North East Aegean – Limnos, Thasos and Samothraki

Myrina, Limnos

Lying in the North East Aegean are three of Greece’s less visited islands – Thásos, Samothráki and Limnos. Having said this, in recent years increasing numbers of Eastern European visitors are travelling overland and then taking the relatively short ferry crossings from either Kavála or Alexandroupoli to these islands and, therefore, they are becoming more popular. However, they are still not often visited by yacht so we were really pleased that we had sufficient time, and favourable weather, between 10th July and 4th August to sail to all three.

It is a 56 nautical mile passage between Mithimna, Lesvos and the southern coast of Limnos and then a further 3.5 nm up into the fairly large dog leg bay – Ormos Kondía. We therefore had a very early start [05.15] on 10th July and dropped the anchor about 12 hours later off the hamlet of Diapori, at the head of the bay, where we stayed for four nights.

Owl and Pussycat just visible mid photo

When I said “favourable weather”, what I actually meant was that there were sufficient good wind, wave and swell days to enable us to choose when to venture out and when to stay put and part of the reason we did the long crossing on 10th and then didn’t move until 15th was a band of thunderstorms followed by unsettled weather which crossed the northern Aegean between 11th and 14th. The top wind strength we saw was 35kn but the thunderstorms accompanying it were really spectacular and I was glad we were well anchored given the severe wind shifts.

The rain and storms were early evening through to mid-morning so each afternoon we ventured ashore to look around. One day we decided to undertake a triangular walk taking in the quaint old villages of Tsimendria…..

…..and Kondia…..

Fisherman’s cottage near Kondia

We remarked on how “British looking” much of the countryside was and wondered whether they have two grain harvests – as this was early July – or just the one early one because it becomes too dry to grow crops later.

View from the road to Kondia with Tsimendria just visible in the background

On another day we crossed a short strip of land between our bay and an even larger one – Ormos Moúdhrou. With over half a dozen anchorages dotted round the shore it is popular with some yachts who make it as far as Limnos but, unfortunately, they were not really tenable during our time on the island. The large bay is actually considered to be one of the finest fleet anchorages in the Aegean and it was from here that the Gallipoli campaign was launched. Four hills at the entrance to the bay are named “Yam”, “Yrroc”, “Eb” and “Denmad”. They were thus named by a group of British surveyors who were less than enamoured by their captain “Corry” and wished that he “May Be Damned”. (A prize to the first person that sees it!)

Rather more successful than the Gallipoli campaign was the liberation of Limnos, just three years earlier, which began in the bay of Moúdhrou.

Vourlithia bay inside the larger Moudhrou Bay

This monument was surrounded by a wire fence and it wasn’t possible to see with the eye what was written on it. Glad I was able to zoom in……

From Ormos Kondía we moved to the islands capital and main harbour, Myrina. As you might have thought when you saw the photograph at the top of this post – what a beautiful place. We certainly thought so and thoroughly enjoyed our two stays – before leaving for, and after returning from, Thásos and Samothráki. In total we spent ten nights berthed on the harbour wall though there was plenty of anchoring room in the fairly well sheltered bay.

Looking south over the “Turkish Bay” and current anchorage and harbour with Platy Bay anchorage in the background

Backed by volcanic rock and a Genoese castle…

Similar to the cover of Heikells Cruising Guide!

…. the town is quite traditional with a “kafeneion” and/or “ouzeri” on most corners. Whilst it bustles early morning and during the evening, the afternoons are very quiet and on Sundays the main shopping street is deserted.

Lovely shaded streets

There is no charge for visiting the castle which, apart from goats [which we saw] and a small herd of deer [which we didn’t], is deserted but fairly well preserved – in particular parts of the garrison, a cistern and an armoury/ammunition store.

Munitions were also stored in the castle during the WWII German occupation – in the underground spaces accessed by vaulted tunnels. These are all now blocked, but one of the stairwells is still intact along with an Ottoman inscription preserved on one step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view south you saw above. North is where the Roman harbour was – though little remains. Now it is a very pleasant promenade lined by restaurants overlooking the bay.

It is supposedly possible to anchor in this bay though much of it is off limits due to underwater cables.

Reading about the island in the “Lonely Planet”, there seemed to be more than enough to see by car so, along with Steve and Gill, we hired one for a day. Having stopped briefly at a couple of bays on the south coast to suss out their potential as anchorages we went on the hunt for coffee – but found this instead!

Well, you have to – what is wrong with a bit of wine tasting at 10.30am.

Gill’s first visit to a wine co-operative – stick with us lass and there will no doubt be more!

Purchases made we enjoyed coffee near Blenheim Cove and lunch in Moúdhros. We visited the east coast beaches where I think Steve would have liked to spend more time – kite boarding, wind surfing etc. Gill was really looking forward to seeing flamingos on the salt water lakes but we were all disappointed that there were none to be seen.

Stark beauty

As you can see, there are no lakes – it is just a dried out salt flat.

We visited “Hephaistia”…..

Late C5BC  theatre

…… and “The Chapel of Zoodochos Pigi”….

Entry to the sacred holy water spring

The “Holy Pail”!

….where there is also a statue commemorating a local heroine who is said to have taken the sword of her dying father and continued the fight against the Ottomans in 1478.

