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Kaloni, Lesvos

Kaloni and Skala Kaloni

Bay of Kaloni, LesvosThe Bay of Kaloni and in particular the beach town of Skala Kaloni is the nature capital as well as the sardine capital of the island. The economy of this area is based upon agriculture, the nature tourism from visitors who come to see the many birds who stop in the marshes on their way to and from northern Europe, and from the sardines and other fish and seafood that comes from the rich and beautiful bay, not to mention the thousands and thousands of olive trees on the hills which surround it. The town of Kaloni sits in a lush and enormous valley that borders the bay of Kaloni. This valley is home to many different species of birds and wildflowers and in springtime the hotels are full of bird watchers from all over the world. The bay itself is a marvel to behold. More like an inland sea then a bay, it is ringed by mountains on two sides and the fertile valley on another opposite a small channel that leads to the sea. It is full of sardines which Lesvos and the town of Kaloni in particular are famous for. It is said that the sardines from the bay are the healthiest in the world due to their high mineral content. The reason as explained to me is because the rains wash the oil from the olive groves into the bay. Whether this is true I leave others to debate but I will testify that Sardines from Kaloni are delicious, grilled, fried or eaten as Sardeles Pastes . Even in the main market in Athens you can hear the fish merchants calling out proudly that their sardines come from Kaloni and in the summer trucks travel all over the island selling the magical miracle sardines.

Sardine boats, Skala KaloniThe town of Skala Kaloni is both the port, beach and tourist center of Kaloni. The water is shallow and almost never rough and the beaches are very sandy. There are several restaurants along the shore and in the town square, along with supermarkets, hotels, tourist shops etc. The port, which is home to the island's sardine fishing fleet is colorful and active but to see them unloading their catch you have to get there pretty early in the morning. If you do you can buy a container of sardeles pastes when they are in season usually in July and August. Perhaps because of the surrounding mountains the bay of Kaloni is a great place for wind-surfing and Manolis of the wonderful Medusa restaurant right on the beach is an expert, though during the tourist season he really has to fight for time to pursue his passion. But if you are a windsurfer or want to become one than Manolis is certainly one person to talk to and Skala Kaloni one of the most popular places to do it (along with Sigri).

Usually around the first weekend in August they celebrate the Skala Kaloni Sardine Festival in the village square featuring free ouzo and sardines, a live band and traditional dancers. In the winter the town is lively with music and nightlife which many young people come down from the mountain villages where life has slowed to a crawl.

Maria, Music Box, KaloniThe main town of Kaloni which you have to go through to get to Skala Kaloni if you are coming from Mytilini or Molyvos/Petra is the crossroads for the western and northern villages of the island. Kaloni is the regional capital and has a great deal of commercial and cultural activity, it's main street feeling more like a city than a Greek island town. There are shops of all sorts, supermarkets, a computer store, electronics stores, fruit markets and a street lined with cafeneons. If you are living in one of the smaller villages you will probably need to come here to get money from an ATM machine. In the market street of Ermou, off the main street, there is an excellent CD and record store called Music Box where Maria will let you sample the CD's before buying. The shop has a large selection of Greek music and even some British and American CD's.  There is a computer shop called Delimitrou where you can buy software and even get help if you are suffering from laptop problems. The Electronet in Kaloni is the best place to buy any kind of electronic device. Most likely if you are on western Lesvos for an extended period of time there will be something you need that they will tell you that you have to go to Kaloni to get. For example I can't get Lavazza coffee in my village and when we run out we have to go to Kaloni or ask someone who is going for something they need to pick some up for us. It is also not very photogenic which is why I don't have a picture of it.

