For those whose pulses quicken at the sight of whitecaps and for whom wind-whipped beaches are to be embraced rather than avoided, Greece has always been a draw. I’m talking of course about windsurfers and kitesurfers, people whose primary concern when planning a holiday is not whether the sun is going to shine, but whether the wind is going to blow (luckily in Greece both are usually on offer).
Thanks to the northern meltemi wind that reliably blows through the Aegean every summer, the well-connected islands in its firing line, like Paros, Naxos and Rhodes have long been hotspots for these wind-based sports, with numerous, well-established clubs.
Limnos (aka Lemnos) is a relative newcomer to the list of destinations offering organized windsurfing and kitesurfing. Yet this island in the northern Aegean has much to offer – particularly for those looking for off-the-beaten-path experiences and a variety that will delight surfers of all abilities (as well as non-surfing family members and friends).
The Wonderful Conditions of Keros Bay
That it took a while for organized windsurfing to arrive on Limnos should not be taken as a reflection on the quality of the conditions on offer. Quite simply, if one were to design the perfect bay for wind-related sports in Greece, it would look a lot like Keros, located on the eastern coast of the island.
Keros is a very large, crescent-shaped bay, rimmed end-to-end by a deep, sandy beach with large dunes covered in charming (and rare) sea daffodils. That sand extends into the bay meaning that wherever you fall off your board near the beach, you will drop onto to friendly, forgiving sand. There is nary a rock, nor sea urchin in sight.
Meanwhile, the prevailing wind comes in crosswise to the main line of the bay. So in the middle, where most of the action happens, the wind is wonderfully sideshore with flatwater conditions, perfect for beginners and intermediates. The sheer size of Keros means that there is plenty of room for kitesurfers and windsurfers to blast side-by-side even during high season.
But even if waves are more your thing, Keros still has you covered, as its downwind corner (where the prevailing wind is onshore) is open to bigger waves coming in (which on high wind days can reach shoulder, or even head-height), creating a fun little wave spot. And its all surrounded by sand, glorious sand, making it a perfect spot for beginner wave-sailers to start heading into the lumpy stuff without worrying that they or their kit will end up dashed on the rocks.
On top of all that, the meltemi here has a bit more range to it. Unlike, say, Paros or Naxos where on high-wind days from mid-morning till late afternoon the strong winds can be prohibitive for beginners, here the wind typically is strongest from 11.00 – 15.00 after which it starts to mellow out. So on a typical windy day, experts, beginners and everyone in between will find the perfect conditions to get out on the water.
Rick, Giannis and Konstantinos
So why did such a gem go unnoticed for so long? The fact is that Keros is located on the wildest end of one of the least touristed islands in Greece. Indeed much of the surrounding countryside is literally pristine: a flat Natura-protected nature reserve that becomes a wetland in the winter and plays host to a slew of rare and endangered migratory birds.
Long a ‘secret spot’ known only to a handful of die-hard windsurfers based in the north of Greece, Keros might still be off the map for the rest of us were it not for Konstantinos Galatsopoulos, Giannis Doumtsios and Rick Krystallis. A little over a decade ago the longtime friends and avid windsurfers decided to start their own small, windsurfing station. After searching for the right spot, a combination of luck and circumstances led them to Limnos where they established Surf Club Keros.
“It began with what you could call, ‘youthful insanity’” says Giannis. “We were part of that scene of people who were always traveling around, doing crazy trips to find wind and waves, or to go snowboarding in the winter. And then that impulsiveness led us to open a windsurf school in the middle of nowhere.”
Setting up a windsurf station on a beach where pretty much the only outside visitors were migratory birds was certainly a gamble. “And I’m not sure if anyone described to us then what it was going to entail whether we would have gone ahead with it,” Konstantinos laughs. “Whatever has to do with infrastructure, with transport, with the state and local government, we are almost completely off the grid. With all the advantages, and the disadvantages.”
In the early years, the club’s first visitors were friends and acquaintances from the small windsurfing and kitesurfing community in Greece. But over the years the small, seasonal business gradually grew in size, becoming a full time job for the three who began courting foreign visitors, attending tourism fairs abroad.
A key issue was the area’s overall lack of rooms and tourism infrastructure, and in 2010, Keros Surf Club expanded to offer accommodation. Seeking an ecological way to house guests in the protected area, the three decided to implement a concept new for Greece: high-end camping, aka ‘glamping’.
Glamping in the Wilderness
Today guests of the resort stay in two-person Mini Safari Tents or the larger Luxury Safari Tents. The latter almost resemble small cabins more than tents, capable of housing an entire family and complete with their own showers and bathrooms. They even have air-conditioning, meaning that the experience is hardly one of roughing it in the wild. Yet even the basic tents have plenty of amenities, including proper, comfortable beds, electric lights and outlets and plenty of space to move around in, while the communal showers and facilities are impeccable.
The campsite is arranged around a central restaurant and bar which offers very respectable breakfast and dinner buffets and good-quality meals, juices and drinks throughout the day. Wood floors, and outdoor sofas and hammocks from where you can see the beach (just a five minute walk down a sandy track) complete the ‘comfortable beach-bum’ vibe.
Overall the experience is pitched at wind-sport enthusiasts looking to spend quality time on the water and enjoy a sense of living close to nature, without sacrificing creature comforts.
Fun for All
Down on the beach, the surf station caters to all levels with top of the line equipment, offering a full suite of kitesurfing and windsurfing rental and training options, including lessons for kids. Admirably the station is also disabled-friendly with specialized kitesurfing, kayaking and other equipment for those with physical disabilities. And after you get off the water you can relax with a beer and a bite from the beachside Tiki bar.
Meanwhile a long and growing list of activities are on offer beyond windsurfing and kitesurfing including yoga, mountain biking, kayaking, kite-buggying, snorkeling trips and even surfing ‘safaris’ to nearby beaches which, when the weather is right, offer playful waves. A kid’s station and baby-sitting service is also on offer to help parents get some downtime (and surfing time) while on holiday.
And then of course there is all of Limnos to explore – with miles of fantastic sandy beaches, a wonderful town in the form of the port of Myrina on the west coast (complete with a visitable castle), charming villages, archaeological sites and the impressive sand dunes at Gomati, to name just a few. (That said, it should be noted that a car or scooter is necessary as the public transport network on the island is very limited).
“It’s a place where you discover things, it’s not all on a map. Even during high season you can get into a car and drive down a dirt road and come to a beach where you are all by yourself. I love that,” says Rick.
The Keros experience is certainly not for everyone, as Rick, Giannis and Konstantinos freely acknowledge. But perhaps that is also to its advantage, as it may help prevent the location from being spoiled through over-exploitation – a fate other once-pristine surf spots in Greece and abroad have succumbed to.
After all, the birds were here first, and long may they continue to visit.