Kos: Island of history, culture and fun

Nestling in the warm waters of the Carpathian Sea the island of Kos is a jewel among jewels offering a climate and rich history few other holiday destinations can match.

The third largest island of the Dodecanese archipelago, after Rhodes and Karpathos, Kos lies between the islands of Nisyros and Kalymnos, close to the coasts of Asia Minor.

The island itself has an area of just 290 sq km and a population of just 20,000. However, its diminutive size belies its historic stature.

The island was first inhabited in prehistoric times, but it was around 1400 BC that civilization of any real description arrived when the Minoans sailed over from Crete and set foot on the azure shores.

Such a prized location did not go unnoticed for long and the Minoans were followed by the Achaeans and, a few centuries later, the Dorians.

It was the Dorians who founded the ancient city of Kos. Over the following centuries the Persians, Athenians, Spartans, Macedonians, Byzantines, Romans, Venetians, Turks, Italians, Germans and even the British have laid claim to the island.

With such a rich (and exhausting) list of cultural influences it is perhaps not surprising that Kos offers so much in the way of historical sites.

The most significant of these sites is the Asklepeio. Situated 4km west of the town of Kos, the Asklepeio was built in a green area full of cypress trees and served as a sanatorium dedicated to Aesculapius, son of Apollo, protector of health and medicine in Greek mythology.

Many significant people taught and worked here, one of them being the father of Medicine, Hippokrates.

Another of the island’s spectacular sites is the great fortress that stands at the entrance to the harbour. The Castle of Neratzia dates to 1315 when the Knights of St John of Rhodes became masters of the island.

After the Knights of St John, the Turks took over Kos and their architectural influence can also be seen in many of the island’s buildings.

A great way to find out more about the historical wonders of Kos is to visit the Archaeological Museum, located at Eleftherias square, exhibiting a wide collection of archaeological treasures, such as the mosaic of Hippocrates, and the Hellenistic sculptures of Aphrodite and Eros.

Of course most holidays aren’t just about education and Kos is also a place both to relax and have fun.

With a mild climate all year round together with vast sandy beaches is isn’t a surprise that Kos is so popular with sun seekers and beach bums.

Straying off the shore, hiking is also a popular pass time for tourists. In fact the island, together with its neighbours, came third in a recent poll on the best places to hike in Europe.

Night life is also world class on the island and has options to suit almost every taste. From beach bars clubs Kos is a city bursting with life and energy long in the the small hours.

For those on a more sedate or romantically inclined break will enjoy the cosy restaurants serving fantastic Greek specialties (such as the legendary seafood) and the quite beach front bars, perfect for a night cap after a stroll on the sand.

With so much to offer it is perhaps not surprising that Kos is such a popular destination. However, the island offers plenty of accommodation for every budget and cheap flights operate year round meaning there is no excuse not to visit this fantastic destination.

The beaches of Corfu – we take a short tour

With the British weather serving up precious few sunny days so far this year, many frustrated sun-worshippers are getting out their diaries and trying to find a few free days to get away for some warm weather elsewhere.

This week, we take a close look at a few of the most popular beaches on Corfu, the best known of the Ionian Islands and one of the greenest in the Greek archipelago making it perfect for a family holiday Corfu has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The majority, predictably, are permanently littered with tourists during daylight house, but a few of the island’s beaches are rather more secluded and therefore escape the rowdy side of the summer onslaught.

If you particularly like holidays where the atmosphere is buzzing and you don’t mind sharing your sea view with other like-minded individuals, then the vast majority of the island’s resorts are likely to fit the bill. Corfu has made the most of the foreign interest in its coastal attractions and has cashed in on the tourist boom, adorning the northern coves with resorts, pubs and discos. A huge range of accommodation is on offer along the coastline, with hotels, apartments and campsites to suit all budgets.

