We came to Leros with no expectations. It’s just there — a smallish Greek island in the Dodecanese group west of Turkey in the Aegean, close to some of our favourite islands. But we discovered so much more.
We docked in the port of Agia Marina after a short ferry ride from Kalymnos. We took the small van, waiting for booked travellers, to the Elefteria Hotel, a lodging on our short list of possibilities. (We try not to book ahead, but wait to check out the place before committing.)
Halfway between one fishing port and another, up on a hill in the village of Platanos, Elefteria is the real deal at 35€ a night for a lovely room with AC, fridge and balcony. The rooftop terrace, complete with pool and bar/resto, overlooks the village of Platanos. And farther up the hill is the village of Christos, which rises toward the castle in all its glory, perched on top of the hill. To the right of the castle, about a kilometer away, but on the same elevation, are six windmills overlooking the entire island. We ventured up there one afternoon. Family and friends were celebrating a christening inside a chapel in the castle. A fierce wind was blowing, so we decided not to stop for a drink at the scenic bar just below the heights.
Our favourite hangout was Taverna Psaropoula, edging the bay alongside Zorbas (every town, it seems, has its Zorbas). Our tavern, in business since the early 60s, sits adjacent to the small pebble shore where one can swim in the still waters and then dine on the balcony, or in the evening, at a table right on the shore with the wavelets gently lapping the table legs.
What is harder to describe is the glorious feeling we had when, after walking down the hill from our hotel, we set ourselves up at a table, walked over the pebbles and entered the silken sapphire water. It was so calm, the sky so pastel blue, the wind so soft, and the swim out into the bay so idyllic that we knew this was close to perfection. We returned from our swim to sample local dishes, spicy cheese, marinated eggplant, plump olives, goat baked in tomato sauce, grilled small fish, squid, a large trout chosen from the display of freshly caught fish sold by the kilo, cooked in olive oil and lemon — of course not all at the same meal.
We were surrounded by other tourists, many from Denmark, Italy, even a few Québécois, as happy and relaxed as we were. Children frolicked in the shallow waters, their parents sipping wine or ouzo. Others sunbathed or read, or snoozed on lawn chairs. Ultimo paradiso. We got the same feeling later in the day when we returned to our hotel and jumped into the rooftop pool for a late afternoon dip. Then we walked down again to the same restaurant to watch the sunset and feast on more local delicacies. So calm, so friendly, so much light.