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Agios Stefanos beach in Kefalos, Kos. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)
The island of Kos is the third largest in the Dodecanese and is well-known as a tourist destination. For those of us with roots there, the island draws us back each summer (hopefully) to visit our family and friends and enjoy the beautiful beaches, delicious fresh food, and the historic sites. Kos is also the island of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who was born on Kos in about 460 BC, and treated patients suffering from various ailments at the Asklepieion, the healing temple, in ancient times.
After arriving at the airport in Antimachia, the clean, fresh pine scent from the trees along the roads leading to the islands various towns, including Kardamena, Kefalos, and the island’s largest, Kos Town, brings back memories of previous trips to the island for those who visit regularly.
First time visitors will be struck by the stunning brightness of the sun, the clear skies, the rugged landscape of the interior, and the great beaches along the coastline.
After dropping off the suitcases, visitors may stumble upon a ‘Nisiotiki Vradia’ with the enchanting rhythms of nisiotika songs playing and dancers in traditional costume performing or a festival celebrating honey or other local produce. Practically everyone in town attends the community events year round along with tourists from various countries who are always welcome to join in the dancing.
The Hippocratia, the islands cultural festival, takes place in the winter and in the summer with the summer edition beginning in June and ending in October. The re-enactment of the Hippocratic Oath is part of the festival with graduates from various medical schools reciting the oath at the sacred Asklepieion.
The character of the tourism has changed in recent years due to the increasing popularity of all-inclusive hotels and resorts. There are more young families visiting and the tourist season has expanded, starting earlier in the spring and lasting well into the fall. The peak season is still the height of summer, especially for beachgoers, but be advised, there are locals who swim all year round.
For those interested in an authentic Greek experience in Kos, the key is to follow the locals – they know the best restaurants and bars and might even share the location of their favorite beaches on the island.
In Kefalos, not to be missed is Agios Stefanos beach, located by the ruins of two early Christian basilicas and the picturesque islet of Kastri with the chapel of St. Nicholas which can be reached by swimming, water bike or paddle boat. Also at Kefalos are the sandy beaches at Lagada, Tripiti, and Volcania. One of the most popular in Kefalos is Paradise beach with shallow waters, restaurant, cafe bar, convenient facilities, and water sports.
The sandy Karnagio beach, close to Tigaki, features views of the nearby island of Pserimos and warm shallow waters. The nearby fish tavernas are also worth a visit.
For a glimpse into the past of Kos, visit the Folklore Museum of Antimachia with its replica of a typical dwelling of the early 20th century while the traditional and operational windmill, also in Antimachia, dates back to the 19th century. The Traditional House of Kefalos presents the rural life of the island with farming tools, traditional household items and artifacts, as well as a rustic cafe serving local mezedes and drinks.
The Archaeological Museum in Kos town is home to the Casa Romana villa of the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD built on the ruins of an earlier Hellenistic house.
Souvenirs are available everywhere, so keep an eye out for the traditional, handmade items, such as embroidered tablecloths and/or locally made ceramics. Check where the items are made to ensure that you are supporting the local economy since there are likely plenty of mass-produced, imported items for sale, too. Replica ancient vases are also available but keep in mind that they might be difficult to carry on the plane ride home. Most people learn that the hard way, but then have an interesting puzzle to glue back together at home.
In Kos, you can find great shops selling authentic Greek items, from clothing, jewelry, and shoes to my particular favorite, books. Stroll along the charming streets and you will happen upon some archaeological sites, gradually revealing their secrets through thousands of years of history.
The waterfront restaurants and cafes offer beautiful views of the sea as you enjoy a delicious meal made with the freshest local ingredients or just a coffee or drinks with friends.
By the picturesque Castle of the Knights, the plane tree of Hippocrates still stands where it is said the father of medicine taught medicine to his students and where St. Paul also taught beneath its branches. The current tree is about 500 years old and is probably a descendant of the original tree which stood on the same spot some 2400 years ago.
The charming views and the food are not to be missed. Try the fresh figs if you happen to be there when they are in season, they are always a special treat.
Among the tours available for those who want to deep dive into the products of Kos are wine tasting, beekeeping and honey tasting, and olive oil making.
Floating in the clear, blue Aegean Sea beneath a clear, blue sky, is so relaxing as you let all cares drift away like a sailboat on the horizon. The feeling is priceless and makes many count the days until they can return next summer to Kos.
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