As we celebrate our Greentraveller's Guide to Lesvos and Chios, Sian Lewis explores the lush valleys and inviting coastline of Lesvos on foot, by bike and on horseback.
Lesvos is an island of contrasting landscapes. Venture into its heart and you'll find groves of olive trees, sleepy villages, medieval castles and hot springs. Meanwhile the rocky fringes of this gem in the North Aegean are a wild swimmer's dream, where you can leap off rocks into warm, crystal-clear water and spot a rainbow of fish flitting past in the day and the glimmer of phosphorescense around you at night. I spent a few days exploring this outdoors-lover's haven on foot, on horseback and by bike.
Greentraveller's video about the islands of Lesvos and Chios:
Lesvos is pretty big - the third largest of the Greek islands - so travelling by two wheels is a great way to see more of it. And its lush valleys, steep hills and woodland trails make the perfect terrain for mountain biking, says Titos Chatlezis. He and his family run Lesvos Ride, a new company aiming to share their love of cycling with visitors to the island. We met Tito in the countryside near Molyvos, where he told me tales of his years biking around the world before concluding that "Lesvos is definitelythe best place to mountain bike in Europe". And he may be right - over 280km of paths zig-zag over the island, and Lesvos Ride can take everyone from complete beginners to seasoned pros out to explore them.
After a gentle cycle in the hills the Chatzelis brothers took us on a rather different tour - we swapped the outdoors for the teeth-jolting cobbled streets of Molyvos. The narrow alleyways and steep steps of this charming town make for an urban playground for experienced mountain bikers. We definitely startled a few cats as we careened round corners, although the ladies we came across sitting in doorways making orzo pasta didn't look particularly impressed.
Off the bike and onto a different kind of saddle - we spent the next afternoon on horseback with Rita Michalaki, who takes riders out on her quiet horses on trails that meander through some of the island's most beautiful spots. Rita offers day-long treks from Molyvos to Petra or the chance to gallop wild and free along sandy Eftalou beach, but we opted for a gentle ride around a nearby reservoir, the afternoon light painting far-off Molyvos town and the surrounding hills red and gold and Rita's gorgeous Alsation, Zara, trotting behind us.
There are hiking routes all over Lesvos, but perhaps the most surreal is a four-hour walk around the island's petrified forest. This UNESCO-protected site looks at first glance like a rolling hillside dotted with trees and odd stone marble columns. Look closer, I realised that the towering marble columns were actually the trunks of ancient, petrified trees, fossilized where they stand. We followed the trail around the site, coming across the bizarre remnants of the towering sequoia forest that once stood proud of the island twenty million years ago. Back when Lesvos was a tropical island one of its volcanoes erupted and spewed lava and ash, covering the forests. The ash slowly replaced organic materials in trees and plants with thermal liquid, perfectly fossilising them as beautifully coloured rock. The landscape where they stand is beautiful, too - definitely a walk to remember.
But as lovely as the hills and valleys of Lesvos were to explore, it was the inviting clear blue waters that hug the coast of the island which I found impossible to resist. Often on our travels we'd often come suddenly come across the sea - looking down on it from hiking paths, spotting it sparkling in the distance from a taverna - and I was always desperate to stop for a swim. I found two favourite spots during our time on the island - one is the beachfront of the liberal and gay-friendly town Skala of Eressos, where you can shake of any inhibitions and go skinny dipping with the locals. A very invigorating way to start the morning!
The other is found across the island. Aghios Isidoros beach, near Plomari, looks like a normal, pleasant beach, with a scattering of sunbathers on the sand. But when we swam out into the turquoise water we were alone, floating above the reef. The water is so clear that we didn't need goggles to spot the iridescent fish flitting around our feet, although I did find it slightly unnerving to be informed that many-tentacled octopus were probably asleep in little holes and crannies in the rocks below. I can't think of a nicer way to spend the day than floating in the water and watching the creatures of the deep.
Words by Sian Lewis
Sian cycled with Lesvos Ride, who offer a variety of tours on the island for riders of all levels, including families, with experienced cycling guides. They also organise cycling holidays and bike rental is available.
Sian went riding with Ippos Ride, based near Molyvos, who organise day rides, week-long riding holidays and lessons for beginners.
The Petrified Forest site is open daily and maps are available with marked hiking trails around the fossils.