This is a very, very favourite island. The authors of Sunflower’s touring and walking guidebook “Landscapes of Lesvos” Brian & Eileen Anderson returned to Lesvos this year after a break of seven years and fell in love with it once again. They were delighted to find it hadn’t changed much and remains much like the Greek island we discovered almost thirty years ago, with a few tweaks, but not touristy, as you’ll see from the photo of Molyvos harbour above.
Brian and Eileen say: If we had forgotten how beautiful this island is in spring, we were reminded on our first walk through the olive groves. Rays of an early morning sun filtering softly down through the gnarled trunks of these ancient trees touched the bright red poppies and the mauve anemones adding a new brightness to these already colourful flowers. There are many walks like this on the slopes of Mount Olympos, not the famous Mount Olympos, but one of many of the same name. Entering the village of Agiassos, we stopped momentarily to absorb the sight of a thousand and one traditional houses painted in pastel shades clinging tightly to each other and the steep slopes of Mount Olympos, penetrated only by narrow, wisteria covered streets. Men sat at tables on the side of the street, drinking coffee or ouzo and perhaps playing tavla. Shopkeepers wandered out inviting you silently into their shops simply by pointing. We were tempted to join the drinkers and sometimes did just to sit, absorb the atmosphere and wonder if this simple lifestyle is the basis of all our dreams and desires.
The walking was going well, hindered only by the unusual, very hot for April, weather and so far we were finding few problems with our book. Today we completed a relatively short walk of 8km so we could get back early and relax a little. Tomorrow we’ll be back on the tough stuff and starting to plan our walking programme to accommodate Greek Easter which starts next weekend.
The rickety, rush-bottomed taverna chairs looked like an island of comfort as we gratefully sank into them. Another walk done. We had returned to the high mountain village of Agiassos to walk again on the slopes of Mount Olympos, one of our favourite walking areas and where there is so much variation to enjoy. We started early, so necessary in this hot weather, and walked down old trails through endless olive groves to the lower village of Asomatos, reached 90 minutes later. Any doubts about the island’s claim to 11 million olive trees would have faded by now.
Back in the 19th century when Charles Dickens was entertaining readers with Pickwick Papers and Charles Darwin was still developing his ideas on evolution, the people here on Lesvos had no such freedom. They were under the control of the Turks and restricted to farming. So they planted olive trees on any and every piece of land where they flourished, climbing higher and higher up the mountain sides. Cobbled trails for mules and donkeys were built by dint of hard manual labour. Many miles of these trails still exist, polished by hooves over the years and looking so inviting to walkers.
The return from Asomatos back to Agiassos again followed old trails but by a different route this time leading upwards through olive groves into the higher sweet chestnut forests full of fritillaries and butterfly orchids. From here it was a relief to walk downwards back into Agiassos and to the same taverna we have frequented for almost 30 years and seen no perceptible change. The olive oil that gave the islanders a measure of prosperity under the Turks still does today. They have had little need to look beyond their own shores for inspiration or innovation. Lesvos is today an island content with itself and the old traditions which have served it well throughout its history. It’s a corner of Greece which defies progress and declines to move with time.
‘Landscapes of Lesvos’ (Third Edition) should be available by next spring 2014. In the mean time whilst the paperback version is out of print, the second edition is available as a pdf download from Sunflower’s website.
‘Come and join us next April on Lesvos for a gathering of orchid enthusiasts; a fantastic time to be there for Orchids, birds and walking. We will be on hand to advise re orchids and walks and to help people plan itineraries but we are not organising tours or walks ourselves.
Our base for two weeks from 5th-19th April 2014 will be at Malemi Hotel in Skala Kalloni. Interested parties will need to make their own travel arrangements.
(Note:- Greek Easter is the 20th April so another possibility is to extend your stay to cover this time. )