Maroula and her fathers sword

Heading back west along the northern shores we had hoped to make it to the sand dunes of Gomati Bay. However, we were running short of fuel and, as the only petrol stations were back in Myrina we turned round before we got there. We did, however, stop to take in the fantastic rock formations – “Falarako”.

Formed by volcanic lava flow, the Falarako – translated as “bald heads” – are actually some large round formations which we missed. However, the name now seems to be applied to the whole area and we were very impressed by what we did manage to find.

Steve and Gill were happy to spend more time on Limnos but Mike and I were keen to see Thásos and, if possible, Samothráki and on Sunday 21st July sailed to the northern tip of Limnos and anchored for one night under Moutzephlos point before setting out early the following morning for the 42nm crossing to the south western end of Thassos and an anchorage in Astris Bay. Described in the Cruising Guide as a pleasant day time anchorage we thought we would take a look as we had, by that time, been sailing for eight hours. With the small island of Panagia at the southern end of the bay and the whole island protecting us from the north and east we found the bay to provide great shelter that day and had no qualms about remaining there overnight before moving five miles north to Limenaria on 23rd.

As Thásos’s second largest town and port it hardly gets a mention in “Lonely Planet” which is quite surprising as it is obviously a popular small resort and a really nice place.

The “new harbour” taken from the fishing harbour

Final work on the expanded pontoon/breakwater

What we found particularly good about it was the excellent public transport access to other parts of the island. We took two bus trips from Limenaria, firstly north along the coast to the fishing port – Skala Marion…..

……. where there was also a potential anchorage north of the village in a small bay just off the beach.

Anchorage off the small beach north of Skala Marion

Secondly we ventured inland to Theologos, the medieval and Ottoman capital of the island, famous for its whitewashed, slate roofed buildings.

Just couldn’t get a view of the whole village no matter which lane we walked up

Here we found a small folkloric museum….

The island specialised in weaving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….housed in the Chatzigeorgi Mansion. Metaxas Chatzigeorgis was president of the island from 1813 to 1821 when, as a member of the “Society of Friends”, he led the islanders in the revolution against the Ottomans even though Thásos was, at that time, under Egyptian rather than Turkish rule.

From Limenaria we headed a short way [9nm] up the west coast to Kallirakhis, a small fishing harbour where a group of children waved as we entered and giggled as they spoke a few words to us to try out their English. Unlike them, the one taverna we found open had a seemingly unfriendly owner so, having drunk one small ouzo, we went back to the boat and enjoyed the sunset.

It was then only 12nm to the north of the island and its current capital – Thásos Town.

We spent two nights there and in the intervening day took in the old harbour and town…..

…….a few archaeological ruins in the agora…..

…… and, following signs to the ancient theatre made our way uphill and then up steps to find that the site was closed for renovations. Why the “closed” sign wasn’t on the various signposts at the bottom and on the way up I don’t know – no doubt someone’s sense of humour. Having reached the closed gate I sat and waited as Mike, determined to find something to see up the hill, carried on. He said that trees had blocked the view all the way up and that, having given up, on his return downhill he spotted a vague track leading off and – lo and behold – the theatre…..

A reward for tenacity was called for so we treated ourselves to an evening out at the brilliant “Ambrosia” taverna….

In all three of the Thásos harbours we had berthed alongside – with no charge, and it was exactly the same in Kamariótissa harbour, Samothráki which we reached on 29th July having sailed 40 nautical miles SE from Thásos.

The island is quite lush and forested and, although there was no evidence of the waterfalls which supposedly still gush in the summer, we did see plenty of greenery…..

View down to the south coast from Profitis Ilias

….both during our day trip up into the mountain villages ….

Brilliant taverna in Lakkona

Asked what we wanted to eat – then given what there was, which were several delicious local dishes

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and again at Loutra [aka Therma]….

No water here in Loutra

……which is a rather “modern hippy” type small resort with revellers enjoying full moon parties and live music on the beach most evenings. From what we saw of it from the bus, the entrance to the small harbour is now almost totally silted – preventing anything bigger than a small fishing boat from entering.

Before visiting Loutra we had got off the bus at Paleopoli so that we could see one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece – the ancient Thracian “Sanctuary of the Great Gods”.

Part of the Sacred Way

The temple and sanctuary operated from 1000BC until paganism was forbidden in C4AD and during this time was reputedly visited by the Egyptian Queen Arsinou, the father of Alexander the Great – Philip II of Macedon – and Herodotos the Greek historian. Whilst it looked like many of the other sites we have visited in the past 12 months….

The Rotunda – a gift from Queen Arisinou

Vaulted tunnel to redirect the flow of the river under the Propylon of Ptolomy II

The Hieron

…… the gods who were worshiped here were different, and the rituals and initiations which went on are scarcely known about. The reason for this is that death was the penalty for anyone who revealed the secrets of the sanctuary so, although everyone [man, woman, child, slave or citizen] was welcome it was a case of turn up, engage in what is believed to have been one or two [or both] initiations and then keep schtum.

The principal deities were the fertility goddess Alceros Cybele, her consort Kadmilos [god of the phallus] and the demonic Kabeiroi twins – the sons of Zeus and Leda. Knowing who the gods were and what they represented perhaps indicates an orgiastic element to the initiations – so, given the silence, maybe an early case of “What happens in Greece, stays in Greece!!!”

