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GREAT ESCAPE: Northeast Aegean

The Greek islands in the northeast of the Aegean Sea are larger and less clustered than most of their neighbours in the Cyclades and Dodecanese to the south. A trip stepping ashore on three of them – Lesvos, Chios and Ikaria – introduces olive farmers and wild honey, hidden villages and untouched beaches, and perhaps the secret to long life.

Savour the many flavours of Greece on Lesvos, from olive oil to ouzo and orange wine

OUTSIDE HIS TUMBLEDOWN TIN-ROOFED cottage, in the mountains above the town of Plomari on Lesvos' southern coastline, Giorgios Eletheriou is serving breakfast. Plates of goat's cheese, figs, walnuts, tomatoes and grapes appear on the table under a pergola of climbing vines, and a pot of coffee bubbles away on an iron range. Below the cottage, olive trees cover the stony slopes as far as the eye can see, each encircled by a hand-built, drystone wall - an ancient cultivation method for retaining water. Under the shade of the trees, two horses stamp their hooves, impatient for their own breakfast.

'This farm has belonged to my family for generations,' Giorgios says, eating figs as he looks out over his olive groves. 'In the past, people would spend entire summers up here. Not many do that now, but I prefer the old way of life. To me, this place is paradise.'

Known to the Ottomans as the 'garden of the Aegean', Lesvos is renowned throughout Greece for its olives, particularly the indigenous variety, kolovi. Around 10 million olive trees cover the island, many centuries old. Olive growing has been a way of life on Lesvos since ancient times, and like Giorgios, most locals still tend their family groves on the island's rocky hills.

Morning at the fishing port of Skala Kallonis on Lesvos’ central bay. ABOVE Olive farmer Giorgios Eletheriou

Recently, there has also been a move back towards older, more sustainable farming practices. 'We have been on a journey to relearn the methods of our fathers and grandfathers,' explains Myrta Kalambokas, as she walks around her family's orchards at Eirini, the island's top organic olive farm, just outside Plomari. 'Rather than relying on chemicals and pesticides, we now plant herbs and wildflowers to encourage pollination, and dust the leaves to prevent diseases, just as people did a century ago. The quality and taste of the olives is so much better. If we look after nature, it looks after us.'

In front of the farm’s futuristic, computer-controlled olive press, inside a renovated stone barn, she tastes this season's first pressing with fresh-baked bread. It's fruity and pungent, with a peppery aftertaste, indicating the oil is particularly high in polyphenol compounds, known for their medicinal properties.


The pleasant Aeolean Gaea Hotel is near the fishing village of Skala Kallonis – a great place to watch the daily catch being landed. Rooms are simple but spacious, and most have little balconies overlooking the grounds; more expensive ones also have kitchenettes. There’s also a cracking pool (rooms from £65;

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