One of the loveliest of the Dodecanese Islands, small and elegant Symi has a unique identity. Against the backdrop of the sparkling beauty of the Southern Aegean Islands, Symi has unexpected polish. This island is an astonishing mix of architectural distinction and raw natural beauty, cosmopolitan vibes and unpretentious simplicity. In short, Symi offers a magical island getaway.
Symi – Awash in Color
Even from afar, as you approach the port of Symi by ship, this islands’ unique personality announces itself. While the traditional vernacular architecture of the Greek islands has a pristine simplicity, Symi goes somewhere else entirely. This petite gem is awash with color. The marvelous houses of Gialos – the name of Simi’s port town – are painted in shades of ochre, sienna, salmon pink and robin’s egg blue. And its architecture, too, breaks with expectations. Here, we find elegant examples of Neoclassicism, and the traditional style of the Aegean united with romantic Venetian elements.
An Island with a Pedigree
You can see at first glance that this is an island with a pedigree. In fact, Symi’s strategic location was coveted by the Knights of St. John – the Catholic Military order also known as the Knights Hospitaller. They conquered Symi in the same era that they conquered Rhodes. The Kastro – one of the finer sights of Symi, was built by the Knights as an extension to the existing Byzantine fortifications.
From the time of the Knights of St. John, Symi was an important port. Another source of wealth were its sponges. Symi’s prosperity peaked in the middle of the 19th century. Merchants and families in shipping built wonderful mansions in the Neoclassical style, painting them in the sweet palate of the island. This is where Symi acquired its architectural elegance and its unique style.
Symi has managed to keep all of its 19th century romance, and marry it with cosmopolitan style. Some of these elegant mansions now house the finest boutique accommodations with a true sense of location. Elegantly appointed with an eye to authenticity, these special accommodations ensure that your stay in Symi will have both plenty of character and every possible comfort.
The port town of Gialos is dotted with traditional cafes and excellent tavernas serving the freshest catch. The colorful “trata” – small fishing boats – swaying gently in the harbor make for a timeless view. This is the perfect setting for lazy afternoons with a coffee and a book, and romantic dinners to linger over by candlelight.
To explain the island’s charming atmosphere, we have to go perhaps further back still in Symi’s history. According to mythology, Symi is the birthplace of the Grace – also known as the “Charites.” These daughters of Zeus and the Nymph Eurynome were minor goddesses of charm, nature, beauty, creativity, and fertility.
Symi – a Diversity of Experience
This marvelous island makes quite a picture as it is approached from the sea. Its shapely port has two bays, making for an interesting waterfront promenade with a variety of vistas. Between the two small bays, a clock tower of 1880, inspired by London’s Big Ben, serves as one of the port’s charming focal points.
The land rises sharply from the sea, making for a colorful picture – a collage of mansions. From Gialos, the 500 steps of the grand staircase called the “Kali Strata” winds upward along mansions and churches. This leads to “Ano” – “Upper” Symi. This is the Chorio – the main town and capital of Symi. The panoramic views are thrilling. But Ano Symi is also a wonderful cultural destination. There are over dozen churches – some of which date from the Byzantine period – as well as many beautiful small chapels.
Other cultural highlights and sights include Moni Panormiti – the Monastery of Archangel Michael at Panormos. The Monastery is nestled into a beautiful jade green bay on the south side of the island. There are also remains of Pelasgian walls near the village of Nimborio. These walls were the work of the indigenous people of the Aegean
The Beaches of Symi
Like other islands in the Dodecanese, Symi has splendid waters. The beaches of Symi offer wonderful variety. There are fully organized, cosmopolitan beaches here, where you can enjoy a swim then relax on a lounger in the shade, with beachside service. There are also remote beaches, with no services, and remote and challenging to reach. For your trouble, you will be rewarded with solitude – a personal paradise. Several of the beaches can be easily reached on foot. Others are reached by hike. But the most interesting beaches of all can be accessed by water taxi – a delightful experience in itself. By boat, you can reach the most secluded of the island’s charming coves and beaches, to enjoy a pristine swim in waters of turquoise and jade. The sea here is also beautiful from below – some of the beaches are popular with snorkelers lured by the colorful sea life and majestic setting.
Hiking on Symi
Paths connect to some of the villages and also lead to beaches, for an exhilarating hike. Some of these old paths are quite rocky, requiring good footwear and a sense of adventure. The rewards are the unspoiled natural settings, beautiful vistas, and wonderful beaches that feel like a secret discovery.
Dining on Symi
Seafood is the star here. There’s no finer meal in Greece than daily catch, grilled over the coals and dressed with little more than salt and a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of oil – the perfect example of the elegant simplicity that defines the true island experience. Of course, all the excellent seafood is also an inspiration to the island’s creative chefs, and you’ll find adventurous dishes rooted in quality. While here, the special Symi shrimp are a must – these sweet morsels are eaten whole, shell and all.
That is not the only specialty, though. Thanks to Symi’s sponge-diving heritage, there are some unusual delights. Even though sponge-diving has waned, the taste for the diet of sponge divers has not. Sun-dried fish would sustain them. There is also sun dried octopus – all unusual and delicious “meze” that are worth seeking out when on Symi.
A Bespoke Experience
Symi is less than an hour from the much better-known Rhodes. But it is also worlds’ away; less than a 20th of the size of Rhodes, Symi is an island you can truly bond with and make your own. It offers the exotic Southern Aegean experience on an intimate scale.
Have you been to one of the Dodecanese Islands? Have you thought about exploring Symi?