Anyone who has stopped by this blog before will know that one of my greatest passions in life is walking, and the idea of a full walking holiday with lengthy hikes through the British countryside, much like had in Dorset and Devon last year, is a prospect that I would relish. Sometimes however, there is an overwhelming need to have a holiday that involves doing as little as possible, and our ten night trip to the Greek island of Kos was certainly one of those.
Part of the Dodecanese islands located closer to Turkey than mainland Greece, the island benefits from warm weather well into October, so the mid-20s daily temperature was ideally suited for us, and far preferable to the mid-30s the island experienced a couple of weeks before our arrival. As the main goal of the holiday was R&R, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that most of our time was spent lazing by the pool or beach, soaking up rays, and making use of the all inclusive facilities we had at our disposal. So forgive me if I don’t give you a day-by-day account of the trip. There’s only so many times I can describe sitting on a sun lounger, reading a book, or drinking cocktails.
Our journey there was without incident, if a little blurry, as our early flight from Manchester meant there wasn’t a great deal of sleep to be had the night before. I had tried to make the most of staying awake on a Sunday night by watching more American football that my usual bedtime allows, but I ended up stewing in a semi-conscious state while the gridiron continued distantly in the background, and by the time we were sat on the plane my head bobbed continuously up and down to the echoes of snores, until the sunlight pierced through the windows and our plane descended towards a speck amongst specks in an azure blue sea.
We stayed at Ammos Resort, a small hotel a few miles from the village of Mastichari on the north side of the island, which on arrival proved to be clean, quiet, and with a welcoming sheen that indicated either its young age, or recent renovation. Our room, although facing inland, still offered views of the sea from one side of the balcony, and befitting to our initial impressions of the hotel, felt neat and new. As it was already lunchtime, we headed straight to the restaurant and the buffet style all inclusive offerings, with a wide selection from meat, fish, salad, pasta, soup, desserts – you get the idea. It was when I spotted the self serve beer and wine taps that I was fairly certain that I would be comfortable dining there on a daily basis. After filling up on an eclectic lunch and a few pints of Zorba’s beer, we headed to the pool, crashed on some sun loungers and didn’t for a moment think about our friends and families back home trudging their way through a working Monday.
To say the hotel was a perfect fit for our requirements wouldn’t be far from the mark. Being October, the main season had died down, and my fears after reading TripAdvisor reviews about queuing for food and drinks were quickly put to rest, as more often than not the friendly and professional staff were waiting for you to approach them with your orders. We were also very pleased with the lack of other establishments in the area, with only two other hotels in the vicinity, and both of those required a good five minute walk in either direction before they were stumbled across. The pool was adequate if freezing, and the bar open from morning until midnight, manned expertly each evening by Yannis, a man I immediately took a liking to during our first conversation. “Jamie? Like Lannister?” “Yes but I don’t sleep with my sister.” He proceed to call me Mr Jamie for the remainder of the holiday, and only on a couple of tipsy occasions did I remind him it should be ‘Ser Jamie’. (It amuses me to picture the faces of non Game of Thrones fans reading the preceding passage.)
A weather condition we hadn’t counted on was wind, which at times reached over 20mph and usually blustered in from the sea. The pool area was well sheltered. Too sheltered, really, so when at its hottest the sun made sitting around quite sweaty work. Striking the right balance between the cool sea breeze and the hot poolside air was something we managed to achieve on our second day, finding the loungers that perched at the end of a shelter giving hedge, allowing an occasional draft to sneak around and provide some rest-bite. It became our daily mission to secure said loungers lest other patrons cotton on to our discovery, so before breakfast each day we marched down there with towels and planted our flags like clichéd German bathers.
There is a path from the hotel’s private beach into the town of Mastichari, some 25 minutes away, although the initial part requires scrambling over some wave lapped rocks, so we took the safer option of cutting through the neighbouring hotel’s grounds onto their beach, where the paved section properly begins. The path traces the coastline and offers gorgeous views of the bay, and onto the nearby island of Kalymnos, a rugged and beautiful landmark that dominated our field of vision from the hotel’s restaurant windows.
During the first couple of days there was, on my part, a reasonable consumption of the all inclusive drinks, and as anyone who has stayed in such hotels before will know, the alcohol tends to be procured from the lower end of the price spectrum, and as such doesn’t hold the same standard of quality as its branded counterparts. Whether it was the off brand liquor or the generous Greek measures thereof, by day three I had grown a tad sick of them, and wanting a change of scene from the hotel we decided on an evening stroll into Mastichari to try out one of their sea front bars. We took the coastal path, which at night becomes less of a seaside sojourn and more of an opening paragraph from a missing person’s report. With a number of the street lights out of action and a series of potentially axe murderer harbouring sand dunes running parallel to the path, we made the decision that our return journey would be made by taxi.
