Kos island, Greece, sits bang in the middle of the Dodecanese chain of Greek islands that hug the Turkish coastline between Rhodes to the south, and Patmos, in the north. Kos holidays are hugely popular with the British package tour firms.
Kos is one of the best islands in Greece when it comes to a typical beach holiday. It was among the first to go for mass-market tourism in a big way with many Kos hotels thrown up on the long, sandy coastlines to the east and the south.
Kos is long and thin, about 45 by 11 kilometres and, unlike many other Greek islands, it's mostly flat and low-lying, especially in the north and west. As a result, much of the scenery on Kos is not outstanding by Greece standards, although it does get more mountainous in the south and east.
The lack of hills has helped to make cycling a very fashionable Kos holiday activity, and there are no end of bicycle rental outlets and even dedicated cycling lanes between the big holiday hotels.
As well as the brash nightlife of Kos Town and a plethora of beach resorts, the island also boasts some of the best archaeological sites in the Mediterranean.
For many though, it's the long, sandy beaches that make a holiday to Kos so appealing with day trips by boat to nearby Turkey a very popular holiday excursion.
Kos airport is one of the busiest in the Greek islands and attracts international charters from all over the world. It lies to the west of the island some 26 kilometres from Kos Town – a long way for east coast holidaymakers but handy for the main south-west beach resorts at Kamari and Kardamena. A daily bus service runs from Kos Airport to the east coast passing through north coast resorts like Marmari, Tingaki and Mastichari.
Although a few ferries dock at Mastichari, the main ferry port is in Kos Town where the Dodekanese Seaways operate services to most other islands in the Dodecanese group while other companies run daily services to other island groups as well regular day trips to Turkey.
Kos has been a favourite beach holiday destination for years and the influence of package holiday companies is felt mostly on the east coast, around Kos Town, where the big hotel complexes dominate. Apart from a string of pleasant beach resorts along the north Kos coast, the main holiday areas are to the south-west around Kamari Bay.
Kos Town is a heady blend of holiday resort and historic site where ancient Greek columns and Roman street mosaics are pitted against music-thumping tourist bars and the neon blink of open-air nightclubs.
It was an earthquake in 1933 that unearthed many of Kos Town's ancient ruins, subsequently excavated and restored by the Italians. It was the Italians too that laid out Kos Town's 'garden suburb' grid of streets, punctuated by the Ottoman and Italianate buildings.
It's unfortunate that the concrete mixer contributes so much modern pillbox style but efforts have been made to right the worst wrongs – a one-way traffic system, protection for monuments, a traffic-free main square and a smart new marina.
Kos Town is, nevertheless at core, a bedlam of noisy nightclubs with the Eksaria area, in particular, stuffed with nightclub bars and nightly revellers.
Daytime is different. Kos remains a pleasant town of neatly arrayed streets, broad, tree-lined and converging on attractive squares profuse with flowers and trees.
The central Eleftherias Square is traffic-free with the neatly restored Defterdar Mosque to one side and some pompous, Italianate buildings opposite, one of which houses the Archaeological Museum with a small but excellent collection of Roman sculptures. On another side is a lively market and taverna tables galore.
Nearby are the ancient Agora, a sunken bowl filled with a confusing jumble of ruins, and one of the oldest trees in Europe said to have shaded Hippocrates himself – a somewhat shady claim that would date the tree at 2,500 years old.
The Venetian Castle of the Knights, built in the 14th century, is approached over a bridge that spans a former moat. An impressive 16th-century gateway opens into a large compound liberally littered with crumbled statues and pillars.
Another archaeological site lies to the south, confusingly called the Western excavation. Impressive ruins here include a Roman nymphaeum and the House of Europa where a floor mosaic depicts a bull carrying off a well-endowed Europa.
Also here is the Casa Romana, a 3rd-century Roman villa with three courtyards, bathing pools, and even more mosaics. Nearby too is the Roman Odeon, a splendid theatre now beautifully restored.
Kos Town beach marks the start of a long trail of sand that leads south to the cape at Agios Fokas. Nearer to town the beach is narrow and noisy with edge-to-edge sunbeds.
