The bustling Greek island of Kos is the place to choose for beaches, watersports and a throbbing party scene
From the moment the first holiday jets touch down at the beginning of summer, it’s all action on Kos. You can, of course, resist the temptation to indulge in a host of land and water activities and simply slob out on one of this long, thin island’s long sand and pebble beaches.
But that’s not what Kos is all about. Water sports - from waterskiing and jet-skiing to windsurfing and the ever-popular ‘banana rides - are very much in evidence at Kardamaina and Kefalos, the two main resorts on the island, though several stretches of coast have, happily, been declared off-limits to jet-skis. Serious windsurfers reckon Mastihari and Mandraki, on the north coast, are among Greece’s finest waters, with steady, reliable breezes.
Kardamaina is the epitome of the traditional fishing village turned full-on resort - a transformation that was inevitable, given its location on a miles-long stretch of sand and pebble beach. Though development has mushroomed either side of the old fishing harbour (which is now hemmed in by neon-lit cocktail bars and restaurants with multinational menus), you can still find uncrowded stretches of beach further from the village if you persevere.
There are a couple of upscale resort hotels at Kardamaina, but at heart this is mid-market, package holiday territory. It’s a role that Kardamaina fulfils well, but it has to be said that it’s not a great spot for independent travelers. The Lagas Aegean Village, a 328-room complex about a mile from the centre of the village, is a good choice if you’re looking for a large resort with all the trimmings. Rooms cost around €100-€160.
Kefalos, at the west end of the island, sits above a sheltered, sandy bay where a village of hotels, tavernas and shops has sprung up (the original village, an attractively sleepy clutter of old whitewashed houses, windmills, and a few tavernas, is on the hill above the bay). The Club Mediterranee Kos (currently closed for renovation) rules the roost here, with its all-inclusive approach and plethora of land and water sports ensuring that most guests hardly leave except for a day’s sightseeing in Kos Town.
Kos Town has its own coarse sand beach, lined with bars and loungers-for-rent, and the sightseeing is above average, spanning thousands of years and half a dozen empires. A prominent landmark is the Castle of the Knights, built by the semi-piratical Knights of St John who were the major power in these islands from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Close to the entrance (overlooked by the dome and spire of a deserted mosque dating from Kos’s time under the Ottomans) stands a huge, decrepit plane tree that in its youth, so it’s said, gave shade to Hippocrates, father of medical science. Nearby are the toppled columns of the ancient Agora (marketplace), the Shrine of Aphrodite and the Temple of Hercules, dating from the 3rd century BC. On a hilltop above town stands the Sanctuary of Asklipios, god of healing, underlining an ancient medical connection that makes Kos a popular venue for medical and pharmaceutical conferences to this day.
Kos has more than its share of mediocre places to eat. Nowhere really stands out in Kardamaina, though Avli serves real Greek food that’s better than most, with prices from around €15 . At Kefalos, Otto e Mezzo serves good Italian food with prices from around €20 euros and Nikolas O Psaras is an attractive grill and meze restaurant where you can eat for as little as €10.
Kos Town has the lion’s share of really good restaurants (though it also has a lot of turkeys). Petrus is a good grill restaurant with an above-average choice of salads. Barbas is another great grill where they make superb souvlaki. Pote Tin Kyriaki (it means ‘never on Sunday'!), at Pissandrou 9, is a magic ouzeri, much liked by locals, where dishes to accompany your ouzo include fried mussels, octopus, prawns and lamb chops. Find the best and freshest seafood on Kos at Karnagio, on Efelondon Polemiston, where the owner has his own fishing boat.
Kos is one of the great party islands, and Kos Town has an array of clubs and music bars. Here, and at Kardamaina, some clubs survive only a few seasons before closing, to re-emerge with a new identity, so there are usually one or two new venues each year. Stalwart survivors along the harbourside include sophisticated Hamam (Akti Koundourioti 1), with its harem-style décor and soft sofas to collapse into; Camel Bar, with a friendly party atmosphere; and Kalua, an outdoor R&B club with a pool (Akti Zouroudi 3); while Fashion, Kos’s longest established club (at Kanari 2) is one of the biggest and best, with three bars.
If Kos is part of your island-hopping holiday, the Hotel Maritina in the centre of Kos Town (Lordos Vironos 19) is a good bet for comfy, modern, mid-priced rooms from around €40 a night. On a tighter budget, you’ll find an Aussie-accented welcome at the Koala Hotel (Harmilou 21) with its own bar, pool and rooms with air con and balconies.
Looking for luxury, you’ll find a bevy of big resort hotels just outside Kos Town, where the Grecotel Kos Imperial Thalasso, a 384-room colossus, stands head and shoulders above the rest, with rooms costing from around €160 and all the services and frills you could want.