An Italian naval base for 30 years and once home to a notorious mental asylum, later a penal colony, the island of Leros Greece has been a late arrival on the Greek island holiday scene.
But Leros has been quickly making up for lost ground and the island is now one of the more sought after destinations among the Greek islands, and growing in popularity, with visitor numbers rising each year.
Leros is located among the north Dodecanese group, just off the Turkish coast between Kos and Samos and, although ferry connections are good, the island airport can take only small domestic flights.
Leros has a long coastline with many deeply indented bays. None contain memorable beaches but they do offer that tranquil, picturesque charm that has unfortunately vanished from many Greek island resorts.
Cappuccino may have replaced Greek coffee in the pavement cafes but craft shops and bakeries still prevail over trinket stalls and fast food takeaways in the narrow streets.
For those seeking serene surroundings and prefer to escape the holiday hustle and bustle, Leros has much to offer the holiday visitor.
Leros has been slow in cashing in on the tourist market. A relative lack of good beaches and stiff competition from better-known neighbours has kept it off the tourist trail but the island is now emerging as a more 'traditional' Greek island for discerning travellers. Good beaches can be found, the landscape as delightful as any in the Dodecanese and its position on a major ferry route makes it easy to reach and a good base for Greek island hopping. The growth may be low key but Leros is beginning to make its mark.
The port of Agia Marina is one of two large harbours on Leros (the other is at Lakki) and the main tourist centre and the port of call for most ferries and excursion boats.
Cafes line the quayside which eventually leads to a narrow shingle beach, a thin and scruffy strip sharp sand littered with debris and backed by a bare concrete wall.
There is compensation in the sweeping views across the bay and a picturesque windmill perched on a causeway at the northern end of the village.
The warren of whitewashed back streets is marred by the stream of traffic that squeezes through alleyways and makes crossing the roads a head-spinning pain.
Cafes have turned upmarket in recent years, with softly cushioned settees and internet access a much-flaunted addition to cappuccino and ciabatta on the menus.
The cafes have the charm of brightly painted boats bobbing at the quayside and fishing nets sprawled out to dry at your feet.
The whitewashed homes of Agia Marina sprawl up the hillside to merge with Platanos, while the impressive Byzantine castle stands aloof on the treeless skyline of Apityki, visible from virtually everywhere on Leros.
Leros is a jigsaw of an island that divides neatly into north and south at the capital port of Agia Marina/Platanos. The south is slightly more mountainous with a large bay gouged out at Lakki. Both parts of the island are thinly populated. In the south the coastline both east is barren cliff and rock with little or no road access. Large quarry works on the eastern hillside at Vathia Lagadia are plainly visible.
Spreading south up the hill from Agia Marina, and now almost indistinguishable from it, is the island's commercial and political capital at the village of Platanos.
A chaotic spread of whitewashed houses lies between two barren hillsides, flanking a busy main road designed more for donkeys than the motor traffic that now streams along it.
Attractive houses line the main road and the narrow alleys that branch off left and right. Platanos houses the Leros island council and library and there are many shops, cafes and supermarkets.
Extensively bombed by the British in World War Two, much has survived or been restored. At the top of the hill is the main square which holds one of the biggest markets on Leros.
The Venetian castle dominates and you can drive up to it or walk, although the walk involves about 300 steps, for extensive views of Leros and a chance to see the beautiful 10th century Church of Our Lady which stands inside the castle.
As well as a small museum in the castle church there is a good archaeological museum on the main road, housed in the renovated Astiki Sholi built in 1882.
To the south, down the hillside from Platanos is the small seaside resort of Panteli or Pandeli. The road drops steeply down to the beach where there is limited parking.
Cafes and tavernas embrace an attractive strip of sand and shingle in the deep bay with a couple of tavernas encroaching onto the shore.
The sea is shallow here with a few stones that give way to sand further out so this is a good beach for families with children.
Tamarisk trees behind provide natural shade while the small harbour is usually packed with fishing boats and yachts.
A cafe overlooks the sands from the southern headland and a newly paved walk beyond has views of the beach at Vromolithos. Also overlooking Panteli on a ridge below the ruins of the Venetian castle is a line of six ancient windmills.
