Lesvos has its own mountain of the gods. The mount Olympus of the Aegean may not be as tall, as high up in the heavens and in the minds of travellers as the one in mainland Greece. However, it is supremely interesting for lovers of natural explorations and the traditional villages which are located on the mountain.
Lesvos’ Olympus towers over the south side of the island, with the summit reaching 967 meters above sea level at the Profitis Elias peak. From this or any other of the beautiful peaks, one can admire Agiassos, one of the most beautiful villages in all of the Aegean. It’s built on the base of the mountain and, even though it isn’t a seaside village, remains a tourist attraction year-round.
Agiassos is known, in part, because of the church of the Virgin Mary which is located here. The settlement we know as Agiassos began to form around the church circa 1170. The church is actually the inspiration behind the name of the village, since it was built to house a sacred religious image of Saint Sion, which in Greek is called Agia Sion. On the 15th of August, the church’s festival takes place. During this time, large crowds of believers and visitors flock to the church to pay their respect and to enjoy the beautiful, cool village and its activities.
As festival tradition has it, many brave souls trek to the village through a small path, the patomeni. Faithful Orthodox Christians and, nowadays, tourists undertake the 25 kilometer journey to reach Agiassos. The path has paved and dirt patches, as well as a few steep parts. It is broken down into two segments: the first is easier to brave, while the second is quite steep, even though it is only 2 kilometers long. Between the two segments there is a flat area, where a small cantina operates, offering water and food to hikers, as well as a medic. Be brave during this undertaking. When you see the stone spring, you’ll know that you are only 10 minutes outside the village and the frantic festival that is taking place. The entire route takes around 5 hours, so many people embark on it in the afternoon, when the sun is not high in the sky, or at dawn. Of course, for the hiking-averse, the bus system operates at full capacity during the festival days.
Nonetheless, it’s a great idea to visit Agiassos any time during the year. You can enjoy the fantastic traditional coffee shops and tavernas which serve truly traditional food from the island. Don’t ask for a menu, just find out what they’ve been cooking that day and bon appetit! Before you go stop by the Women’s group, which is housed inside the police department. You can’t miss it, the building looks like a castle. The ladies in the group prepare gorgeous delicacies with local ingredients.
You can also enjoy a glorious meal at the small village of Karini, which is on the road that goes from Agiassos to Mytilene. There, under the shade of the lush forest, you can enjoy your food with ducks all around you! Don’t forget to visit the historic tree in the village. It has an opening, inside of which the artist Theofilos was said to have lived!
Adventure seekers can also attempt to summit mount Olympus. The cleared, well mapped path starts right next to the study hall in Agiassos. It goes through a beautiful forest of chestnut trees, flows into a pine forest and ends up at the bald peak of the mountain. Daring hikers will have the chance to enjoy the stunning view towards the two largest bays on the island, Lepetimno and the peninsula of Amali. The entire path is around 4 kilometers long and it takes about 2 hours to reach the summit.
Regardless of which side of Lesvos you choose to enjoy, the traditional or the adventurous, it is sure to leave you thoroughly satisfied with your decision to leave the beach behind and climb up its mountains!
[Main photo, Agiassos during the winter, by Pantelis Thomaidis]