Mytilene: rusty glory, yellowing charms and lively nights

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The elegance of the mansions our route passes by on the way to town from the airport defines our first encounters with Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos. They’re stunning, with a late 19th century feel to them, Mediterranean colours, elaborate designs and extravagant touches. We are smitten. But a few minutes later, as we wander the streets of Mytilene, the town has a definite faded glory feel to it. The main pedestrian street of the town takes us by a lot of windows covered with newspaper – the ghosts of closed shops, bars and restaurants – which leaves a feeling of sadness in us.

Alex, who’s been to Mytilene four times now, says that the town appears much different than it used to, withering rather than blossoming: run down streets, unkempt buildings, dingy public areas, littered parks, dilapidated monuments, boarded-up tourist office. Yet, it comes alive by night, trying to either combat the crisis it’s fighting against, or veil itself in a cloud of oblivion. The waterfront and the narrow streets behind the harbour, which house the majority of the restaurants and bars, are full of people, buzzing with chatter, laughter and the unbeatable Greek sense of positivism.

On the next morning, we leave to explore the rest of the island, and the picture which Mytilene imprints of itself in my mind, is one of an abandoned wooden shopfront, chipped paint, rusty hinges, yellowing sheets of newspaper covering the windows. But perhaps, one day, when I return, a less uneasy one will take its place.

Restaurants and bars 

Panellinion 

Panellinion is one of the historic cafes of Mytilene, which opened at the beginning of last century, and in the early thirties became the meeting point of all social and political life in Mytilene. It captured us with its elegant decor, Vienna  wood tables and chairs, leather sofas, tall columns and beautiful ceiling. We enjoyed a couple of well-prepared champagne cocktails, while marvelling the grand presence of the place and walls adorned with frescos of old Mytilene.

Taverna Kalderimi

We had lunch at Kalderimi, a small taverna tucked away on a narrow alleyway between the waterfront and the main pedestrian street, Ermou. It is a down-to-earth place, with occasionally moody waiters, which serves delicious local food at reasonable prices. Sitting under the vines was both a cosy experience and a much needed escape from the blazing lunchtime sun. We loved the zucchini flowers stuffed with rice – a rare treat, which was so deliciously prepared, it made us return to the place.

Diavlos

We stumbled across this cosy place, while looking for a restaurant on a narrow alleyway, which Alex had previously been to and absolutely loved. This place fitted the bill and we decided that it may have been the one, so we had dinner here – without checking its reviews, which is almost like living on the edge for our standards. The food was delicious, but not too memorable, leading us to conclude that it must be a different restaurant than the one we were looking for.

Mousiko Kafenio

Mousiko Kafenio seems to be one of the main places where the young, hip and trendy inhabitants of Mytilene gather in the evenings. Frequented by young professionals rather than students, the place is lively and buzzing. I wasn’t impressed by my whiskey sour, Alex more so by her negroni, but we both loved the lively atmosphere and artsy decor, featuring emerald green walls, rustic fixtures, and quirky paintings.

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