Quiet roads, beautiful countryside, fabulous beaches, friendly people - whether you're gay or straight, Lesbos has to be high on any must visit list!
Certain cars fit certain roads.
Winding Alpine roads demand the adrenaline-fuelled buzz of a snarling Ferrari. The Scottish Highlands are for open-top tourers, circa 1936. American highway? Something iconic, natch. Ford Mustang maybe, perhaps a Harley.
There is only one choice for the island of Lesbos and that’s ...well, it turns out to be a Chevrolet Matiz, which for 2010 will cost around €180 per week.
Unpromising? I thought so, seeing the little beast for the first time as we went through an easy collection process with hire company Sixt (www.sixt.com/php/res/offerlist) at Mytilini Airport.
But when we hit the road, the car proved a better choice than an Aston.
Lesbos should be seen slowly. Approximately 55 miles long by 30 miles wide, you can reach any point in a few hours. And you should appreciate all of it.
About one third of the 90-odd thousand inhabitants live in the capital Mytilini. If you like towns, try the Pyrgos (www.pyrgoshotel.gr) where a superior double with balcony and sea view will cost around €150 per night in May. But Mytilini is just the start of this lovely island.
Although Lesbos roads are fairly narrow there is usually room for cars to pass without drama. But it’s their emptiness that is the attraction, that and the almost total lack of boy racers. Driving is polite, there is adequate signposting and abundant petrol stations. Parking is usually free. Crime on Lesbos is low, so you are safe to leave your car.
So, where to go? As with many Greek islands, the best way is simply to explore. Lesbos has no dangerous downtowns, no dangerous wildlife apart from the odd snake. The greatest hazard is probably hitting a road-crossing tortoise at speed – another advantage of the Matiz: the tortoise will have plenty of time to escape...
Apart from a good number of decent hotels, Lesbos offers plenty of self-catering and privately owned accommodation for travellers putting their own package together. Lesvos Houses and Lesvos Accommodation have a wide selection, prices starting under €300 for a double studio for a week up to a luxury villa fabulous views at €1,300.
We explored in a mildly random way. No particular plans, no list of place to be ticked off. Just hop into the car and see where it led. I recommend this. Turn on the engine, tune in to Love Radio (www.live24.gr/radio/loveradio), drop the stress.
Skala Kalloni on the edge of the Kolpos Kallonis, the spectacular inland sea, is an amazing area of wetland and salt marsh, one of the best spots in Europe for birds and wild flowers, and the source of the best sardines in the world.
Molyvos is truly lovely. Look down from the dominating castle and you can pick out the neat houses and shops that lead down to the gorgeous harbour. This is, not unusually, surrounded by eateries and drinkeries. You will find a commendable range of prices and menus, along with a refreshing lack of waiters trying to all but physically drag you to a table the moment you stop to inspect the menu, as is the horrible habit in Rhodes and the other tourist hot-spots. The Captain’s Table (www.lesvosvacations.com/captainstable.htm) is one of the best and most popular on Lesbos. Welcoming locals, visitors and ex-pats will vie to suggest places to visit long into the night. Good menu as well. Arhontiko (www.arhontiko.molivos.net) is set high above the harbour and is best choice for a daytime meal, with simply amazing views if you can grab a balcony table. Tropicana (www.unique-molivos.com/tropicana-restaurant.htm) is an outdoor place, shaded by a fine old maple tree, and has plenty of space for energetic children.
To stay, try the Panselinos Hotel, which offers a range of rooms, restaurants, self catering apartments (including disabled facilities), pools and play areas for children, all in pleasant gardens. There is a regular free bus to the town, an alternative to the pleasant stroll of about 20 minutes. A studio for two in May 2010 will be around €250, including breakfast.
Four miles along the coast from Molyvos is Petra, a lively town with a great beach. If you feel energetic, the 114 steps that take you to the wonderfully named Our Lady of the Sweet Kiss church are well worth the effort. Much of the accommodation here is provided by the Women’s Cooperative of Petra (www.omegatechnology.gr/e-lesvos/womens-cooperative/index.htm), one of a number of similar organisations which also supply local agricultural produce in various spots on the island.
Skala Eressos rivals Molyvos as the top spot for visitors. It has a wonderfully bohemian feel, a mixture of locals and incomers, gay and straight, and no-one worrying which you may be. The beach here is one of the best in all of the Med, the bars among the friendliest and cheapest, and backpackers seem able to camp among the grass and the turtles without anyone minding much. The town is home to Sappho Travel (www.sapphotravel.com/aegean/lesvos/index.php) who provide a range of places to stay (and not just on Lesbos), including some for women only.
Sigri is as far West as you can travel on the island, a neat, quiet spot with an end-of-the-line feel to it, more excellent beaches, the usual too-many-to-mention good places to eat and...
...and now you must strike out on your own as I have run out of space here.
Lesbos or Lesvos, whichever name you prefer, should be high on your must visit list. And the roads really are that quiet. The Greek Embassy in London tell me that Lesbos received just 59,839 visitors between April and September. Not many for an island of this size and with so many attractions. If you have in the past hesitated to drive abroad, Lesbos is the ideal place to try!
(My thanks to Dimitra and Dina of the Greek Embassy press office for their help with this article - σας ευχαριστώ!)
...and if you like the look of Lesbos, you will probably enjoy the beautiful island of SYMI: