Kos (Greek Island)
Famous figures in literature and medicine have lounged on the beaches of Kos: Asclepius, god of healing; Hippocrates, father of modem medicine and the Hippocratic oath; the poet Theocritus, and his teacher Philetas. In ancient times, Kos was a major trading power with a population of 160,000 eight times that of today. It has passed under control of Italian, German, and British governments. Kos Town draws a young, loud, intoxicated crowd, while relatively unexplored rural Kos attracts more sedate travelers in search of stunning beaches and serene villages.
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In Kos Town, the minarets of Ottoman mosques spike above grand Italian mansions, the massive walls of a Crusader fortress, and scattered ruins from the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman eras. The combination of ancient, medieval, and modern makes Kos a historian’s paradise by day, while its bars make it a dissipated hotspot by night. It’s one of the most expensive towns in the Dodecanese, and package tours leave very few rooms for independent travelers.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
The dignified walls of the Castle of the Knights of St. John overwhelm the vista as femes pull into the harbor of Kos Town. Walk left (facing inland) from the harbor to reach the Avenue of Palms, also known as Finikon, framed by the stately trees. Continuing along the waterfront past the Palms leads to Vassileos Georgios and the rocky beach alongside it. Turn right onto the Palms, follow it to the next corner of the fortress, and you’ll come upon Aktl Koundouriotou, another waterfront street that wraps around the harbor. The city bus station, boats to Turkey, travel agencies, restaurants, and Kos’s thriving nightlife are all here.
Branching inland off Akti Koundouriotou are the town’s main arteries: El. Venizelou leads through a row of travel agencies into the shopping district; Megalou Alexandrou, a few blocks down, heads to PI. Palaiologou, the ruins of ancient Kos Town, arid the inland villages. The town’s other sandy beach begins near the end of Akti Koundouriotou. Ferries run to: Kalymnos (1hr., 1-3 per day, €5.28); Leros (2M>hr., 1 per day, €7.34); Patmos (4hr., 1-2 per day, €9.41); Piraeus (11-15hr., 2-3 per day, €15.29); and Rhodes (41u, 2 per day, €12.35). Two per week go to: Nisyros (€7.06); Symi (€8.24); Tilos (€7.35). Boats run to Bodum, Turkey every morning (€29.41-38.23 round-trip). Turkish boats leave in the afternoon and return the next morning (€23.53-38.23 round-trip). Since travel is international, prices aren’t regulated by the Greek government. The Port Authority (26 594) is at the corner of Megalou Alexandrou and Akti Kountouriotou. Visitors leaving with Turkish boats requiring an overnight stay also need a visa. Buses (22 292, fax 20 263) leave from Kleopatras street near the inland end of Pavlou behind the Olympic Airways office. M-Sa to: Antimachia (40min., 6 per day, €1.47); Local buses leave from Akti Koundouriotou 7 (26 276), on the water. To: Asclepion (15min., 16 per day); Agios Fokas (50 per day); Messaria (9 per day); and Thermae (20min., 9 per day).
Fares cost €0.44-0.74. Taxis (22 777 or 22 333) are near the inland end of the Avenue of Palms. Rent a quality bike at George, P. Tsaldari 3 (28 480), near the port authority. (Mopeds €11.76-14.71 per day, bikes €1.47-2.94. Open daily 8am-8pm.) Greek National Tourist Office, on Akti Miaouli in the same building as the tourist police, provides maps, brochures, and schedules. (Open M-F 8am-8pm, Sa 8am-3pm.) There’s a National Bank (28 167), behind the Archaeological Museum, one block inland from the water on A.P. loannidi. (24hr. ATM. Open M-Th 8am-2pm, F 8am-l:30pm.) For emergencies, call 22 100; ambulances, call22 300; for general information, call 131. The 24hr. police (22 222), on Akti Miaouli in the big yellow building by the castle, speak some English; the tourist police ( 22 444) arc in the same place. (Open 7:30am-2pm.)
Hotel vacancies are rare in summer, so start searching for rooms early. Most inexpensive places are on the right side of town if you’re facing inland. It’s better to seek your own room, since Kos’s dock hawks are notorious. The aroma of fresh jasmine is nearly as delightful as Sonia and Alex’s hospitality at Pension Alexis 0, Herodotou 9. If rooms are full, the proprietor will set you up with a mattress and sheets on the patio or cut you a deal at his elegant Hotel Afendoulis. Romantic verandas, and common baths. Take the first right off Megalou Alexandrou, on the back left comer of the first intersection. (28 798 or 25 594. Doubles €16.18-25; triples €26.46-29.41.) Traditional wood-paneled rooms surround a central courtyard at Hotel Afendoulis , Evrilpilou 1, down Vas. Georgiou. All have private baths and balcony. Ask about the cheaper cellar rooms. (fax 25 321 or 25 797. Doubles €22.06-35.29.) Kos Camping O is 3km southeast from the center and accessible by public transport, in a shady, well-maintained setting right across from the beach. (23 910 or 23 275. Mini-market, bar, laundry facilities, cooking room, postal services, pool, and security boxes. Your own tent €3.24, rental €3.82. Buses run every 30min. to and from the center.)