BP Aggelis, wines and liqours, Kaloni, LesvosThe most interesting shop in Kaloni, one worth braving the summer heat to visit is the cava of BP Aggelis in Arisvi. A cava is a shop that sells wine and liquor and there are many on Lesvos. But Vassilis Aggelis has collected an enormous amount of very good wine, not only from Lesvos and Limnos but from all over Greece and France, Italy and other European wine producing countries. On our visit he had a special on wines from Limnos, three bottles for 10 euros and we bought a bottle of  2008 Limnios Ampelourgos by Petros Xatzigeorgiou along with a rose and a retsina from Limnos. I can say that the Ampelourgos was the best 3.3 euro bottle of wine I have ever bought that did not come in a plastic water bottle. We also bought several Santorini wines for the house and he gave us a gift of a 2003 Chateau Porto Carras and a small bottle of Glenfiddich. As we were paying for our wine he took us next door and showed us his new wine shop where he was planning to hold wine tastings and seminars. He then pulled out a super-premium, limited edition blend entitled AEN METAXA which was produced to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the company. Composed of blends aged between 20 and 80 years which when it was released in 2008 was worth a couple thousand dollars. He also showed us a bottle of Ltd. Edition Chivas Regal Bottle by Alexander McQueen which cost 500 euros when released in 2008 as well. The shops was full of rare wines and we could have spent hours poking around. He also distributes imported beers like Chimay from Beligium which can be found in only one cafe on the island, Exodus, in the square of Skala Kaloni next to the fountain. To find the BP Aggelis Cava it is on the right hand side on the road to Mytilini. If you are looking for something particular you can phone him at 2253 0 22621 or e-mail him at cavaaggelis@gmail.com.

Nearby is a camping and fishing shop called Big Blue in Arisvi on the road to Mytilini right outside the town where you can buy a mask, snorkel, flippers and anything you need to enjoythe sea. They also have a large assortment of fishing rods and reels, weights, lures and live bait for the anglers in the area. The shops is owned by Apostolis Bourlis who is an engaging and energetic gentleman and happy to tell you the best fishing spots in this part of Lesvos since he is an avid fisherman himself. For those who are interested in fishing you can catch good sized kefalo in the rivers and tidal pools in Kaloni or fish off the shore in deeper areas for barbounia (red mullet) or anything big enough to come into the bay to eat sardines. But the best spots are probably by the entrance to the bay or off the piers in Skala Kaloni in the early evening when the smyrna come out to eat what the fishermen have thrown overboard.

pelican, skala kaloniAnd a visit to Skala Kaloni is not complete unless you have met their one legged pelican who spends his time wandering among the sun beds on the beach or relaxing in the shade. Like several villages in Lesvos, Skala Kaloni has adopted a pelican or perhaps it is the Pelican who has adopted Skala Kaloni. They come from North Africa and some of them decide that instead of making the long journey back, to take the easy life in Lesvos where fish is plentiful and food is cheap, much like many of the tourists who decide to make their home on the island do. You can usually find him by the boatyard of Panagiotis Psaradellis where he has been spending more of his time since the accident that cost him his leg. Kaloni is in a big valley that is blocked from the north winds by mountains which means it can be one of the hottest places to be on the island in certain periods of the summer. If you don't like hot weather then probably you should not come here in the summer except to visit. But if you love hot weather it does not get much hotter than it does in Kaloni. But the enormous bay also attracts winds from other directions and it can get quite windy here too which is why they have windsurfing. The temperture can very in different parts of the bay depending on the wind and sea breezes. Like many places in Greece the best time to be here is in the off-season when the climate is mild.

Around the Valley of Kaloni

Agia Paraskevis Horse Races, LesvosWithin the valley of Kaloni there are plenty of places to visit, not least among them the town of Agia Paraskevis, not only one of the wealthiest villages on the island but in all of Greece. The town is known for a festival in late June (usually the last weekend) in which horses are paraded through the streets past cafes full of people drinking and eating while bands play live Greek music at nearly every restaurant. If you join the festivities try to remain alert. Things can get pretty wild with horses riding into the cafeneons. Some say the riders give them ouzo just to liven things up a bit or others say it makes them run faster. The races are held on a straight stretch of dirt road just ourside of town and the riders do some practice runs before they compete two out of time in what seems to be a single elimination tournament. A warning though... the horses can veer out of control and into the crowd if they happen to be standing on the crossroads. The horses impulse is to go home on this road and the riders have to struggle to keep them going towards the finish line and not into the crowd. This is a dangerous spectator sport so make sure that you watch it from a safe spot. When we were there one of the galloping horses stumbled into the crowd after its rider lost control and I still don't know how it missed me. It was so close I could smell horse sweat. Afterwards we moved to a safer vantage point. By the way there are horse races held in other villages too on different weekends usually commemorating the name day of a saint so ask around or keep your eyes open for posters advertising them. Lesvos has a very strong culture of horseback riding and people take these competitions very seriously, very similar to people in the southwestern USA. (See also Agia Paraskevis Horse Races)

