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Italian finesse in the heart of the Dodecanese

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Italian finesse in the heart of the Dodecanese

Although already inhabited before ancient classical times, with traces of the Byzantine period, Leros is directly associated with one of the most important chapters of the 20th century. A bastion of Italian forces during the Second World War, the island still reflects - on land and at sea - the chronicle of its long occupation.

The Italian Portolago, Lakki, a rare open-air museum of Italian Rationalism, the tacit underwater testimonies of war battles, the eclectic Bellenis Tower and the underground war tunnel of Merikia… the turbulent days of Leros have given way to the serenity with which nature has always embraced this island, a diamond of the Dodecanese: low hills overlook friendly bays, open valleys and islets of natural beauty, verifying the ancient origin of the island’s name that comes from levros meaning "smooth". A place of particular charm, energetically charged.

Routes & attractions

Agia Marina, the capital of the island, is divided into three residential areas: to the North is the village of Agia Marina, tucked between the Castle and Merovigli hill is Platanos and near the coast, Panteli extends east towards the bay.

In Platanos the beautiful two-storey mansions still stand, scattered in picturesque alleys. Walking around the village - ideally in the afternoon – stop by Avlaki, a district full of fountains gushing cool water from the spring of Paliaskloupi.

Walking down to the port of Agia, the roman fortress Brouzi (or Bourtzi) appears before you. On the way to Alinda, you will find the famous Watermill of Agia Marina, one of the most photographed sights of the island. 

The Folklore Museum in Alinda is housed in the Bellenis Tower (1925), a sample of Italian eclecticism with Romanesque and neo-Gothic elements. It was the country house of the Egyptian benefactor Parisi Belleni, and turned into a German hospital later on.

While in Agia Marina, it is also worth visiting the Archaeological Museum of the island with findings and objects (vases, mosaics, tombstones) from the classical to the early Christian era.

Above Agia Marina, at the top of hill Apityki, stands the Castle of Panagia, with panoramic views of the Aegean Sea. This is a byzantine castle, built in the 10th - 11th century, on the west side of which is the church of Panagia with the wood-carved iconostasis of the 18th century. Going up to the castle you will find the picturesque neighbourhood with the six windmills, the oldest of which dates back to the 17th century.

Another attraction on the island is Lakki, a living island museum, a wonderful example of the Italian Rationalist Architecture of the Dodecanese. There are several, significant buildings in the area: from the Primary School (1936) to the waterfront, the cinema and the hotel "Leros", the outdoor market (1934), the Clock Tower, the palacinos of the Italian navy officers, the Hotel of Rome, etc. Lakki is the largest natural port in the Mediterranean, which is why it was used as a base of the Royal Italian Navy. The Italians remained on the island for 31 years, with Mussolini considering Leros as one of the most strategic points of Italian sovereignty in the Mediterranean.

In the list of museums, you should definitely add the War Museum of Leros. It is housed in the restored military tunnel of Merikia, an underground tunnel built by the Italians for their supply during the Second World War. The surrounding area hosts military cars, trucks, and planes.

Just 2 km from Lakki, there is a small, picturesque fishing village, Xirokampos. At its top stands the imposing Castle of Lepides or Palaiokastro, the oldest one surviving on the island.

Among the most picturesque sites on Leros are three churches: The small chapel of Agios Isidoros in the bay of Gourna, built on a rock that is connected to the mainland with a small jetty, an ideal spot to marvel at the sunset. Panagia Kavouradena, a chapel carved in a rock, where it is said that the icon of the Virgin Mary was found, and Saint Matrona-Kioura, in the bay of Partheni, exiles during the Dictatorship.

When visiting Partheni don’t forget to stop at the remains of the ancient temple of the goddess Artemis dating back to the 7th century BC.

Beaches & Activities

Panteli is the most popular beach of Leros. With fine pebbles on one end and a sandy shore on the other, the beach is well developed and ideal for families. You will also find many options for coffee, snacks or dinner.

From Panteli starts a road that reaches the beach of Vromolithos.  This is a sandy beach with fine pebbles, oaks and tamarisk trees offering natural shade. It is also organized with sunbeds, umbrellas and beach bars and overlooks the islet of Agia Kyriaki.

Not too far away, is another tourist beach of the island, Alinda.  The longest coast of Leros but with a narrow sandy beach, which, apart from natural shade from the trees, offers sunbeds, umbrellas and water sports facilities. You will also find many tavernas near by.

Following the road that passes through Alinda, you’ll see Dyo Liskaria, a beach that is particularly famous among the young. Sheltered from the winds, with sand and small pebbles, crystal-clear waters and beach bars for drinks and snacks.

The most beautiful and inaccessible beach of the island is not unfairly called Kryfos, meaning “hidden” in Greek. You can reach the beach either by water taxi or by hiking starting from Panagia.  Of course, the reward is worth the effort: crystal-clear, turquoise waters and only few people around.

If you’re seeking isolation while in Leros, there’s one more suggestion for you: Agia Kioura. Small, picturesque beach with turquoise waters, sandy seabed, and pebbles on the shore. The beach offers no amenities so you need to bring an umbrella and supplies. Located in Partheni, it is accessible by dirt road that starts from the namesake, historic church of Agia Kioura.

Opposite the bay of Partheni, the islet of Archangelos is ideal for day trips. Included in the protected areas of Natura 2000, this is a place of unspoiled beauty, with wonderful bays. In Archangelos the one and only taverna is open to visitors.

Continue your sea cruises starting from the port of Agia Marina; catch a boat to the nearby yet exotic beaches of Aspronisia, Tiganakia and Marathi.  

Traditions & Events

At the end of June (23/6) on the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist, the custom of Klidonas, the traditional fire-jumping, is celebrated on the island.

In the heart of summer, on July 17th, the island celebrates Saint Marina, its patron saint with a big festival.

On the day of Saint Fanourios, the Wine Festival is organized in Xirokampos, where of course wine flows abundantly.


Tastes of Leros

A genuine fishing island, Leros serves fresh fish and shellfish in multiple versions, to tavernas and most "sophisticated" restaurants.

The island has a tradition of salted products:  try the salted mackerel and salted anchovy.

In Leros you will find a rare fruit: Gavafa. It is tropical, growing only in Leros (originating from Egypt) and has a strong taste that resembles the passion fruit. You will also find it as a spoon sweet or jam.

The local mizithra is famous as it is a mixture of must, oil and thyme. It goes perfectly with spaghetti, but it is also tasteful in its simplest version: with rusk, oil and tomato. If you want to try some more original cheese flavours, look for krasotyro (“wine cheese”, a mixture of goat and sheep milk dipped in semi-sweet wine lees) and spicy oil cheese.

The variety of local sweets will surely satisfy the visitor: pougkakia (pies filled with bitter almonds), syrupy sviggoi (known as loukoumades), almond sweets (flavoured with rose, mastic, orange) and of course the local patsavouropita (traditional pie with sheets of crust drenched in yogurt).

Popular in almost all islands of the Aegean, as well as in Leros, soumada is a soft drink, distilled from bitter almond and offered at weddings.

Don't miss...

The smooth terrain of Leros is also ideal for hiking with naturalistic and archaeological paths stretching all through the island. The most important paths - most of them starting from Lakki - have signage and kiosks for resting.

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