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Second largest of the Dodecanese, volcanic Kos is also the most cultivated (with grapes, almonds, figs, olives) and one of the most beautiful islands in the Aegean sea, thanks to immaculate, mostly sandy beaches, which stretch around half its 112km coastline. The Italian influence is still strong from the colonial period of 1912 to 1943, most obviously in the quirky art déco and rationalist public architecture built between 1927 and 1935 in Kos Town. Don’t miss its natural hot springs, or eating in one of the local ouzerís. During summer, bicycling is actively encouraged here, with a joined-up network of cycle lanes radiating away from the town, and cycle-hire shops rent out modern bikes for a tenner a day or less.
Main City Athens
Surface 287.2 km²
Density 108 /km²
Be warned, it’s addictive – at Bros Thermá Hot Springs several hours can pass by before you even notice. Kos’ volcanic heart pumps out a steady stream of scalding water into a shore-edge pool formed by enormous boulders, where it mixes with the Aegean to cool to comfortable temperatures. The pool’s shape – though not its depth, a maximum of 4 feet – changes annually, as the Bros Thermá rocks are tumbled about by winter storms and have to be rearranged every April. Bring everything you need as the little drinks-and-ice-cream canteen operates fitfully at best out of adjacent changing rooms. In theory, Bros Thermá is set to be developed as a regimented spa with an admission fee, so enjoy it au naturel while you still can.
Kos Town’s oldest and most genuine ouzerí (restaurant), Pote tin Kyriaki, offers delicious dishes like marathópita (fennel pie), kavourdisti (pork fry-up), and a selection of seafood including local prawns, fried mussels and gáros (fresh anchovy) at low prices, listed engagingly in primary-school copy-book menus. The owner Stamatia’s tsípouro, served by the carafe, is very strong but certainly quaffable – you have been warned. Sit out on the secluded terrace, or during the cooler months in the beautiful antique interior. The soundtrack, usually Greek folk rebétika, or 1920s and 30s underworld music, is impeccable too.
Kos’ 3rd century Roman villa, Casa Romana, was originally restored by Italian archaeologists in 1933, but was closed for conservation in 2002 until 2010. The result has been worth the wait; the floor mosaics around the three interior courtyards, with images of a tiger, sea creatures and other assorted animals, are now more much vivid and attractive than they were. Faint red crosses outside were the Italians’ marking of the building as a wartime hospital, to deter Allied bombers. And it’s quite possible you’ll have the place to yourself – the Casa Romana is one of Kos’ most unheralded attractions, not featured in most major guidebooks.