Arriving at the Horizon bar alive and with all limbs intact, we settled down on the empty terrace next to the beach and spent an evening drinking delicious mojitos that were clearly mixed with love and attention, scoffing the free crisps provided, and enjoying the company of the bar owner’s two friendly dogs, who stayed by our side receiving fuss during their breaks from patrolling the area. We had four drinks each, and the 58 Euro bill at the end of the night was not grumbled at in the slightest, as it made a welcome change to have such expertly made drinks and (as with almost every establishment visited in Kos), friendly and professional service from the staff, not least as the waiter ordered our taxi and guided us to it on our departure. This was one of the most memorable aspects of our visit, as on the whole the locals went out of their way to provide great service, always with a smile and a conversation, making us feel welcome and comfortable at every turn. Maybe it was because it was October and business was slowing down, maybe because the island’s reputation has taken a knock following the reported influx of refugees during the Syrian crisis and tourist numbers in general are down, or perhaps, as I suspect, they’re just affable people who know how to treat tourists properly while they make an honest living from the industry.
A daytrip into Kos town rewarded us with a an insight into the island’s history, with Roman ruins, ancient basilicas, and a tree reportedly frequented by Hippocrates amongst the attractions. When walking around an archaeological site it was almost impossible not to trip over millennia old masonry, as the site is open for the public to roam and explore. A street with original paving stones offers glimpses into the Roman occupation, as you walk past doorways and pillars leading to astoundingly preserved mosaics laid down during a time when Britain was being raided by our ancestral Saxons.
The recent earthquake served to level some of the free standing pillars, now strewn among the rubble and fenced off with green netting, but in the most part we were free to meander through history as we pleased. A fully restored odeum gave an opportunity to climb and sit on history too, and a gaggle of small children traipsed back and forth on the stone stage in a performance for their parents, where once a Roman acting troupe would have stood.
The same earthquake that brought down the Roman pillars was responsible for a good deal more damage throughout the town, and many old buildings wore the scars, scaffolding, and restrictive safety barriers to prove it, so many of the attractions we would have visited were out of bounds to humans, a rule largely ignored by the town’s extensive feral feline population. Cats can be found in most areas of Kos, but the town itself appeared to be their major territory, where they stalk and purr their way to being fed by tourists and locals alike. One man occupied a bench with around ten of them leaping or snoozing around him, with huge bags of food for which a sign politely requested donations, and to which we responded with a 5 Euro note. Sammy in particular was concerned for the welfare of the cats who patrol the hotels during the winter months, but her worries were eased after a conversation I had with Yannis, where he told me his mother travels between the hibernating hotels with food and water, and who has adopted over twenty cats into her home, which despite his flabbergasted expression I believe made Yannis secretly proud.
Our other daytrip away from the hotel was to the resort of Kefalos, a small town that to reach requires passage through the narrow part of the island, so slim that from the road both the northern and southern coastlines can be seen. We didn’t make it as far as the town centre, opting to leave the bus at the beach and walk along the long stretch of sand that lines the sweeping bay, giving views of the small Kastri island and its church, leading onto the ruins of 4th century basilica Agios Stefanos at its end. So few were our fellow beachgoers that it felt like we were the only ones there, and when we stopped at a pool bar to use their facilities, the poor girl charged with its upkeep looked genuinely shocked to have encountered other human beings. Despite being the kind of people who savour peace, quiet, and the absence of others, this stretch was too windy to sit around in for long, so we left the beach and made the somewhat precarious decision to walk 45 minutes along the main road to the more populous Paradise Beach, where the surrounding hills of the cove provided a natural wind break and ensured temperatures more appropriate to stripping down to swimwear, throwing a towel onto the sand, and attempting to look anywhere but the direction of the elderly man in speedos parading around in front of us. No holiday is truly complete without a procession of budgie smuggler sporting continental gentlemen, and thankfully for us our hotel contained one or two as well.
We spent our final few days much as we had begun, doing very little but achieving a great deal. Each evening provided us with a sumptuous sunset, which was best enjoyed from the hotel’s beach. We were usually the only two people there as the enormous fireball extinguished itself in the ocean and we sat on the rocks to bid it farewell, its light being replaced by tiny dots of white from the illuminated houses over on Kalymnos, and the bobbing boats in the bay.
Kos is without doubt a beautiful, welcoming place. It’s easy to see how the masses brought by the high season could taint an otherwise peaceful environment, particularly in the more populous areas such as Kos town itself, but I’ll take the word of TripAdvisor on that one. Should I ever be fortunate to return again, I’ll try to make sure it’s when the kids are at school, the temperature is optimum, and the bar queues are non-existent. Bliss.