The Chora of Samothráki is set between two sheer cliffs and was difficult to see until our early evening bus was on its last approach and difficult to photograph because of there being so many small buildings packed into the space between the cliffs and up them.

Perched at the top is, of course, the Kastro, closed in the evening….

…. but we were happy to walk up to its walls and then have a drink in the overpriced Café-Ouzeri 1900.

At least the view was decent!

And so we came to the end of our whistle-stop 10 day tour of the two most northerly and easterly islands and completed the circle by returning south and west to Limnos on 1st August.

As always we enjoyed various aspects of nature as we toured the three islands….

Cement delivery on Samothraki

Cormorant at Skala Marion, Thasos

Yikes! – a hornets nest in the bus stop at Lakkoma, Samothraki

Juvenile Herring Gull feasting on a mussel

Unripe quince on Limnos

In relation to this fruit, it is interesting that on one internet site I read that Helen of Troy bribed Paris to award a Quince to Aphrodite as a prize in a beauty conquest and that is what started the Trojan War. Well, as far as I understand it, it was Helen’s abduction by – or maybe her elopement with – Paris that started the war. Whether a quince was involved or not is debatable but why did I find it of interest you might ask?

Well, Mount Fengari, which stands at 1611metres [nearly 5,300ft] is on Samothráki and it is from this, the Aegean’s highest peak that Poseidon, the god of the sea, is supposed to have watched the Trojan War unfold. A tenuous link… but a link all the same!

Poseidon’s viewpoint

We are glad that we have seen it and all the other places on these three spectacular, more remote islands.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/11/22/north-east-aegean-limnos-thasos-and-samothraki/

Eastern Sporades – Samos to Lesvos – and a visit from James and John

Mytilini castle – Lesvos

This post covers the period between 16th June and 10th July this year [2019 for anyone who might read it in the future!] and chronicles, firstly, Mike’s and my return to three of the Eastern Sporades islands we visited on our final charter holiday in Greece in 2009. Secondly, it covers  a couple of the same group of islands further to the north, one of which neither of us had previously visited and one I had been really looking forward to returning to because two non-sailing holidays there held great memories for me.

So, firstly, Sámos, Foúrnoi and Ikaría – three very different islands each with their own character.

Sámos is the largest of these three islands and many of you will have heard of it as it is a very popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, in recent years, its reputation has been marred by reports of a huge influx of refugees and asylum seekers arriving both legally and illegally from the Turkish mainland. Whilst the reported numbers may well be correct, from what we saw, any impact on tourists is negligible and it is a real shame that holiday makers are choosing other destinations because businesses in several resorts are suffering.

There are so many positive reasons to visit. The island was quite lovely and green….

Green and pleasant land

….and had fully recovered from the devastating fires of some years ago, though sadly there was another in August of this year about six weeks after we left.

There are mountain villages….

Old house in Manolates

Surrounded by mountains

The sacred well of Manolates

…. hidden churches….

Sacred rock

The church now next to the rock

…. wetlands….

Looking west from above Pythagorio

…. saltflats…..

Near Cape Katsuni on the east coast

….and plenty of colourful nature and wildlife.

 

Stunning colours in Marathakambou village

The capital, Vathy, is the home of the co-operative of local vintners from where the world renowned sweet Samos wine is produced.

Following a visit to its small museum….

…. we chatted to one of the staff – whilst tasting, of course! – and learned, with some surprise, that their best quality sweet wine is actually shipped to Athens where it is incorporated into 7 Star Metaxa. Whilst we are also rather partial to a good Metaxa [Brandy, to the uninitiated] we felt it rather a shame that much of the glorious wine was “lost”.

The great mathematician Pythagoras was born here….

…… the town/anchorage we stayed in being named after him.

Sunset over Pythagoria

We were possibly one of the last boats to be able to use that anchorage. Medium sized ferries come two or three times a week and need turning space. Unfortunately not all boats follow the advice in the Cruising Guide to anchor north of the outer end of the inner mole and ferry captains have apparently complained to such a degree that it has resulted in the Port Authority now designating it as No Anchoring. This is a great pity as, treated properly, there was space for at least a dozen boats who will now either not bother to visit or will have to fight for space in the inner harbour which, when we were in the anchorage for six nights, was almost always full.

Pythagorio also boasts a castle…..

Stages of development!

Amazing colours of marble

…and in the hills behind the town is the fascinating Evpalinos Tunnel.

Entrance to Evpaulinos tunnel

In 524BC what is now Pythagorio, was called Samos and was the island’s capital. There were upwards of 80,000 people living in the metropolis and sourcing drinking water became a crucial issue. Up stepped the ingenious engineer Eupaulinus under whose direction labourers dug into the mountainside and built a 1034m tunnel – one of the most technologically significant achievements of antiquity.

The tunnel was 1.80m x 1.80 m and consisted of a corridor 1.60m wide with a deeper ditch dug below it. The ditch ranged from 4m deep in the north to over 8m deep at its southern end to ensure the waters natural flow through the clay pipes running along the bottom of the ditch.

