Relaxed Charms of Symi
A Boat Trip from Rhodes
Symi sits tantalisingly close to the Turkish coastline, and in past times, enjoyed great prosperity due to the sponge industry and ship-building. This is now in decline, with the sponge stalls selling imported articles due to massive over-farming of the sea bed and the shipwrights finding their prices undercut by larger concerns on Kos and Rhodes.
The island reputedly enjoys the hottest climate of anywhere in Greece, and the day I visited bore testament to that statement, with the mercury hitting 43°C on the harbour-side. It is a totally laid-back, relaxed little island with no more than a handful of hotels and businesses, all down to one inescapable fact; it has no water. This has to be ferried in from Rhodes at great expense, meaning that the existing tourist capacity is unlikely to develop unless ways can be found to store water on this arid outpost of the Dodecanese.
Our neighbours across the balcony said, “You must see Symi; It’s beautiful.”
Caroline and sailing don’t mix, so I booked a solo ticket to see this enchanting island, just a couple of miles from the Turkish coast, a 2-hour sail north from Rhodes Town.
The harbour in Symi Town, or Yialos, to give it its proper name, is nevertheless bustling, with its resident fishing boats, tour ferries, and kaiki depositing streams of visitors onto the jetty. The town is built in a steep-sided ravine, with the old town of Horio situated halfway up the mountainside, much of this sadly now deserted.
Yialos boasts some lovely architecture, and the vision of the neoclassical dwellings as you enter the harbour is a sight to behold, truly picture-postcard beautiful. I explored the new town and found some fabulous hokhlaki (pebble-mosaic) pavements and courtyards, as well as the old nautical museum, the bell-tower on the west quayside, and several very steep open-air staircases leading to private properties, as well as the old town.
The monastery of Taxiarchis Mihail Panormitis is worth visiting, and this was the second port-of-call for our day trip. The ferry sounded its klaxon as we entered the tiny harbour, and we were welcomed by a complicated peal of the monastery’s bells (my apologies to the campanologists if this is the wrong term).
Symi assaults the senses in every way, and as we waved farewell and sailed back to Rhodes Town, I’m certain that everyone on board had had a day to remember.
Due to its relative remoteness from Rhodes (its nearest Greek neighbour), few people holiday on Symi. Therefore, as a holiday destination, it has little to offer the visitor other than its peace and quiet and a scattering of bars, shops, and tavernas.
As mentioned, Symi is the hottest place in Greece, and people were visibly flaking as they ambled around Yialos, many obviously having brought no water to see them through the day. Take at least a litre of water with you to avoid dehydration. I always put two 500ml plastic bottles of water into the freezer compartment the night before a trip and tuck these away at the bottom of the rucksack. With luck, this will keep the brunt of the sun away and ensure a steady stream of ice-cold refreshment as the water defrosts.
I tend to tan easily without burning, but walking around here was getting uncomfortable after an hour or so, so take a T-shirt to protect the shoulders. Remember, too, that the sea breezes give a false sense of security, and several fellow passengers were red by the time we got back to Rhodes Town.
Best Way To Get Around:
Symi can only be reached by ferry from Rhodes and Kos. The Symi sails from the commercial harbour at Rhodes Town every morning at 9am. You can take a tourist kaikia or the “jet boat,” which covers the trip in an hour. A day trip return on the Symi is around 20€ if booked direct, or around 30€ via a travel bureau. The tourist kaikia charge around 30€, but this will include lunch and an opportunity to swim.
Once there, Symi has just two “main” roads and half a dozen taxis. Car hire is not available (the island is just too small), but scooter hire can be taken up at a very costly 20€ a day. During high season, a shuttle bus runs from Yialos to Pedi every hour on the hour for the princely fare of .60.
For those who elect to stay for a week or more, Symi is a walker’s paradise, with dirt roads and rough tracks leading to most of the monasteries dotted about the island. These tracks afford marvellous sea views as they snake around the craggy headlands, with Turkey little more than a stone’s throw away.