Lesvos, also spelt Lesbos, lies among the north-eastern Aegean islands and close to the Turkish mainland.
The island is often called by its capital town of Mytilini, and it's relatively isolated with the nearest islands of note being Chios to the south and Limnos to the north, both some distance away.
Big and beautiful, Lesvos is the third largest of the Greek islands and although it has stretched its arms wide to embrace the tourist market it still exudes a traditional small Greek island atmosphere.
The island has an airport that takes regular holiday charter flights, so Lesvos doesn't have to rely on ferries to bring in the business.
And where holiday tourism is evident on Lesvos, it does not dominate. The production of exceptional olive oil and trademark ouzo are still two of the island's most important industries.
The Bay of Kalonis almost splits the island of Lesvos in two. North of the Gulf is the main tourist area with popular resorts on the north coast. To the east of is the capital Mytilini and the low-key resorts of the Gulf of Thera and west the wild and rugged mountains with few roads and few people.
The island capital at Mytilini, or Mitylene, is a big, noisy port of some 30,000 people (a third of the island's population).
Mytilini has its grim side, an industrial area dominated by the chimneys of live oil refineries, but compensated by the waterfront and an attractive double harbour split by a castle-topped headland.
Mytilini's main attractions are its castle and a wealth of good museums. The castle, founded in the 6th century and rebuilt in the late 14th, has fine Roman sculptures and mosaics plus a nice display of jewellery. Summer concerts are popular and picnic tables perch in the pines.
Museums are plentiful and impressive. On the waterfront, the old harbourmaster's house is now the Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts while the Theophilos Museum is as delightful as it is unexpected, stuffed with paintings by folk artists.
To the south are the Teriade Library and a Museum of Modern Art that boasts illustrations by artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Chagal and Miro while an outstanding collection of icons is housed at the Byzantine Museum beneath the impressive dome of Agios Therapon.
As if that weren't enough, there is a mock-up of a 19th century Lesvos village house and a museum of costume and embroidery.
The Mytilini waterfront is a hectic mix of shops and stalls. Full of surprises, the city even has its own 'Statue of Liberty' erected by one of the island's emigrating sons.
Mytilini tavernas are noted for fine dishes – especially sardines. Fine Mytilini public gardens are found near the small artificial beach at Tsamakia and, to the north-east is the Hellenistic Theatre, reputed to have held 10,000 in its heyday.
North of the Gulf of Kalonis, the central tourist area, has several popular resorts, from the bigger beach resorts of Petra and Anaxos in the west to the small coves of Mandamos and Aspropotamus in the east.
Molivos, sometimes spelt Molyvos, is the main holiday resort on and a spectacularly beautiful one. Solid stone houses are topped with red-tiled roofs and many old timbered buildings have been meticulously restored.
The steep, cobbled and traffic-free streets thread their way up the hill to an imposing Genoese fortress, romantically illuminated at night. Some say Molyvos feels like a tourist stage set and is just so tasteful it seems almost fake.
Below the central market is a narrow, cobbled main street, overhung with vines and stuffed with craft shops and art galleries while tavernas offer impressive sea views.
The attractive Molyvos fishing harbour is lined with tavernas with a long, narrow, stony and a rather mediocre beach nearby and the best sand at the southern end.
Other attractions include a small museum, an open-air cinema and a big midsummer festival of music and theatre. Excursion boats and tour buses offer daily island trips.
Along the coast road, east of Molyvos is the small resort of Eftalou, or Eftalos, where a pebble and sand beach is overlooked by several new hotels served by daily buses.
The exposed beach is set below a cliff and fringed with trees. Visitors will find mostly round pebbles with a few patches of sand patches here, a taverna and a bathhouse for dipping in the thermal springs.
Private tubs are on hire in the newly renovated baths, or visitors can swim along the Eftalou shore where hot mineral water seeps through the rocks into the sea to create warm pools.
The less public parts of Eftalou beach are favoured by nudists and several isolated coves to be found by walking east along the coast to towards Skala Sikaminias.
The road east of Molyvos ends up at the charming village of Sikaminia with its attendant north coast fishing hamlet of Skala Sikaminias, even more captivating.
The road drops down the steep hill to a picturesque harbour enclosed by a concrete jetty that's tipped by the tiny chapel of Panagia Gorgona (Mermaid Madonna) set into the rock.
