Lesbians flock to Greek island of Lesbos for festival
Lesbians from across Europe have flocked to Greece's Lesbos island for the tenth annual International Women's Festival.
Telegraph Published: 12:07PM BST 14 Sep 2010
In a country strongly influenced by the Greek Orthodox church and where roughly half the population is against same-sex marriage, the lesbian-run event has been quietly growing in this corner of the Aegean Sea.
Over the past decade, attendance at the two-week International Women's Festival in the village of Eressos has jumped from 30 to hundreds of women – mainly German, British, Dutch and Scandinavian, but also Greek and Italian.
The busy programme of events includes women-only walks and sunset cruises, breathing and drumming workshops, Greek dance classes and lesbian film screenings.
"I've been blown away, there's no unease at all," says Lauren Bianchi, a Scottish woman in her early 20s who is at the festival for the first time and who had read articles about difficult relations between locals and lesbians.
In 2000, when the festival launched, tensions ran high.
A poster advertising one of its events sparked the anger of the village mayor, who threatened to take the organisers to court and ban the event, vowing to drive lesbian tourism from the village.
Ten years on, the municipality is lending the town hall for one of the festival's art exhibitions and allowed the use of the beach to stage the opening event on September 4.
Lesbian holidaymakers have been coming to Lesbos since the 1970s, attracted by the island's association with Sappho, the seventh century Greek poet who wrote about her love for women and was born in Eressos.
According to the Sappho travel agency, lesbians now make up 60 per cent of visitors to the village, rising to 90 per cent in September when the festival takes place.
"My rooms are full for the next two weeks. We'd usually be dead in September, but now it's booming," says Andreas, who runs the Sappho café bar and rents rooms on the village seafront.
As the economic crisis continues to pinch, he says Greek holidaymakers spent less this summer and he is grateful for the extended season brought by lesbian tourism.
"People in the village have got used it, especially the young people, but the old people still discuss it among themselves," he says.