Symi, also known as ‘the jewel of the Dodecanese’ has been the subject of many travel articles across many publications, on-line, in print and also on television. It has also been used as a backdrop for films, fashion photo shoots and novels. This is all good news for an island that, in these days of economic bedlam, needs all the attention and visitors it can get.
Now then, one thing that strikes me is that these journalists and film crews, photographers and writers all pop along to Symi, do their business, leave and spread the word. That’s all well and good but they are not always accurate. I just read one article in a top British newspaper and good though the coverage was, it held at least three factual errors. I don’t think I’ve seen many articles about Symi that have actually been written by someone who lives here. I have been living here for fourteen years (and two days) so what’s written here comes from someone who came, saw and stayed.
Yes, well that’s the question isn’t it? I am often asked, ‘What brought you to Symi?’ to which I flippantly reply, ‘The ferry as I’m not that good a swimmer.’ It’s close to the truth, but the real truth is I was lured here because there is no airport. Long story short: I wanted a holiday, I liked Greece, I wanted somewhere small, quiet and with a long summer and the idea of having to fly, bus, ferry, taxi to a studio apartment was very appealing. As Homer said, ‘The journey is the thing’ and, when you arrive at Symi you know you have travelled.
Once here though, Symi offers plenty of things to see and do. One of these instantly attracted me to the island; walking. It may look like a large lump of grey rock from a distance, but Symi offers stunning walks and views. There’s a large forest in the middle of the island, ancient wine presses to see, hundreds of chapels and churches, mountain paths and great views across to Turkey, Rhodes, Tilos and beyond. There are also two walking guide books to pick up when here, complete with maps.
The journey was the thing for Homer but the beaches are the thing for many visitors. Take your pick: Walking down through one of the few fertile valleys on the island to the settlement of Pedi not only allows for bird and wildlife watching, it also rewards you with a safe and popular beach in a beautiful bay. Wander around the eccentrically busy (but not crowded) harbour of Yialos to swim from Petalo, or Nos Beach – tavernas included. Hop on a taxi boat and find your little piece of peace at Nimborio (there are Roman mosaics and catacombs to hunt down and view) or to Tolis, St Nicholas (the only really sandy beach on the island) Agia Marina, Nanou or Marathunda – tavernas are also included at these places.
Take one of the around-the-island boat trips for the day – lunch and drinks included – and visit the remote beach at St George where some of ‘The Guns of Navarone’ was filmed. Sail to the monastery of St Emelianos, the seal cave (I’ve never actually seen a seal there, but others have) and on to the monastery of the island’s patron saint, the Archangel Michaelis at Panormitis. This can also be reached by bus which will take you up to the village, through the forest and down the other side of the island again. The more adventurous can walk there. I have done that three times now. Tip: take water, a hat and make sure you have a way of getting back again.
Those, like me, who are more inclined to people-watch from the comfort of your own beer, can spend many happy hours in the harbour or the village of Horio. This can be done in four shifts: the morning shift where coffee is taken as the fishermen return and sell their catch on the quayside, the lunchtime/afternoon shift which, after that day-trip boats from Rhodes have left is more peaceful as everyone is at the beach or siesta, the ‘returning’ shift in the late afternoon as everyone stops off on the way home to change after a hectic day reading the latest Booker Prize, and the evening/night shift as folk come and go to and from the many tavernas, stopping off for one on the way home. Another insider tip: I don’t recommend you cover all four shifts in the same day.
I do, however, recommend a visit to Symi, a long one if you can. More and more people are now renting long-term on the island or taking accommodation for a month or more. All the travel companies, hotels (none over four stories high and all in the neo-classical style as the island is ‘protected’ like a national monument), apartments and villas on offer cater for everything from one night to, well, as many as you want. Just make sure your plane matches up with your ferry if you want to get here in one day.
I know, I’ve still not answered that question, Why Symi? But then I have a whole book dedicated to the question and still have not found the answer.
For me it’s everything: the views, the weather, the way of life, the quirks, but mostly it’s the people and the classic Greek Filoxenia, the love of foreigner’s and the generosity of spirit. That’s why I am still here fourteen years after giving the island a one-year trial and twenty years after first ‘doing the Homer’ and journeying across.
Here’s another insider’s tip: always check the boats before you buy your flights. I often have enquiries through my blog asking if I know of any boats other than those advertised, as ‘We are arriving at eight in the evening and there don’t appear to be any night-time crossings to Symi.’ Well, no, that’s because there aren’t any. Land early or else stay overnight in Rhodes which is actually not a displeasure at all.
* This article was written by James Collins symidream.com