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LESVOS or MYTILENE TRAVEL GUIDE - The west of the island: Eresos & Sigri - the Monastery of Ypsilos and Sigri

The Monastery of Ypsilos and Sigri


The last stretch of road (9.5km) from Eresos to the junction west of Antissa is scenic and dramatic, culminating in the sudden appearance of the monastery of Aghios Ioannis Theologos, generally called ‘˜Ypsilos’ (‘˜lofty’), perched improbably on a peak (often strafed with low cloud) which rises into view over the top of an upland plateau. The views from the monastery, which sits at over 500m of altitude, are magnificent. Although the forbid ding buildings which are seen today date from the 19th century, the foundation goes back to the 12th century, and there is evidence of a still earlier presence. Immured into the entrance-porch and lying inside the courtyard are spolia mostly of Early Christian, but some of ancient, origin—small architectural elements, capitals of all orders, a fluted pagan altar, fragments of templon, frieze and architrave; there are also more spolia in the monastery’s small museum, which is dedicated principally to Late Byzantine icons and liturgical objects. Some of this ancient material may have been brought here for a variety of reasons from ancient settlements at Eresos, Antissa and elsewhere; but some belongs to the place itself, since this prominent and panoramic site will probably have served successively as mountain-peak sanctuary, ancient look out tower, anchorite’s hermitage, Byzantine fortress, and now as a monastery, during its long history. Themonastery’s intimate courtyard is built around a cistern-well, which must be of considerable antiquity and have served throughout all these phases. On the outside of the west front of the catholicon, fragments of 17th century Iznik ceramic tiles have been immured at scattered points in the façade.
   The Ypsilos Monastery looks out over a wide treeless succession of glens and peaks which could pass for some where in the West Highlands of Scotland. These now bare slopes were densely forested with a variety of subtropical sequoia and cypress trees 20 million years ago. At some point they were buried in volcanic ash from an eruption; they were not incinerated, but petrified instead by the action of hot waters containing silicic acid and iron pyrites. It is this unusual coupling of two distinct geological processes which has given rise to the Petrified Forest (70km), which is reached by a branch road to the south, from a junction 4.5km west of Ypsilos (open daily 15 May–15 Oct 8–8, in winter 8.30–4.30). The name, together with the assiduous signposting from all points of the island, perhaps creates expectations beyond what the site delivers visually, but the area’s scientific importance is considerable for the information it has contributed to our knowledge of the palaeo-botany and the climatic conditions in the Aegean 20–30 million years ago. There are petrified trees in many parts of Europe, but rarely has there been such an optimal congruence of circumstances for such perfect petrification, leaving fruits, leaves, branches and fibre clearly pre served and readable—often in beautiful agate colours with fantastic glassy striations. What the visitor sees is a couple of dozen of the best-preserved trunks of massive proportions, some standing to a height of seven metres, others— three times as long—fallen and revealing parts their massive root complexes. The museum/park occupies only the area of greatest interest; but the phenomenon occurs all over the surrounding valley, and petrified trunks can be seen at many points in the terrain crossed by the unmade track west from Eresos to Si­gri, at Si­gri itself, on the west shores of the island of Nisiopi facing Si­gri, and in the area further to the north. Even beside the principal roads of the area occasional fossilised tree stumps can be seen.
   The site is linked to the Natural History Museum (same hours of opening) just south of the centre of Si­gri (72km), where the fossil finds are set in the wider context of the Mediterranean’s early palaeontological history. Exhibits show that the forest was also home to precursors of our palm, poplar, lime, cinnamon, beech and plane trees; of these there are petrified leaves, fruits and roots displayed. The second area of the interior is dedicated to a presentation of the geological history of the Aegean; in the park adjacent is another area of fossilised forest consisting mainly of trees that are the fore-runners of our pine-trees today.
   The small port of Si­gri was mostly an Ottoman creation and conserves several remains from the period of Turkish rule—an inscribed marble fountain-front in the centre of the village, the ruins of an Ottoman hamam, and the church of Aghia Triada above the harbour whose wide four-square form and orientation show it clearly to be a converted mosque. The once open-arched porch of the mosque on the west side was probably filled in when the building was turned into a church. The town’s finest monument is its sombre, pentagonal castle, guarding the harbour, with an imposing Osmanli inscription and the Imperial tugŸra of Mustafa III, carved on a well-preserved marble plaque over the gateway. The gates themselves are a rare example of surviving wooden doors revetted in iron, dating from the 18th century. The castle is entered through a procession of arches—the outer ones conceived in different colours of local stone. The building dates from 1757, a time when the Ottoman administration favoured the development of this remote port as a trading entrepot on the open-sea route from the southern Aegean to the Dardanelles and the capital.


Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group


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access

Lesvos Island, Greece.


By air:
Domestic flights from Athens, four times daily with Olympic Air and two or three times daily with Aegean Airlines, serve Mytilene through out the year.
There are daily Olympic Air connections with Thessaloniki, and 6 days a week with Aegean Airlines, including a twice weekly local, Eastern Aegean route with Olympic, from Thessaloniki to Rhodes , via Lemnos and Chios and (once a week only) Samos . The airport is 5km from the centre of Mytilene.
By boat: The principal route from Piraeus to Mytilene is served by Hellenic Seaways, via Chios, with a daily 12.30 departure from Piraeus, arriving at Mytilene 21.00, and returning to Piraeus again overnight.
GA Ferries run 3 times weekly along the route from/to Chios and Samos to the south, and Lemnos and Kavala to the north.
There is a weekly Saos Ferries service from the port of Sígri (north west Lesbos) on the route be- tween Kavala, Lemnos, Aghios Evstratios (to north), and (to south) Psará and Lavrion (for Athens). Crossings to Turkey (Ayvalık/Dikili) run 4 to 5 times weekly during the summer season (May–early-Oct) only.

