Kos island, Greece, sits bang in the middle of the Dodecanese chain of Greek islands that hug the Turkish coastline between Rhodes in the south and and Patmos in the north. Kos holidays are hugely popular with the British package tour firms.
Kos is one of the best Greek Islands for a typical beach holiday and it was among the first to go for mass-market tourism in a big way with many Kos hotels built on beaches along the long, sandy coastlines to the east and south.
Kos is long and thin, about 45km by 11km and, unlike many other Greek islands, it is mostly flat and low-lying, especially in the north and west. As a result, much of the scenery on Kos is not outstanding by Greek standards. Kos does get more mountainous in the south and east.
The lack of hills has helped to make cycling a very popular holiday activity and there are no end of bicycle rental outlets and even some dedicated cycling roads between the big hotels.
As well as the nightlife of Kos Town and a plethora of beach resorts, the island also offers some of the best archaeological sites to be found in the Mediterranean.
For many though, it is 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 has been a popular beach destination for years and the influence of package holiday deals has been mostly felt on the east coast, around Kos Town, where holiday hotel complexes dominate. Apart from some pleasant beach resorts along the north coast the main holiday area on Kos is to the south-west around Kamari Bay. As well as Kamari itself there is a string of deep sandy swathes at the east end of the bay that attract big holiday crowds throughout the summer.
Kos Town is a heady blend of beach resort and historic site. Ancient Greek columns and Roman street mosaics are pitted against music-thumping bars and the neon 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 the town's 'garden suburb' grid of streets, punctuated with Ottoman and Italianate buildings.
It's unfortunate that the concrete mixer also laid out so much in modern pillbox style but efforts have been made to right the biggest 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 is stuffed with bars, themselves stuffed with several thousand revellers nightly.
Daytime is different. Kos remians a picturesque town of neatly arrayed streets, wide and tree-lined, converging on attractive squares profuse with flowers and trees.
The main Eleftherias Square is traffic-free with the neatly restored Defterdar Mosque at one side and some pompous, Italianate buildings on the other, 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 is the ancient site of an Agora, just 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 dates the tree at 2,500 years.
The Venetian Castle of the Knights, built in the 14th century is approached over a bridge that spans the former moat. An impressive 16th century gateway iopen into a large compound liberally littered with crumbled statues and pillars.
Another excavated archaeological site confusingly called the Western excavation lies to the south. Impressive ruins include a Roman nymphaeum and the House of Europa where a floor mosaic depicts a well endowed Europa being carried off by a bull.
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 enmity 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, most 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 Jews to die in concentration camps in 1944.
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 traditonal Greek as it gets on Kos these days.
At Pilaiopoli is an ruined castle perched proudly on a pinnacle of rock and giving wonderful views over hills and sea. Asomati has the most picturesque whitewashed houses on the island while Evangelistra boasts some of the 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.
The road that runs from Lambi in the north to Agios Fokas in the south is back-to-back hotels, hemmed in by a service road and cycle track. Any picturesque possibilities have long been stamped out by multiplying hotel chains. But if it's an all-inclusive hotel deal you want with sun, sand, swimming pool and night-life up the road in Kos Town, then east coast Kos is pretty hard to beat.
To the south of Kos town, and really just an extension of it, is the holiday beach resort of Psalidi, little more than a sprinkling of tavernas, a few supermarkets and lots of large hotels.
Psalidi beach consists of scruffy pebbles and shingle with a little sand now and then and access mainly down steep pathways.
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 lifestyleis and the proximity of the Kos Town night-life.
Buses to town are frequent and cheap and there is a good cycle lane. You can also walk, but beware the cycles that career along the path day and night.
Popular with windsurfers, Agios Fokas has little to recommend except 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.
A regular bus service to Kod Town and the novelty of a warm sea makes Embros Thermi a popular target for day trippers.
The hot water flows straight into the sea over a pebble beach so it's ideal for swimming and snorkeling but expect a hard trek back up the steep hill.
