I admit I fell head over heels in love with Symi when we visited. If anyone wants a little getaway for a few days I can highly recommend this stunning island as the perfect place to experience life a la Greque . It’s ideal if you want to relax and slow down for a a while, and I did, thoroughly!
Taking the ferry from the port in Old Rhodes town, it’s an almost two hour journey, although the views leaving the port of Rhodes, the mountainous coast of Turkey and the enchanting sail up to Symi means you will be far too busy taking photos to get bored.
Situated to the north of Rhodes, close to the south west coast of Turkey, Symi is a small island of 68 square kilometres with around 3000 people living permanently there. It’s now a haven for tourists, there are over 150 non Greeks living there of which at least 50 are Brits.
Some history of the island, it was conquered by the Knights of the Ottoman Empire in 1522, but they were left to their own devices, so prospered through sponge making and ship building and it was in this period that many of the beautiful neoclassical mansions were built.
The island remained quite wealthy until 1912 when the Italians took over, then during World War 2, the Nazis invaded and took control then surrendered to the British on the island and it wasn’t until 1948 that Symi once again became part of Greece.
We first stopped off at the famous Monestry of Archangel Michael Panormitis. It is set in a closed in cove, on the sea front with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop covered with pine trees which gives it a peaceful, quiet feeling. Thousands of pilgrims make their way here in November from all over the world for their main festival, staying locally and feasting on free haddock and local wines. It gets busy with tourists too during the summer so if you want to visit try going early in the morning of slightly out of season.
The huge impressive baroque bell tower is the first thing you see when you approach, the highest in the world, intricate detail and colourful markings make this tower beautiful and it stands out in the middle of the Italian built buildings on either side. These buildings, mainly white, are now holiday lets and are Venetian in style. Going under the bell tower brings you to an open courtyard filled with exotic plants and flowers and paved with “Hokhlakia”, a geometric pattern of flat black and white stones. We were told by our guide we were welcome to go inside the church to light a candle. I’m not religious so was a bit lost at this point but I did go in for a look. For the ladies out there, if you are going to visit, dress appropriately and cover your shoulders or you will be given a shawl to wear. The church is stunning and the entire interior is covered with iconography and some very elaborate chandeliers. Small gifts were given to the visitors and it was time to head back to the boat.
The monestry is only accessible by boat or by one road from the main port, where you can take an hour long bus ride or hire a scooter.
Our boat then circled around the island where we spotted some secluded beaches, again only accessible by boats, which looked absolutely idyllic. At this point I made my way to the top floor of the boat and may or may not have shoved my way to the front, because I knew what was coming, I had been told to watch for this part. The view of the famous colourful houses of Symi emerging round the corner, stacked up the mountains like tiny Lego bricks was absolutely breathtaking.
The whole vibe of this beautiful island is relaxed and calming. Nobody is walking about with their phones stuck to their ears, or sitting in watching TV. The men are working hard on the fishing boats, or in the cafes, or selling their wares in the small shops that line the cobbled street around the harbour. There is no running water on the island, it is brought in in barrels from Rhodes, they seem to live a very basic, simple life, if a little old fashioned but I never once saw a local without a smile on their face. I had lunch at …… Where the waiter brought out a platter of fresh fish caught that morning, shimps, skewers of chicken and different meats. After ordering we were brought a plate of worm bread and probably the best ….. I have ever tasted. I opted for a chicken and vegetable skewer which was served with a delicious wild rice salad. After not being particularly impressed with the restaurants I had tried in Rhodes this was a welcome treat.
After lunch we visited a sponge workshop where they explained how the sponges were collected from the sea and how they were then prepared to sell in the harbour shops. Then after buying a few to take home I had a walk around the streets to take in the sights.
I’ll let the photos do the talking from here. Sorry for the amount but it is a truly stunning place and I couldn’t pick just a few.
If you want to visit Symi you can fly into Rhodes where boats leave daily to take you to the island. There are several options for accommodation including self catering houses, and B+B’s.