We all have memories etched into our minds and Symi will add one more to the list. As the Rhodes ferry swings around the last headland, a fantastic sight opens up.
Apparently slipping down the barren hillsides, gathered all around the great horseshoe curve of a superb natural harbour, are tiers of yellow - and ochre-coloured houses, interspersed with the white walls and bright red roofs of churches.
The houses are not typical Greek village houses but two- and three-storey neo-classical structures, in fact buildings of stature. It is these houses, built in Symi's golden days when the islanders grew wealthy on sponge-diving and boat-building, that now are being restored, one by one, for the island's growing numbers of visitors. And the Greek authorities have placed a preservation order on the whole town to ensure the magical beauty is not lost. So for the perfect Symi holiday, find a house with views, a balcony to enjoy them, and lie back for a week or two of complete relaxation, punctuated perhaps by a climb up the Kali Strata steps, to explore the maze of lanes in Horio, or a trip by sea taxi to the beaches of Pedhi or Aghios Nikolaos, to bask in the baking heat of the Aegean summer, or overland to the white monastery of Panormitis. Symi is a tale of restoration, preservation, relaxation, imagination...
The island of Symi lies 24 miles (40kms) to the northwest of Rhodes, covering an area of 26 square miles (68 sq kms). It is approximately 8 miles (13kms) long by 6 miles (9.5kms) wide, with Mount Vigla its highest point at 2021 feet (616m).
The main harbour is Yialos (Symi Town) with smaller settlements at Pedi, Nimborio and Marathounda. Yialos is the main tourist area, where visitors from a wide range of countries – Scandinavians, French, Italians, Turks, British - create a very cosmopolitan atmosphere. Yialos is linked to the Horio or village by a flight of 360 steps known as the Kali Strate or beautiful stairway, a 19th century replacement for an ancient, stepped footpath, the Kataraktis, which originally connected the two parts of the town. Horio contains a selection of kafeneions, restaurants and small grocery shops and is also the most populated section of the island, retaining the authentic atmosphere of local life. Yialos is also linked to Horio by a metalled road which winds around the hillside before heading off across the island’s part-wooded interior to Panormitis in the south. This is a large monastery complex which attracts visiting tourists and pilgrims all year round. For walkers, there are also numerous footpaths and road-tracks around the island.
Legend has it that during the Trojan War, ancient Symi craftsmen sent three ships and King Nereus to aid the Greek forces. In historical times, the Dorian Greek, Roman and Byzantine civilizations all left their mark on the island, as did the Knights of St John during their supremacy on nearby Rhodes. These influences are still apparent in much of the island’s architecture, several small churches and icons dating back to these periods. From 1522, Symi became part of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1912, Symi was again occupied, this time by the Italians during the Turko-Italian War, who remained until World War II. The British finally occupied Symi in 1944 after repeated bombing by both Allies and Axis powers. It was not until 1947 that the Dodecanese Islands, including Symi, became part of the modern Greek state.
Things to Do
Motorbikes, small cars and pleasure boats are available to hire. An extensive range of walks and excursions continues throughout the season. Cookery lessons can be arranged with the owner/chef of a renowned, local restaurant. You are also invited to join in traditional dancing sessions organised by the Women’s Association of Symi.
The annual Symi Festival, held from July to September, is an important cultural event on the island. Theatre, open-air cinema, dance, traditional and classical music, literary and art exhibitions are all included in the summer programme.
Symi is unusual for a Greek island in boasting a variety of excellent restaurants serving both traditional fare or general Mediterranean cuisine. Certain establishments only use locally caught fish and organically grown produce, making eating out during your stay on Symi a genuine pleasure. The remaining kafeneions continue to serve ouzo-mezes in authentic surroundings.
Getting Around Symi
Symi has hardly any metalled roads so most travelling around the island is by foot, sea taxi or four-wheel drive vehicle. Walking can therefore be one of the pleasures of a holiday on the island and there are a number of guided walks available every week throughout the season. There are also excursions by jeep and boat, designed to explore the island's beauty spots and beaches., and remote churches and monasteries. Other excursions are available to the nearby islands of Kos and Tilos and to the Turkish mainland.