Inland from Kos town is the village of Platani, the last refuge for the island's dwindling Turkish community. In the 1960s there were around 3,000 Turks in Platani, but as the hostility between the two countries has grown, so the population has declined to a few hundred.
Platani is still the place for a Turkish night out at one of the many restaurants, many of which are superior to any in Kos town.
Nearby is a Jewish cemetery surrounded by pines. Dates on the headstones end in the 1940s when the occupying Germans shipped out all the village Jews to concentration camps.
A group of hamlets lie clustered on the slopes of Mount Dikeos, or Dikaion, known collectively as the Asfendiou district. Lost in the greenery of thick forests, Asfendiou is about as traditional Greek as it gets on Kos these days.
At Pilaiopoli a ruined castle perched proudly on a pinnacle of rock offering beautiful views over hills and sea. Asomati has the most picturesque of the whitewashed houses on the island while Evangelistra boasts some of its best tavernas.
At west-facing Zia tour buses unload scores of visitors every evening to enjoy dramatic sunsets and 'Greek Night' parties. The friendly locals never seem to tire of the visiting hordes.
Zia claims to have the oldest windmill on the island and many shops sell the locally-produced thyme flavoured honey and olive oil.
A coast road runs from Lambi in the north to Agios Fokas in the south with back-to-back hotels, hemmed in by a service road and cycle track. Picturesque possibilities have long been stamped out by the multiplying hotel chains but if an all-inclusive hotel deal is on the cards with sun, sand, swimming pool and night-life up the road then east coast Kos is pretty hard to beat.
South of Kos town, and just an extension of it, is the holiday beach area of Psalidi, little more than a sprinkling of tavernas, a few supermarkets and lots of large hotels.
Psalidi beach is scruffy pebbles and shingle with a little sand now and then with access down paths from the main coast road.
Beach facilities are typical of big hotel resorts – sunbeds and brollies, showers and toilets, beach bars and watersports. The best area is at Blue Beach which has grass on which to sunbathe.
What recommends Psalidi are the trimmings that come with the luxury hotel lifestyle and the proximity of Kos Town and its night-life.
Buses to town are frequent and cheap, and there is a useful cycle lane. It is possible to walk, but only by dodging the cycles that career along the path day and night.
Popular with windsurfers, Agios Fokas has little else to recommend it other than the hot thermal springs. The resort backs onto a scruffy beach of grey sand and grit with a large hotel complex nearby.
The hot springs lie beyond the headland on a south coast strip of grey volcanic sand, backed by brooding rocks and dominated by a massive rock outcrop that towers above.
A regular bus service to Kos Town and the novelty of a warm sea makes the resort a favoured target for day trippers.
The hot water flows into the sea over a pebble beach, so it's ideal for swimming, but expect a hard trek back up the steep hill.
North Kos is flat and featureless, giving easy access to beach resorts but offering little scenic interest except out to sea where Pserimos, Kalymnos and Turkey are all visible. Waters in the north are warmer but breezier. Cycling and horse riding are popular and the beaches tend to be quieter.
The beach at Lampi, or Lambi, lies to the north-west of Kos Town within bus, cycling or even walking distance.
The fine, long, straight one-kilometre stretch of gently shelving white sand is considered by many the best family beach on the island and very safe for children.
With a regular and frequent bus service, Lampi attracts daily visitors from Kos Town, with evening traffic in the opposite direction as Lampi holidaymakers check out the night-life.
Sunbeds and brollies litter the shore and watersports on offer include parasailing. Like all northern beaches, it can get windy at times and the waves can come crashing in.
The resort used to be a Greek military base but the army lost its battle with the tour operators who have packaged the place up with almost military precision.
Separated from Marmari by a vast salt marsh Tingaki, or Tigaki, is a busy and often crowded beach resort that has become very popular with British and German holiday companies.
The resort is a single street of bars, cafes and tourist shops in a flat and featureless landscape dotted with newly built hotels and apartment complexes.
