When you visit Gourna, Lakki, or Vagia villages, you will be impressed by pyrgospita, i.e. grand houses with fortified walls which were able to withstand pirate attacks in older times. Other sights include the traditional mills which dot the environs of Agia Marina and nearby Panteli, and the churches and country chapels across the island, whose architecture varies from the Byzantine style to the Western European style or a mixture of both.
This island has beaches to suit all preferences. You’ll find shallow waters in Agia Marina – the perfect beach if you have small children. The town has been built next to the harbour and up on the slopes of the surrounding hills. Bourtzi, a Roman fortress at the bay’s south entrance and the old windmill are must-visit sites. Head south to Panteli village, and enjoy your day by the beach; have your lunch or dinner in a taverna and try fresh fish and seafood dishes. Right next to Panteli, there’s Vromolithos Cove, where the beach is both sandy and pebbly; this location offers a beautiful view of Agia Kyriaki Islet and the picturesque country chapel on the slope of the hill. There are small hotels and fish tavernas right by the seashore. In Alinta (2km off Agia Kyriaki), you’ll find a long beach shaded by tamarisks and pine trees. This is where you can enjoy water sports, such as water skiing, canoeing and windsurfing. There’s also a mini market and bars if you get short of supplies.
Other beaches you should add to your must-visit list are Agia Kioura, Panagies, Gourna, Dio Liskaria, Koulouki, Krithoni, Blefoutis, Merikia, Drymonas, Vourlidia and Xirokampos. The last one is the place for you to be if you love freediving or scuba diving. There’s a scuba diving school there, too. Within a short distance lies the inlet of Panagia Kavouradena: visit the picture-perfect country chapel, hewn into the rock, where you’ll see a rare icon picturing a crab with the Virgin Mary painted in its centre!
History and Culture
Leros Island can be a strong candidate for your future holidays, not only because of its natural beauty but also on account of its rich history, as shown in its museums, castles and other monuments. Visit the Archaeological Museum and see the inscriptions, tomb steles, coins, mosaics and vessels – some of them dating to the dawn of history. Belleni’s tower in Alinta village has been refurbished and it houses the Folk Art and History Museum of Leros. You will see the folk-art collection where old garments, shoes, utensils, church heritage items, embroideries, musical instruments etc. are on display. Other exhibits date to the wartime periods and the conquerors the island has known over the ages, because of its morphology and strategic position in the Aegean. The impressive War Museum in Merikia Tunnel is one of a kind, as it is housed in a renovated former military tunnel (one among many) on Leros Island. This is where you will get acquainted with the local 20th c. wartime history of the area. In the museum yard, you will see old military cars, aeroplanes, arms and other objects from that period.
Head towards the south and visit Palaiokastro, the remains of the older castle on Leros Island, on the hilltop overlooking Xirokampos village. Inside it you will see the early Christian church of the Virgin Mary (4th c). The walls at the north-eastern side of the hill were believed to be Cyclopean (i.e. they were huge square stones, 500 kg each, thought to have been built by the ancient Greek mythical giants called Cyclops).
Boat and land tours
Those of you who love water sports and sailing will enjoy touring around Leros Island by boat. The island’s shape hides numerous bays, coves and inlets as well as a plethora of islets and skerries which will provide you with opportunities for explorations above and below water surface. If you’re interested, you can get all the gear you need from the local scuba diving schools and admire the seabed, the caves, the shallows and the shipwrecks around Leros. The seafarers among you (or aspiring ones) can sail around little islands such as Levitha, Kinaros, Glaros (to the W), Archangelos (to the N), to Mikro Livadi and Megalo Livadi (to the W), Farmakonisi, Trypiti and Strongyli (to the NE). There are shallows in the vicinity of the last two islets, as well as the wreck of a german boat on the seabed, dating to WWII. In Lakki, you will find two marinas for berthing and anything else you might need. The coves in Alinta, Partheni, Panteli, and Gourna can, too, provide anchorage. In the south, between Leros and Kalymnos Islands, you can explore Velona, Mikro Glaronisi and Megalo Glaronisi (beware of the shallows!). The islets Archangelos, Faradonisia, Leriko, Mikro Glaronisi and Megalo Glaronisi are protected habitat areas, included in the Natura 2000 network.
Those of you who would rather be on solid ground can explore the hinterland, along the hiking routes mentioned below. Most paths are signposted and you’ll find rest areas along the way. You might also come across monuments raised to commemorate wartime events during WWII. Take the route from Platanos village towards the Byzantine castle of Panagia (Virgin Mary) or Panteli Castle (10th or 11th c); or explore the surroundings from Lakki to Xirokampos (to the south), from Lakki to Patella Hill, and from Lakki to Partheni (to the north).
Hiking is definitely going to make you hungry, so here are a couple of dishes you might want to try: fresh fish and seafood – make sure you try the sea urchin salad with olive oil and lemon juice, cured fish, the local mizithra cheese, and cheese pie, that you might want to accompany with local wine or ouzo. Make a note of tasting gavafa fruit (a type of guava), which has been brought to Leros in the early 20th c. by Greek immigrants in Egypt; it has adapted to the local climate very well. You can try fresh gavafa fruit in the autumn, or taste any time of the year the flavourful jam and the spoon sweet made with it. When it comes to sweet treats, your options are many: local fragrant thyme honey; amygdalota (an almond confection); xerotigana (fried, ouzo-flavoured and honeyed sweets); svigki (a fluffy fried dough served with crushed walnuts and honey); spoon sweets such as tomato, aubergine, gavafa, quince and bitter orange. Last but not least, try soumada, a sweet and flavourful refreshing drink made from mashed almonds.