Kos: Introduction

  • © calypso79, marcopolo.de

    © calypso79, marcopolo.de


Aegean winds usually blow from the north – which is why planes start their landing approach level with the sponge diver island of Kálimnos and then fly in a wide curve leading past the volcanic island of Níssiros to the airport. Seen from the air, Kos reveals itself as an elongated island, 30 miles long and no more than 6 miles wide. This means no house or hotel is far from the sea, lined by miles and miles of beaches that are clearly visible from the air.

The airport is situated more or less at the exact centre of the island. A long flat mountain crest runs through the island, from the mountainous Kéfalos peninsula in the west to the Díkeos mountain range in the east. Thanks to the excellent central road traversing the island, a transfer from the airport to any hotel never takes longer than 40 minutes. So the plane has hardly touched down and you’re on holiday.

Kos Town, the tranquil capital of the island, is home to well over half of the island’s 31,000 inhabitants. The rest are spread over a handful of larger villages, with only Kéfalos situated over to the west of the island. Tourism is the only really important economic sector. There is no industry, and agriculture is mainly restricted to the cultivation of grain and keeping cows or sheep.

In the ranking of most popular Greek destinations, Kos occupies number four, behind Crete, Rhodes and Corfu. A main reason for this are the many all-inclusive hotels and club complexes such as Robinson and Magic Life, where large international tour operators ensure permanently high rates of occupancy. Koans know exactly how important the tourists are for the island and do a lot to keep their guests happy.


Identifying and implementing ecological trends early on, Kos has been promoting bike use for years. As practically all holiday areas and beach hotels are situated in the flat coastal plain on the northern coast between Mastichári and Ágios Fókas, using a bike requires no great effort. Wide cycle paths and roads with little traffic run parallel to the sea, making the bike an ideal mode of transport.

Children and visitors who are not used to cycling can join in and enjoy this way of getting around, which stimulates all the senses. Sometimes paths cut across grain fields that are harvested as early as May and then used as cow pastures or to cultivate melons. Others lead along low dunes, calling passers-by for an impromptu swim. And again and again you’ll discover shady groves of trees right by the sea, perfect for a short rest.

Many taverns along the way have installed bike stands – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Greek holiday region that is as bike-friendly as Kos. Only hikers still baffle the Koans. That somebody would walk when they don’t have to is still a mystery to them, so signposted and maintained hiking trails are the exception on Kos.

On Kos, eco trends were recognised early on

Another exemplary initiative is the public transport network. Town bus lines connect the surrounding beach hotels with the capital until late at night, while overland buses link the capital with villages and beaches. This means getting around doesn’t have to involve spending much money or polluting the atmosphere. Even take-away copies of bus timetables are available, something practically unheard-of in other parts of Greece. Within the town area the bus stops have numbers, meaning you don’t have to memorise complicated names and may step onto your bus relaxed and with Mediterranean serenity.

94 minutes for a cup of coffee

Talking of which, a certain serenity is a fundamental characteristic of most Koans. A mad rush is alien to them. This is visible in the cafés, where statistically they make a single cup of coffee last 94 minutes, and in the taverns where they lavishly dine the night away. Koans would never consider going on an English-style pub crawl or moving from one tapas bar to the next like the Spanish. Too much moving around would hinder their chats with friends – and that, first and foremost, is what going out is about to the Greeks.

Nor do the locals want to keep trying new places, preferring instead taverns and cafés where the owner knows them. As a visitor you soon experience the warm feeling of being treated like a regular, even if it’s only the second time they see you. For the hosts, this is less about increasing their turnover than about the appreciation afforded to them: if a guest comes back, it means that they must be doing something right. Most Hellenes hold up their honour, filótimo, as one of the highest goods in life, which is why it is also not accepted to criticise others. Not saying anything positive is judgement enough.

The Natural Environment

The natural environment of Kos is surprisingly green and varied. At an altitude of 2775 ft, the Díkeos mountain range, while dropping off steeply and inaccessibly towards the southern coast, doesn’t stand comparison with the wild mountains that dominate the mainland or Crete. After rainy winters and far into the spring, hundreds of flamingos visit the saline lake of Tigáki. In the narrow erosion valleys in the centre of the island, field flowers and wild artichokes can blossom without being disturbed.

On the green Kéfalos peninsula sheep find a lot of space for grazing. Here, holidaymakers can hike for hours and will only meet a few farmers or shepherds. The near-treeless landscape allows the gaze to wander far across the land, so that despite the lack of signposting nobody gets lost. The only time it gets lonelier still on Kos is between mid-October and early May, when the vast majority of tourists have left. During that period, companies that live off tourism stay closed, and many Koans choose to do some travelling themselves. Those staying at home look after the family and the olive trees, as their fruits fall to the ground between November and March and have to be picked up as quickly as possible so as not to lose quality.

When Hippocrates reinvented medicine

The island’s most famous son is from Kéfalos in the quiet west of the island: Hippocrates. Born in 460 BC, he is considered the ‘father of medicine’. On Kos Hippocrates founded a medical school that lasted for nearly 1000 years. Looking at illnesses no longer as trials sent by the gods, he researched their sources, which he often found in environmental conditions and the lifestyle of his patients.

Hippocrates would observe his patients closely and saw his main job in strengthening their powers of self-healing. Giving nutritional advice, Hippocrates prescribed natural medicines, but also found a clever way to involve the gods in his therapies, interpreting the dreams of his patients as divine counsel, helping to trigger psychosomatic processes of self-healing.

Hippocrates’ teaching was so successful that following his death the Asklípion was erected in his honour, turning Kos into one of the largest centres of healing in the ancient world. This most important historical site of the island can be found on the edge of Kos Town. Even those travelling to Kos just for sun and sea should not miss this unique mix of temple complex and hospital, in a spot with beautiful views to boot.

The number of testimonies to the Hellenistic and Roman periods on Kos is fairly limited – unlike the number of sunshine hours. Between June and August hardly a single raindrop falls, temperatures climb above the 30° C/85 °F mark on a daily basis, and the sea is pleasantly warm. That is when Kos can play its biggest tourist trump, the superb sandy beaches that announced the island from aboard the plane. Whether above or below, in the water or on the water’s edge: this is paradise for both active travellers and sunseekers.

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