Plan of the tunnel and a map showing its route

The most amazing thing about the tunnel is that the hewing through limestone started simultaneously from both ends and the two crews of stonemasons who worked for approximately 8-10 years with just hammers and chisels met with almost no deviation as they followed the exacting plans and instructions Eupaulinus gave them. Following the completion of the tunnel, walls were added inside to prevent collapse and the aqueduct was then used for approximately 1,100 years, abandoned when the clay pipes finally became too clogged with calcium deposits from the water even though holes had been cut some time following construction to facilitate cleaning.

We found the scientific and technical detail and achievement mind boggling. It is a shame that the same attention to detail is not apparent in the way that visitors are now taken into the tunnel. We paid €8 each to be marched to the middle of the tunnel and back again with no explanation by the guide.

It wasn’t that the commentary was in Greek – which we would have accepted – he just didn’t speak to anyone in any language. It was also by accident that we found the excellent visual display at the back of a shelter, which most visitors didn’t see, and which provided us with a full description of the construction which I have précised above.

To enable us to see as much as we did of this fabulous island we hired a car for two days and as well as enjoying the interior we also visited a few of the other available harbours/anchorages. We found Karlóvasi on the NW corner to be rather bleak – though in a southerly or an emergency it would probably be fine. The harbour at Vathy was really quite exposed and there was certainly a lot of swell when we visited – though that is rather unsurprising as it is north facing.

The anchorages on the east/south east coasts looked very nice but as we were going north and west they would have taken us out of our way and resulted in a longer distance to cover into wind.

Samos marina lies just on the eastern edge of Pythagorio, is purpose built, very clean and has a good fuel dock which we used before leaving the island. A new marina lies near the south west corner at Marathakambos…..

The new marina at Marathokambos

…. where there is also room to anchor in the bay. The marina is not officially operating and the water/electricity is not turned on. However, as you can see, it is already popular.

We considered going here or to either the anchorage at Ireon or that at Limionas – the latter of which our friends on “Coriander” used some days later and enjoyed. However, we opted instead to sail further west and take in two more islands passing one anchorage I would really like to have gone to on the small island lying just off the middle of Samos’s south coast – Samiopoula…..

Samiopoula – anchorages in either bay

……but with the given wind and swell it just didn’t happen.

Foúrnoi, which lies between Samos and Ikaria, is a small, much indented, island surrounded by a few even smaller ones making up an archipelago which was once a pirate’s lair. Its capital is Korseon and the French privateers who commandeered it gained a significant reputation – such that their name became applied to many pirates of the Eastern Aegean – “Corsairs”.

Korseon is the home to the islands fishing fleet and it is reputedly hard to find an available berth there, especially June – Sept so we were looking for an alternative anchorage. The most popular bays for visiting yachts are on the west coast, just south of the capital, as they offer most shelter from the Meltemi winds. Our overnight stay coincided with a fairly strong NW wind and having read various reports by other yachties we realised that even if those western bays had some protection from the wind, swell would most likely enter making for an uncomfortable night. So, we opted to look at a bay on the east – Ormos Vitsiliou which got a couple of good write-ups on the Cruising Association’s very helpful App – “CAptain’s Mate”. However, we didn’t feel comfortable there because when slowly approaching the head of the bay the depth dropped from 50m to 6m in just over a boat length which meant that we would be anchoring on a shelf. We always test the anchor really well to make sure it is dug in and 99% of times we don’t move – but it has happened once or twice in the last eight years and I am afraid I like my sleep – which I don’t get if I am fretting about things like the anchor dragging off a shelf.

So, we decided to look at Ormos Vlikhada – a bay on the southern point of the main island just west of Ak. Agridhio – and found it to be well sheltered and gently shelving. Result!

Having spent one night there we had the choice of staying for one more or moving to Ikaría for just one night as a weather window was opening for us to get a good passage north towards Lésvos. We decided we would move on.

Other than in August when, seemingly, the island is packed with Athenians and foreign visitors visiting to join in the “panigyria” celebrations [wild parties with food, wine and traditional dance thrown in many of the islands villages], Ikaría is serene and laid back. Visiting, even for just one night, was the right choice as it gave us the opportunity to see another new, but un-commissioned, marina at Agios Kirikos.

It got busier later!

Studying the layout of the marina and positioning of the electricity/water outlets we think that the original plan was that boats would berth stern to. If this was to work lazy lines would definitely need to be installed and even then manoeuvring would be pretty tight. So other than on the back wall, yachts are berthing alongside giving room for around 20 yachts in total [and a few more if rafted]. We thought it was a delightful spot, made even more so by the lovely small town….

Unsurprisingly, given that the name of the island results from it being where this Greek hero fell to earth when his wings melted……

…..this mosaic marked the short pedestrian walkway between the town and the marina, but exactly why this relic was next to the old harbour was unclear.

Maybe also dedicated to a hero?

It was now time for us to move on to the second part of this Eastern Sporades journey and we left Ikaría at 05.40 on the 24th June. We had a pleasant 57 nm motorsail north in light winds and, at times, an almost flat calm sea – a far cry from the 25+ northerlies and 2m waves and swell of the previous three days which we had chosen not to battle against.

Blue shows the route we took during the fairly strong northerlies and Red shows where we went when it calmed down [a bit at least!]