The north of Kos island is flat and featureless, making access to resorts easy but offering little scenic interest except out to sea where Pserimos, Kalymnos and Turkey are all visible. Waters in the north are warmer but there is almost always a breeze, especially in August. Cycling and horse riding are popular in the flat landscape and the beaches tend to be quieter than in the east and south.
The beach at Lampi, or Lambi, lies to the north-west of Kos Town within bus, cycling or even walking distance.
Lampi is a fine, long, straight one kilometre stretch of gently shelving white sand that many consider the best family beach on the island and very safe for children.
With a regular and frequent bus service Lampi attract daily visitors from Kos Town, with evening traffic in the opposite direction as those staying in Lampi opt for a taste of the night-life.
There are plenty of sunbeds and brollies as well as lots of watersports, including parasailing. Like all northern beaches, Lampi 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 the battle with the tour operators who have packaged up the place with almost military precision.
Separated from Marmari by a vast salt marsh is Tingaki, or Tigaki, a busy and often crowded beach resort that is increasingly 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 it is shallow for some way out.
The sands improve to the west until thay reach the salt pans where there it is hard and flat. There is a naturist beach here 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 Mamari where the white sands broaden and bank up into low-lying dunes.
Marmari is about 15km 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. There are several tavernas and small shops selling basic foodstuffs as well as the usual tourist souvenirs.
Marmari is a quiet resort and if you prefer something busier it is probably best to head elsewhere.
Inland from the beach at Marmari is the area known as Pyli, the joint name for the three neighbouring Kos hamlets of Armaniou, Agios Georgios and Agios Nikoloas.
Set within 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 road leads up to Palio Pyli where there is 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 backed by clutches of shady tamarisk trees and a long line of tavernas.
Behind the tavernas lies a small warren of purpose-built shopping streets, neatly laid out and lined with small tourist shops, cafes and a few small bars.
The beach 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.
Mastichari beach is sharp white sand but suffers from seaweed which collects here in long banks along the shore.
At the western end of the long beach is the remains of a 5th century basilica while those seeking privacy can take one of the many tracks beyond the power station to several sandy coves.
The east end of the beach stops at the long harbour wall that reaches out to sea for 200 metres where ferries leave daily for the nearby islands of Pserimos and Kalymnos.
Around 5km inland from Mastichari is one of the most photographed windmills on Kos. The windmill iat Andimakia is preserved as a working museum and it's a popular picnic spot for coach tours.
Pretty impressive it can be too, standing on the main street with its dozen sails unfurled. Andimakia itself is a picturesque hamlet of whitewashed houses and flowers.
Nearby the large Venetian fortress 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 with in the walls except a couple of churches.
The south coast of Kos is the most popular for beach holiday s on Kos with endless stretches of sand. The seas in the south are usually much calmer than the north, but can feel much colder too. Mountains in the south of Kos provide more scenic interest than the flat north of the island and in the far west of Kos island the landscape can get very wild indeed.
The island of Kos narrows to only 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 is 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 stretching 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 without the brash youth 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 ski boats, surfboards and other water traffic.
The water is crystal clear but its 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 strong 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 beach resort at Kamari sits a succession of sandy beaches that attracts holidaymakers from all over the island.
A single stretch of sand that runs for several kilometres is sheltered by a cliff backdrop and different sections have adopted Anglicised names. There is no resort village here and holidaymakers flock from other resorts, especially Kefalos and Kamari, for a day at the beach.
Camel beach is in a small pretty bay, has fine golden sand and dramatic wind-sculpted cliffs behind. There are also rock formations out in the clear water add interest, especially for snorkellers.
A,cement block beach cantina sits behind the beach which tends to be less popular than the others, perhaps because the 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 you need to snorkel out to sea a bit; you won't see anything 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 beach. 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 is 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 there are a few basic beach cantinas.
The far western end of this strip is called either Xerokambos beach or Exotic beach depending on whether you can pronounce Greek and it's backed by an army tank and artillery range, so keep your head well down.
Kardamena a heaving tourist resort of discos and burger bars that wouldn't look out of place on the Costa Brava but is located just five kilometres south of Kos airport.
The picturesque Greek fishing village, once charming, friendly and famous for its fine 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 3.30am in the week and 6am 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.