Tilos is in the Dodecanese island chain next to Rhodes in the southeastern Aegean Sea, approximately 20 km off the southwest coast of Turkey. Within the small territory of 65 sq. km, Tilos with 350 residents and its 16 uninhabited islets are gifted with an abundance as well as diversity of wildlife and flora species living within 16 different biotopes that warranted its registration as an EU Special Protection Area, Natura 2000 site and its inclusion in the Corine Biotopes Project for the special protection of certain flora and an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
The island territory was once part of Asia Minor. Fifteen million years ago, the dust from a volcanic eruption on the Aegean island of Kos spread over the territory that was to become Tilos creating areas with a porous environment in hillsides for many avian species to easily hollow out shelters for nesting and breeding.
The territory broke off from the continent approximately 7 million years ago carrying the ancestors of modern day wildlife, some species of which are rare on the European continent (e.g. Pistacia terebinthus palaestina [terebinth or pistachio tree], Coluber jugularis [whip snake]). Human populations date back to Minoan, Mycenean and Dorian cultures approximately 3,000 – 1,000 B.C..
The zenith of the island was reached during the Middle Ages when the Byzantine monastery of St. Panteleimon was built in 1470, ancient castles and fortresses were built by the Knights of St. John and Tilos thrived as an ancient trading center, specializing in herbal oils and medicines for which the island became well known. In Greek mythology, Tilos island derived its name from Tilos, the son of the sun god Apollo and Alia. He is said to have cured his mother from illness with herbs collected from the island. Wild herbs and flowers still thrive throughout the countryside, such as sage, chamomile, thyme, oregano, and a floral carpet of color blankets the island in spring with yellow marguerites, red poppies, and blue lupins.
Unique Island Flora and Fauna
Tilos has more than 125 wild bird species (one quarter of which are included in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive); 378 documented plant species [unofficial estimate exceeds 1,000], including 28 different types of orchids, 8 of which are classified as rare; six mountains reaching 654 meters in height which are dotted with 7 ancient castles and hundreds of Byzantine chapels; 19 beaches, which are accessible by road or only by sea or on foot; and an underground network of freshwater springs that nourish the entire island including the fertile agricultural valley of Eristos to the south. Tilos is surrounded by the blue Aegean which is populated with the critically endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal, Bottlenose and Striped Dolphnis, tuna, whales and priority marine habitat types such as the pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals [Thero-Brachypodietea].
There is a bus service in Tilos which gets you around the islands paved streets quite well. Schedule is posted on the main square and in the menues of most restaurants. Fares 1.20 Livadia-Eristos, short distances 0.60 (2009).
There are also a few car and motorbike rentals. Watch out, some of them don't cover any damages to the vehicle if you drive on sand roads, which are half of the roads of Tilos ;-) Shop around for the best prices.
Eco-tourism and Agriculture
The island economy is primarily based on eco-tourism and also agricultural farming of fruits, vegetables, and citrus, olive, almond and pear trees. Island eco-tourism features 6 principle island walking paths that vary in distance and degree of ease or difficulty; Byzantine era churches with original frescoes; autumn and spring donkey rides through the countryside to a seaside picnic on the beach; a visit to the Harkadio Cave in Messaria which is the archaelogical site of the discovery of Neolithic tools, fossils and the bones of deer and dwarf elephants that inhabited Tilos in 7,000 B.C.; the magnificent 15th century monastery of St. Panteleimon at the west end; and bird watching, especially during the island’s three year LIFE Nature Project which is designed to increase the population of three threatened wild bird species.
Almost all Restaurants on Tilos are open in summer only and are catering mainly for tourists. Some of them even serve tinned food, and there is not much real greece left here... There are a few exceptions if you look hard enough.