After Rhodes, Kos ranks second among the Dodecanese islands for both size and visitor numbers. Here too the harbour in Kos Town is guarded by an imposing castle of the Knights of St John, the streets are lined with Italian-built public buildings, and minarets and palm trees punctuate extensive Hellenistic and Roman remains. And while its hinterland mostly lacks the wild beauty of Rhodes’ interior, Kos is the most fertile island in the archipelago, blessed with rich soil and abundant ground water.
Mass tourism, however, has largely displaced the old agrarian way of life; all-inclusive complexes comprising tens of thousands of beds are a blight that contribute little to the local economy, and have forced many restaurants and more modest hotels out of business. Except in Kos Town and Mastihári, there are few independent travellers, and from mid-July to mid-September you’ll be lucky to find a room without reserving far in advance, while the tourist industry itself is juxtaposed rather bizarrely with cows munching amid baled hay near olive groves, and Greek Army tanks exercising in the volcanic badlands around the airport. Like Tílos further south, Kos never had to earn its living from the sea and consequently has little in the way of a maritime tradition or a contemporary fishing fleet. All these peculiarities acknowledged, Kos is still worth a few days’ time while island-hopping: its few mountain villages are appealing, the tourist infrastructure excellent and swimming opportunities limitless – about half the island’s perimeter is fringed by beaches of various sizes, colours and consistencies.
The shoreline of the eastern half of Kos, in both directions from Kos Town, is fringed with good beaches, albeit interspersed with marshlands. The best, around Cape Psalídhi to the east and Lámbi, Tingáki and Marmári to the southwest, have attracted resort development, but with a bike especially (thanks to the coastal bike paths) it’s usually possible to find a stretch of sand to yourself. Inland, the rugged hills cradle some delightful villages, though many are now sadly empty.
Hippocrates (c.460–370 BC) is generally regarded as the father of scientific medicine, even if the Hippocratic oath, much altered from its original form, may well have nothing to do with him. Hippocrates was certainly born on Kos, probably at Astypalia near present-day Kéfalos, but otherwise confirmed details of his life are few. A great physician who travelled throughout the Classical Greek world, he spent at least part of his career teaching and practising on his native island. Numerous medical writings have been attributed to Hippocrates; Airs, Waters and Places, a treatise on the importance of environment on health, is generally thought to be his, but others are reckoned to be a compilation found in a medical library in Alexandria during the second century BC. His emphasis on good air and water, and the holistic approach of ancient Greek medicine, now seem positively contemporary.