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Agiassos, Lesvos

Agiassos, lesvosAgiassos is 26 kilometers from Mytilini town on the pine and olive covered slopes of Mount Olympos. The amount of geenery here is stunning. There are plentiful platanos, apple, chestnut, pear and cherry trees as well as varieties of other trees and shrubs. The town itself is a completely traditional village of narrow stone streets and picturesque lanes. Many of the houses have projecting upper floors known as sachnisia with wooden balconies decorated with flower pots of begonias, carnations, geraniums and other ornamental plants. The industrious women of Agiassos still spin and weave. For many years the town was known for its pottery and this tradition is carried on today. There is also a high level of wood-carving. The craftsmen make beautiful carved wooden icons and furniture.

Panagia Church, Agiassos Agiassos is known throughout Greece for the church to the Virgin Mary, the Panagia ti Vrefokratousa in the center of town. It is second only to the island of Tinos for pilgrims who used to walk the old stone road from Mytilini to pay tribute to the miracle working icon, brought here from Jerusulem by the imperial priest Agathon the Ephesian in the year 803. In 1701 Agiassos, because of a miracle by the Blessed Virgin who cured the Turkish administrator of an illness, was absolved by Sultan's decree of having to pay taxes to the Ottoman government and many people moved there until it was recinded in 1783. Pilgrims still come throughout the year but especially on the eve of the feast day of the Panagia (August 15th). The worshippers come into the monk cells and the church enclosure, many of them having spent 15 days waiting outside. Some still walk from all over the island to give offerings to the icon. After the service the icon is paraded around with great pomp. The festival also attracts many merchants and there is a great deal of celebration in the nightspots of the town. It is quite a party and the musicans keep it going until dawn.

Cafeneon, AgiassosThe center of activity revolves around the many cafeneons that surround the church and some others in the upper village. Men drink ouzo and eat special meze dishes that are cooked by the cafe proprietors. The village is at a high enough altitude to be cool in the hot summer months and once you get a feel for life there you will never miss the beach. Since most of the island's tourist activity takes place on the beaches and the coastal towns, places like Agiassos have maintained their traditions and time spent here is similar to the way it would have been 100 years ago. In the lower part of the village there are several restaurants that cater to visitors, mostly Greeks who have come to see the church and the icons. If you are coming here by car it is recommended you leave it here and walk up through the village and avoid the stress of having to stop and go on a ninety degree hill that makes San Francisco look like the plains of Iowa. Then walk up through the village, see the church and find a nice little cafe for a meal and a drink. There are plenty and they are all great.

Vassilis, Stavri Restaurant, Agiassos, LesvosIf you can't decide on one out of the dozens of cafeneons and restaurants in the town then I have a suggestion. Walk up the hill past the church and keep going past the medieval looking police station that looks like the kind of place that would have dungeons in the basement and keep going until you see a bridge that crosses the main road. There are tables and chairs on each side of the bridge and on the right is a small ouzeri-cafeneon with a restaurant sized menu (though not an actual menu. Like most places the guy tells you what he has to eat and you tell him what you want.) The cafeneon is called To Stavri and is owned by Vassilis Viglatsis who runs it with his father, a retired actor. Actually you can't miss the place because there are signs posted of idioms and philosophical advice posted on trees, walls, the bridge and all over the place. Try the pastourma omelet, or his home made lamb keftedes which are more like patties than meatballs. He has delicious cheese-stuffed louloudakia (zucchini flowers) and an ample horiatiki salata with the best tomatoes of the summer that we had. Also their ladotiri (local cheese) is excellent. The restaurant is open 24 hours too and from Septermber to June serves patsa, the miracle working tripe that everyone in Greece eats to cure hangovers and more serious illnesses. The inside of the restaurant is like an antique museum, in fact in some places it would be an antique museum.

Karini, LesvosOn the road to Agiasou from Mytilini there is a tiny settlement called Karini which should not be missed. There are several cafeneons and a very nice restaurant next to an amazing spring that pours from the ground into a large pool and then is channeled into a fast moving stream that flows down the mountain to the fields and villages below. The area is shaded and cool, with ducks swimming in the spring water. You can walk down the steps and cool your feet in the torrent. On the other side of the restaurant is a large platanos tree, one of the biggest on the island. The hollow of the tree is a room, and I was told is where the artist Theophilos lived for a time and you can see the remains of one of his murals on the main cafeneon. If you are traveling with children this is a great place to stop and spend an hour or so since the ducks, stream and tree will keep them entertained. If you are on the island during summer and need a break from the heat and have had your fill of the sea then come up here and bring a good book. You will discover that it's better than an air-conditioned hotel room. As for hotels in Agiassos the pickings are slim but you can drive here in about twenty minutes or so from Vatera.

Agiassos Photos

Church courtyard

Church Courtyard


Amarandi and a cafe

Two-level cafe at the top of the village

Cafe next to religious shop


House with Mount Olympus in the background

Cheese, goat
Touloumotiri is cheese that is aged in the skin of a sheep or goat for several months and sold in the cheese shop next to the church along with many others from around the island.

The Women's Cooperative of Agiassos have a large variety of homemade traditional foods. Their workshop is in the police department building up the street from the church. You can't miss the building. It looks like a castle.

More on Agiassos from my book in Search of Sardeles Pastes

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