Leros, Greece’s Ital­ian job

This Dode­canese gem has 20th-cen­tury Ital­ian in­flu­ences as well as the clas­sic reper­toire of se­cret beaches and laid-back tav­er­nas, says Richard Eil­ers

The Guardian - Travel - - Travel -

‘ It is an un­usual is­land,” said my friend Yan­nis, slightly self-con­sciously. “We are a bit dif­fer­ent from our neigh­bours.” Yan­nis, a cafe owner, is right: Leros is un­usual, but in a good way. It is just a few miles from Turkey, but a mil­lion tourist miles from Kos and Rhodes, its Dode­canese sib­lings. It has mostly slipped un­der the hol­i­day radar, which is a shame be­cause it has ev­ery­thing we all want from a Greek is­land – beaches, fish­ing vil­lages, tav­er­nas, ruins – plus an ex­traor­di­nary mod­ern his­tory. And for that we can thank Mus­solini. The Ital­ians grabbed the Dode­canese in 1912 and Mus­solini later poured money, and ce­ment, into Leros to make it the base for his im­pe­rial am­bi­tions. A huge naval com­plex was built and a new cap­i­tal, Por­to­lago, emerged from a mos­quito-rid­den swamp. This model town is one of the finest ex­am­ples out­side Italy of ra­tio­nal­ist ar­chi­tec­ture (think art deco but with­out the light­ness of touch) and it’s largely in­tact nearly 100 years later. The broad boule­vards, grand vil­las for the of­fi­cers, apart­ment blocks for the lower ranks and mar­ket hall are still here. It’s not hard to imag­ine Ital­ian sol­diers and sailors parad­ing along the seafront The town, re­named Lakki af­ter the war, was left to rot for decades but the is­landers have learned to love it and it is now com­ing back to life. The cin­ema (cineleros. com), for ex­am­ple, now beau­ti­fully re­stored, is very Cin­ema Par­adiso. The sec­ond world war left its mark all over the is­land: in derelict mil­i­tary build­ings with amaz­ing mu­rals painted by bored squad­dies; and in tun­nels in the cliffs (a his­tory told un­der­ground at the War Tun­nels Mu­seum near Lakki, €3, leros.org). Off the coast lie the wrecks of many ships and war­planes from the Bat­tle of Leros, which in­spired Alis­tair MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone (book dives at hy­drovius.gr). It also ex­plains why most of us don’t know Leros. Mus­solini’s for­mer mil­i­tary bar­racks held po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers dur­ing Greece’s mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and be­came no­to­ri­ous men­tal hos­pi­tals. (They’re now a refugee camp.) These es­tab­lish­ments gave is­landers jobs, so tourism wasn’t such a big deal. But times have changed: the pris­ons and hos­pi­tals (though sadly not the camp) are closed, so tourists now fo­cus on the is­land’s more con­ven­tional at­trac­tions. The Knights of St John reached Leros 600 years be­fore Il Duce, and the Byzan­tine cas­tle they con­quered and for­ti­fied still dom­i­nates the is­land. It glow­ers over Alinda bay and its beach, the long­est on the is­land. It’s a beau­ti­ful spot and the clos­est lit­tle Leros (it’s only about eight miles long) gets to mass tourism. There are many good fish tav­er­nas in the area but lo­cals rate My­los (my­lo­s­ex­pe­ri­ence.gr), which has an amaz­ing set­ting on the wa­ter­front by a wind­mill. Like in most places on Leros, a meal for two here shouldn’t cost more than €50, of­ten less. I love the nearby port of Agia Ma­rina, with its fer­ries bustling back and forth be­tween is­lands. It’s per­fect for a leisurely coffee and some peo­ple-watch­ing. If you sum­mon the en­ergy, a short walk up the hill is Pla­tanos, the old cap­i­tal, with a jum­ble of nar­row lanes and white­washed houses. Pan­teli beach, be­low Pla­tanos, is ac­tu­ally pret­tier than Alinda and I prefer it, largely be­cause of its ex­cel­lent restaurants, such as El Greco (on Face­book). There are fan­tas­tic walks all over the is­land and on foot is of­ten the only way to get to the many at­trac­tive lit­tle beaches. One of my favourites is the first cove on the south side of Gourna bay, where there will prob­a­bly just be some goats to watch you swim in the clear wa­ter. And that brings us neatly back to Mus­solini and Leros’s fas­ci­nat­ing 20th-cen­tury story, be­cause it passes a gi­ant sec­ond world war acous­tic mir­ror, a pre­cur­sor of radar. The con­crete struc­ture has been re­cently re­stored. Mus­solini may be long gone but he has not been for­got­ten on Leros. • Eight-room Ar­chon­tiko An­gelou (dou­bles from €75 room-only, ho­tel-an­gelou-leros. com) is a charm­ing 19th-cen­tury villa in Alinda be­hind the seafront. Bianco (dou­bles from €55 B&B, bian­co­ho­tel.gr) is a bou­tique ho­tel in the town cen­tre. Olympic Air has daily flights from Athens to Leros in sum­mer for around €100 one-way. Fre­quent fer­ries run by Blue Star (blues­tar­fer­ries.com) and Dodekanisos Se­aways (12ne.gr) con­nect Leros with Athens (from about €33), Kos, Rhodes and other Dode­canese is­lands. Leros Rent A Car (leros.gr) in Lakki has mopeds from €10 a day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.