Facing north, the long and sandy beach is mainly good white sand backed by low dunes and, although it drops sharply at the water's edge, is shallow for some way beyond.
The sands improve to the west until they reach the salt pans where it turns hard and flat. A naturist beach here lies just beyond the outfall from the salt lake.
Further west still is the salt pan marsh that can stay wet well into June, an ideal stopping off point for migratory birds, tame terrapins and zillions of mosquitoes.
East of the large salt pans of Tigaki is the beach resort of Marmari where the white sands broaden and bank up into low-lying dunes.
Marmari is about 15 kilometres from Kos Town and enjoys quieter seas than Tingaki with the sand sloping even more gently into the sea, although swells can get pretty heavy in windy weather.
The resort is very popular with Germans, while the UK hotels stand rather isolated. Several tavernas and small shops sell basic foodstuffs as well as the usual tourist souvenirs.
Marmari is a quiet, big hotel resort and visitors who prefer something busier may head to resorts closer to Kos Town.
Inland from the beach resort at Marmari is the area known as Pyli, the joint name for the three neighbouring hamlets of Armaniou, Agios Giorgios and Agios Nikolaos.
Set in lush countryside, the villages are a maze of cobbled streets and whitewashed homes with the odd taverna and coffee shop. Pyli area villagers are mostly cattle farmers.
Visitors can see the tomb of Harmylos, an ancient Kos hero and the road from Pili leads up to Palio Pyli where there are the well-preserved remains of a Byzantine fortress that shelters a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary within its walls.
The resort port of Mastichari, or Mastihari, has an attractive beach of flat white sand with by clutches of shady tamarisk trees and a long line of tavernas behind.
Beyond the tavernas is a small warren of purpose-built shopping streets, neatly laid out and lined with small tourist shops, cafes and a few bars.
The resort has several seashore restaurants and bars, half a dozen mini-markets and a handful of gift shops in a quiet, relaxed and low key setting.
The beach is good, with sharp white sand, although it suffers from seaweed which collects in long banks along the shore, a problem that locals try to combat with regular clean-up operations.
To the west are the remains of a 5th-century basilica and tracks beyond the power station lead to a string of small, sandy coves.
The east end of the beach hits the 200-metre long harbour wall where ferries sail daily for the nearby islands of Pserimos and Kalymnos.
Around five kilometres inland from Mastichari is one of the most photographed windmills on Kos. Antimakia is a well-preserved working mill and museum that's a popular picnic spot and target of many coach tours.
Pretty impressive it can look too, standing on the main street with its dozen sails unfurled. Antimakia is worth a look round too; a picturesque hamlet of whitewashed houses and flowers.
Nearby, a large 14th fortress built by the Knights of St John dominates the central plain. A well-signposted road heads east to the castle which has an imposing gateway and parapets beyond that offer great views. Little is left of the buildings within except a couple of churches.
The south coast is the most popular area of the island for a beach holiday with endless stretches of sand and a scenic landscape. Seas in the south are usually much calmer than the north but can feel colder too. Mountains provide scenic interest and, in the far west, the countryside gets very wild indeed.
The island of Kos narrows to just two kilometres before widening again at the rugged, volcanic area of Kefalos to the west.
Kefalos village sits high on the hillside, with the old town above and the sprawling bay and beach resort of Kamari below. The old streets are awash with white houses and colourful doors and windows.
Views from the hill fort at Kefalos are impressive but the going is steep. Even higher are the twin peaks of Mount Zini and Mount Latia, both spiked with radio masts and Zini scarred by a large quarry.
Kefalos is the end of the line for buses and an outpost for adventurous hikes into the western wilderness that ends at the rugged peninsula of Cape Kikello.
Regular tours leave Kefalos for the ruins of the ancient Astypalia amphitheatre and to a cave at Aspi Petra, said to be inhabited in Neolithic times.
There are tiny beaches on the west coast road out of Kefalos past the cemetery, but the area is wild. To the north is Limnionas which has twin beaches each side of a peninsula and a small harbour.
