“A short trip to Kos made me fall in love with Greece (and travel) again”

Written by Katy Harrington

Katy Harrington is Stylist’s commissioning editor and acting deputy digital editor.

Enjoying the best sights, beaches, food, wine and activities that the jewel island of Kos has to offer…

Truthfully, there was a time during Covid when I thought I would never travel again. Not for pleasure, anyway. From the moment Boris announced the extraordinary measures back in March 2020 and we all hunkered down for the long haul, travel felt alien and wrong – frightening even. And no wonder, considering a trip to anywhere but the local park or shops was verboten for months.

As lockdowns came and went, the concept of holidays or city breaks drifted further and further away from me. Not just financially, but mentally – the masks, the queues, the hassle – staying home felt safe; going abroad felt risky.

And so when life returned to ‘normal’ and I was offered a four-day trip to the Greek island of Kos, I actually hesitated for a moment. Then I came to my senses. 

Greece is one of the places I’ve visited and love the most. Almost instantly after stepping foot on Greek soil again, landing on the island of Kos, the thrill of travelling returned as I breathed in the warm night air outside the airport. I had forgotten that unmistakable excited feeling that comes right at the start of a holiday.

Kos lies near the centre of the string of Dodecanese (meaning 12) Greek islands, but is a lot closer to Turkey than the Greek mainland (you can make a mid-morning dash to Bodrum by boat to hit the shops and be back in time for a late lunch).

It’s tiny – you could drive the length of it in an hour, but don’t be sizeist because this little island has heaps to offer, namely that azure blue Aegean sea, beautiful sandy beaches, glorious unspoilt spots and the total chill of island life.  

We stayed at the chic OKU Kos, an adult-only village-style hideaway located just off the beach. Think beautiful European couples in expensive linens drifting around with their year-round tans. British-owned but Greek-designed and run, they describe the vibe as “laidback luxury” and that’s bang on. It’s all soft neutral decor with five-star touches, from the buttery-soft robes in the room (I’ve never been more tempted to steal something) or the hammock on your private terrace that’s perfect for a pre-dinner snooze. Laidback luxury trickles down to the service too – attentive and friendly, but there’s nothing snobby or stuffy here and we got great recommendations from staff (ie you can’t leave without trying the gyros or the baklava cheesecake). 

Villas are open plan and equipped with everything you might need, including private or semi-private pools, enormous beds, a lounge area, a Nespresso machine, Marshall speakers and all the things I always forget to bring with me (such as a nail file). My only gripe in the chic bathroom was the choice of Meraki products (which are gorgeous but not Greek; I think they missed a trick by not using a great brand like Korres).

Modelled on an ancient Greek city, OKU does feel like its own little town – with 100 rooms and a huge open-air restaurant and bar. It’s cool and sexy but not too try hard – the Zendaya of hotels. 

Fly and flop has become a pejorative travel term, but I, for one, am a defender of it. Is it unadventurous to lie by the beach or pool for a week? Yes, but we are all exhausted and sometimes what we need more than anything is to do nothing. I would have been perfectly happy never to leave. The beach is a minute away, the Greek/Mediterranean menu is extensive enough that you will never get bored (I’m still thinking about the crispy feta, tzatziki and crispy-fried courgette). And I’ve never seen a more delicious breakfast set up (Greek yoghurt with berries, nuts and a dollop of honey can’t be beaten). Serious care has been put into the food offering here, and I showed my appreciation by overindulging at every meal. 

I might have arrived scarred from previous bad wine experiences, but I apologise to Greek wine profusely because – newsflash – it is very good. OKU has an expansive list, a little winery and knowledgeable staff who like to chat about the wines, or you can go on a wine tasting trip to Hatziemmanouil, the local family-run vineyard. 

Even outside the hotel, long lists of great local wines (either from Kos itself or the mainland) were not hard to find. And what you’ve heard about retsina isn’t true – we had a delicious bottle of the earthy white with lunch at the very popular, female-owned and incredibly chic Barbouni restaurant (where the squid ink pasta is a showstopper favourite). God, the Greeks know how to live. 

Yes, OKU is a lounger’s paradise, but you can stay ‘busy’ too – sunset cocktails on the terrace, a small yet excellently equipped gym, a top-class spa (the massages are incredible, just don’t get sunburned the day before), outdoor yoga overlooking the sea, alfresco movie nights or bonfires on the beach. It’s a little self-contained paradise with 10/10 vibes. If you are after #Content, then the stunning pool, huge open-plan bar and restaurant with beach views and perfectly placed hammocks and cacti don’t hurt. 

A secluded swim on a small island off Kos

That said, my favourite day was the day we did leave OKU to take an all-day speedboat trip to the miniscule islands of Kalymnos, Pserimos and Platy. Rock up to Kos town and you’ll see a ton of operators, including the delightfully tacky pirate boats, offering excursions. For those with experience, you can hire your own boat or go with a local like we did (our captain from #KosRentABoat was total boss – a former sculptor who had been at sea since he was a teenager and drove us to secret coves and beaches in a quarter-of-a-million pound speedboat). This is the Don Johnson-approved way to travel for a reason. Nothing beats the feeling of the wind in your hair as you do 80 knots across the Aegean sea. Except when you stop for a beer and a swim or maybe to jump off a very large rock.

A sunset ride along the beach in Kos

There’s more adventure on your doorstep too – the islands of Arkoi and the caves of Makronisi or a hike to the remnants of a Byzantine castle. We tried horse riding at the nearby family-owned Erika’s Horse Riding Farm (I recommended it here because Erika is amazing, as is her dad – hi Pedros!). We had an unforgettable sunset trek along the beach followed by a stargazing campfire on the beach after dinner. 

I am a huge fan of travelling off-peak (the rates are better, there are fewer kids, less mayhem at airports and it’s usually cooler if you can’t take the 35ºC heat in July and August) and as I packed my bag I dreamed about going back to OKU in September or October when the season comes to a close.

The pandemic has had so many unexpected, lingering side effects – it has turned me into something I never thought I’d be – a homebird. But this short trip reminded me how important it is to fly the nest every now and then.  

Rates at OKU Kos from €256 (currently approx. £213.40) based on two sharing a double room on a B&B basis. www.okuhotels.com

Images: OKU images by Georg Roske; other photos Katy’s own. 

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