Trail of the Unexpected

Kos: A Secret Agent's Guide
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The Independent Travel

What is the correct collective noun for travel agents? An exaggeration? A platitude? A duplicity? The people of the Greek island of Kos will be waking up this morning with their own ideas. An agglomeration of British travel agents has descended on the fragment of land off the coast of Turkey for the annual Abta convention, which begins today. The agents should have the best information on what to expect; we had to rely on what they promised us when we took our break on the island this summer. The Priceright brochure gushed with the attractions of a holiday on Kos: the archaeological sites and pulsating night-life, golden shores and mountain villages. It promises "an attractive mix of sand and sights in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean", and it wasn't far wrong.

What is the correct collective noun for travel agents? An exaggeration? A platitude? A duplicity? The people of the Greek island of Kos will be waking up this morning with their own ideas. An agglomeration of British travel agents has descended on the fragment of land off the coast of Turkey for the annual Abta convention, which begins today. The agents should have the best information on what to expect; we had to rely on what they promised us when we took our break on the island this summer. The Priceright brochure gushed with the attractions of a holiday on Kos: the archaeological sites and pulsating night-life, golden shores and mountain villages. It promises "an attractive mix of sand and sights in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean", and it wasn't far wrong.

The hotel

The most unhelpful information was the brochure description of the hotel: "This large and friendly property [yes] is set on the beach [a stony strip, nearly half a mile away], in peaceful surroundings [the hotel next door plays a Dambusters' tune each morning and dance music each evening] in the Psalidi area of Kos Town [it's three miles down the coast]." We should have inferred the distance from the giveaway line in the brochure that suggested "take a taxi into Kos Town for a night out". In fact, the buses proved cheap and reliable. And the hotel pool was gorgeous.

The excursion

I was taken by the idea of the three-island boat trip with sponge-factory visit and the prospect of diving into the sea off the boat at a point along the way. Bad move. Every boat trip operator on Kos offers a similar itinerary. Some do it better. We were on a large ferry-boat with 250 other people. The sponge "factory" was in fact a small workshop and the whole party had to troop through the streets en masse to a small, family-run taverna for the lunch that was included. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant couldn't cope and this was the only bad meal we had during the whole holiday. Other tours go on much smaller wooden boats and barbecue fish on board, returning from the final island under sail. Better to look round before signing up for any trip.

The car

The same advice applies to car rental; the tour operator and holiday rep often have a "special arrangement" with a particular company and the amount you pay will be inflated by their commission. Car hire will almost certainly be cheaper elsewhere, but check the conditions include comprehensive insurance. Kos is a good place to drive around - it's only 40 miles from one end to the other and one day's car hire gives you a chance to visit both beach and mountains. Expect to pay £30 a day for a tiny car or £40 for a jeep. The roads are tolerable but the signposting is terrible. Also worth trying is cycle hire (£2 a day), much more sensible than renting a moped.

The beach

Swim at Paradise Beach and you find yourself looking through a gauzy birch forest, slim silvery trees waving gently against a blue sky. But the shining columns are actually trails of bubbles, released from fault lines under the sea bed. As you swim over the fissures, the bubbles pulse up your body; if you float on the surface there's the extra buoyancy of thousands of little capsules of volcanic gas. This is the beach described in the brochure as "nature's jacuzzi". It's not a bad description and this phenomenon is found to a lesser extent at other spots around the island's coast. You can make out the bubbles from above the surface, but it's much better to enjoy a clear view from beneath. As a bonus I also saw several spectacular pale-blue pipefish. Like aquatic chessmen, with their long snouts, these were among the most striking of dozens of fish we saw. If you need a break from snorkelling or bronzing, you can also try parascending (£16), water skiing (£12) or "banana boats"(£7). Paradise Beach lives up to its name.

The verdict

The family loved Kos: weather, water, restaurants and the islanders. Shopping was fun, money easy to obtain from cashpoints; we even went to Turkey for a day. It delivered what we wanted from a holiday, as promised. But we didn't have to share the place with 2,000 travel agents.

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