Part of the Dodecanese archipelago, Tilos is midway between the popular tourist hotspots of Rhodes and Kos, but life on this tiny island is a far cry from the bustling resort ambience of its busy neighbours.
Tilos is a haven of tranquillity. Home to craggy mountains, secluded beaches, carpets of wildflowers, rare birds, medieval castles, sublime sea views, a remote monastery, and a cave of dwarf elephants.
The island has been spared the trappings of mass tourism, yet those who visit tend to return year after year. To find out more about this beguiling island, read on for our ultimate guide to Tilos.
A Brief History of Tilos
Like many Greek places, the name Tilos is steeped in mythology and legend. Tilos was the son of Helios and Halia. He visited the island in search of herbs to cure his sick mother, then returned to build a temple dedicated to Poseidon and Apollo in honour of her recovery. But what do we know about the history of Tilos?
Archaeological evidence from the Harkadio Cave shows the island was inhabited in Neolithic times, when Tilos was home to the last population of dwarf elephants in Europe. Successive settlements have been dated to the Minoans, Mycenaeans, and Dorians, but it was in the Classical era when the island flourished, even minting its own coinage.
Tilos’s prosperity made it a target. It was conquered by the Romans, Byzantines, Knights of St. John, and the Ottoman Empire, its seven hilltop castles testament to its struggles.
In recent times, Italians and Germans have laid claim to Tilos, before it became part of Greece in 1948, along with the other Dodecanese Islands.
Villages in Tilos
As the island’s main harbour, Livadia is the first port of call for most tourists and it’s the largest settlement on Tilos. Life revolves around the square, where fishermen sell their catch of the day, and locals and tourists mingle in the traditional tavernas and cafés.
There’s a sweeping pebble beach backed by tamarisk trees, and a long promenade dotted with tavernas and bars with prime seafront views.
The island’s pint-sized capital, Megalo Horio, or Big Village, is a maze of narrow, flower-lined alleyways, traditional, whitewashed houses, decorative mosaic courtyards, and beautiful churches, including Archangel Michael (Taxiarchis), Panagia Theotokissa, and Agios Ioannis Theologos with its beautiful frescoes.
The town is located on the lower slopes of Agios Stefanos, beneath the ancient settlement and the medieval castle. There’s a local café, a couple of excellent tavernas, and the current Museum of Dwarf Elephants.
Mikro Horio, or Little Village, was once the largest settlement on Tilos. Residents began leaving after the Second World War, moving to Livadia or migrating overseas, until the village was finally abandoned in the 1960s. Wandering round the atmospheric crumbling houses is a little like stepping into a time capsule. Unless you visit on a summer evening when one of the houses turns into a popular bar.
The seaside village of Agios Andonis is a sleepy hamlet with a tiny fishing harbour. If you catch the beach at low tide, it’s possible to see the imprint of bones in the rocky seabed from the old Byzantine cemetery. There are a couple of tavernas offering delicious seafood; visit in the evening to catch the best sunset on the island.
The Best Beaches in Tilos
Livadia is one of the most popular beaches on Tilos, largely because of its tourist facilities and location in the gently curving bay. Lounge on your sunbed listening to waves and reading a book, and cool off by plunging into the clear, blue waters.
Located a short walk from Megalo Horio, the bay of Eristos is a long, sweeping stretch of sandy beach with a nudist section at the far end. Tamarisk trees provide valuable shade in summer, and there are a couple of tavernas serving delicious food. A bus service runs between Livadia and Eristos.
The remote, unspoilt beach of Plaka is walking distance from Agios Andonis. This sand and pebble beach has clear turquoise water, excellent for snorkelling and swimming. The area is backed by Plaka Gardens, and is home to a number of proud, colourful peacocks.
Accessible only by foot or by boat, the pretty pebble beach at Lethra is a gorgeous 45-minute walk from Livadia. There are no facilities at this sand and pebble beach, but there is a solitary tree providing some shade.
Things to Do in Tilos
The Byzantine Monastery of Agios Pandeleimonas
The Byzantine monastery of Agios Pandeleimonas, patron saint of Tilos, clings to the side of the island’s tallest mountain, with a commanding view over the sparking Aegean. Set in a lush location surrounded by giant cypress trees, the monastery has an attractive pebbled courtyard and the church walls are covered in 18th century frescoes. Visit on 26th July for celebrations in honour of Agios Pandeleimonas.
Excavations at the Harkadio Cave in 1971 uncovered the bones of a group of dwarf elephants. It’s believed the elephants became stuck on the island after it divided from the coast of Asia Minor and their size gradually adapted to their new living environment. Excavations at the site are ongoing, but you can see the bones and Neolithic artefacts in the small museum at Megalo Horio. There’s an amphitheatre at the site and construction is underway for a new museum.
Medieval Knight’s Castle
A steep path rises from the modern town of Megalo Horio, past the ancient settlement, to the largest and most complete of the seven castles. Built by the Knights of St. John, the castle sits atop the naturally fortified mountain of Agios Stefanos with commanding views over Eristos, Agios Andonis and the neighbouring island of Nissyros. It’s a challenging climb, but the views are well worth the effort.
There are walking paths all over Tilos, many of them ancient mule tracks. Clambering around the rocky hinterland is the best way to explore churches and castles, visit Mikro Horio, and discover secluded beaches and coves. The hills and valleys are filled with the heady aroma of wild sage and oregano, and wildflowers carpet the ground. Often, the only sounds you’ll hear are the gentle tinkle of goat bells and the faint buzzing of bees gathering pollen for Tilos’s famous thyme honey.
Tilos and its unoccupied surrounding islets are part of a protected ecological area, Tilos Park, where hunting is banned. Because of this, bird life has flourished on the island, with Bonelli’s eagle, Eleonora’s falcon, Audouin’s gull and European roller amongst the 155 species spotted here. Birdwatchers flock to Tilos during spring and autumn to see migration, when species such as golden oriole, European bee-eaters and Eurasian Hoopoe pass through.
Getting to Tilos
The nearest airport is on neighbouring Rhodes. It’s a busy airport, especially in summer, and it handles domestic flights from Athens as well as direct international flights from many European countries.
Upon arrival, head to Mandraki Harbour in Rhodes Town to catch a ferry to Tilos. A regular Wednesday service operated by Panagia Spiliani departs Rhodes at 18.15, arriving in Tilos at 20.15 (correct as of June 2017).
If you book your holiday to Tilos with Nissia Holidays, our local representatives can arrange for onward transport between the airport and Tilos.
Once on Tilos, there’s a regular bus service connecting Livadia and Megalo Horio, which stops at Eristos and Agios Andonis. On Sundays, the bus also goes to the monastery of Agios Pandeleimonas. There are several places to hire cars and scooters, though note that you need a motorbike licence to hire a scooter in Greece.
With a typical southern Mediterranean climate, Tilos is gorgeous in the shoulder seasons. April, May, September and October see few rainy days. The temperature is perfect for walking, and wildflowers bloom across the island. September and October are particularly good for swimming, when the sea is like a bath after the long, hot summer.
From June, temperatures begin to heat up, with August being the hottest month. It’s perfect for lazy beach days, though if you’re out and about ensure you have lots of water and good sun protection.
Where to Stay in Tilos
Livadia has an excellent range of hotels and apartments, and is well set up for the island’s low-key tourism with supermarkets, shops, tavernas and a bank with ATM. To find out more about our range of Tilos hotels and apartments, see our Tilos accommodation page.
For more information on Tilos or to book a holiday, contact Nissia Holidays on 01455 289421 or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.