Lesvos Travel Guide

beaches

Lesvos Island, Greece.

 

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Lesvos Travel Guide

eating

Lesvos Island, Greece.

The port area of Mytilene has many small (mostly new) tavernas, dedicated to providing interesting, fresh and varied Levantine–Aegean dishes with localredients, good local breads, and offer a pleasant atmosphere.
Two which are particularly to be recommended, are: *Matzourána (30 Komninaki St.), one block in from the east side of the harbour;
and *Machalás (27 Mitrelia St.), two blocks in from the north side of the harbour.
A more "folkloric" setting and some good local dishes are provided by Zoubouli, on the corner of Sarandoporou and Venedakis Streets, behind the north- east corner of the port.
For traditional vegetable and fish mezedes, prepared with care and imagination, nothing can beat the Taverna "Rebetis" on the waterfront, overlooking the north harbour from its southeast corner.
11km north of Mytilene, shortly after Pyrgi Thermis, beside the church of St George, is the Taverna Aghios Giorgios—good for fresh fish, and popular with locals on Sundays especially.
On the road to Polichnítos, below the village of Asomatos and 3km after the junction at Kerameia, is the Taverna "Karini" in the deep shade of plane-trees and vines beside a stream; the food is ordinary, but the setting delightful.
At picturesque Skala Sykaminiás on the north coast, the tavernas in the port have mostly become, through popularity, over-priced or poor in quality; but 1km to the west along the track by the shore from the harbour, is To Kyma, still unspoiled and with good fish dishes.
Taverna "Vapheios", in the village of that name 6km to the east of Molyvos, has good local specialties and sunset views to match.
Right in the heart of Molyvos, the tiny and basic *Obelisteria "Methymna" (further up the street past the Demarcheion) deserves special recommendation for the care with which the owner chooses his excel lent meats and produce, serving the client with the tastiest salads and grilled meats to be found on the island, simply seasoned with fresh herbs, and provided at very modest prices. Space is limited, especially in winter.

Lesvos Travel Guide

further reading

Lesvos Island, Greece.

Longus (2nd century ad), The Pastoral Story of Daphnis & Chloe, an ancient romance novel set on Lesbos (translated in Reardon’s Ancient Greek Novels, 1989).
Richard Brooks, Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos—revised 2002, is an invaluable guide to the island’s unusually rich birdlife.

Lesvos Travel Guide

lodging

Lesvos Island, Greece.

Notwithstanding the décor which is a little over the top (an endemic problem in the two or three converted man sions which offer accommodation in Mytilene), the hotel Pyrgos of Mytilene (T. 22510 27977, 25069, fax 47319, www.pyrgoshotel.gr. Upper price range.) on the hill to the south of the harbour, is the city’s smartest hotel—welcoming, comfortable, providing a good breakfast with freshly baked items, and open all year round. The road-side rooms can be noisy, however.
An inexpensive alternative is the Hotel Orpheas (T.22510 28523, fax 21930), in a converted mansion mid-way between the two Archaeological Museums.
Not far outside Mytilene (11 km to the north), at Pyrgi Thermis, is the delightful Hotel Votsala- (T. 22510 71231, fax 71179; www.votsalahotel. com. Apr-Oct. Medium price). Welcoming, informal, and pointedly un-touristy and unpretentious, this simple and beautiful hotel on the shore, run by a Mytilenean architect and his wife, is perhaps the most civilised and enjoyable solution on the island.
Molyvos has a wider variety of places to chose from: on the shore below the town, is the Olive Press Hotel (medium price), arranged around the courtyard of a converted olive mill (T. 22530 71205, fax 71646).
In the heart of Molyvos is the delightful and simple Nassos Guesthouse (inexpensive; T. 22530 71432, www.nassosguesthouse.com);
and nearby, for real simplicity in an old Ottoman-style house, Pension Chrisi (T. 22530 72193). Not far away, between Petra and Anaxos, is the Clara Hotel & Bungalows (T. 22530 41532, fax 41535, www.clarahotel.gr); the complex, which has comprehensive facilities and is set in its own gardens, has fine views of Molyvos and Petra, but is a little distance from both and is not on the beach.
In Plomari, the nicest lodgings are provided by the Hotel Leda (T. 22520 32507; open May–Sept only) in a fine traditional mansion with views out to sea: it is in the centre of town, up a flight of steps from the main square.
The only accommodation which is part of one of the thermal spring spas are the rooms offered at Thermes Polichnitou (T. 22520 41201).

Lesvos Travel Guide

museums

Lesvos Island, Greece.

Archaeological Museum

Lesvos Travel Guide

practical info

Lesvos Island, Greece.

811 00 09, 812 00 & 813 00 Lesbos:
area 1630sq km
perimeter 370km
population 108,000
max. altitude 968m.
Port Authority (Mytilene): T. 22510 40827, 47888.
Travel and information: Pan Tours 22510 46595, www.pantours.gr, Dimakis Travel 22510 27865, www.dimakistours.gr

Lesvos Travel Guide

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