Kamari Bay is the beach resort of Kefalos with a five-kilometre stretch of shingle and sand reaching almost to Agios Stefanos.
The resort is packed with restaurants and bars aimed squarely at the economy end of the British tourist market, and it's all-day breakfast, chips with everything, happy hours drinking, giant TV screens and plenty of karaoke.
Mercifully free of the brash youth culture of nearby Kardamena, Kamari is a relatively sedate beach resort for the middle-aged UK package tour holidaymaker.
The shingle shoreline turns to large stones under the sea and dips sharply while the best sand is found near the Club Med complex. There are plenty of sunbeds and watersports on offer.
The offshore islet rock of Kastri is within swimming distance but reaching it is not easy given the volume of passing boats, windsurfers and other water traffic.
The water is crystal clear but it's said to be the coldest on Kos. Many visitors based here will spend their days on Bubble Beach and its neighbours across the bay.
The Kamari beach stretches five kilometres to Agios Stefanos, a once pretty village now overshadowed by a Club Med complex which has nabbed the best sand.
At this point, Kos is only two kilometres wide and even south facing beaches like this have little protection from the intense northern 'Meltemi' summer winds.
A nearby headland has the ruins of a couple of triple-aisled 6th-century basilicas with some excellent bird mosaics.
Opposite the resort at Kamari sits a succession of sandy Kos beaches that attracts holidaymakers from all over the island.
A single stretch of sand runs for several kilometres, sheltered by a cliff backdrop and with sections adopting Anglicised names.
Camel beach is in a small, pretty bay, has fine golden sand and dramatic wind-sculpted cliffs behind. Rock formations out in the clear water add interest, especially for snorkellers.
A cement block beach cantina sits behind on a beach which tends to be less popular as access from the large car park is very steep. Camel beach is a favourite with nudists, mostly Swedish and Dutch.
Paradise beach is also known as Bubble beach on account of underwater volcanic vents which warm the water here a degree or two. It is immensely popular, gets very crowded all along its considerable length and is fully commercialised. Sheltering cliffs, good clean sand and shallow water make it ideal for families with children. There are several cantinas on hand in the high summer and this is a popular day out destination for those staying in Kefalos and Kamari across the bay. To see the bubbles bather must wade out to sea; there are few bubbles along the shoreline.
Banana beach is probably the cleanest beach of the lot and the most picturesque, with junipers straddling the low sand dunes behind. But it is rather small and less popular than its neighbour Paradise. This beach is also called Laganda.
More than two kilometres of sand is found at the much wilder Sunny beach which is long and narrow and backed by low scrub carpeted rocks. There are sunbeds and cantinas but far fewer hotels around so it tends to be much less crowded.
At three kilometres Magic beach, also called Poleni, is the longest, broadest and least tamed of them all. It is also the least populated, though there is still no shortage of sunbeds and a few basic beach cantinas open in the summer.
The far western end of this strip is called either Xerokambos or Exotic beach depending on whether visitors can pronounce Greek. It's backed by an army tank and artillery range.
Kardamena a heaving tourist resort of discos and burger bars that wouldn't look out of place on the Costa Brava but located just five kilometres south of Kos airport.
The picturesque Greek fishing village, once charming, friendly and famous for its beautiful ceramics, has been gobbled up by commercial interests aimed mainly at the youth holiday market.
A uniform grid of concrete closely follows the coast with rows of bars and cafes opening out onto wide sandy beaches that sweep for two kilometres each side of the resort.
Youngsters are flayed by the sun and puddled with alcohol at bars called Slammers, Bonkers and Crackers – some idea of the standard.
Kardamena bars must turn off the music at midnight, but clubs stay open to 3.30 am in the week and 6 am at the weekend.
Foam parties and karaoke nights abound and youngsters love it to bits. The persistent may find moussaka on a menu somewhere but most will settle for chips, baked beans and lager.
There are boat excursions to the volcanic islet of Nisyros and in summer, during the White Bait Festival, even the locals let their hair down with street parties.
At the eastern end of the beach is the self-contained package resort of Tolari, a 1,000-bed hotel complex where a village used to stand.