If you plan on combining nightlife with baking in the sun, then Kavos might well be the place for you. Located in the south of the island, 47 miles from the capital Corfu Town, Kavos has a 2 km long sandy beach, which is always very busy in the day, along with several bars and clubs. Unsurprisingly, it is popular with young British holiday-makers who simply want to spend their nights partying and their days sleeping it off under the Greek sun.

The neighbouring resort of Aghios Petros offers a slightly more gentle pace of life, although it is still close enough to Kavos to give you access to the more frenzied nightlife. It is located just one mile away from Kavos and is connected to its livelier cousin by a sweeping stretch of beach. While Kavos tends to appeal to singles and party groups, Aghios Petros is more suited to older couples and young families, and the shallow water provides safe swimming for youngsters.

One of the most popular areas of the island is Kanoni, which is located about four km from Corfu Town. Kanoni is perhaps best known for the Vlacherna Monastery, which is located in the middle of the bay on a small island. It is ideally set up for tourists, having numerous hotels and tourist attractions.

Travelling further south, you will find Benitsis, an old town with a lively atmosphere. The resort offers the best of both worlds, being reasonably quiet but with some good bars and eating places. The beach itself is quite small but there is plenty of entertainment going on, with several good tavernas. Corfu Town is also an easy bus journey away from the resort.

Paleokastritsa, or Paleo, is located on the west of the island, 16 miles from Corfu Town. The village is regarded as one of the most beautiful on the island and boasts six sandy coves, all lined with olive trees and green forests. The waters offer exceptional swimming and snorkelling, and there are several good walking routes around the hilly countryside. The sheltered bays of Paleo provide the ideal place for a lazy beach holiday and the resort has plenty of bars and tavernas, with little in the way of heavy nightlife.

Another popular beach resort on the west coast of Corfu is Ermones, a long sandy beach offering the usual sun beds, umbrellas and water sports. As with all of the popular resorts on the island, you are unlikely to have difficulty finding accommodation to suit your needs as the area has a large range of hotels and some decent restaurants.

For those who want to avoid fellow Brits as much as possible, there are a few places where the ambience is more tranquil. Barbati is a pebble and shingle beach with shallow water and good showering and changing facilities. Another nice beach is Kerasia which is again very child friendly and provides an escape from partying youths.

A range of cheap flights visit Corfu throughout the summer months, making it an ideal destination for a short break. Many holiday-makers choose to hire a car while in Corfu so as to make the most of the scenery and provide themselves with an easy way of getting around the island. However, it is also possible to get around by bus or local taxi.

With such a fine range of beaches and near-guaranteed fine weather, why stick around and make do with Britain’s cloudy skies when you could be spreading your beach towel next to the clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea.

Athens : What’s the Reality?

Athens, despite the furious publicity campaign that followed hot on the heels of the Olympics in 2004, is no mythical marble Atlantis.

The Greek financial problems have left a scar on the city and indeed the country has had bad press, but cast aside those problems and you will still find friendly people and ancient history difficult to match anywhere in the world.

However, Athens is a gregarious, if grubby, metropolis, made bearable by thronging tavernas, parks, and gardens. If you can ignore the ‘nefos’ (smog) that hangs over Athens, half of the battle is won.

Although these days Athens is fashioned entirely from concrete, it’s what you do with concrete that counts. Houses hide their embarrassing grey underwear beneath geranium-filled balconies, orange trees and sinuous vines.

Athens’ markets remind the tourist of Greece’s oriental connections – they are reminiscent of traditional Turkish bazaars. Self-consciously charming neoclassical mansions are testament to the erstwhile splendour that made Athens the ‘Paris of the Mediterranean’.

Mount Parnitha, Pendeli and Hymettos flank Athens’ urban sprawl. Hills such as the famous Acropolis and Lykavittos provide a relatively safe haven from the supercharged city atmosphere.

Many of Athens’ streets lead to Piraeus, the city’s port, although the tourist will find that they rarely leave Plateia Syntagmatos (Syntagma Square).

The square contains the old Royal Palace and is the centre of the business district, with luxury hotels, banks and airline offices.

