We had the most incredible trip between the two lockdowns, discovering Kasos island with Kasos Tours. As Travel Bloggers Greece, this is exactly the kind of place we love exploring and writing about – a place outside of the circuit of many visitors, completely unspoiled and rich in local culture and natural splendor. Kasos is one of the smallest and most remote of the Dodecanese islands, but with a big, bold history. The proud history of Kasos, and the extraordinary character of the inhabitants today, are reasons enough to visit.
But, of course this being Greece, there were also many more reasons to seek out this remote beauty of an island. Here are a few things we fell in love with over our stay:
Fri – the Port of Kasos
The main town of Kasos, Fri is one of five towns on the island. The first thing you notice is the lovely harborfront. In the place of pride is a monument to the Kasos Holocaust, and it sets a tone – a sense of history, bravery, character. Quiet and friendly Fri has a great beach with a cafe at the edge for drinking a fresh orange juice while you read the newspaper. In the town proper, you’ll find everything you need – local small groceries, a couple of cafes, two traditional bakeries, a pharmacy, and the best pizzeria we have ever been to (more on that below). There is a second tiny harbor – Boukas – for the colorful fishing boats. Stop for another coffee, and slip into the church of Agios Spyridonas – patron saint of Kasos – with its lovely bell tower – to light a candle.
The Churches of Kasos
While we’re on the subject, this church is one of a hundred (!) – this on an island of about 1,000 people in total. The Kasiots are devout. These churches range from simple masterpieces of classic Dodecanese architecture – clean lines and walls of pure white (but don’t expect blue roofs – in Kasos they use royal porphyry – a deep terracotta red that echoes the earth) – but there are also grand and elaborate churches, paid for by the successful Kasiot merchants. Kasos’ merchant fleet was once very powerful.
Other churches to visit include Agia Marina, in the town of the same name, Agios Dimitrios in Arvanitohori, and the Monastery of Agios Mamas. These are just some of the many, many beautiful churches on the island.
The Beaches of Kasos
For those who weary of a crowded beach bar and instead prefer the shade of tamarisk trees to umbrellas, and the sound of the waves to the loud hits of the summer, Kasos is a paradise. There are gorgeous, remote beaches. We loved Helatros beach, on the southern side of the island, in its own cove.
We longed to see Maramara beach, on the uninhabited island of Armathia right across from Kasos – it is rumored to be one of the prettiest in all Greece! High winds and waves prevented us from boating over and experiencing it for ourselves – reason enough to return (one of many).
The Landscape of Kasos
Mountainous, windswept, rugged and wild, Kasos is as romantic as it is uncompromising. Breathtaking vistas met us from the tops of terraced mountainsides (often graced with a church) – the island is covered in expert dry stone walls – the work of countless generations.
The Cheeses of Kasos
How did we get from landscape to cheeses? The land of Kasos is hard to farm, but goats adore it, grazing to their hearts’ content. These happy goats make delicious milk, which the people of Kasos turn into excellent cheeses, like almirotiri and elaiki. They traditionally make these cheeses in a mitata – a little cheese-making hut – the mountains are dotted with them.
… And the Culinary Traditions of Kasos in General
One of the best things we did was have a traditional Kasian food experience. Our hosts’ family welcomed us to their little vineyard in the mountains. Here, we made makarounes by hand, shaping them by hand on a low wooden table. Have you had bread from a wood-burning oven? You’ll love it. How about goat with makaroni from the same outdoor oven? You’ll love it even more – the flavor of woodsmoke perfumes the melting meat.
We also enjoyed many meals at Pizza di Kasos. As a pizzeria, there is a focus on hyper-local ingredients- like the superb island cheeses and wild herbs and capers – for pizza with a strong local identity. Chef Giorgos also specializes in traditional local foods of all kinds. The ultimate seal of approval? We saw more than one local grandmother eating here.
The people of Kasos were successful merchants, and have sophisticated tastes, with influences of Egypt and Italy, among others, giving their cuisine exotic touches. The local dishes like dormaes – tiny little cone shaped dolmadakia – had unusual finesse.
The Mosaics of Kasos
Little courtyards, floors of churches, and sidewalks can all be made of “cochlaki” – the lovely black and white pebble mosaics one sees in the Dodecanese. Smooth sea pebbles are arranged in intricate patterns. They’re a delight to see.
The Traditional Homes of Kasos
Throughout the island and especially in Agia Marina, there are many traditional captain’s houses – beautiful time capsules of the island’s seafaring heyday, and testaments today to the hospitality of the residents. They often love showing their homes to visitors – one only needs to ask.
… and Our Home in Kasos –
We stayed at the Theoxenia Apartments in Panagia – the lovely hilltop section of Fri. The serviced apartments – complete with lovely and full stocked kitchens – were beautifully appointed, chic and comfortable, done in beautiful island shades of blue. The apartments are owned by Kasos Tours, and they are among the very nicest accommodations on the island. We could have happily stayed here a month or more, in great comfort and style, with our full kitchen and great WiFi.
The People of Kasos
Of course the best for last: the Kasiots are wonderful. As passionate travelers and promoters of Greece, we know that every destination is defined by its people. Kasos ranks high by any measure – beaches, cuisine, architecture -, but in character perhaps even the highest of all. There is a purity and a sincerity in the Kasiots’ character, a quiet pride in their brave history.
Kasos has a large and devoted diaspora – there are more Kasiots abroad than home. They return to the island and with their families who live there year around they celebrate and preserve their island’s culture. We heard that the festivals of Kasos are truly spectacular – joyous events of music, dance, food. These are celebrations that preserve the cultural values and traditions of the community. If you are in Kasos when they take place, be prepared to be welcomed warmly, an honorary Kasiot for a day.
The History of Kasos
This year, Greece celebrates 200 years of freedom – the modern Greek state was born after the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. The revolution began in 1821, and Kasos played a key role. This seafaring island with its mighty fleet was instrumental in the defense of neighboring Crete and in the ultimate victory of Greece. The island paid a heavy price, in the holocaust of Kasos. Ismail of Gibraltar retaliated, and 2000 Kasiots were massacred, with another 2000 captured and sold as slaves.
In this year celebrating #Greece2021 – 200 years since the War of Independence and the subsequent founding of modern Greece, it’s particularly meaningful to visit places so crucial to that struggle, that victory. Kasos is such a place.
A True Kasos Experience with Kasos Tours
Our Travel Bloggers Greece trip was arranged by Kasos tours, and it was extraordinary. In addition to the professionalism, Kasos Tours offers something more. This was a personal, intimate view of the island. That wonderful culinary experience we had? That was with the parents and the in-laws of our host, with their friends – islanders passionate about their culture, who love to share it. Our Kasos tours experience was much more like being invited to a family reunion than being shown things by a tour guide. In Kasos you don’t just see the island, you become a part of it, and it, in turn becomes a part of you. That is exactly the kind of travel experience we love to share.