At number 1 is Crete, 2 Chios, 3 Karpathos, 4 Samos, 6 Kythira, 7 Kefalonia, 8 Ithaki, 9 Rhodes and 10 Naxos. Spread over two pages they briefly describe the winning islands. They write the following about Lesvos:

"North of Samos we find Lesvos, which is as big as the province of Utrecht (in Holland). Plenty of sardines swim in the bays and in the south there are millions of olive trees. The island is also famous because of Sappho, who lived there in the 7th century BC. Sappho of Lesvos was a poetess who wrote about the friendship between women. She founded a school for women where dance, music and singing were taught. That's why Lesvos is the island of celebrations! Mytilini is the capital of the island and from this city, when the weather is clear, you can see the coast of Turkey. Our readers love the island especially because of its beautiful nature, the possibilities for an active holiday and the happy crowds."

It's true that Lesvos is north of Samos. But between Samos and Lesvos is the island of Chios. So Lesvos is north of Chios! It's also true that Lesvos is about as big as the province of Utrecht. Lesvos happens to be the third largest Greek island, after Crete and Evia.

Lesvos has two huge gulfs that cut deep into the land, so that you can speak of three 'legs'. In the Gulfs of Kaloni and Gera a lot of sardines swim, but they also swim in the open sea. Kaloni, which has its harbour in Skala Kaloni, is famous for its sardines, fresh or canned. The canned sardines are salted and a wonderful substitute for the salted anchovy. The less salted sardines (a few hours) are a speciality on the island and are called 'sardines past├Ęs'. In high summer there are plenty of fresh sardines and in August Skala Kaloni has a famous Sardine Festival, where you can eat sardines for free for a whole day.

When you talk about the sardines of Lesvos, you also have to mention ouzo. The Greeks say that ouzo is the best drink when you eat sardines (and other fish). Lesvos is the largest ouzo producer in Greece and it has over 40 different brands that are among the best in Greece.

In the south there are millions of olive trees. I guess the number must be right, because it's estimated that the whole island has over 16 million olive trees. And they're not only in the south, but also in the north, the west and the east. Only in the centre of the island are they in a minority, because it is covered with large pine forests. Far in the west you'll find no trees at all. There you'll find only plenty of petrified trees.

Sappho is indeed the most famous person from the island, because she was born here and lived here. Already in her own lifetime she was famous. She wrote about longing, sadness, love, jealousy and about friendship between women. But also about heroes, gods and about nature. The famous people of that time founded schools, as did Sappho. And because at that time it would not have looked good if she had opened a school for men, her school was for women, where they were taught dancing, singing and music. (See also Boulevard News from Lesvos 3 April 2006).

I don't understand why that makes Lesvos an island for celebrations. The god of wine and parties, Dionysos, never came to the island. The inhabitants don't party any more or less than elsewhere in Greece. And Lesvos is certainly no party island like Rhodes, Ios, Zakynthos or Mykonos. The only musician mentioned in Lesvorian history is Orpheus, whose head came ashore at old Andissa after his violent death. The island is known for its philosophers and writers. The philosopher Theophrastos from Eressos succeeded Aristoteles. Besides Sappho the Nobel Prize winning poet Odusseus Elytis was also born on the island. Famous writers from the island are: Giorgos Valettas, Stratis Myriveles, Elias Venezis and Argyrus Eftaliotis.

Mytilini is the capital of Lesvos, an island that is also called Mytilini. Why the island is still called Lesvos, which was its name during the Turkish occupation, is unclear. When the weather is clear you can see the Turkish coast. Well, I think you need very bad eyes not to see Turkey from Mytilini. Or the weather must be very, very bad, which is not often. From nearly all over the island you can see Turkey. Only from some parts in the west can you not see the Turkish coast. Lesvos lies in a kind of 'Turkish bay', so that you see the neighbouring country from the North, the East and the South. When the wind is coming from the right direction on summer days, in Eftalou you can hear the bass booming from the Turkish discos on the other side.

It's entirely true that Lesvos is loved for its great nature. Besides the petrified forest, some monasteries and picturesque villages it has nothing else to offer except for its pure and beautiful nature. Besides its beauty the landscape has great variety: from green high and steep slopes with little waterfalls to rough and barren mountains, from large areas full of olive trees, from whispering pine woods to enchanting chestnut woods, from beaches with black pebbles (Golden Beach Eftalou), from private little beaches at the end of a bay to the long sandy beaches of Vatera and Kampos. Besides that Lesvos is a paradise for people who love flowers (especially those who are fond of orchids), the island is also a mecca for birdwatchers. In the spring many migrating birds stop on the island to rest or to take refreshment in the wetlands and the saltpans of the gulfs. The bible of the birdwatchers, 'Birding on Lesvos' by Richard Brooks, numbers over 300 species of birds you will find on the island.

The island is loved by walkers during spring and autumn, although still not many organizations have taken up the island in their offerings. I don't agree that the island is praised for its happy crowds. Of course you will find some in the capital or in the places where the tourists go during the summer. Molyvos, Petra, Anaxos, Skala Kaloni and Skala Eressos do offer a lot of cozy restaurants, shops and terraces in the summer. But the island should be praised for its quietness. Even in the midst of high season in August you will find relatively empty beaches and plenty of tavernas where the owner welcomes you still in the Greek traditional way.

Today on the island north of Chios nearly all the tourists have left. Also the sardines have gone elsewhere. Now the fishermen go after other fish, shrimps and shellfish. The olive trees have recovered somewhat thanks to the heavy rains that fell in the last few days. The summer dust is washed away, the rivers and wells thirstily fill with water and the much praised nature also recovers from the long dry spell.

If you publish a magazine about Greece, you would think that the editor has some knowledge about the Greek islands. Especially when this island finishes in fifth place in a readers Top Ten, an island that is the third largest in its country, an island that's known for one of Greece's best poetesses ever, that is known for its sardines and that produces the best Greek ouzo. I'll keep it a secret that the Lesvorian olive oil can easily be compared to the Cretan olive oil...

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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