Author, photographer and designer, Claire Lloyd is a brilliant personality overflowing with inspiration and talent. Her eyes light up when she talks about Lesvos and the house she built there with her life partner, the British artist Matthew Usmar Lauder. “I was led by my instinct, which, over the years, I learned to follow without a second thought. It was in 2005, at a time when I felt like I was losing my creativity, I was living with stress, I was dreaming of a sunny place outside London. My friend Vicki showed me a photo on her cell phone of the traditional stone house she had bought in Eressos, among figs and walnuts, under the blue sky. “This may be your cure,” she told me. A few days later I landed at the airport of Lesvos.
I was captivated by the first image of the island: the deep blue-green of the sea at dawn with warm colors painting the horizon. I felt peace, tranquility and a deep connection with the place, which I had never visited before. I drove to Molyvos ̶ the land was covered with flowers and olive trees, the wind smelled wonderful, I could hear the birds. We stayed at the Sea Horse Hotel ̶ I remember that the room had a balcony overlooking the picturesque harbor. At night, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of music and the voices of the people who were having fun. I often woke up at dawn and watched the fishermen coming back with the fish of the day. It was all magical.”
That same week, Claire found her new “home.” “We were heading to Eressos to meet the realtor whom we had met in London. At one turn we found ourselves in a small village built amphitheatrically on the west side of a bare hill. Passing through narrow paved streets, we reached the square, sat in a café and in the shade of a large plane tree we had a variety of tasty Greek delicacies. The owner, who today is one of my closest friends, welcomed us in the warmest way. “This is where I want to live,” I thought.
We saw some houses ̶ there were not many for sale ̶ and one day we found one at the top of the village. Once we got at its door, I was enchanted by the view. When we opened it, a secret garden with olive trees and roses was revealed. It was wild, but so beautiful. The house was furnished, with all things in place as if the owners had gone shopping. We opened a window and the afternoon light was wonderful. The whole village stretched out below us. I called Matthew and that’s how we ended up in Greece.”
The house renovation took a long time and we faced a lot of difficulties, but every day was a celebration. “The local community immediately embraced us. In every corner they were offering us food, one meal followed another ̶ it was moving! I have many funny stories to remember from a life that was entirely different from the one we had in London. Matthew has painted the whole house white ̶ I love the purity of white. I am obsessed with light and simplicity,” she says. The couple spent more and more time on the island, as their periods of stay became longer and longer. Claire describes this wonderful journey in her book “My Greek Island Home,” published by Penguin Lantern editions, which includes wonderful photographs that illustrate this story of finding beauty in small details.
Years later, she is absolutely happy with her choice. “We travel very often but our base is in Lesvos. I can’t wait to get back there,” she explained when I met her in Australia, two days before she left for Tasmania, where she and Matthew have Bushy Summers, a private hut with a great view, on the shores of Lettes Bay, which offers its visitors the opportunity to reconnect with nature.
As she speaks, I admire and envy her at the same time. Author of two books, the first of which was “Sensual Living,” which was released in the mid-1990s with great success, she discovered her passion for design at a young age. She has become an art director and has worked for publications such as Vogue Australia, The World of Interiors, W, Elle Decoration, but also brands such as Connolly London, Lee Mathews and Jo Malone.
“When I was little, I used to draw and be enchanted by the pictures in magazines ̶ we had a lot at home, since my father worked for a newspaper. I liked fashion and Ι used to design images from editorials. With these sketches I started working for Vogue at the age of 21 ̶ I was very lucky! A backpacking trip to Europe opened my horizons, I saw the breadth of the world and I wanted to explore it. I left Sydney at the age of 23 and found myself in London ̶ when I think about it now, it seems brave. The situation was very different in the early ’80s ̶ there was no Internet yet ̶ and I arrived in a city where I did not know anyone.”
Despite the difficulties, it did not take long for Claire to find her way in advertising and to end up working for The World of Interiors ̶ her favorite magazine. “I stayed there for two and a half years; it was one of the most creative times of my life. We designed the first version of W ̶ it was exciting!” Then she started freelancing, wrote her first book and collaborated with important companies. There came a time when she felt she was losing her creativity, she wasn’t feeling grounded. And then came Lesvos. “I change often, my life evolves constantly and that makes me happy. I have always been adventurous and impulsive. When I discover something new, I may not know where it will lead me but I follow it. I’m not afraid. The further you go, the more people you meet and through the new acquaintances life becomes even more interesting. I make friends ̶ I have friends all over the world.” I tell her that she looks young. “It’s the Greek way of life,” she replies with a laugh.
Today Claire Lloyd maintains a blog, writes, photographs, and travels. She cooks with local products, invites people over to her place, enjoys her house on the island. Her new project with Matthew is Rosy Summers. But that’s another story.
I love Caravan, a family taverna by the sea, on Avlaki beach. Delicious food from local products, vegetables and herbs from the garden, wonderful sunset.
A favourite hotel is Little Bird just outside Petra and very close to Caravan. The rooms are perfect, bright and simple, offering great balcony views over the Aegean.
The infinity pool is a lovely place to enjoy drinks or snacks from the Little Bird Cafe.
Molyvos is a very special village, where I stayed the first time I visited Lesvos. I made the Sea Horse Hotel my “home” while I was looking for my own place to buy, and also during its renovation when I found it. The front rooms have small balconies overlooking the harbor.
My favorite restaurant in Molyvos is The Octopus, with fresh seafood and traditional dishes, on the edge of the harbor, with a view of the Castle.
Out of all the beaches of the island, my favorite would be Eftalou, with its pebbles and crystal clear waters. Here you are also going to find Golden Beach taverna, an excellent choice for lunch, but also the famous thermal springs of Eftalou.
On the way to Eftalou, Dina has a small greengrocer’s shop with fresh organic vegetables that she grows with her family. I visit it at least once a week.
Sigri is located on the southwest coast of the island and is ideal for swimming. I choose Cavo Doro for food on the edge of the harbor, for amazing seafood and salads.
If you have a car and you feel confident with driving on difficult roads, it is worth following the route to Eressos, especially in the west, where the light is beautiful and gives the landscape a golden glow. When you arrive in Eressos, head to Skala to enjoy the sunset and have cocktails in Parasol.
For boating, the best spot is the turquoise waters that surround the Tokmakia islands, on the northwest coast of Lesvos.
At dusk we always take our guests by boat from Molyvos to Skala Sykamias ̶ the ideal way to end the day. The two restaurants in the port have fresh seafood.
At Eressian Hotel & Hammam Spa in Eressos they will take care of you in the best possible way. Choose it for your stay or just book a treatment ̶ the massages are divine.
Anna Liamo has a wonderful day spa in Molyvos. I especially enjoy the facial treatments. In Mytilene, respectively, Konstantina BeautyKS offers excellent services.
Mytilene is full of history, beautiful architecture and liveliness. I am happy to walk in its streets and constantly discover new things.
There are many churches in Lesvos, but the Holy Monastery of Ypsilou at the top of Mount Ordymnos, the oldest monastery on the island, dating back to Byzantine times, is a must on your list.