Symi is a blissful find of an island in the Aegean Sea, held delicately in a claw of Turkey whose hills are visible from the main port of Yialos. I went to Symi in 1999 and was enchanted from day one. I have returned three times, the last being September 2013. Symi is a little more commercial than fourteen years ago, but the beauty of it remains untouched and the character remains.
Yialos, reputed to be the most beautiful harbour in the Dodecanese, has a stunning backdrop of cream, ochre and russet Italianate houses. From late morning to mid-afternoon, the port bustles with tourists across from Rhodes. But evenings belong to the inhabitants, resident holidaymakers and the international yachting community, who moor a range of craft from the modest to the breathtakingly luxurious. Their presence undoubtedly pushes prices up; Symi is not the island for a budget holiday.
If you want to stay in a lively area choose Yialos, which is also the main tourist centre with many excellent shops and tavernas ranging from average to high prices.
Chorio, on the hilltop above the harbour is more laid back. It merges seamlessly with Yialos – where one community leaves off the other begins along the Kali Strata, a 300+ step climb – I counted 365 steps but there is constant dispute over the exact number. However many, they’re great for shaping up thigh and calf muscles. Weaker mortals can take the bus. In Chorio you are likely to get chatting with fellow tourists, Symiots and ex-pats at the adjacent tavernas Rainbow and Lefteris, also at Symi Dream, a photographic shop and gallery near the top of the Kali Strata. Every Monday the owners, writer James Collins and photographer Neil Gosling host a wine night where people meet over a glass or two and browse in the gallery and shop. On Wednesdays and Sundays, Neil leads a photo stroll around the old village or down to Pedi.
Pedi Bay is a quiet resort area easy to access from Yialos via Chorio by bus or taxi. There are two good tavernas, rooms & villas to rent and Pedi Beach Hotel, favoured by Saga Holidays. Emborio is a quieter bay area to stay; taxi boats arrive from Yialos regularly throughout the day, dropping passengers conveniently next to the one taverna.
Taxi boats are the most convenient – and fun – way to reach the beaches around the island. Take a trip to Taxiarchis Monastery at Panormitis, set in a spectacular bay and housing both a folk museum and an amazing collection of seaborne bottles and model boats that arrived bearing requests of the Archangel Michael. There are round island trips on larger vessels leaving Yialos daily and providing lunch plus plentiful ouzo and wine and several swimming stops; all excellent value. In 2013, there were limited trips to Datça in Turkey, 4km across the Straits of Doris. There are plans to run them more regularly in 2014, good news as it’s a great day trip with a market selling just about everything (the produce stalls are fabulous) and, of course, shops, bars, cafes, restaurants and carpets, carpets, carpets!
Homer’s Iliad records that Symi provided three ships for the Troy-bound Greek fleet. One myth is that Symi was named for the princess of Rhodes who eloped there with the god Glaucus. Other theories link Symi semantically with the word ‘monkey’ and claim it was a place of exile for Prometheus. Like most of the Greek islands, Symi was invaded in WWII and saw conflict. The peace of the Dodecanese was signed at Catherinettes Taverna in Yialos. Symi was also a sponge diving island; fascinating exhibition in Symi National Maritime Museum.
Access to the island is largely via air to Rhodes then ferry from Rhodes. Monarch and Cosmos run package holidays to Symi. Alternatively, if island hopping, the nearest island is Nisiros and next, going north, the better known holiday island of Kos. Athens (Piraeus) and most Aegean islands can be accessed by ferry from Symi. Accommodation ranges from self-catering to high class hotel. Symi is for the traveller who wants to experience Greece, the extra effort required to get there is one of the reasons it is, as yet, comparatively unspoiled. In fact, I’m almost reluctant to let you read this…
Season: late April to mid October. High season July to early September.
Air travel: BA, Easyjet, Monarch to Rhodes from UK. Aegean Airlines from Athens.
Accommodation: Kalodoukas Holidays and also Symi Visitor Accommodation.
Wi-Fi: Most hotels and internet cafes. Not in all accommodation.
Eating out: So many good, varied places to eat on Symi it seems unfair to single out one – but for a spectacular seafood meal, try Manos Fish. Restaurant in Yialos – and for great breakfasts and snacks, The Olive Tree in Chorio.
Shopping: Leather; Takis Leather • Jewellery; Alexandra, Asymifos
Natural beauty products: Natural Care – sea sponges, clothing, ceramics, snorkels etc mainly around Yialos and Chorio.
Supermarkets: Several in Yialos and one in Chorio plus bakeries and smaller provisions shops dotted over the island.
Culture: Symi Festival – Music, Drama & Arts across the summer. Dates not finalised for 2014 – check www.symidream.com
For holidays to Symi, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil Holidays.