Hotel with a camping feeling in Lesbos
WILCO VAN HERPENI know a lot of my readers have children and for them, I have found the perfect holiday spot (also if you do not have any children, this place is perfect as well!). For my work, I have stayed in many hotels; some of them very nice but, unfortunately, some of them very bad. But never have I found a hotel that gave me the feeling as if I was on a camping trip. Until this summer…
As I wrote last week, this summer, I went to Lesbos Island to have a nice holiday and to discover the roots of my wife’s family. But first of all, I needed a holiday and it turned out that I had found the perfect place: Hotel Votsala in Thermi (www.votsalahotel.com) about a 15-minute drive away from Mytilene. The owners, Iannis and Daphne, opened their hotel 14 years ago. With their own characteristic and warm charm, they have an eye for all of the guests who stay in their hotel. Their hospitality infects all the guests and before you realize it, you feel like you become one of the family. My general problem with hotels is there is no personal connection with the people who run the place or who stay in the hotel, but here it’s as if you are on a spending your holiday on a camping site.
When I was young, I used to go on holidays with my parents and every year, we would pack the car, attach the caravan to the car and take off. I loved spending my holidays at campsites because it meant that we were always making friends with new people who came from all over Europe. Living an outdoor camping life, as there is no way you can stay all day in your caravan during the summer months in France, Italy or the former Yugoslavia, meant we would chat with whoever was our neighbor at that time. There was a “doors were always open” feel when I spent my time on a caravan holiday, compared to my time in a hotel, where I feel there is a “doors are always closed” feel. You do not know who sleeps in the room next to you and in the morning the first thing to do is occupy your chair next to the swimming pool, so you have the best place to “enjoy” your holiday. But here, at hotel Votsala, it was different.
At least once a week, Daphne organizes a cooking course where she teaches you some easy, but very original Greek recipes. So you sign up for it together with your daughter or wife and go there. The first thing Daphne does is start mixing the group, so everybody is forced to work with someone else. This creates a much more active and dynamic group. Together with Daphne and her female cooks, you suddenly feel yourself a master chef preparing yet another Greek dish. The fun part is that in the evening all the participants, together with their families, sit around the table next to the sea and share the food they all prepared together that afternoon. This creates an atmosphere where there is no distance between the “guests” of the hotel anymore. Iannis, on the other hand, is famous for the hikes he organizes. After 3:00 p.m. he takes the people who signed up for the hike to some nice and interesting places on the island. While walking, he talks and talks. It can be about Greek mythology, olive production or some plants or birds you see while walking, but one thing is for sure; his conversations are fun and interesting and believe me, it’s never boring to be out with Iannis.
People who stay in hotel Votsala are encouraged to initiate some activities as well. This can be Yoga, dance classes or a pottery course. For all the events people have to pay a symbolic fee and the money Daphne and Iannis collect will be donated to charity. A lot of refugees who try to cross the Mediterranean Sea end up stranded and living in difficult and harsh conditions here. So Daphne and Iannis try to help these refugees by providing them with the money they collect through their workshops. Believe me, you definitely will not be bored when you stay at their place, but of course there is so much more to do and to see in Lesbos.
Fatoş is a guide in Lesbos and works for Mitilene tours (www.mitilenetours.gr). Together, with her we, traveled around and she showed us some amazing places. Just five minutes from the hotel, you can see the remains of the oldest residential place on the island; a very old thermal bathhouse. All that remains are the foundations of the bathhouse, but you can clearly see the different rooms where people would once use as healing baths. In the background you can find the remains of a very stately hotel: the Sarlıca palace hotel, which was built in the early 1900s. Once the residence of rich and mainly old people who came to Thermi to have healing baths, now it is standing there and waiting for another glorious time to come. Unfortunately, plans to rebuild the hotel have been canceled due to the, much older, Roman bathhouse in front of the hotel. I climbed over the gate and walked around in the hotel. It gave me a creepy feeling to walk around there and I could still feel the grandeur of what it once used to be. A gorgeous entrance, after which I saw beautiful decorated stone floors stretching out from one side of the hotel to the other. The whole hotel was empty and wrecked except for one room; here was a grand piano standing and waiting. It was as if the musician just went to the bar to get one of the famous cocktails they served and then the music would continue. At this moment, I could not stop myself from thinking about the film Casablanca and how I could picture Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman drinking a cold glass of Champagne.
Fatoş brought me to Mandamados, a communal village where you can find the Taksiarhis monastery, which used to be down at the seaside, according to local stories. It was there that pirates attacked the monastery, killed all the monks except one novice who, for some reason, decided to sleep on the roof that night. The novice witnessed the killing of the monks but could not do anything to save them. Once the pirates were gone, the novice went down and buried all of the monks’ bodies. With the blood soaked earth, the novice decided to make an icon shaped sculpture and this sculpture is, until today, in the cathedral. Numerous people come to see and pray in front of this icon. I even saw people who were crawling on their knees towards the sculpture. Most of those people either have a relative that cannot walk or have problems walking and therefore want to identify themselves with the archangel Michael. The best time to visit the cathedral is late afternoon, as the light creates an unforgettable light show in the cathedral. This is also the time that mostly local people visit the cathedral to pray for health. After visiting the cathedral, one should definitely have a nice cup of yoghurt with honey that is prepared by the monks who live in the cathedral.
It was late afternoon and there was one more place for today that Fatoş wanted to show me. Back in the car and, after a 45-minute drive, we arrived in Skala Skamnias. In this little fishermen’s place you can find a couple of nice authentic souvenir shops and some beautiful restaurants. The main attraction, though, is the church of Mother Mary, a church that is the symbol of protecting the fishermen. Built on a high rock bordering the sea, the church seems to be untouchable from the destructive waves that we love, but also fear. It is under the Mulberry Tree restaurant that you can find some amazing appetizers, like filled zucchini flowers, octopus, calamari or their home made marinated dried fish. Combine this with a good glass of Ouzo and you will have the day of your life.