The church, also called Panagia Ton Psaradon (Madonna of the Fishermen) is an inspiration for writers and painters, taking its alternative name from a wall painting which depicts the Virgin with a mermaid's tail.
Taverna tables line harbour beneath huge plane trees and a more romantic setting would be hard to find with splendid sunsets adding to the atmosphere. Tourist boats arrive regularly from Molivos and many rented rooms are available.
Beaches are in short supply, although there is a pebble strand at Kaid and, further east down a six-kilometre dirt track, a long swathe of pink volcanic stones at Tsonia with a summer taverna set back in the trees.
Known locally as the 'hot beach', Tsonia is a regular stop on round-island boat trips. An even more remote beach sits on the southern side of the bay at Limani.
The road turns inland from Skala Sikaminias to the hill village of Mantmados, noted for its cheeses and beautiful pottery and beyond there the north-east coastal resort of Aspropotamus with its long stony beach and not much else.
Above the beach is a large village of grey stone houses known mainly for its 18th-century church which is said to contain the 'black icon' of the archangel Michael, reputed to have been painted with the blood of slaughtered monks.
On the third Sunday after Easter, an ox is killed and hankies dipped in its blood to draw crosses on the foreheads of the local children. Something for them to look forward to at Easter.
At the nearby hamlet of Kapi is the start of a marked hiking trail that takes in some of the best scenery on Lesvos.
South of Molyvos is a string of resorts that have attracted package tour firms in recent years. First is the resort of Petra where a wide sweep of fine, grey sand is overseen by the prominent 18th-century church of Panagia Glykofilousa atop a sheer rock outcrop.
Petra translates as the rock, and a visit to the church entails climbing 120 steps from the village centre where charming old houses, many with wooden balconies, are set in narrow winding alleys.
The church on the rock may have the views, but it's another, Agios Nikolaos, that steals the show with its beautiful 16th-century frescoes.
Tavernas abound in the winding streets, and a women's co-operative runs a taverna offering more authentic local crafts.
Interest from package tour firms has triggered a sprawl of tourist development along the back of the long, wide beach with the associated bars, discos and car rentals. The lack of decent sand at Molivos also makes Petra the target of many day trippers.
Just off the road south is the sprawling mountain village of Stipsi whose huge tavernas are candidates for popular tourist 'Greek Nights'. There is noted hill walking here too along donkey trails, with sparkling views over the sea.
West of Petra lies the holiday resort of Anaxos and a three-kilometre stretch of coarse sand with a sprawling resort dubbed 'up and coming' in the brochures.
Despite interest from the cheaper end of the travel market, Anaxos is still a resort with character. Sunbeds clutter the smartly kept beach where sand pitches sharply into the sea all of it overlooked by a pretty windmill on the headland.
Beach tavernas and snack bars sit nearby and Anaxos offers all the usual beach facilities and watersports.
West-facing Anaxos enjoys splendid sunsets over a trio of offshore islets, and visitors report above average food in the local tavernas.
A few kilometres west is Avlaki where the tiny, sand beach boasts a couple of excellent tavernas. Other coves along this stretch of coastline offer opportunities to escape the crowds.
From Anaxos the road turns inland and heads over the mountains to the west coast and through the mountain village of Skalochori.
From here tracks snake down to Ancient Antissa and the ruins of the ancient settlement, once an important promontory outpost on Lesvos. Some high walls are still standing but most have been reduced to rubble, sprouting gorse and weed.
A secluded beach lies nearby with a pretty church above it and a taverna nearby. Small and beautiful, but lonely, beach coves lie all around the headland.
To the west is the long beach at Campo Antissa where a couple of tavernas offer views right across to Turkey.
On the hills just before reaching Antissa is the lush monastery of Perivolis with flower-filled courtyards outside and faded 16th-century frescoes inside the delightful church.
Beyond is the mountain village of modern Antissa, or Andissa, where three enormous plane trees provide shade for several cafes and tavernas in the village square.
The main road bypasses the village but signs welcome visitors to Antissa village centre, a quiet backwater with many of the local houses in need of some repair.
Apart from the shade and the tavernas, there is not a lot here except for the remarkable Digital Museum of Georgios Iakovidis in the nearby hill village of Chyridia (see Sights). The museum pays homage to this notable Greek painter who was born in the tiny village. No actual paintings but, instead, the museum is crammed with digital displays of his work.
