Early June, Thursday evening, on Palm Tree Avenue on the island of Kos. Up ahead a young couple strolls along, smiling arm in arm; on the right bicycles go up and down the bicycle lane nonstop. The evening is in high spirits, a sense of early summer hangs in the air, and the slight breeze helps. I am trying to figure out what seems to have changed along the route I have been walking since I was a child; it actually seems as if I am looking at it afresh.
Indeed, everything is very different compared to one year ago, when this specific part of town was wilting from utter abandonment.
The Castle of Neratzia and its surrounding walls have been illuminated. The palm trees struggling with red palm beetle infestation were replaced by new ones and the authorities collaborated with local businesses to plant 23 new trees. The broken plaques were changed, the flower pots filled with 2300 flowers and most of them red hibiscus, the symbol of the island, while some cute stone benches were also added.
It is no exaggeration to say that Palm Tree Avenue, one of the most important landmarks of Kos, has returned to its former glory. But mostly, it invites you to take endless summer strolls.
“We want to create a place that the locals will love and enjoy first, and then our visitors will follow suit. All our interventions have the aim of showcasing and beautifying public spaces, which is why we have invested in cleaning services and restoring the abandoned sites that excluded parts of town,” explains Theodosis Nikitaras, Mayor of Kos.
Yet beyond these “cosmetic” interventions, what has changed the entire aspect of the island is the completion of basic infrastructure, namely the airport, the port (that suffered serious damage in the 2017 earthquake) and the marina.
I Love Kos
The construction of a new airport spanning 24,000 square meters that includes a generous commercial space, modern control system and baggage management system, a special area for baby care services and renewed surrounding spaces, sets that stage for a pleasant travel experience.
In the same vein, you can now walk along Mandraki – the natural harbor lining Miaouli Coast and the main pier – without tripping on the uneven ground. You also have the opportunity of resting on one of the three “smart” solar benches boasting amazing sea views. They feature fast speed charging stations and offer free internet access. Et voila a great exportable product, designed by Koans!
Of course, the biggest attraction here is none other than the huge, illuminated “I LOVE KOS” structure that was placed opposite the Town Hall by the Municipal Port Fund in May. At first it looks rather kitsch – an old school, tourist promotion attempt. However, upon observing tourists and locals taking multiple pictures in front of this installation, its real purpose is revealed – sharing the experience with thousands of people on Instagram.
A similar structure, much smaller, adorns the Kos marina, almost 2 km east of the natural harbor. The renewed marina, with 250 mooring spots featuring pennants, water and electricity, in addition to being one of the 16 marinas in the country to be awarded with a Blue Flag, exudes a genuine cosmopolitan air with hundreds of yacht lights twinkling in the evening.
Change of identity
Beyond the completion of this basic infrastructure that set the groundwork for reintroducing the island to the tourism market, Kos has been undergoing a silent change of identity over the past seven years. Going against the grain of the refugee crisis and the earthquake that temporarily marred its image, there appears to be a gradual shift from mass, all-inclusive tourism – for those content just with the sea and sun diptych – to an entirely different model that nurtures a more holistic experience. This is easy to comprehend just by counting the successful primary producing businesses that have opened, a veritable leap to the future given that the tourism industry has dominated investment for decades.
“Kos is one of the first destinations in the country where tourism developed geometrically, mainly through private investments. The maturity of our product today allows us to move towards offering quality services, and not just quantity. We offer high quality products, exceptional restaurants and alternative forms of tourism including wellness, water sports and cycling,” explains Konstantina Svinou, president of the Hoteliers Association of Kos.
Indeed, with its existing 13 km bicycle lane, a 4 km extension already approved by the Administrative Region and the creation of mountain cycling paths, the island is making serious steps to be included as part of Eurovelo, the European cycling route network.
The addition of producers and the slow but steady opening of new eateries and drinking spots greatly enrich the perception of the island’s “boring” gastronomic scene. The most interesting aspect of this being the bridge between primary production and the tertiary sector, to boost the local economy.
For instance, at Barbouni (ilovebarbouni.com, tel. 22420-20170), the famous seafood restaurant run by the Ediaroglou family, you will find bottles of antiseptic with aloe vera by Pandrosia, (pandrosia.gr, tel. 22420-42477), a local company that runs a factory in Marmari, which covers an expanse of 120 square meters and produces cosmetics and beverages. The restaurant’s renewed menu features creative dishes, such as the seafood fritters with tarama (salted and cured fish roe) mousse and hazelnut-anchovy cream, and visitors can indulge in local honey, olive oil, and delicious local cheeses from Koaki Gi (koakigi.gr, tel. 22420-42455).
Armenian Varouj Varouzan also uses fresh milk from this company in his recipes, as the small shop opening in the center will serve syrup sweets, pasha makaronia (savoury cakes) and various pies and pasties with a variety of filings.
A little further down, Antonis Kopanezos, who has been awarded by Gastronomos for the thyme honey he produces on Kalymnos, is setting up a contemporary eatery-deli with traditional recipes and select products from all over Greece, including Kos. When we visited him, this place was still in the works – it did not even have a name yet!