The fruit and veggie market in PI. Eleftherias, on Vas. Pavlou, inside a large yellow building with a picture of grapes over the doors, is touristy and expensive; minimarkets have cheaper fruit. (Open M-F 7am-9pm, Sa 7am-6pm, Su 10am-2pm.) Ampavris O, on E. Georgiou, is a true diamond in the rough. Take the road past the Casa Romana; it’s about a 15min. walk from town. (Stuffed flower buds €2.79, entrees €3-5.50. 25 696.) Hellas 0, Psaron 7, at comer of Amerikis, serves huge portions of tasty Greek dishes in a service-fxiendly atmosphere. (Lamb kleftiko €6.76, moussaka €4.71. Vegetarian options. Open daily 4-llpm.) Nick the Fisherman 0, Averof 21, at corner of Alikamasou, brings daily catches straight to your plate at the best psarotavema in town. Ask for Larry’s friendly service. (Mussels €5.88, sea-urchins €5.29; entrees from €5.88-8.82 Open 1pm-late.)
Most bars are in two districts. The first is around Exarhia (a.k.a. Bar Street, between Akti Koundouriotou and the ancient agora, around Vas. Pavlou). Beers are 800- €2.35-2.94, cocktails €5.88. Most places open at 9pm, fill by 11pm, and rock until dawn. The second district, waterfront Porfiriou, hops by day as sun bunnies pre- game beachside for the evening’s trek to the waterfront dance clubs. Orfeas (25 713), on the corner of Fenaretis and Vas. Georgiou, shows American movies (€7.35). Kitsch (peanut-vending machines) meets de rigeur (elegant candles) at Fashion Club, Kanari 2, by the dolphin statue rotary. Kos’s most ostentatious club, it’s not nearly as pretentious as the bouncers would have you think. (€8.82 cover includes a drink. No cover for the cafe in front. 22 592.) The former bathhouse of Hamam Club (28 323) near the agora, next to the taxi station in PI. Diagoras, now soothes you with aural massage: live, outdoor acoustic sets play until midnight over a hopping dance club floor. Enjoy drinks in one of the one-time private bathing rooms. Opposite the beach, Heaven, on Zouroudi, has an appropriate cabana theme. A big, loud, popular outdoor disco. (23 874. Open Su-Th 10am- 4am, Sa-Su 10am-dawn. €5.88 cover.)
The run-down field of ruins bounded by Nafklirou, Hippocrates, and the water- front was the Roman agora; it’s now dominated by a population of sunbathing youth. The remains of a Temple of Aphrodite and the more impressive 2nd-century AD Temple of Hercules lie beside two Roman roads: the Cardo (axis), perpendicular to Grigoriou, and the Decumana (broadest), parallel to Grigoriou and intersecting Cardo. Nearby, you’ll find an ancient gymnasium, a Roman swimming pool, and an early Christian basilica built over a Roman bath. At the end of the Decumana, the wmod-sheltered 3rd-cent,ury AD House of Europa has a mosaic floor depicting Europa’s abduction by Zeus. The odeum, a wrell-preservcd Roman theater, lies across the street. The 3rd-century AD Casa Romana, uncovered by an Italian archaeologist in 1933, is down Grigoriou. The meager ruins of a Temple of Dionysus stand opposite the Casa Romana. (Open 24hr. Free.)
Invading Knights of St. John built, the massive 15th-century castle. The once movable bridge marks the connecting entrance from the Square of Hippocrates, and linked the island castle to the mainland. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1495, the fortress was rebuilt by Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson. In the 16th century, elaborate double walls and inner moats resisted Ottoman raids; now, it’s a fantastically preserved example of medieval architecture. (Take the bridge from PI. Platanou across Fmlkis. (27 927). Ask for the helpful pamphlet available at the door. Open Tu-Su 8:30am- 3pm. €2.94, students €1.47, EU students free.) The gigantic Plane Tree of Hippocrates, allegedly planted by the great physician 2400 years ago, has grown to an enormous 12m diameter in PI. Platanou. It’s appealing to envision Hippocrates teaching and writing beneath its noble foliage; it’s deflating to realize that the tree is only 500 years old. A spring beside it leads toward an ancient sarcophagus used by the Ottomans as a cistern for the Hadji Hassan Mosque. Behind the tree, is the monumental Town Hall, originally the Italian Governor’s Palace. The most impressive Ottoman structure is the Defterdar Mosque in PI. Eleftherias. Nearby, on Diakou, is the abandoned art deco Synagogue of Kos, in use until World War II. The city’s Byzantine Greek Orthodox Cathedral is on the corner of Korai and Ag. Nikolaou. Near the Casa Romana are the ruins of an even older (5th century BC) and more striking Hellenic mansion. (Open Tu-Su 8:30am-2:30pm. €1.76, students and seniors €0.88.)
Hellenistic and late Roman sculptures dominate the Archaeological Museum. A celebrated statue, found at the Kos Odeon and presiunably of Hippocrates, stands in the northwest room. A 2nd-century AI) Roman mosaic in the central courtyard depicts Hippocrates and a colleague entertaining the god Asclcpius. Statues of Dionysos, Artemis, and Aphrodite occupy the North room and Atrium. (In PI. Eleftherias. a 28 326. Open Tu-Su 8am-2:30pm. €2.35, students €1.18.)
PJ DAYTRIPS FROM KOS TOWN
The ancient sanctuary of Asclepion devotes itself to the healer god. In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates opened the world’s first medical school here to encourage the development of a precise medical science. Combining priestly techniques with his own, Hippocrates made Kos the foremost medical center in ancient Greece, and many present-day doctors travel here to take their Hippocratic oaths. Carved into a hill overlooking Kos Town, the Aegean, and Asia Minor, the second- and third-century BC complex contained three levels. A sacred forest uf cypress and pine trees still adjoins the site. Inside, you’ll find 2nd-century AD Roman baths. The three stacked levels, called andirons, remain: the lowest holds a complex of 3rd-century AD Roman baths and a preserved cistern. Climb the 3rd- ‘ unluxry BC steps to the remarkable second andiron and the elegant columns of her 2nd-century AD Temple of Apollo and the 4th-century BC Minor Temple of AscIepius. The 60-step climb to the third andiron leads to the forested remnants of the Main Temple of Asclepius and an overview of the site, Kos Town, and the Turkish coast opposite. (3.5km west of Kos Town. Take the bus in summer (15min., 16 per day), ora moped. Follow the sign west off the main road, and go as straight as you can. Taxis are €1.47. s28 763. Open daily Tu-Su 8am-6:30pm. €2.35, students €1.18.)
Claustrophobes will be pleased at how quickly Kos Town’s urban fracas gives way to pastoral landscapes north of town. The island’s northern reaches stretch out flat, with bike-laned roads. Pedal along the main road east of town past a sandy, crowded stretch, on the way to the stinky hot springs of Empros Thermae, near the road’s end and marked by several parked bikes and a Cantina. Lampi Beach is at the northernmost tip of the island. A nude beach lies between touristy Tigaki and Marmari. (Buses run to Empros Thermae (9 per day), Lampi (34 per day), Marmari (10 per day), and Mastihari (4 per day).) The main road from Kos Town heads 9km southwest to modern Zipar and the ruins of the early Christian Basilica of St. Paul. From there, a twisting road winds through the green foothills of the Dikeos Mountains to Asfendiou, five small settlements that you can hike to in perfect solitude.
(Buses from Kos Town go to Asfendiou (40min., 3 per day, €1.18).) Continue up this road to Zia, a delightful little village in the forests of Mt. Dikeos host to spectacular island views. Ag. Georgios, in the center of two, also accommodates incredible 13th and 14th-century frescos. South of Lagoudi, the prettiest of the five villages, the road becomes a narrow mule path and the hills grow wilder. Uphill 8km, you’ll come to the compact Pyll ruins, with 14th-century frescoes in a Byzantine church within a castle. (Buses min from Kos Town (30min., 5 per day, €1.18).) Hills, ravines, and the occasional pasture roll across southern Kos, which is edged by the best beaches on the island. Among the beaches stretching to Kardamena, Camel is mildly busy and beautiful; Paradise is popular; and, farther north, Magic is empty and enticingly blue. (The bus will let you off at any of the beaches.) A few ocean side ancient columns distinguish Kefalos, Kos’ ancient capital; head to the surrounding beaches, like picturesque Limionas. Agios Theologos, a gorgeous, deserted pebbly beach 4km west of Kefalos, is perfect for night swimming.