From Kostas Kouvas*, edited by Alexandra Tzavella
This account is part of a series of insider takes on the islands of the Dodecanese. For more on these islands, click here.
Leros is most loved by those looking for quiet and high-quality holidays. But it is a paradise for two categories of travelers in particular: adventure-lovers and gourmands.
In its hillsides, hikers follow signposted trails and discover cannons, wagons used to transport mines, and the ruins of Italian fortifications from WWII. We recently created a path for cyclists as well. Since 2000 we have been seeking to develop diving tourism on the island, and in recent years have been participating in international tourism fairs as the Diving Center of Leros, together with the Region of the South Aegean.
The reason that Leros is so popular for divers is that time has frozen on its seabed: here there are twelve wrecks – airplanes, cargo ships and WWII destroyers including the legendary Vasilissa Olga. It is the perfect place to take your first diving lessons. Often in our underwater excursions we are fortunate enough to be accompanied by the large marine animals that live around the island: seals, dolphins, sea turtles and whales that feed in the pristine waters.
The island has a total of twelve villages, but the settlements have expanded such that each one merges with the next. In Lakki, the Italians left their mark, meaning that there are wonderful architectural walks. The village also has one of the island’s two ports – the other is in Aghia Marina, the capital of the island. Board one of the two traditional caiques – the Barbarossa or the Aghios Georgios, or hire one of the two speedboats to take a tour of the uniquely beautiful surrounding islands, such as Mikronisia, Leipsi, Marathi and Arkioi.
Many of Leros’ beaches are accessible by car. Only three are organized with sunbeds. At the others, tamarisk and oak trees provide shade. For complete serenity visit Kryfo, which can only be reached by boat, unless you are a brave hiker. Combine a swim at Aghia Kioura with a visit to the charming church of the same name which was decorated by political exiles during the dictatorship and which has been declared a protected monument and work of art by the Ministry of Culture. Climb the 365 steps up to the Castle of Panagia, or go by car. From this point you can see almost every bay of the island – the Venetians built it here for a reason.
Leros is a gastronomic destination, particularly for Turks. The relationship between quantity, quality and price is unbeatable. A four-member family can eat exceptionally well for under 40 euros. Small vineyards have bottled their wine and meet the demand of the local market. You’ll try the local ladotyri, krasotyri and mizithra cheeses. Leros’ beekeepers have also started selling their honey under the label Artemis Leros Honey, the first standardized product created by a social enterprise in Greece.
At Paradosiako and the Repapis sweet shop you will enjoy traditional pastries and pies, and of course the local drink, soumada – a delicious refreshment made from rose water and almond syrup, and ice-cold water.
*Kostas Kouvas is a diving instructor and the owner of the Hydrovius Diving Center.