Panteli is a pleasant, mild seaside resort that makes for a good base for exploring Leros, with plenty of places to eat and easy access to the busier villages of Platanos and Agia Marina.
Around the headland from Panteli and down a hill off the Platanos road is a long beach at Vromolithos.
Often touted as the biggest and best beach on the island it turns out to be only the biggest. There is shingle and coarse sand, a couple of tavernas and a few sunbeds.
Coarse sand turns to shingle and stone in the middle with dense vegetation all around and some trees on the beach to provide shade. The straight beach runs the length of a large open bay.
The biggest problem is the slabs of rock just under the surface of the sea along the length of the beach. The slabs are large, flat and extend well offshore, many with deep crevices and a slippery seaweed coating on top.
The slabs are extensive enough to make swimming a problem unless bathers are prepared to venture some way offshore.
Apartments dot the low hill behind and there are shops, minimarkets and cafes within easy walking distance. There is plenty of good parking near the Taverna Paradisos.
The resort is also close to both Platanos and Panteli so there is plenty of variety for those who base a holiday here.
The large bay at Lakki is one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean and, it must be said, probably one of the dullest.
Occupied by the Italians for 30 years before the 1940s, Mussolini had plans to turn it into an Italian flagship city for his Greek 'empire'.
They created the grandiose town of Portolago, now Lakki, and erected wide, boulevard streets, impressive parks and bombastic buildings in a blend of Art Deco and Bauhaus dubbed 'Rationalism' by the showy Fascist regime.
Although individual buildings have some architectural interest, but the overall impression is of a large and empty shopping precinct.
A long promenade, wide enough to host a military parade, runs the length of the shore and sports eucalyptus trees and ornate lampposts, ending in a large yacht marina.
Bizarre grandeur is in monumental evidence at the old cinema, currently being restored with EU grants after being heavily bombed in World War Two.
In 2005, the Leros War Museum was opened in nearby Merkia inside an old tunnel dug by the Italians in World War Two. There are many items from the battle of Leros including guns, helmets, bombs, uniforms and photos.
A couple of small beaches lie around the bay at Koulouki and at Merikies but they are mostly stone and have no facilities, although they are popular with locals and easily reached from Lakki. A couple of cantinas provide the basics.
Also near Lakki is the temple of Agios Ioannis Theologos, which dates from 1000 and is one of the island's more noteworthy churches with some astonishingly good 11th-century mosaics.
Located in the extreme south of the island Xirokampos or Xirokambos is an old seaside village at the end of a small inlet.
It's only about four kilometres from Lakki and well signposted but those who miss the beach road turnoff end up in a large quarry and sharing the narrow and unfenced road with giant lorries.
The village, although tiny, has an impressive football stadium among the olive groves, with almond and cypress trees spread along the valley. There are plenty of rooms to rent in the area and there is a campsite based here.
Above the village is an ancient castle, Paliokastro, built on the site of an even older Acropolis, thought to date from around 2,500BC.
The beach is coarse sand with a few trees and bisected by a small jetty from which local schoolchildren like to dive. For the more adventurous there is also a diving school based here.
Shady tavernas are parked behind the beach and out to sea sits the tiny islets of Glironisa and beyond them the very northernmost tip of the island of Kalymnos.
The road heads north from the capital port at Agia Marina to the main tourist beach strip of Leros at Alinda past the island's small airstrip and on to the north coast at Partheni, with a military training ground to the west and mountains to the east. The long coast road has a number of beaches that are well worth a visit.
The main beach strip of Leros lies just north around the bay from Agia Marina at Alinda or Alinta.
The beach is a long and narrow string of shingle and sand that peters out at a rocky area where improvised wooden jetties stick finger-like from the shore.
Tavernas and apartments have sprung up along the beach road and taverna tables dot the shoreline offering a romantic setting with waves lapping nearby and views over the bay to Agia Marina.
A line of tamarisk give plenty of natural shade and taverna owners put out a few sunbeds where they can, although the beach is often so narrow there is barely room.