Thanasis Hatzisavvas is also opening a similar shop promoting Greek products in the mountain village of Zia, inviting visitors to enjoy its amazing sunset views.
Roots opened in late June featuring white decor and earthy tones, and offers an extensive wine list that includes local options from Kos. Besides, it was wine that first kick started local production.
This year the ever active Vasilis Hatziemmanouil (hatziemmanouil.gr, tel. 22420-68888) is producing “Kydonitsa” for the first time, a variety of wine with more body than usual, while the Triantafilopoulou family (ktimakrani.gr, tel. 22420-69860) has given its estate a total makeover. The estate’s new name, Akrani, is derived from the word “Akranis” that is only found in traditional island songs and means “partner.”
It is possible to arrange visits to both wineries, located in the wider region of Asfendi.
The island features more gastronomic “signposts” and multiple unusual additions that confirm Kos is willing and able to harmoniously combine new culinary pathways. A classic favorite, Broadway (broadway-kos.gr, tel. 22420-27052) continues to hold the flag of creative cuisine high since 1990. This is where Giannis Papakonstantinou serves fresh cod with potatoes and almonds, fried panko, garlic broth, fish sauce and walnuts.
The selection at Kantina street food & more (tel. 22420-29923) is also rather interesting, as this brand new endeavor at Psalidi features sun loungers on the beach and offers a capsule menu that combines Greek cuisine with classic American fare, such as delicious burgers with melted cheddar cheese. It is so popular that this concept will be taken to the islands of Patmos and Leros as a franchise.
The street food trend is also taken up by Depbar (@DepBar kos), a cocktail joint on Vasileos Georgiou street whose set up works mostly for delivery and take away.
Up and Coming Beaches
New arrivals have also influenced the status of the island’s beaches. For instance, the brand new Misirlu (@misirlukos, tel. (+30) 6947.029.468), whose simple decor in white tones exudes an aura of Koan finesse, has managed to “attract” locals away from Tigaki. Open from the early morning for coffee and breakfast, in the evening it is an ideal destination for atmospheric dinners and drinks by the sea.
Of course, the best beaches are still located in Kefalos, the southern part of the island, where amazing sandy beaches add a tropical feel to the landscape. So what if the beach of Agios Stefanos, featuring the ruins of an early Christian church, remains the favorite among visitors?
Actually, there are two secret beaches that are fast becoming the stars of the show; the first is Kata, a sandy beach protected by a rock that features small pebbles on the right and stones rounded by the waves on the left. The strangest part of this rather mysterious setting is the carcass of a shipwreck that adds a charming wildness, especially when the waves crash against it.
The second secret beach is Volcania with its volcanic terrain – there is a crater very close by. Tranquility, an endless sandy beach and sun loungers placed far apart. A natural postcard, the only memory you need take away with you.
And this is precisely the uniqueness of Kos – there is no Cycladic vibe, it is not tiny, does not invite visitors to attend cosmopolitan parties nor does it sell the lifestyle factor. It enchants you with its incomparable diversity. So, come on over – Palm Tree Avenue awaits.
You can reach Kos by ferry from Piraeus (10 hours, from 57 euros one way with Blue Star Ferries, bluestarferries.com) or by plane [from 70 euros one way with Aegean (aegeanair.com) or Sky Express (skyexpress.gr)]. Connection to neighboring islands is also very good (Dodekanisos Seaways, 12ne.gr). Take the boat from Mastihari for Rhodes and Kalymnos, while go to Kardamena for Leros and Nissiros.
The island has many hospitality offerings, from family resorts and small, adult-only boutique hotels to urban hotels, villas with sea views and even glamping options, such as Sails on Kos at Marmari (tel. 6972-070053, sailsonkos.com, from 45 euros with breakfast).
For staying in Kos town, the emblematic Kos Aktis (former Xenia, kosaktis.gr, from 180 euros with breakfast) is the ideal choice.
Luxury services and comforts as well as a comprehensive gastronomic identity are offered at Ikos Aria (tel. 22424-41000, ikosresorts.com, from 570 euros all-inclusive) at Kefalos. The dynamic executive chef Christos Xeraxoudis manages eight different restaurants, including an exceptional Asian offering.
With its plethora of antiquities spread out across the island and approximately 5000 years of recorded history, Kos is rather similar to an open-air archaeological museum. All sites are open daily between 08:00 – 20:00, except on Tuesdays.
Entry to the Castle of the Knights (Neratzia) is free and available until 15:30, while the Asklepieion is open every day (entrance 8 euros). In addition to the above, the Archaeological Museum (tel. 22420-28326, entrance 6 euros) on Eleftherias Square is housed in a listed building from the Italian Occupation era and features a plethora of findings from the Agora, the Odeon, the Altar of Dionysus and the Casa Romana.
Further afield, it is worth visiting the medieval Castle of Antimachia and the Church of Ipapanti in ancient Pyli that houses frescoes from the 14th century.
To discover the island’s beauty by yacht or catamaran (with or without a crew) inquire at Istion Yachting (istion.com, tel. (+30) 6982.372.807).