“There is a desert I long to be walking. A wide emptiness. Peace beyond any understanding of it” – Rumi
There’s something about the desert. This is not a new revelation; people have been telling the same stories of profound and supremely weird experiences in the desert for thousands of years. Many are still going out there, to find themselves, find God or, just find peace.
I’m on of these people. I love desert landscapes and I love immersing myself in their serenity. They’re just so quiet; and I need quiet, perhaps, more than anything, to recharge. But, I also love the ocean, it’s smell and all the culture (and food!) that it brings along.
No surprise then, that I fell in love with a desert island. Lemnos, as the island is known, is situated in the North East Aegean Sea and is largely untouched by modern tourism. Among in-the-know travelers, it is popular for its otherworldly scenery, often described as “lunar” and “Martian” and a lively culinary scene that relies heavily on local meats, dairy and honey.
It’s a one-of-a-kind place, free from the noisy crowds that plague most of the southern islands. We visited for my dad’s 73d birthday, in mid-August, at the peak of the tourist season in Greece. And, yet, we barely saw another soul, except at the restaurants we stopped for lunch/ dinner. I was thrilled and mesmerized by the empty, meditative scenery.
We spent three days on the island, but I could have easily stayed two weeks. I don’t say that about many places, fyi.
We boarded the boat to Lemnos from the port of Kavala (up north) on 10:00PM on a Saturday night, and after a 4-hour delay, and a 4-hour trip, we finally reached Lemnos at 6:00AM the next day. Grumpy and stiff AF, we saw the most beautiful sunrise upon arrival, which quickly turned things around.
Because all the rooms were booked out by the time we decided to visit, we stayed in a tiny wooden house in the middle of nowhere that we rented through a friend of a friend. It was danish-style and surrounded by a beautiful vineyard.
On our first day we woke up late and headed to a long, golden sand beach called “Zematas“, in the northeastern part of the island. It’s one of the better known beaches on the island, but it was comparatively quiet and underdeveloped, which works for me. There were two small beach bars/ cafes were you could rent an umbrella and some chairs, but we brought our own and hid from the crowds as much as possible. Thankfully, everyone in family are quiet, antisocial beings, which makes things easier.
It was unbearably hot (around 100F), but the water was calm crystal-clear.
For dinner, we headed to “Ennoia Po’chs” in the nearby village of Lychna, a former kafeneio dating from the early 1900s, that has been transformed into a bistro that serves Greek dishes with a modern twist. We ordered the beef tongue (served with a yummy homemade must mustard – hell yeah!), which was probably the best beef tongue I have ever had, a tuna fillet served with homemade pita bread (my dad had the pita), a grilled aubergine topped with garlic and creamy feta (heaven!) and a local beef dish cooked in a skillet with eggs, called “kavourmas”. Oh, and a smoked mackerel served on a bed of beets, which was also delicious!
The next day we visited a winery to try some local wines. Lemnos is not firmly placed on the international wine map, but their Muscat is relatively well-known within Greece. My dad also makes his own wine and my sister just loves to drink, and has become quite knowledgable on the subject, so it was a fun family thing to do. The winery we visited is called “Chatzigeorgiou Estate” and it’s best known for its white wines, which we sampled. We also tried their dry rose, which I personally liked best.
After the wine-tasting we headed to “Amothines” (dunes), a small sand desert up on the north shore. It was scorching hot and you couldn’t really walk on the sand without literally burning your feet, but it was an unusual and interesting sight. The ride up was pretty rough, though – if you plan on visiting, you definitely need an SUV-type vehicle, and good tires.
From the dunes, we drove down to the beach (“Gomati“), and while it was windy and the waters murky, it turned out to be my favorite beach from the ones we visited. The landscape just felt so untouched and far removed from everything else, and because I’m kind of an extreme introvert, this type of scenery just speaks to me.
Up the cliff next to the beach, is a taverna with a breathtaking view that we visited after our dip in the water (and an impromptu beach clean-up), called “Flomari“. Because the spot is quite inaccessible and cut-off from civilization, the crowd is eclectic and the vibes tranquil in a way that in super-popular spots they just never are.
We ordered the rabbit (a common local dish), sheep and stewed beef (“moscharaki kokinisto”), which they typically serve with homemade pasta but, because neither I nor my sister eat gluten, we ordered them with fried potatoes instead (FYI I don’t eat those either but the rest of the fam does!). Compared to the food we had on the island overall, I thought the dishes here were “just ok”, but compared to food I’ve had around Greece more broadly, it was good and the view was worth the trip.
On our last day, we checked out “Koutali” beach near “Mirna” village, that reminded me of Salton Sea, minus the dead animals and huge stink. It was an otherworldly scenery of dark grey sand and cane bushes that was soothing and piercing at once. There was only one other family there, which was perfect and intensified the feeling of peace and isolation.
After our swim, I wanted to visit the roofless chapel of “Panagia Kakaviotisa“, which is located inside a rock cavity on top of a mountain, roughly 4 km from the islan’d capital, Myrina. The chapel is dated back to the early 1400s and was used as a shelter for monks and hermits during Ottoman rule. Unfortunately, we were misinformed that the hike was 45 minutes long (it’s 20) and challenging (not sure about that, but I’m guessing that’s not quite accurate either), and we decided it’s better to head to the port so as not to miss our boat back.
After a short stroll we had lunch at a seaside restaurant with a beautiful view of the port, that was recommended to us by a local (“Glaros“). It looked like one of those places were you just pay for the view, but the food was clean, traditional and just plain good, and the fish we ordered was extremely fresh. They also served us some of the best mussels I’ve had in a long time.
After lunch we wanted to check out the souvenir and jewelry shops in town but, unfortunately, most of them were closed because of a national holiday. We did manage to find one shop selling gorgeous handmade ceramics (kitchenware and other knick-knacks), where we picked up some nice little gifts for friends (“Heiroplathi“), and my dad bought some local thyme honey, but that was really all we managed.
There was a cool crystal and jewelry shop that I was super bummed to miss out on, but I have a feeling I will be back, soon.