We considered stopping on Khios but when reading the pilot I really liked the sound of Oinoussa, a small island just off the NE corner. It was once a prosperous seafaring community but went into decline after the shipping magnates left. The guide also went on to say that the waterfront had recently been spruced up again and that space can be limited at times due to it now being a popular spot – particularly with super yachts at the weekends.

We were visiting on a Wednesday and had a back-up plan of one of the nearby anchorages should there be no room in Mandráki but, at 17.00, we dropped the hook as shown on the pilot book chart. It all looked lovely.

The islands which give great protection to Mandraki

About half an hour later a canoe came by….

….. they were a couple of off-duty Port Police who told us that anchoring is no longer allowed in Mandráki and we had to move to the purpose built pontoon. As we were approaching Mike veered away because the depth was too shallow for us. We misunderstood what was being said – i.e. that we needed to move further along the pontoon, closer to the harbour wall where it was deeper and moved instead to the one remaining space on the wall itself after a very kind Danish couple moved their boat forward to allow us in.

We wandered up into the town, had a drink on the harbour and had a lovely evening meal as the sun set….

Sun setting over Khios

….. before a fairly early night in preparation for another long day ahead.

We left Mandráki at around 07.30 passing this lady on the way….

…. and raised the sails once we were in open water. Given that the previous day had been so calm we were really amazed at how lumpy the channel was between Khios and Lésvos. As well as dodging the commercial traffic we also had to contend with pretty big waves and mid-morning were hit by a rather big one which resulted in the loss of our flagpole and ensign from the stern. Looking at it later it was clear that the aluminium rivets had corroded before shearing – but even so!

We decided our best course was to head a little out of our way – i.e. approach the southern coast of Lésvos further west than originally intended. It added a few miles but was better for the wave direction, gave us calmer water once in the shelter of the island and didn’t actually add much, if anything at all, to the time it took us. At 3.30 in the afternoon we entered Kólpos Yéras and took the sails down to motor up the gulf to the fantastic anchorage at Skála Loutra.

Looking down from Loutra to the anchorage

We spent the next three days exploring the small village of Loutra about 40 minutes’ walk up the hill through the olive groves….

Looks small but had nearly everything including a butcher shop

A bit of a “project” in Loutra

Made me smile!

……. relaxing after our two long passages and preparing the boat for our visitors, James and John.

They were with us for a week during which time we spent the three middle days sailing to Sigri and back to Skala – both times via Apothekes Cove.

Sigri is a fishing village on the more remote west coast of Lésvos. It is visited by a few tourists but since the main visitor area, the nearby famous Petrified Forest, closed due to underfunding I fear that it now gets even fewer visitors as there is little else to travel west for from the southern and eastern resorts. Fortunately I visited the forest some years ago when access was still possible.

It is a really pretty little village with narrow streets and an Ottoman Castle – which was also closed.

The views over the bay were fantastic….

Looking south over the anchorage from Sigri village

…..and the Ouzo available in our chosen restaurant was quite impressive…

Wow!!

…though on this occasion the guys preferred the craft ale…

Nissiopi blonde ale for the boys and wine for me!

Apothekes is the first available anchorage in the large landlocked gulf – Kólpos Kalloni. It is also the most sheltered from the prevailing north winds.

Entrance to the gulf is quite exciting – if you enjoy negotiating a narrow channel through reefs in a 25 knot headwind. I understand that the buoyage is not always there but it certainly was in July of this year. Entrance without it would be near impossible in the conditions we had the first time, though in calmer waters the reefs can be seen more easily.

Apothekes Bay from the hamlet fishing harbour

The hamlet consists of a few houses and a taverna which has a limited menu but what was available was good and very reasonably priced. We ate there on both occasions, the second time having been joined by Steve and Gill who had done a two day passage to meet up with us again. Our accompanying beverage that night was wine. The white was fine but after one sip each of the red, John and Gill fed the rest of their half carafe to the geraniums!

Once back in Skala Loutra we all took the bus into the capital of Lésvos – Mytilíni. We enjoyed wandering the back streets and found our way to the fortress. For the princely sum of €2pp we visited the Byzantine castle which was enlarged by the Genoese and again by the Turks is now mainly a ruin…

….. though some interesting structures remain.

Roman monolithic sarcophagus

Stonebuilt Crypts – covered an area of 720 sq meters

C16 Mausoleum of “Musa Baba” – saint of the Ottoman “Bektashi” sect

The underground tank of one of two Ottoman public fountains inside the castle – water still flows through

It all made for a pleasant couple of hours stroll with the additional bonus of a good view over what was the lower level of the fortress and the now sunken old harbour.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to James and John – but not before a final meal where they, with a little help from the rest of us, tested a number of Ouzo. Well you have to – after all, Lésvos is the island most renowned for its production.

No sign of ouzo – but it was definitely there – in quantity!

By the end of their visit “Owl and Pussycat” almost resembled the restaurant in Sigri!

Some more interesting archaeology awaited us…..

Tombs of Old Kayu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…….. about 50metres inland from the shore  of our next Lésvos anchorage……

Secluded perfection

……Palio Kayu in Makris Yialos bay on the NE corner of the island, which we again found on CAptain’s Mate rather than in the Cruising Guide. There are numerous reefs and above and below water rocks in the bay and surrounding the group of small islands [Nísidhes Tomaria] which protect it so caution was needed – but it was well worth it to anchor in the beautiful crystal clear waters in lovely surroundings visited by very few yachts.