A track north of Antissa, poorly signposted, eventually leads to the remote fishing hamlet at Gavathas built on a peninsula.
Nearby is the long, narrow and sandy Gavathas beach which has a couple of tavernas and a few small hotels. A small harbour sits at one end of a beach backed by a few trees.
The headland shelters the main Gavathas beach with several pebble and rocky coves nearby. A taverna is flanked by a couple of cafes and a small chapel rests on the rocks above. Locals often clear the seaweed which can be a nuisance along the shoreline.
Tracks lead west past wild beaches around the headland at Kambos. Lonely beaches can be found here although the going is rough and so are the seas when the north wind gets up.
The south-east is dominated by the mountain of Profitis Ilias and flanked east and west by the gulfs of Kallonis and Geras. Olive groves and pine forest dominate and this is one of the most beautiful parts of Lesvos, with pretty villages flung around the rolling hillsides. The Bay of Yeras is almost an inland sea and it has some of the most important wetlands of Greece.
North out of Mytilene the coast road branches inland to Moria where a Roman viaduct still stands, surviving from the late 2nd century AD. It is well worth a visit, although the monument can be surprisingly difficult to find.
A couple of well-hidden signposts point west out of Moria village's one-way traffic system to olive groves where the viaduct towers above, remarkably intact given its great age.
The preserved section is around 170 metres long and includes seventeen arches that soar above the trees. The walls were built in the "emplekton" system – two parallel rows of stone filled with rubble – while the pillars are of local marble.
It once carried water from the many springs in the Agiassos region to the ancient port at Mytilini, a total distance of 26 kilometres. The viaduct was shorn up in 1995 but, apart from that, has had little done to it and it remains an impressive sight.
Further north from Mytilini are the iron-rich thermal springs at Therma. The ancient baths are closed to the public but behind is a new public bathhouse.
A Turkish tower standing next to Therma baths is impressive and there are restaurants and a small beach near the harbour. Also worth a visit is the nearby monastery of Agios Raphael.
There are sands near Mistegna and Neas Kidonioa but they are not particularly attractive. Mistegna village is a maze of alleyways and has some interesting ceramic shops.
The coastline south of Mytilini passes through dreary suburbia to the airport and some uninspiring countryside beyond. The paved road ends at the village of Kratgios where there are a small beach and taverna some distance beyond at Kharamida, but it is a long trek.
However, four kilometres east, at the mouth of the Gulf of Geras, is the charming Agios Ermogenis with idyllic double beaches slung either side of a chapel-topped rocky promontory and a taverna tucked into the pine clad hillside behind.
Don't expect solitude though as some days it appears as though the whole island has discovered Agios Ermogenis. Many visitors take the road through Loutra to get there and some indulge in a thermal dip at nearby Skala Loutra, one of Lesvos' five thermal spas.
Others head here to catch a ferry across the gulf to Perama. The gulf itself has a few tiny beaches, but nothing worth seeking out. Densely packed olive groves push right down to the seashore.
The Gulf of Gera has little to offer the beach visitor and it is several kilometres south of the Gulf before a beach of any note in the small sheltered bay at Tarti.
Hardly touched by package tourism, Tarti beach is a big favourite of the locals. Set in a pretty bay, the beach of coarse sand and pebble has sunbeds and tavernas.
Tarti is a popular spot for rough (but illegal) camping and boats often tie up to the small quay as the beach is easier to reach by boat than it is overland.
Road access to Tarti beach is along a rough track that drops down from the main road, and tricky enough to deter all but the most adventurous. The underwater caves off the nearby islet of Fara are a popular target for scuba divers.
Inland from Tarti is a number of pretty villages on the slopes of Mount Olympos. The lovely village of Agiassos sits high on the slopes in a forest of pine, a favourite target for excursion tours.
The maze of narrow streets and pleasant houses is about 26 kilometres from Mytilini. Leafy tavernas and tourist shops line the cobbled Agiassos streets beneath a medieval castle.
Many of the village homes have upper floors with projecting wooden balconies often bedecked with flowers. The village has a two-week festival in August centred on the 19th century Panagia ti Vrefokratousa and a reputedly 'miracle' icon. The church was built in 1812 after a fire destroyed the original 11th-century building and has a very fine interior.
