Friday, 21 January 2011


(Photo of Molyvos from the book Scatterlight Donkeys & Foxballs Ice Cream)

Mithymna, nowadays mostly called Molyvos, has existed since at least a thousand years BC. They say the Aeolians founded this little city, just about the time they built Assos its twin which is still there on the other side of the sea in Turkey.

Mithymna is in the north of Lesvos and now has a medieval character and most of the remains of Aeolian life are buried deep beneath its grounds. It has narrow and steep cobblestone streets lined with old houses many with closed wooden verandas. At sea level there’s a cosy little harbour and a castle towers over everything. Molyvos is one of the major tourist attractions on Lesvos.

Mythimna used to be the second most important city (after the capital Mytilini) but nowadays it’s Kalloni followed by Plomari then Polichnitos. Thucydides (460-400 BC) and Xenophon (ca. 430–354 BC) both mentioned the role played by Mithymna in the Peloponnesian war (about 431–404 BC) and poets of ancient times often praised the quality of its wine.

Now there are no longer any significant vineyards around here and in the last century Mithymna was mostly a poor fishing village. Only since the last few decades did it become a little bit prosperous thanks to tourism; but fishing, sheep and goats and olive growing are still as well sources of income. When in 1462 the Ottoman Turks occupied the island, they renamed it Molyvos, and even after the island became Greek again in 1912, the name stuck. In the Sixties the village became a protected heritage - and still is - and was discovered by its first tourists. The hotel Delphinia was the only one to open in those days, but now there are plenty.

Molyvos is beautifully located on its grand promontory, almost encircled by the sea. There are plenty more Greek island villages with similar settings, notably Santorini, but what has surprised me is that we keep meeting people that come back every year - known as ‘repeaters’ - lots of whom have been coming for well over twenty years!

Some even came for the first time forty years ago and they have lovely stories about how Molyvos was then. They know exactly who was also there with them, especially those who stayed for months and months, sleeping on the beach or renting simple rooms or houses. They threw legendary parties, fell in love, painted and wrote poems and novels. It was like one big happening. Some people even talk about those times as if they were mythological. There was no need for a parking lot - there were hardly any cars on the roads which were mostly rough dirt. There was almost no hotel accommodation, transport was by donkey and going to Anaxos was a real adventure.

Of course, Molyvos has changed since then with many more new and restored houses around the village, but the surroundings are still unbelievably beautiful. Most tourists are satisfied and there are few complaints from the repeaters. Only in August can you expect big crowds, in the other summer months there are tourists, but life is still Greek and not overrun by masses of visitors.

People say that the place has something magical. That may be because Molyvos still remains a village where Greeks work and live and where the streets have not become totally touristic. Molyvos is still small scale and, in fact, nowhere on the island will you find the towers of multi-storey hotels.

Around the village there is plenty of nature: one step out of the village and you are in land where sheep and goats roam and quietness rules, especially on the high tops of Mt Lepetymnos and among the many olive groves. From the village you have an astounding view over the northwest coast of the island and behind the village, on the north coast, there are pebbled beaches with crystal clear water, the hot springs of Eftalou, and a brilliant view of Turkey. What else would you want for your holiday setting?

I cannot say exactly why Molyvos has its special appeal, but I know a certain peace reigns here, which is not easy to find in other holiday destinations. It is a friendly and beautiful medieval village where life goes on, untouched by the hectic stress of the big cities like Athens. Greeks like to come here too, strolling through the streets, taking coffee in the harbour while the sun sets amongst the masts of the fishing boats, or dining at one of the many the waterside restaurants. Molyvos is a place where you can enjoy life.

This winter commercial people, all in tourism, came together to talk about how to make Molyvos even more attractive and to aid them they have created an online survey asking for comments and opinions - it’s at As well as wanting to know why Molyvos is such a magical place, they want to know the dislikes too and what you think can be improved. Well, those are big questions.

I for instance hate the way garbage is burned in autumn and which sometimes goes on throughout winter. And a veterinarian would be an addition to the community to bring in a decent sterilisation program for all stray dogs and cats, which for years now has been done only by residents.

Maybe you can describe the beauty of Molyvos in one sentence, or you have things you dislike about the village. Now you have a chance to write your opinion so that Molyvos can become more like you want it.

I hesitated a bit to mention this survey. I want Molyvos to stay this friendly and quiet, and not be changed into a tourist fair by the arrival of thousands more people - especially those who prefer to stay in all-included hotels. Those who want more fish & chips shops, discos and bigger hotels, please don’t bother to fill in this survey!

Survey about Molyvos (

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