Beneath the Acropolis is Plaka, the old Turkish quarter, one of the prettiest and lively areas of the city. Tourists may also want to investigate Monastiraki, the market district, and Psiri, which is chock-full of trendy cafes and bars.

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Athens – A classic alternative

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MYKONOS – The Unforgettable Magic – Holiday Review

Guest travel article by Keith Warwick

Half a century ago a small, poor, wind-lashed, drought-ridden, yet picturesque island, placed somewhere between the gods and obscurity, began to attract the attention of artists, writers, and seasoned travellers. Already rediscovered by historians and archaeologists, drawn like Indiana Jones to the spectacular ruined city of the ancient superpower Delos, on the neighbouring island, the scene was set for the reinvention of Mykonos. Consequently, a touristic legend was born which developed into an island of gay 24-hour partying, colour, spectacular sunsets, and an exhausting lifestyle fit for any queen – or anyone. Hedonistic, yet decidedly schizophrenic in its ability to offer quiet, hidden beaches and places where peace reigns, it is one of the few places on earth to offer something for everyone – including families and children.

The busy main port area, where ferries dock and cruise ships anchor nearby, is alongside Mykonos town, which is probably the most attractive town in the Cycladic island group. The airport is just a few minutes away, but the best way to be introduced to this vibrant place is to sail in on a ferry – especially at night when the town takes on its after-dark identity. Today the rich, and the likes of the George Bush clan, as well as stars like Jane Fonda, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson, are flown in by special helicopter from Athens to stay at a clutch of deluxe hotels.

The cosmopolitan air of the place is obvious from day one, so just relax and enjoy the easygoing atmosphere. All human life will pass you by, and sometimes even try to talk, interact or run over you. During August, mopeds screech around the place like giant psychopathic bees, so watch out (though thankfully not the alleyways where they are blissfully banned). Petros the cute pelican, the tame town mascot, and his younger understudy (just in case Petros drops dead from over-petting), are fun sights and are forever sources of gentle entertainment and mirth.

Money can be spent freely on Mykonos, which has some of the most expensive establishments in Greece, so take your credit cards. However, there are numerous places to change travellers cheques, and plenty of cash machines. But avoid changing your dollars at the seafront bureaux de change outlets as they usually charge hefty fees and can be crowded and unhelpful. The bars and restaurants are numerous, but the most refreshing ones are pricier and right on the seafront, or round the Kastro area. Hotels range from the opulent to the budget, but all are usually clean and adequate, even if costlier than on other islands.

Food shops are usually overpriced. Best to take a taxi to the ‘airport’ supermarket, where normal price tags and stocks of everything including cheap wine is available. The tourist shops on Mykonos are plentiful, but try the backstreet ones if you can, as the seafront variety have hiked prices. Most international deluxe jewellery names can be found. Various fashion houses, silver icon retailers (the religious variety), and a clutch of swank art shops make alley strolling an entertaining pastime.

At night the sight of the fishing boats with their nets bobbing around the harbour, and the throngs of people doing the evening volta (stroll) is great entertainment, whilst the warm breeze is superbly relaxing and soporific. Glowing brilliantly in the glare of powerful spotlights and lamps, the town turns into a glamorous vision of activity and haunt of the beautiful people. But be warned, because often it’s windy, and ‘bad hair’ days are a part of the scene for everyone.

The neighbouring island of Delos, was once the most powerful state and important religious centre in the Aegean. Where the God Apollo was born in a sacred lake, it is now an open-air Pompeii-like museum, offering the visitor an amazing glimpse into ancient history. With mosaics and statues, and a building holding many exhibits and finds, it is well worth visiting. Small ferries depart regularly from town. But its single café is a rip-off – so best bring your own refreshments. There are also a couple of good museums in Mykonos town worth a look.

