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Symi
Dodecanese, Greece

You never tire of that first glimpse of Symi Town.  I come back every year, just to catch sight of Greece's less glitsy version of the Amalfi coast. 

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The ferry crests the headland and turns its back on the silhouette of the Turkish coastline. In the distance, perfectly proportioned Neoclassical homes in ice cream colours spill artfully down the mountain into the shimmering harbour, like tutti fruity sprinkles.

 

Dabs of colour from the town soften the obdurate limestone, parched oregano and scorched sage which characterise the island of Symi. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that most of the town’s buildings are built of sponge.  OK, not literally.


19th Century Symniot merchants set off in boats laden with locally harvested sponges, to trade with Venice, Marseille, Izmir and the like. They returned with decorative artefacts and modern ideas. The Neoclassical style was all the rage at the time, so the lucrative sponge trade brought noble and colourful styling to Symi. Way more colourful than your typical white Greek village.

Nowhere more noble than on the Kali Strata, Symi’s very own version of Park Lane. It winds 500 lung busting steps up from Yialos (the harbour town) to Horio (the upper town). Wealthy merchants built impressive villas, designed to both see the steps, and be seen from them. Nowadays it’s impossible to stroll the Kali Strata without playing several rounds of the familiar holiday game ‘That’s the one I’d buy and do up’. 

Mind you, it’s nigh on impossible to stroll the Kali Strata full stop.

 

One of the real joys of Symi, beside its sunny climes, is its scenic climbs. Whichever lowly passage you begin your ascent from, you'll no doubt merge with the imposing Kali Strata before too long, to indulge in a spot of social climbing.

If you’re not inclined to inclines you could always stick to the harbour and crane your neck up, (or take the bus). But to enjoy the full Symi experience you have to learn to love those steps. Just take them slowly. Blue and uniform, wonky and wobbly, smoothed by time or concrete chic, each set gets you a little closer to who knows where.

‘Who knows?’ being the perfect mantra for finding your way around Symi.    

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Another perfect navigation strategy is ‘left at the church, right at the next’. Symi has more churches than days of the year, so this line of attack will help you explore without going round in circles.

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Or there's the Kataraktis. I've dubbed it Stairway to Heaven. It takes a back route, directly up the side of the mountain to the somewhat more lowly upper town. The name derives from the Greek word for waterfall. Which tells you something! But the views are refreshing and although you’ll be well and truly soaked-through with sweat by the top, the slice of paradise that awaits is worth the mild purgatory.

When I say paradise, everything's far from perfect. And the higher you go, the less perfect it gets. But Symi's appeal lies somewhere in the juxtaposition of grand and classic, with the weathered and characterful.

 

In terms of ‘not to miss’ sights, you’ve probably gathered that Symi doesn’t really have any. Yes, there’s a museum and something called a ‘castle’, but really, every twist and turn, crumbling wall, and lofty panorama is not to be missed.  Hence the focus on wandering and finding.  

The harbour is all about amazing reflections and views up, while the upper town is all about run down beauty and views all around. Everything in between is why you really need several days to ‘do’ Symi.

If what you most aspire to doing is hitting the beach, Symi probably isn’t for you.

 

But if you do fancy the odd day on a sun lounger, there is a choice of ‘beaches’.  They’re all stony and a boat ride away, but you’ll have a great taverna lunch and get that amazing view of town as you swoosh back. It's all very 'Talented Mr. Ripley'. My favourite and probably the most upscale beach is, Agia Marina.

On the subject of eating, the stand out taverna is Tholos. The view across to Turkey makes the perfect amuse bouche. Followed by a starter called ‘fava’, which when serve, they describe as ‘hummus’. Whatever, it’s nothing like any dip you’re used to. 

 

And of course, don’t miss Symi shrimp, if they're in season.

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I’ve already bigged up the Kali Strata. At the top is a taverna by the same name. You’ll no doubt wander in there a fair bit!  

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Also worth a shout is Pantelis, down beside the yachts. You’ll need to book before those yachties nab all the tables.

 

There are plenty of intermediate hotels and airbnbs throughout town. But there’s really only one place to stay. It's so good, it’s top secret. The views from the terrace were part of the inspiration for this blog. 

E-mail me and I might tell you.  But not before securing my own booking!

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Stairs, courtyard and ruins.  Very Mixed media.

A Few Links and Practicalities

(Just sharing the love. I absolutely don’t get paid for these.)

 

Symi is 1h 15 mins by ferry from Rhodes. Schedules can be researched and ferries booked at www.ferries.gr

 

It’s often impossible to fly from the UK and make the last ferry of the day, requiring a night’s stop in Rhodes. In which case, you want to stay in Rhodes Old Town. Specifically, you want to stay at Marco Polo Mansion. Ideally for two or three nights. The garden at Marco Polo is simply the perfect place to dine, sample Greek wine and enjoy breakfast time. Rhodes Town has both explorable bits and best avoided bits. (You’ll know which is which immediately).

www.marcopolomansion.gr

 

Back on Symi, if money’s no object, then the Old Markets Hotel is definitely for you. Or, if you’re a whole houseparty’s worth, look at Anchor House in Harani.

www.theoldmarkets.com

www.anchorhousegreece.com

 

Tholos +30 694 099 7916

 

Kali Strata restaurant +30 2246 071992

 

Pantelis restaurant +30 697 726 1710

To navigate to the Kataraktis, face the sweet shop in town and go to the right, past the hotel Castello Venetsiana, then keep heading up.  Good luck!

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Don’t miss;

My parents swear by the round the island cruise.

Also, Panormitis at the other end of the island is worth a boat trip.

Both good reasons to see a bit more of Symi Island.

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Derelict Door.  Very Mixed media.

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Kali Strata.  Very Mixed media.

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