Olympic Holidays

Asklepion Temple

Beyond Platani and four kilometres to the southeast of Kos Town stands the island's most famous and interesting ancient site, the Asklepion.

Kos' native son Hippocrates is rightly remembered with street names, statues, a medical centre and even a tree but he is most completely celebrated at this ancient sanatorium, founded in 444BC not long after his death and now a major tourist attraction.

It was both a temple to the Asklepios, the god of healing, and a renowned Hellenic medical centre that functioned for about 1,000 years before falling into disrepair.

The setting is magnificent, elevated on hillside terraces that are connected by a monumental marble staircase. It sits above the village of Anatolia on four terraces linked by a marble staircase, with views across the sea to Turkey.

Little of the original centre remains, thanks in a large part to repeated earthquakes and to the use of the site as a quarry by the Crusaders. It was extensively excavated by Germans in 1902 and the Italians re-erected some Corinthian columns dating from the 2nd century. A Doric temple, built some 400 years earlier sits on the highest terrace.

Local guides love to elaborate on the Hippocratic connection but the famous healer's life story is elusive and his links to Kos are very tenuous. He was certainly born here in 460 BC and he also died here in 357 BC.

But he spent most of his life away from Kos, travelling throughout the Aegean and advocating his 'scientific' approach to medicine, gaining fame by halting plagues through the then novel practice of boiling drinking water and isolating the sick.

Castle of the Knights

From the main square in Kos Town at Plateia Platanou a bridge crosses the Finikon dry moat to the Castle of the Knights, also called the Kastro tis Neratzias. The castle was built by the Knights Templar in the 14th century along with similar fortifications in Rhodes as a defence against the Ottomans.

The fortress, with its massive outer walls and was surrounded by a large moat but was damaged by an earthquake in 1495 and restored in the 16th century. Much of the stone taken to build it was taken from the ancient Agora.

Visitors enter through the well-preserved 16th-century gateway and a walk around the remains of its inner walls, with the views over the harbour, is a favourite of Corfu visitors. Take care of the kids though as there is little in the way of safety features.

Over the drawbridge is a circular tower with 15th century carvings and to the north an old knights' building, probably a warehouse, restored by the Italians who occupied the island from 1912 to 1947.

Ancient excavations

The Ancient town, with its very widespread and impressive ruins is located right in the heart of Kos Town. They comprise an ancient city wall and several sanctuaries with well-preserved mosaics.

The Western Excavation

The Western Excavation is on Grigoriou Street, a 10 minute walk west from the centre and boasts the island's oldest archaeological remains. There are two large covered areas at the back for mosaics from the 'House of Europe' and a stretch Roman road 'Decumanus Maximums' as well as the Roman Nymphaeum (actually Roman urinals) and the 'Xysto' gymnasium. It also features some imposing colonnades, several courtyards, ancient baths and a temple to Dionysos. The recently restored Roman Odeon amphitheatre is also close by.

Ancient Agora

There is a lot less to see of the Ancient Agora site as much of the stone was taken away to build Kos castle but to the west are the remains of the Stoa (Great Hall) and to the north several interesting ruins including the Temple of Hercules, the 5th-century Christian Basilica, and also the Shrine of Aphrodite.

Castle of Antimachia

Also called Palaio Pyli, the Castle of Antimachia is located in the centre of the island about 25 kilometres from Kos Town.

Built in Venetians times it passed into hands of the Order of the Knights of St John and consists of the castle ruins and two old churches. There is a good road to the castle which is not too far from the popular resorts of Kefalos and Kardamena.

It looks more impressive outside than in as the inner area is very shabby and in a poor condition. There is not much to see inside apart from two Venetian churches, Agios Nikolaos dates from the 16th century and Agia Paraskevi was built in early 18th century but there are good views of the surrounding area.

Hippocrates' Garden

Near the north coast Kos resort of Mastichari is the Hippocrates' Garden cultural centre. The centre is a modern replica of an ancient 5th century BC Greek settlement that would have existed at the time that the 'father of medicine' Hippocrates would have lived and worked.

There is an ancient Greek house of 'okios, an arcade typical of those where Greek philosophers would have walked and talked, an amphitheatre to stage theatrical productions, some museums, a botanical garden and a replica temple.

The centre was built in 2008 to promote ancient Greek culture and history and it attracts hundreds of Greek schoolchildren each year as well as many holiday tourists.

As well as displays on Greek social history, philosophy, and ancient medicine, visitors can learn about more modern concerns such as recycling, wildlife protection and the Mediterranean diet.

Visitors can get there down a 1.5km dirt track but there is a campaign to raise funds to pave the road. More details can be found on the centre website at www.hippocratesgarden.gr

Nearby islets of Kos

Pserimos Island

Pserimos is a small island about half way between Kos and Kalymnos. It would be an idyllic place but for the day trippers that descend in droves throughout the season. A few lucky visitors can find rooms to stay but not many as there are a mere 30 or so houses.

The main beach on the island is at Avlakia, a lovely stretch of golden sand, quickly covered in sunbedded bodies. Day trippers arrive like locusts and snap up all available sun beds.

They also pack the tavernas and generally make a noisy addition to what would otherwise be a peaceful islet. Even the ferries have been known to queue to tie up to the small quay. Those boats that can't find a berth head off to neighbouring Platys which has a similar, but smaller, sandy beach and far fewer trippers.

There are a couple of other beaches, not as attractive but much quieter. One is at Vathy in the north, reached with a 30 minute walk along a well marked path to a cove of sand and pebbles. Another is at Marathounda to the west, a 45 minute walk to a pebble cove. The island is so small that nowhere is more than an hour's walk in any direction.

Day trippers make up almost all the visitors as there is so little accommodation on the islet. There are rooms to be had above the tavernas and one small store which gets stocked up by the daily boat that leaves Pothia on Kalymnos around 9am each day. Nearly all the other boats that pull in are on daily cruises between Kos and Kalymnos with a stop here and at Platys.

Nisyros Island

A boat trip to the island of Nisyros or Nissyros is very enjoyable. It has active volcanic fumeroles, steam vents, boiling mud and sulphur. The island also has a very pretty village with very narrow streets, bougainvillea and many other beautiful flowers.

Local travel agents charge much less than the big tour operators for trips to the island and smaller boats and tour parties can make for a more enjoyable trip.

The walk up the crater is a bit scary with very steep and unfenced drops and don't go in plastic flip-flops - they could melt off your feet.