Greece’s third-largest island, after Crete and Evia, Lesvos (Λέσβος [Μυτιλήνη]) is marked by long sweeps of rugged, desert-like western plains that give way to sandy beaches and salt marshes in the centre of the island. Further east are thickly forested mountains and dense olive groves (some 11 million olive trees are cultivated here).
The island’s port and capital, Mytilini Town, is a lively place year-round filled with exemplary ouzeries and good accommodation, while the north-coast town of Molyvos (aka Mythimna) is an aesthetic treat, with old stone houses clustered on winding lanes overlooking the sea.
Along with hiking and cycling, Lesvos is a mecca for birdwatching (more than 279 species, ranging from raptors to waders, are often sighted). The island boasts therapeutic hot springs that gush with some of the warmest mineral waters in Europe.
Despite its undeniable tourist appeal, hard-working Lesvos makes its livelihood firstly from agriculture. Olive oil is a highly regarded local product, as is ouzo; indeed, the island’s farmers produce around half of the aniseed-flavoured firewater sold worldwide.
Lesvos’ great cultural legacy stretches from the 7th-century-BC musical composer Terpander to 20th-century figures such as Nobel Prize–winning poet Odysseus Elytis and primitive painter Theofilos. The ancient philosophers Aristotle and Epicurus also led a philosophical academy here. Most famous, however, is Sappho, one of ancient Greece’s greatest poets. Her sensuous, passionate poetry has fuelled a modern-day following that draws lesbians from around the world to Skala Eresou, the west Lesvos beach village where she was born (c 630 BC).