Near the town of Agia Paraskevis are the ruins of an Achaean and classical temple to Apollo at Klopedi and the Kremasti bridge, made entirely of stone. Kaloni was one of the most flourishing towns of medieval Lesvos. Ruins have been found in the area from ancient, Byzantine and medieval times. The nearby sanctuary at Mesa is worth a visit though in general the archaeological sites on the island can be a little disappointing, usually containing perhaps a column or two and some stones on the ground. However most of them are in beautiful settings and others are in such remote places that just finding them is half the fun, or most of the fun actually. Recently more care has been taken in the upkeep of these ancient sites which means instead of driving down dirt roads and walking paths and climbing stone walls to find a little known ancient temple you just follow signs and find a gate with a sign on it that has visiting hours and sometimes find yourself peering at it through a large modern fence.

Limonos Monastery, Kaloni, LesvosThe Limonos Monastery, consecrated to the Archangel Michael is open to visitors. It was built in 1523 and during the Turkish occupation, was the intellectual center of the island. The library contains approximately 5000 books from 1502 until the present and manuscripts, patriarchal bulls, sultanate firmans, official decisions and other documents dating as far back as the 9th century. There are countless pieces of jewelry, holy relics and sacred icons. The festival day for the monastery is the eighth of October. When the Limnonas monastery has its festivals the whole area is full of people selling religious items and other things that are not religious in nature. On the other side of the valley is a working convent that is under the protection of the Limonos Monastery. There is a small cafe restaurant within the grounds of the monastery and inside the monastery walls a small zoo of peacocks, goats, and some other birds and animals.

Around the Bay of Kaloni

Flamingos, Kaloni, LesvosAlong the coast are marshes filled with wildlife. The fish practically leap out of the sea and standing on the shore looking out at a bay so large that the entire island of Sifnos could fit in it, gives one a feeling of awe. Walking along the bay past the tidal pools full of crabs and fish, is very enjoyable in the spring and early summer, when a vast assortment of wild birds can be seen. Bring binoculars if you have any. The valley gets very hot in late July and August, when most people stick to the beach or the hotel pool. But for those who venture out this is the time to see the flamingos. I know it is hard to tell these are flamingos from this picture but trust me that they are. There is a bird-viewing station on the road to Mytilini right before the turn-off to Achladeri.

An enjoyable car journey is to follow the coast on either side of Kaloni. On the western shore of the bay is the village of Parakila and below it in a field is the ruins of an old mosque. Nearby there is a lovely old stone road and bridge that crosses a stream. There are a few tavernas along the coast and some places to swim.

The tiny town of Apothikes is no more then a cafeneon and some houses at the mouth of the bay, but it is a beautiful place to stop. If you continue on the coastal road past Agra and Mesotopos you will eventually find yourself in Eressos . There is a small road that goes from Agra and will connect you with Xidera and Pterounda but unless you have a jeep I don't advise taking this route.

Achladeri-ancient phyra, Kaloni, LesvosIf you follow the southeast coast of the bay you will see an interesting variety of landscapes, from salt plains and marshes to forest and streams and go by the excellent fish taverna in Achladeri called Ancient Phyra Psarotaverna where you can get clams on the halfshell and excellent sardelles pastes in season and the very interesting agriogarides which are sort of a cross between a lobster tail and a rhinocerous. Its by the sign for Ancient Phyra right before the small military camp. In the small bay are the ruins of ancient Phyra though you will need a mask and snorkle to see them since the city is now under water. But walking along the beach you will see some ancient stones and evidence of the city. But the main reason to stop here is the restaurant which is one of the best on the island.

Nifida, LesvosIf you follow the coast you will see a sign for katarachtes which means waterfall. You can drive up the dirt road a ways and park and walk the rest of the way. Not that I have ever done it but others have and told me about it. You will also pass through pine forests that have rusted cans still attached to the trees from when they used to collect pine resin from them. There are a couple turn-offs you can follow into the woods where there are some abandoned industrial buildings. You will eventually wind up in Skala Polichnitou, another wonderful place to stop for lunch (sardines of course) with a small harbor full offishing boats. Or you can continue on to Nyfida, a small beach town close to the entrance to the bay which has two excellent fish tavernas called Giotis and Grigoris, both with fresh fish and sardeles pastes in season. The sea is very shallow here and you can eat while children swim or play on the beach where there are sunbeds and umbrellas available and a spectacular view of the bay of Kaloni. (Grigoris may be the best fish-taverna on Lesvos.)

