Published in Travel Guides
A quiet island with a cosmopolitan atmosphere, 2,500 elegant neo-classical houses, few cars, hospitable locals and reasonable prices.
Symi belongs to the Dodecanese group of islands. Located near the coast of Asia Minor, it has some 2,500 inhabitants, who are involved in the tourist trade and commerce. It used to be an important centre for sponge exports, with a large sponge-fishing fleet. Up to 1930, when synthetic sponges became available, the fleet’s activities made the island wealthy enough to support a population of 25,000 people (larger than that of Rhodes). Its town and villages have been declared landmarks and Symi’s main attraction is its architecture. The hamlets of Pedi and Nimborio are close to Symi Town and connected to it by regular bus service. The rest of the island, most of it, in other words, is uninhabited and undeveloped. Symi has a temperate climate, with little rainfall, mild winters and many sunny days, while the landscape is mountainous and arid.
It’s difficult to get to Symi, since the island has no airport (the one at Rhodes is the closest) and the ferry from Piraeus takes a mere 10-12 hours! These disadvantages, however, work to the benefit of those who do manage to visit, because Symi has succeeded in escaping the onslaught of package tourism and the chaotic construction that usually accompanies it. Despite its remoteness, the island is not lacking in facilities. Boutique hotels, fine restaurants and nightlife are ample compensation for the trip.
Symi Town consists of two settlements, Gialos (the port) and Horio (the upper town, Ano Symi). The most notable sights in both districts are the superb neo-classical mansions.
Symi’s largest harbour. The entrance is dominated by the municipal clocktower (1880), the campanile of the Evangelistria church and the statue of the Little Fisherman. At Gialos, you’ll also see the stately Kampsopoulos house (now a restaurant), where on 8 May 1945, General Wagner surrendered the Dodecanese islands to the Allies (commemorated by a plaque). Pay a visit to the Naval Museum;, which contains miniature paintings of ships, maps, nautical instruments, as well as sponge-fishing gear (diving suit, etc.).
The town’s largest settlement. Charming neighbourhoods with both well-preserved and derelict mansions, picturesque cobbled alleys and views over the port. You won’t regret taking the walk from Gialos to Horio, up the 500 steps of Kali Strata (the Good Road), because it is flanked by beautiful stone-built houses. Along the way you’ll come to the 19th c. Spetsiata Pharmacy.
Also take time to visit the church of the Panagia, with its wonderful frescoes, the Castle of the Knights and Symi’s Archaeological and Folklore Museum with its Early Christian, Byzantine and folk culture exhibits.
A little harbour with greenery and a beach. It was a summer favourite with the prosperous families of yesteryear. Along the road to Horio there are traces of a petrified forest.
Summer houses on a small sandy beach. Visit the Dodeka Spilea (catacombs), twelve underground tunnels used in Byzantine times as an artists’ workshop.
A closed bay dominated by the monastery of Taxiarchis Michail Panormitis, the island’s patron saint. The monastery has a guest house for 500 pilgrims and the church is filled with Byzantine icons. The pseudo-baroque bell-tower divides this enormous complex down the middle. Be sure to see the carved wooden icon screen, the icon of the archangel wearing a silver tunic and the pebble mosaic floor. The monastery also contains two museums, a folk museum and a collection of ecclesiastical treasures, as well as a library with old books and manuscripts. You can get to Panormitis from Gialos by car or by boat in 1 hr. Opposite it lies the islet of Sesklia, while nearby, at a place called Faneromeni, is the fortified Megalos Sotiras monastery.
Another fortified monastery, its cruciform church has frescoes painted in the 15th and 18th c.
From the Upper Town to the windmills and in Symi’s marvellous cypress forest.
Cultural activities like classical and modern music concerts, dance, thetre, cinema, literature evenings, conferences. All these events take place in buildings with traditional architecture of 17th, 18th, 19th century like the famous manor house of Chatziagapitos, the courtyard of Saint John and the monastery of Panormitis.
Ιn which unmarried girls bake and eat a salty pie in the hopes of dreaming of their future husband that night.
Symi has good, though not outstanding, beaches. But the water is always crystal-clear and the high temperatures permit swimming until the end of October.
A bay encircled by rocky hillocks. The best and largest beach on the island. Pebbles, umbrellas and a little taverna in the shade of its few trees. Accessible by caique or sea taxi.
On the islet of Agia Marina with the church of the same name. A small beach, with emerald waters, taverna, lounging chairs and sand imported from Rhodes! Reachable by boat from Pedi or Gialo.
Another small beach in a lovely setting, with a few trees. Access by boat (30 min).
Picturesque bay with greenery opposite an islet with a monastery. Access by boat (45 min).
By air from Athens, El. Venizelos airport to Rhodes with Aegean Airlines and then by ferry or hydrofoil connection.
From Piraeus Port Authority, tel. 0030210 4172675
Symi is linked by ferry or hydrofoil with most of the Dodecanese islands and some of the Cyclades. Symi Port Authority, tel. 00302241071205.
There are frequent buses between Horio and Pedi. You can take a caique to the various beaches, the islet of Sesklia or a trip round the island. The excursion includes a plentiful BBQ, ready-cooked dishes and wine.
Sea taxis: Rent one and organize your own programme.
Walking: Ask the travel agents for a hiker’s map of the island.
May, June and September.
Embroideries, honey, sponges, goat-cheese and spices.
Symi Town Hall 00302241071302
Symi Police 00302241071111
Symi Port Authority 00302241071205
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