Cars park along the main road, separated from the sands by a low wall. For a more private sunbathing spot look for a small crescent of and sand at a sharp bend in the road at Krituoni to the north.
Krituoni has a small roadside cafe, and there are even quieter sand and rock coves a short walking distance north before Panagia, although these have no facilities and little shade.
Inland is the Beleni Tower, a renovated mansion house that is home to the island's Folklore and History Museum. In August, its large courtyard hosts several cultural events.
North from Alinda and around the headland is the small bay of Krithoni. A small crescent of sand and shingle sits at the edge of the road, shaded by tamarisks and with views across the bay. A small roadside cafe opens in the summer serving up basic sandwiches and drinks. Sunbeds appear in the high season and this is a popular beach with locals. Good swimming can be enjoyed in the shallow waters.
Twin tavernas sit above the coarse sand beach at Panagia where the road around the bay from Alinda eventually peters out. Panagia is a charming spot with a swathe of fine sand and clear, shallow waters, rock outcrops and low cliffs.
The sands are known locally as Dio Liskaria, and it's only a short climb of the steps to enjoy a taverna meal overlooking the beach.
Rarely mentioned in island guidebooks, the sand here is among the best on Leros with beautiful views to Agia Marina, nestling between mountains across the bay.
The beach is easily walkable, at no more than two kilometres from Alinda, but there is plenty of parking and a good, well-lit road to Panagia for those who prefer to drive.
Another small beach can be found at Krifos further round the headland and there is a rough track that gets you about halfway before it dwindles to a footpath. There are no facilities there.
West of Alinda and set in a large bay on the west coast of Leros is the small resort of Gourna. The full bay is home to two beaches, at Gourna and a little way south at Drymonas, both with long stretches of grey sand.
Gourna has a broad swathe of dark sand with a clutch of tamarisks at the far end of the beach. Banks of dry seaweed line the shore and rocks litter the sands to the south. This is a very rural part of Leros with rolling fields behind.
The beach at Drimonas is similar to Gourna but much narrower, and mounds of seaweed can bank along the thin stretch of sand with stunted tamarisks along the road that runs immediately behind.
There are a few houses scattered on the flat, open countryside and the odd taverna along the coast road. The landscape here is mostly pleasant groves of citrus and olive.
On the north side of the bay, and approached through the inland village of Kamara, is a tiny shingle beach at Agios Isodora with one small white chapel spectacularly perched on an offshore rock and connected to the shore by a long stone causeway.
The main road heads north in a straight line past the small airport and through a Greek military base to the coastal fishing port of Partheni, set in a long, deep bay and with the islet of Archangelos at its mouth.
There are just small scraps of sand in the coves that dot the shore west of the village. A large boat repair company and various semi-industrial sites complete the scene along with the airport runway and the military base.
Tracks lead west into the hills for walking in the mountains of Kasteli, Markelos and Tourloti, although the coastal path, unfortunately, leads to a military area and warning signs to keep out.
Tracks to the south lead to a small, stony beach at Lia with the 10th-century church of Agios Georgios built nearby with stone taken from an ancient temple to Artemis.
The area around Partheni is notorious for the mental asylum once sited here and closed in 1999, where severely ill patients were kept in shocking conditions.
To the north is Agios Kioura where the church has wall paintings done by political prisoners locked up in the same asylum during the Junta's control of Greece from 1967 to 1974.
A jewel in the crown of Lero's beaches, Plefouti lies to the east of Partheni over the headland to a long and peaceful bay fringed by a beach of coarse sand.
At the western end, several small jetties provide anchorage for fishing boats and yachts with a pleasant taverna set back among the trees.
There are no sunbeds on the long and narrow beach, but tamarisks every few yards provide natural shade. The seabed is stone for a few metres before giving way to sand. It is shallow and clear with views out to the uninhabited islets of Strogili and Tripyti.
Low hills behind the beach have fields of wheat and olive and citrus orchards, a small white chapel and the odd home here and there.
A long road down the back of the beach leads to rocky coves, one of which contains an old a machine gun post from World War Two.
The road turns to a rough track before curving along the coast for several kilometres until it reaches a small and remote cove of stone and pebble at Vagia.