Beaches are all clean and idyllic and number around 26, with several served by buses. Elia beach is large and beautiful and geared for everyone including nudists, with a prime all-gay nudist cove to the far right as you hit the main beach, which also has convenient waiter service. Paradise and Super are both faded crowded beauties worth avoiding, and St John is small, picturesque and the famous location where Shirley Valentine sat drinking wine, in the memorable movie. Avoid the Mykonos Town beach though – it is near the ferry dock and not reliably clean.

All that remains to be said is that the sunsets still evoke the most wonderment. The sight of the pink and orange setting sun casting its glorious rays over the faces of mesmerised tourists and turning the sea into a shimmering sheet of beaten gold, really is a moving experience when accompanied by classical music, at places like the Kastro Bar.

Like so many Greek islands and special places, it is the heady mix of climate, scenery, myth, and history – and of course the Greek people themselves – that combine to create an unforgettable magic. A magic that haunts and entreats you to return time and time again. Like a siren luring a hapless sailor, Mykonos town, in her white and beautiful mantle and her loud yet relaxing atmosphere, enchants, refreshes and captivates her admirers, who cannot help but return to her welcoming arms.

Keith Warwick Bio

Keith describes himself on his Twitter account as Novelist; cosmopolitan, painter, poet/lyricist, travel & food writer, web-master/designer, travel agent, cat lover, Hellenophile, pro-human rights and cook.

Symi – A secluded holiday gem

We are working our way through the Greek Islands with our holiday guides and today we are looking at Symi.

Symi (pronounced Ky-mi in Greek) is a wonderful island destination off Rhodes. Visitors can catch a ferry from Rhodes’ main port, which whisks them to this secluded Greek gem in under two hours.

With no independent water supply, the island has been hampered in large scale development and it must be said this is where much of its charm lies. There are many day-trippers to this beautiful island but the real charm of a trip here lies in seeing off the masses at sunset and enjoying the serenity of the bay without the hoards.

Symi Town is the capital of the island and also the only major town on the island. It centres around the natural port area of Yialos, which provides an exquisite welcome to the island with stacked white Neo-Classical buildings providing a backdrop.

There are around 2,500 Symiots on the island and much of the business centres around the tourist industry, but to say this destination is a world away from the neon-infused main strip of Faliraki in Rhodes is an understatement. A trip here is to delve into the sophisticated nature of Greece’s Dodecanese islands with fantastic restaurants, boutiques and jewellery shops hugging the walkways of Symi Town.

There is a range of accommodation here with a few of the larger scale hotels available. Much more attractive, however, is the option of locating a self-catering Greek cottage – how far you want to wander up the steep hillside of Horio to get there is a matter of enthusiasm and fitness!

Beaches on the island are characteristically rocky for these parts, but a range of small power boats leave the main port at regular intervals (there is no extended road system) and ferry you to some of the more exclusive and hidden beaches on the island.

Sightseers can choose from a number of historical treats including the Knights Castle – a Byzantine castle which overlooks the main town – and an 18th century Greek Orthodox monastery on the south-west coast of Symi. Horio also hosts an excellent museum, which concentrates on Byzantine and medieval Symi and is housed in an attractive old mansion in the back of the village.

A highlight of any trip to Symi is the fine array of quite smart seafood restaurants that line the boardwalk of the main port. It is an absolute treat to sit on the waterfront having watched the rabbles disperse and immerse yourself in the enchanting sunset, Symian Rose and delicious fresh seafood.

Lesvos – A Hellenic Gem

Situated on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, the island of Lesvos is the most ‘Greek’ of the Greek islands and provides its visitors with an abundance of Hellenic history and culture in addition to the usual Greek island offerings of idyllic beaches and buzzing coastal resorts.

One of the great cultural centres of the Greek world, Lesvos (pronounced ‘Lesbos’), derives its name from the ancient poet Sappho, who was known for her love of her own sex, and gave us the etymological basis of ‘lesbian’.

Visitors can either fly from a number of European airports or take the ferry from the Turkish harbour of Ayvalik or Pireaus in western Athens, but either way they will end up in Lesvos’ capital Mytilene.