Pilgrims flock here every year and the kitsch souvenirs on sale are aimed at the religious market. But it's not all tack, Agiassos is known for its quality crafts too, with local pottery and weaving sold everywhere on Lesvos.
Located on the south side of the Olympos range are the very attractive villages of Skopelos and Palaiokipos and what many claim to be the prettiest hill village on the island.
Megalochori shelters in a remote wooded valley about 10 kilometres north of the port resort of Plomari. The first sight may be ranks of parked cars at the foot of the village, but they give way to traditional houses lined along the narrow, cobbled streets, all now protected by building laws.
The central 12th-century church, with its beautiful flower-filled courtyard, is in a central square lined with coffee houses, tavernas and yoghurt shops.
On weekend afternoons music plays as Megalochori locals dance in the streets and its August 15th celebrations are some of the liveliest (and most inebriated) in the whole of Greece.
Plomari is the only settlement of any size on the south-east coast of Lesvos. A charming, if slightly dilapidated town, it's the second largest on the island and home to around 10,000 people mostly working in the ouzo distilleries.
Despite the lack of beaches Plomari has no shortage of visitors, attracted to the luxuriant surroundings, the charm of a lively port and some of the best ouzo in Greece.
Many houses have timbered, overhanging galleries and Ottoman architecture is very evident. Tavernas line the palm-fringed harbour but the stony beach in the Amoudhelli suburbs is meagre.
A longer and better beach lies to the east where the road turns inland but an even better pebble beach sits six kilometres out of town at Melinda next to remarkable rock formations.
The best beach is further east still, past a semi-industrial landscape of abandoned factories, to Agios Isodorus which boasts a good long stretch of coarse sand.
The shallows here are ideal for snorkelling and the rocks teem with sea-life. Several hotels have been built along this part of the coast.
The longest beach on Lesvos lies west of Plomari at Vatera, a vast and magnificent bank of sand and shingle beach by wooded hills and about 50 kilometres from Mytilini.
The length depends on which guide is referenced but it is anything from six to 20 kilometres, much of it untouched and ideal for any seeking wild solitude. Several good walking trails can be found east of Vatera on paths well-marked with yellow circles.
There is no settlement at Vatera, just beach hotels. The nearest village is four kilometres inland at Vrissa, where walls remain of an ancient Trojan town destroyed in 1180 BC. Vrissa has a good museum with a mastodon fossil and various other treasures.
At the west end of Vatera beach a clutch of hotels and restaurants line the shore with views of the cape at Agios Fokas and the ruins of a temple to Dionysos beneath a Christian basilica.
The chapel of Agios Fokas marks the spot where an ancient port lay and paved slabs can still be seen under the water. Today, it is a small fishing port with coffee house and some fish tavernas.
The western shore of Kallonis Bay is weed infested and much of it inaccessible so there is little here to interest the visitor.
The small resort at Skala Polichnitos is noted for its many tavernas and for the huge salt pans which stay wet even in high summer and so attract as many birdwatchers as birds.
Inland among the pines is Polichnitos, a dreary village of decaying mansion houses, although the domed and recently restored thermal baths boast the hottest waters in Europe (91°C).
There are three mineral springs in use near Polichnitos. The central bathhouse is close to the river bank above the seashore and has two pools (male and female).
There is another spa at nearby Lisvori where the water is red stained with iron. One of the lesser visited hot springs it is set in lovely countryside and has a small and excellent, taverna.
The western half of Lesvos is much less developed than the north and east and dominated by impressive mountains with the coastal areas backed by large, fertile plains and gently rolling hills. The only two beach resorts of note are Skala Kaloni in the Kaloni Gulf and Skala Eressos in the south-east. To the far west is the world's second largest petrified forest of Sequoia trees.
As it emerges from the hills, the road mostly hugs the western coast of Kallonis Bay and there is little of interest here apart from the countryside and some good views over the bay.
It eventually forks, with the north road leading to Kalloni, or Kallonis, an unremarkable, even dull, market village in flat, farming country, more or less in the middle of the island.
It's a major intersection for buses and those touring Lesvos can bank on passing through it at some time. Perhaps that is why it has such a wide range of shops, especially for jewellery and crafts.
To the west at Limonos is the vast monastery of Ixonoa, an austere complex founded in 1527. The church has a carved wooden ceilings and archways but sights are restricted to men only; women are barred by ancient custom.
