178 nautical miles from Piraeus. It has a land mass of 53 sq. km. and a coastline
of 71 km. Its population is about 8000.
Leros is hilly with small fertile plains and wonderful coves, bays
and beaches. The coastline is serrated with frequent inlets, sweeping hills, and tree-fringed beaches.
Leros is beautiful and charming, a hidden treasure of the
Aegean. The island
has received poor press for its mental institution, but that is the fault of
the Greek Government and not the islanders who are warm and friendly. Actually, the bad press has protected the island from the masses and helped to preserve its charm.
It is not touristy and is quintessentially Greek. It island is green and pretty, with very clear waters, excellent fish tavernas, and a lively Greek nightlife. The island has
produced great musicians, including the famous Hajiadakis Dynasty, and one can easily hear locals playing hammered dulcimers, bagpipes,
bouzoukia and other Greek instruments.
The main port is Lakki and its capital,
Aghia Maria. The somewhat
ugly port is due to Italian influences during the war when they used it as a
naval base. However, arriving in Lakki on the ferry at night, when the Fascisti Art Deco buildings are reflected in the gulf, is a strangely surreal and beautiful experience.
The streets of Lakki are wide and well paved. The remains of Mussolini's building efforts crumble away. Near the waterfront there's a monument to many who died in the Battle of Leros in 1943. It's not surprising that the islanders are not inclined to put any effort into preserving these buildings that were Mussolini's vision of a new Roman Empire, even through they are remarkable examples of Art Deco architecture.
There's a path from the jetty to the nearest beach at Koulouki. This beach has a taverna and campers often set up sites under the pines. Across the harbor, at Lepida, you can see the Moni Panagia atop the ruins of an old lighthouse. Further south is the fort Paliokastro on the site of an older fortification that dates from the 3rd Century BC. The nearby fishing village of Xirokambos has a nice beach. Water taxis leave from here to go to Kalymnos during the summer.
Up the hill from Lakki, a three km walk gets you to the coarse sand of Vromolithos Beach, where there are sunbeds and tavernas.
Just around the bay at Panteli there are rooms available. The village has excellent seafood eateries and a harbor full of yachts.
Uphill, Platanos, the capital, boasts especially good views at night. The ancient Kastro sits overhead. You can take a road to the top or climb the steps. Inside the Kastro walls you can see the miraculous icon of the Virgin in the church Megalochari Kyras Kastrou. The seaside extension of Platanos is Ag. Marina. The bus hub and main shopping area are in Platanos.
Many package tours use the old port at Alinda, where there's a long sandy beach, watersports, and numerous tavernas. There are good mosaics at the Christian basilica Panagia Galatiani. The British War Cemetery here holds 183 slain soldiers. Alinda also has a good Historic and Folk Museum. There are several good beaches north of Alinda. The road north also leads to Partheni, the former center of guinea fowl worship, and now a military base. Only a few ruins remain of the ancient Temple of Artemis.
If you head back to Lakki by way of Drymonas you can see an oleander gorge.
Drinking and Dining
There are good eateries in every town on Leros. In the summer there are a number of cultural events and musical performances that add to the entertainment on Leros. Ag. Marina is the heart of the nightlife scene.
This was the ancient island of Artemis. She is reputed to have put the first guinea fowl on Leros, where they lived in her temple. Interestingly, on this island dedicated to Artemis, property continues to be handed down through the women.
The Romans under Julius Caesar took revenge on the people or Leros. Under the Byzantines, the island was controlled by Samos. The Knights of St John took it over in 1316.
Leros suffered during World War II because its excellent anchorages became home to Italian naval bases. There was considerable damage by German paratroopers during the Battle of Leros in 1943.
The poet Dimitris Tsaloumas, who lives in Australia, is a native son of Leros.