The city, home to 30,000 people, is a cultural as well as an administrative capital. It has a Hellenistic theatre that is said to have housed 10,000 in the days of classical Greece and provides the setting for the Theophilos museum, named after the early 20th century
folk painter who was dedicated to his country’s ancient civilisation.

Some 12 km from the capital, evidence of the Roman occupation of the island is prevalent, in the form of an aqueduct built in the 2nd century AD. 

Moving along the coast to the northern tip of the island brings the
historically conscientious traveller to Molivos, ‘the jewel in the crown of the Aegean Sea’ according to its tourist board, where one finds a medieval castle and a host of neoclassical architecture built in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The stone-paved, red-roof tiled town filled with overlooking geranium potted balconies also happens to be the island’s best know resort, where tourists can relax on sun-blessed beaches, gazing out onto placid seas, content in the knowledge that the head of Orpheus is said to have been washed ashore after it dismemberment at the hands of the Thracian women many years ago. Only four kilometres away, visitors can bathe in the hot springs of Egtalou, known for their therapeutic qualities, without an ancient limb in sight.

Only a few more kilometres down the dusty road, couched with fields of goats, brings one to Agia Paraskevi, a small village near the beach town of Petra, which is known for its annual bull festival. Nearby the village lie the ruins of an Ionian temple from the 3rd century BC, dedicated to Hera, Dionysus and Zeus.

Greece’s third largest island, behind Crete and Evia, offers a distinct experience for the culturally aware visitor, who is not afraid to go beyond the bounds of the coastal resort, in search of some uniquely Greek magic.

Athens – A Classic Alternative

While many sun-thirsty travellers head straight to the beautiful Greek islands to bronze themselves and spend their hard-earned cash on water sports, great food, clubbing and the odd tipple, they are overlooking a lively and enthralling city in Athens.

The Greek capital is one of the great monuments to the ancient world and still holds intellectual, social and cultural relics of its wondrous past as well as being the bustling modern European city, which admirably hosted the Olympic Games in 2004.

According to Greek mythology when Athena and Poseidon challenged each other to become protectors and deities of the city, an olive tree sprung from the ground at the touch of the former’s spear as the latter summoned forth a seawater spring, which could not overpower the might of the tree, leaving Athena the victor.

Such stirring myths as these pervade the city’s 5,000 year old walls making it a unique place to experience the wonders of the ancient world. Of course, the Acropolis and the Parthenon are the prize attractions that would greatly enhance any visitor’s holiday and their knowledge of the ancient world.

Travellers who visit Athens in the summer will be treated to the Hellenic festival which features a whole host of food and drink, so central to the Greek culture, as well as showing classical Greek works by the ancient tragic and comic writers.

The city became the capital of modern Greece in 1833 after being occupied by the Byzantines and later by the Ottoman Turks and is now bustling with cafes and bistros on pedestrian-only streets that hold a plethora of peaceful, scenic gardens.

Nightlife is far removed from the oft-criticised ‘Binge Britain’ culture we are so used to at home with many establishments not opening until the later hours of the evening, some do not welcome guests in before midnight.

The majority of restaurants are primarily outdoor-seated to take advantage of the glorious weather and often diners will be invited to step into the kitchen to choose what they would like to eat rather than selecting from a menu, owing to the prominence of seafood cuisine in the city which sprung from life on the coast of the Aegean Sea.

Athens is an ideal weekend break, owing to the vast numbers of cheap flights available, and as a great place stop over before you embark on that classic Greek holiday of sun-bathing and living it up on the islands.

Review of a walking holiday on Zante

The Greek island of Zante is not just about sun, beaches and nightlife. If you go to Zante outside the main summer months when the is not as intense then the island makes a great destination for a walking holiday. One of our customers has just returned from a walking holiday on Zante and here he describes what he found.

Having got used to the quieter Greek islands, which require a ferry crossing, and therefore tend to discourage families with young children, our coach transfer on Zakynthos, through brightly lit seaside resorts, seeming to consist of little more than tavernas, bars and souvenir shops, left us wondering what on earth we had let ourselves in for.