I stated at the start of this blog that I was really looking forward to returning to Lésvos and, as you can see, it was again an enjoyable experience. But it didn’t finish there. I was even more delighted that the prevailing northerlies dropped for a few days allowing us to anchor off the beach of the small village resort of Petra, where I had previously stayed, and also off the town of Mithimna [aka Mólyvos]. Still pretty as a picture from the anchorage……

….. I, personally, found Mithimna to have been over gentrified since my last visit. The streets winding up to the castle at the top are still lined with small shops – but instead of a laid back local feel to the place, there appear to be more boutique hotels and up market restaurants now lining the harbour and shorefront attracting the chic.

Mithymna anchorage from the town

However Petra, named after the giant overhanging rock on which sits the C18 Panagia Glykofilousa……

No wonder its called “Petra”

…..was just as I remember it.

Bit spruced up but the same owners as my previous visits – great to be back

114 steps lead up to the church….

Panagia Glykofilousa -Church of the Sweet-Kissing Virgin

Who’s looking at you!

……from where we could see “Owl and Pussycat” and “Coriander” anchored just outside the old harbour.

Calm at anchor in Petra Bay

Anchoring now appears to be the only option. The east facing mole and the fairly shallow inner harbour are taken up by small fishing and other local boats and the bigger south facing mole, which was described in the pilot as being available to visiting yachts, is now fenced off due to the security required as a daily ferry arrives from and leaves for Turkey – requiring proper immigration facilities. We were, however, given permission to go alongside after the ferry had left to top up with fuel.

So glad I got the chance to return. A great place, a great evening and another fantastic sunset too.

Homeward bound

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Astipalaia – and a few other Dodecanese islands

You might be wondering about the title of this post and why I have singled out Astipálaia. Well, it is really quite simple – we haven’t been there before. The butterfly shaped island lies approximately 25 miles south-east of Amorgos and a similar distance west of its nearest Dodecanese neighbour – Kos. On our charter holidays in either the Cyclades or the Dodecanese, Astipálaia was always just that bit too far out of the way so we were determined to make it one of our destination islands this year.

Having now visited, I am glad we didn’t make the trip as part of a two week holiday because we just wouldn’t have done it justice.

Our first anchorage….

Vathi, Astipalaia

…… was on the northern tip of the islands east “wing” which we arrived at on the afternoon of 15th May having sailed 10 miles along the north coast of Amorgos before turning south east for the remaining 31 miles. In the ships log I have written “Bloody forecasts” which gives you a bit of a clue about the wind or, rather, the lack of it, so having planned to sail all the way after turning the corner, the best we managed was motor sailing!

Almost no-one lives on the eastern half of the island and Mesa Vathi is the only settlement in this remote corner. Approximately half a dozen families live here visited by only a few non-yachting tourists. For yacht crews, however, it is considered somewhat of a haven, because of the large, almost landlocked, bottleneck bay.

From the anchorage we weren’t quite sure which building might house the taverna mentioned in the pilot and even when ashore it was not totally clear despite the painted sign.

We finally realised that the “house” up the stairs was it….

…. Maria’s front room, complete with TV which, while we were there, a few members of the other local families came in to watch. Obviously the hub of community life, it is a great place with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere which, thanks to Steve, I have been able to share with you in pictures having stupidly left my cameras on board.

The following day we headed to the south of the island, trying desperately to sail at least part of the 17 mile journey.

We tried just about every sail combination but were forced to give up when our speed dropped to about 1.5kn.

Even goose-winging didn’t work

We reached the lovely anchorage at Maltezána….

……at around 2pm which gave us plenty of time to go ashore and suss out the ouzeries which we visited in the early evening.

Needing fuel we decided to move once more and the following day motored just 3 miles across to the main harbour – Skala – where we were lucky to get a berth inside the mole.

Skala is one of those places where once a boat arrives its crew are reluctant to leave so the turnover of available berths is limited, especially as there is only space for about ten boats in the first place.

As well as fuelling we needed good internet to download our TEPAI form. TEPAI is the new Greek cruising tax which finally came into effect this May and which has caused several yachties hours of heartache trying to properly complete the form and pay. We did it all online and used a system called “TransferWise” to make the payment. It all worked really well and we were able to print out our e.TEPAI form proving payment for the months of May to October after which time we are able to register ourselves as “Out of Use” with the Port Police whilst in Kalamata marina for the winter.

As with most Greek islands, the main town on Astipálaia sits at the top of the hill overlooking the port and, like many others, is known as “X?ra [Hora]” which literally means “country” or “land”. The white houses spill down the hillside, dominated by the imposing “Kastro” at the top.

Unique in the Dodecanese and rare in other parts of Greece this castle varies from others in that it wasn’t strictly military in character but was part of an outer circle of private dwellings built three storeys high as a defensive screen. The Venetian “Quirini” family built it in early C15 and, for the next 300 years up to 4000 inhabitants lived within the sheltered inner circle. As piracy declined in C19, openings were created around the city walls, the settlement expanded and many wooden stairs and balconies added. When a major earthquake struck in 1956 most of the buildings collapsed and the restoration work that has been done since is largely confined to the outer walls to limit the threat to people and property below. The interior remains in ruins except for the two churches.