Hot Springs Spa, Polychnitou, LesvosIf you go inland from Skala Polychnitou you can make a visit to the thermal springs, the hottest in Europe in the main town of Polychnitou on the road to Vatera. Or  you can visit the nearby and lesser know hot springs of Lisvouri. If you want to swim in the Aegean just follow the signs that will lead you past the beautiful village of Vrissa to the seven kilometer beach of Vatera, one of the longest and most beautiful in Greece. Another option is to turn left on the main road and follow the signes towards Mytilini driving through pine forests and Alps-like terrain as well as a large dried up lake until you get to Agiassos , the spiritual capital of the island and one of the most beautiful villages in all of Greece. A few miles further is Karini, an oasis of tall trees and gardens fed by a beautful spring that waters the whole valley in the gulf of Yera, and the source of the water that was brought to Mytilini by the Roman Aquaduct which you can still see remnants of in Moria and off the road from Yera back to Kaloni.

Driving back from Kaloni at night you have to assume that most of the people on the road are drunk. In fact that is not a bad assumption to make whenever you drive in Lesvos. If you assume that everyone on the road is drunk then you will drive more defensively, unless of course you are drunk as well. In the morning this is less likely but on weekends and in the summer from later afternoon on when Athenians come back to their family villages and spend their afternoons and evenings drinking in the beach psarotavernas with their friends, most likely every car you see will be driven by someone who has at least one karafiki of ouzo in him.

Eating in Kaloni

Sardeles Pastes from KaloniThere are dozens of restaurants, cafes and fastfood joints in Kaloni and Skala Kaloni but the best places to eat are the psarotavernas (seafood restaurants) in the harbor. Don't miss the Medusa restaurant in Skala Kaloni, one of the best in all of Lesvos. Owned by Manolis and his wife Dorien from Holland and featuring a cast of dozens of family members, you can count on good service and the best and freshest fish on the island as you can in many of the restaurants that are owned by Greeks married to foreign women (Captain's Table in Moyvos, Eftalou Taverna are other examples). The Medusa restaurant has its own fishing boat that goes out every day, except during the full moon. During the season they have some of the best fresh sardeles pastes. They are so good they are served plain but I usually ask for a little olive oil, and lemon to go on them. If you are driving from Molyvos or Eressos and have to return then go easy on the ouzo. But if you are staying in Kaloni then there is no reason to hold back and an afternoon and evening at the Medusa is a good enough reason to stay overnight in Skala Kaloni. Of course if the idea of raw sardines does not excite you then you can order them grilled or deep-fried like in the picture.

There are several other fish tavernas on the sea just to the west of the town dock where all the fishing boats are tied up and if you are staying here you will most likely sample them all since they are all pretty good and in the best position on the island to serve fresh sardines and whatever other fish are caught in the bay by the local fishing fleet, arguably the most important in Lesvos. Also as I mentioned above you can get great seafood in Achladeri (Ancient Phyra), Skala Polychnitou and Nyfida.

Hotels in Skala Kaloni

There are a number of hotels and rooms in Skala Kaloni including several that are popular with bird watchers. The Hotel AEGEON, has 47 luxurious rooms, all equipped with individual bathroom, telephone, radio, air-conditioning and refrigerator (after request) and comfortable balconies full of sunlight. The facilities include a large outdoor swimming pool with children's pool. Spacious sunbathing area with sunbeds and umbrellas. Quench your thirst at the pool-bar. At the hotel  restaurant the guest can taste - from midday through the evening - the Greek traditional cuisine (accompanied by fish and ouzo). Aeolian Gaea Hotel perfectly combines luxury with a fusion of traditional and modern art. Overlooking the Kalloni beach, it comprises of a 4-building complex, along with a large outdoor swimming pool. All air-conditioned units open to a private balcony and have a well-equipped kitchenette with fridge and cooking.  The villa style Hotel Pasaphae is set in beautiful landscaped grounds and around the large hotel swimming pool with sun terraces and pool bar. All rooms have private bathroom with either bath or shower, balcony, & telephone.

For more hotels in Skala Kaloni see Booking.com's Skala Kaloni Page

For more on Kaloni read this excerpt from my book In Search of Sardeles Pastes

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