On the Gulf coast, about three kilometres south of Kalloni is the beach resort of Skala Kalloni, now a significant package resort thanks to a long beach of coarse sand backed by tamarisk trees.
Tavernas, apartments and small cater to the tourist influx and the resort can feel overcrowded and busy, especially during the high season.
The sands are long and deep and the waters calm and shallow, making it an ideal place for children.
Sardines from the sheltered Gulf are prized throughout Greece and tavernas in the harbour serve up the freshest catch of the day.
The Skala Kaloni Sardine Festival in August centres on the village square and free ouzo and sardines accompany the music and dancing. There is no shortage of tavernas, both in the harbour and along the beach, with several shops and a bakery.
The resort's other attraction is birds. Thousands descend on the salt pans, reed beds and other wetland spots for the spring nesting while flamingos flock to the shallow waters edging the Gulf.
North-east of Kalloni is the charming village of Agia Paraskevi, full of crumbling old mansions. The village is noted for its Bull Festival, celebrated for more than 200 years.
Near the village are the ruins of ancient temples dating from the 3rd century BC and traces of a temple to Aphrodite are found at nearby Messa, although only the 11th century BC foundations and a few pillars are left alongside the ruins of a 14th-century basilica.
A small museum here is stuffed with a cornucopia of treasures, from ancient copper trays to stuffed birds. The road north-west winds through the attractive hill villages of Filia and Skoutaris.
The main resort in the west of Lesvos is Skala Eressos, a magnet for lesbians thanks to the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho, who penned her verses and ran a school for girls here around 580BC.
The locals are relaxed about the connection and these days Skala Eressos is as popular with typical families and a firm favourite of honeymooning couples. The reasons are pretty obvious.
A long, sandy and beautiful beach lines the shore with tamarisk shaded tavernas fringing the sands, many built on bamboo decking sands and specialising in fish dishes – the Gulf being famed throughout Greece for its sardines.
Behind the beach, the village is modern but well laid out with car-free streets and a cheerful charm with an attractive central square.
A small harbour with its sheltered beach sits nearby while a spring-fed lake is full of wildlife including storks and tame turtles that take food by hand, always with the risk of an occasional nip.
Skala Eressos is an important centre for bird watching and the flat plains are ideal for biking or horse riding. Several beaches lie to the east.
Chrousos has a beautiful crescent of golden sand at the mouth of the Mallonta river while the sand and shingle at Tavari is shaded by tamarisks and has beach tavernas and a dinky harbour.
Further east, the hamlet Podaras has a broad swathe of sand at the end of a fertile river valley carpeted in olive and citrus groves.
Inland from the beach resort, through lush and fertile farmland, lies Eressos village which at the end of a wild and grand mountain gorge.
With its old houses, tiny shops and exceptional tavernas some consider this the most authentically old-Greek village on Lesvos.
Near the village square are the ruins of a 5th-century church and a fascinating archaeological museum.
A lovely sandy beach with shallow waters is found at Tavari, south of Mesotopos, with a couple of cantinas and a small harbour.
Hidden in a valley between Eressos and Antissa is Pithari Monastery where, apart from the monastery itself, lie some unusual geological formations.
On the far west coast of Lesvos, the remote seaside village of Sigri is approached down a long road over the broad coastal plain.
A quiet fishing harbour is overlooked by a small Turkish fortress, built in 1757, and a narrow sheltered crescent of sand and pebble shelves gently into the sea.
The offshore islet of Nissopi provides sheltered anchorage for NATO warships and restricted access to some parts of this coast.
Sigri village centre is modern and dull but the harbour, though tarted up for tourists, has a traditional feel despite a fake 'Cycladic' windmill.
Sigri is so quiet that some liken it to a ghost village but the end-of-the-world feel suits those looking for a relaxed holiday.
The world-famous petrified forest has a new visitor centre just outside Sigri village and some of the best specimens of petrified tree trunk lying on a path to the south, well marked with yellow triangles.
Sigri beach is hemmed in by the road but the sand is good, the waters shallow and offshore breezes keep sunbathers cool. Isolated coves lie north with Faneromeni probably the best – a lovely arc of sand at the mouth of a river.
The best beach to the south is at Tsichlioda where tall grasses spring up at the end of a long valley – a haven for migrating birds.