Church of the Virgin of the Castle

Church of Agios Georgios

On our way down from the castle we turned one of the many corners in the maze of streets to find these….

They are four of a group of nine small churches which form the “complex of Karah”. I am not sure whether Karah is the name of the street, the area of the village, or has a particular Ecclesiastical meaning but they lined both sides of the lane and were quite a lovely sight.

Marking the entrance to the Hora are a row of Cycladic style windmills.

It is these and the typically Cycladic square white houses which often confuse people as to which island group Astipálaia belongs to but, whilst it might look Cycladic architecturally,  geographically it is one of the 165 islands which form the Dodecanese – quite a misnomer as “Dodeca” is 12!

Over the years Mike and I have visited all but three of the 15 larger Dodecanese islands and a number of the other smaller inhabited ones. This year we re-visited 10 arriving in Kos on 24th May from where we made our way north via Psérimos, Levitha, Kalymnos, Léros, Lipso, Arki, Pátmos and Marithos to northernmost Agathonisi which we left on 16th June.

Amorgos to Agathonisi

Both Kos and Kalymnos were brief visits. Having made our way across from Astipália to Kamares on Kos we stayed just 2 nights – sheltering from a short lived “blow” which gave us enough time to walk up to the village above – Kefalos, from where we got a great view of this south western part of the island.

As you will know, Kos is a very popular and touristy island and, as a result, it is no longer one of our favourites [even though I have, in the past, had two very good and memorable holidays there with sis Chris]. Although we considered stopping briefly in Kos town, we didn’t want to go into the marina and couldn’t find anywhere to anchor which suited us so moved on.

On Kalymnos we visited just one anchorage – a well-protected narrow inlet on the east coast….

Ormos Palionisou, Kalymnos

…. where two tavernas flanking either shore provide excellent mooring balls at no cost though we always visit the appropriate one, in this case “Kaladonis taverna”, at least for a drink.

The two most deserted anchorages were those on Psérimos and Agathonisi.

Ormos Vathi, Pserimos

West Bay within East Bay, Agathonisi

Something which never ceases to amaze us is that when anchoring, the shores of the bays feel to be only metres away, despite what the measurements on the chart tell us. However, when going ashore, particularly if you are able to get above the anchorage, it is clear that there is plenty of room.

From both of these anchorages we walked up and across part of the islands to visit the main villages….

Pserimou village

Agios Georgiou, Agathonisi

….where we enjoyed a couple of super lunches.

The most historically significant island visited was Patmos where we spent one night at anchor in Ormos Livadhia before going stern to for two nights on the quayside in, yes, you got it, Skala. “Skala” means ladder or staircase and, just as from the other Skalas – there is the Hora above to climb up to. As well as the main road, the route between Skala and Hora on Patmos can be undertaken via a “cultural path”.

 

Known as “The Holy Island”, Patmos is where St John the Divine lived after being banished there by a pagan Roman Emperor in AD95. He lived as a hermit in a cave between what are now Skala and Hora and heard the voice of God coming from a cleft in the rock. His terrifying visions were transcribed into “The Book of Revelations” and the Monastery of the Cave of the Apocalypse now stands on the site.

The Monastery of the Cave of the  Apocalypse

Unfortunately we arrived just before closing so didn’t actually see the chapel. We might have got there earlier had we not spent as long as we did in the Monastery of St John the Theologian in the Hora – which was built and dedicated in 1088 after the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Komninos gave permission for its construction. Architecturally it is the most fascinating monastery I have visited. It is immense and is full of arches and courtyards and bells and the eye finds it difficult to fully comprehend the shapes and true perspective – as does the camera lens!

 

 

Whilst the museum contained several interesting artefacts, icons and paintings, Mike and I found these to be of at least equal interest.

The Oven!

A kneading trough

I was particularly taken by the refectory …..

….which is still used daily.

Descending via the cultural path we arrived in the northern part of the town which we hadn’t seen before. We found a great homemade ice-cream shop which we returned to after dinner that evening, passed the head of the bay where fishing boats berth to rickety old pontoons….

…..and ended up back in the main harbour/town where there is another reminder of the link between Patmos and St John.

The Baptistry

I noted above that Mike and I both found the museum in the monastery to contain some interesting religious art. It is unlikely that either of us would have felt this way had we not, 10 days earlier, visited Pandeli castle on Leros. The Lonely Planet describes the castle as more or less ruinous with few structures surviving. It does not mention the museum there or the excellent curator who, at no additional charge above the €2pp entrance fee, spent almost an hour talking to us about the different art forms by both passage of time and origin of artist. I recommend a visit to Pandeli for both this experience and also for the 360 degree views over Leros island.

Looking towards the Alinda anchorage

An anchorage we didn’t visit – Pandeli with Ormos Lakki in the background

The castle is reached by a zig zag stony path from Agia Marina or by road from Platanos. We went up the former and down the latter having walked first to Agia Marina from our anchorage at Alinda.