Our destination of Alikes too, at first seemed built to a similar plan but at least by then we knew it wasn’t a one-off. Our accommodation at the Lofos Studios was, if anything, better than the brochure description had led us to believe and though built adjacent to a relatively busy local road, proved to be sufficiently well away from the “main drag”, to offer the prospect of some peace and quiet. Our room even had a good view of the sea, (though most others hadn’t) contrary to what we had been told to expect. Continue reading “Review of a walking holiday on Zante”

Mix with the rich and famous on Mykonos

The Greek Island of Mykonos will again be one of the celebrity haunts this summer.

The Greek Islands have always had a romantic feel to them. Crystal clear waters, beautiful scenery and a very laid back atmosphere, and it seems like the island of Mykonos has hosted a procession of celebrity visitors this summer. The island has always offered a hedonistic lifestyle and great nightlife.

The Italian fashion icon Giorgio Armani can often be seen on his yacht off the coast entertaining friends on-board whilst also mixing with people on holiday.

Also seen on Mykonos in past years have been Queen Latifah, Hugh Jackman and Greek shipping heir Stavros Niarchos

The busy main port area of Mykonos, where ferries dock and cruise ships anchor nearby, is alongside Mykonos town, which is probably the most attractive town in the Cycladic island group. The airport is just a few minutes away, but the best way to be introduced to this vibrant place is to sail in on a ferry – especially at night when the town takes on its after-dark identity. 

Today the rich, and the likes of the George Bush clan, as well as stars like Jane Fonda, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson, are flown in by special helicopter from Athens to stay at a clutch of deluxe hotels.

You don’t have to be a celebrity of course to book a holiday on Mykonos. Just ask a travel agent !

Rhodes: scuba, statues and sunshine holidays.

Shaped like a spear headRhodes offers a holiday full of history, culture and plain good fun – the Greek island has all the cut and thrust of the Med’s finest holiday destinations. 

Only 11 miles west of Turkey, Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese Islands and is situated between the Greek mainland and Cyprus. 

Due to its location it has more sunny days than any other country or island in Europe and is famed for its mild winters. Therefore, tourists jetting out at Easter or in the summer need to worry about being hit with rain or cloudy weather. 

Thousands of visitors every year flock to Rhodes’ harbour, which used to be the primary economic hub of the island, for its stunning antiquated buildings and rich history. But no visit would be complete without observing the place at which the giant statue of Helios stood, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 

The Colossus of Rhodes took Chares of Lindos, student of Lysippos, 12 years to build before he finally completed it in 280 BC and was a monument to the island’s nationalist fervour after Alexander the Great died leaving severe power wrangling across the Mediterranean. 

Predicted to have stood around 100 ft high, the Colossus was similar in stature to the Statue of Liberty, which also holds a torch out into the sea below. However, the statue only stood for 56 years before the island
was hit by an earthquake in 224 BC, when it snapped at the knees and toppled into the sea. 

Since the tourism boom kicked off in the 1970s, there have been calls to rebuild the famous monument but no plans are in place as yet because to do so would cost the island hundreds of millions of euros. 

Most tourists head to the east coast when they make the trip to one of the Mediterranean’s top tourist destinations as it is more sheltered and experiences only moderate winds. By contrast the west coast is often
subject to choppy seas and high waves, thus becoming a surfer’s paradise in recent years. 

Scuba diving is very popular, especially in the eastern Municipality of Kallithea, where the buzzing nightspot of Faliraki is found. Due to its close proximity to Turkey, the sea off the coast of Kallithea has been used as a shipping channel for centuries and as such has seen many
wrecks in its time. 

Therefore scuba divers often comment on the number of antiquities such as chests, remains of ships and even lost treasures in some of the more remote coves beneath the surface of the sea. However, the authorities are keen to preserve the environment as much as possible and so tourists are not allowed to remove any treasures they happen to find.