This was our second port of call on Leros, the first being Xirokambos at the southern end of the island where we spent 2 nights on one of the excellently maintained yellow “Aloni Taverna” mooring balls. From Xirokambos we caught the bus to see what Lakki [Leros’s main town] had to offer. It was 31st May so still in the shoulder season but we were surprised by the lack of other visitors. Despite, or may be because of, several grand art deco style buildings….

…. the town had quite an old fashioned and dilapidated air and it is fairly clear that most visitors to the island arrive at it by ferry and immediately leave for the beach resort villages. These buildings date from the Italian occupation when it was an Italian naval base and some of them have since been used as mental hospitals.

“Shoulder season” also meant that, having done some provisioning and eaten lunch while waiting for the 3pm return bus, we found that the timetable we had been looking at didn’t start until 1st June – and there was no return bus! However, the taxi cost back to Xirokombos was only marginally more than four bus tickets would have cost us and we had enjoyed a decent lunch at a deli which, much to Mike’s and Steve’s delight, sold craft beer.

Obviously the weather determines, to a large extent, which islands and anchorages can be visited and in what order. The small island of Lévitha lies about 20 miles west of the other Dodecanese island and we were delighted when a weather window opened allowing us to sail there from Psérimos.

Lévitha was, and will probably remain, one of our much talked about yacht destinations. We first visited it around 15 years ago when the almost landlocked bay provided an excellent sheltered anchorage for the two or three boats there. Our second visit was about 5 years later when some laid moorings had been put in by the taverna owner and a modest charge was made – unless you ate in his farmhouse taverna on the hill, in which case they were free. On both those occasions we had eaten in very basic surroundings enjoying either goat or fish – depending on what was available – and a salad washed down by local retsina. We loved the experience and couldn’t wait to re-visit this year taking Steve and Gill with us.

The anchorage was exactly as we remembered it – except there are now even more mooring balls…..

….all of which were taken by late afternoon.

Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end. The modest taverna with a couple of tables has now expanded. Whilst still rustic….

…. there is now a covered area and far more tables and an outdoor BBQ has been built to provide burgers! The enterprise has become quite commercial. I guess one can’t really blame the owners – why not profit from what has become a yachting “institution”. But we will not be returning. Maybe it was a mistake on their part – or rather a mistake on ours not to challenge the cost of the wine – but the price of the meal for four came to €86 [which is at least €20 more than we had been paying elsewhere for similar fare], and each boat was charged an additional €7 for the mooring balls.

Fortunately our faith in family run tavernas on almost deserted small islands was renewed when we later picked up a mooring ball on the sheltered east bay on Marathos island. We selected the last available orange ball belonging to “Taverna Stauragkos”. It took us a number of attempts to secure ourselves to the ball because there was no pick-up line – which might explain why it wasn’t occupied – but at least we provided entertainment for those crews already secured!

Peace reigned, dusk fell and an excellent Goat Kleftiko was demolished.

Interesting lighting at Marathos

An island we really enjoyed spending time on was Lipsi. The small harbour is backed by a church crowned village….

…. with the traditional blue and white colours predominating.

Lipsi in minature!

Village square

We chose not to anchor in the harbour as there was little room inside and the outside berths are subject to wash – particularly when the wind is from the SW as it was whilst we were there. Initially we anchored just inside “South Bay” but were asked to move by the Port Police because of the turning circle needed by the large visiting ferries. We are fairly sure we were tucked in sufficiently not to hinder them but it wasn’t worth arguing about and we actually really enjoyed the North Bay anchorage which provided us with more shelter than we expected in lovely surroundings and clear water.

Lipsi village is the island’s only settlement and the harbour is the hub of the action – such as it is. Such a laid back place where locals mingle with tourists. Our favourite spot in the early evening was this Ouzerie….

…… where, to my delight at least, the free meze included on one night a cheese and bacon stuffed pepper. Mike might have preferred the more traditional offering….

…… but didn’t complain too much when we didn’t get it!

And finally, our favourite Dodecanese island – Arki.

Having had the Lévitha experience it was with some trepidation that we returned to Port Augusta, on the small island of Arki, hoping that it remained as it had been on our last two visits. It lived up to all our expectations and provided us with excellent shelter for four nights in the narrow dog leg inlet.

Mike spent some time scraping the waterline but mostly we relaxed and enjoyed a couple of walks from the harbour across the island past small holdings with goat herds….

…. communing with nature in general….

Butterfly magic

Gomphocarpus Psysocarpa – aka Baloon Plant or Hairy Balls!

….. and arriving at deserted bays.

At 1.30pm on our final day there were just five boats moored.

Three hours later there were almost twenty….

……crammed in wherever there was an inch of space. Eight of them were a special antipodean flotilla which, apparently, happens for two weeks every year commencing and finishing on the western Turkish coast and taking in some of the Dodecanese. They were a lively bunch but did not detract from the fantastic atmosphere of the place.

We were really happy to be back- so pleased to find it still unspoilt, unchanged and a little bit “funky”…

….and a fantastic place to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

So, the Dodecanese did not disappoint. It would have been easy to spend the whole summer there visiting the islands farther south but we had previously been to some of these and new islands awaited us to the north starting with the Eastern Sporades which you will be able to read about in my next post.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/11/04/astipalaia-and-a-few-other-dodecanese-islands/